Make Aggie Football Great Again

Thoughts on the Alabama Game

Mond Alabama Getting tackled

Where I saw the Clemson game as validation of something different in our coaching staff this Alabama game was certainly a moral victory.  Moral victories aren’t good but they’re better than a straight beatdown where there’s no positives.  We held Bama below 50 points, scored more than 20 points, and covered the 27 point spread.  I don’t like moral victories but that was a moral victory.  For a lot of fans that haven’t seen Bama play this year they didn’t realize the Alabama offense is a different beast with Tua Tagovailoa as quarterback.  My comparison is Saban has had a nice V6 Honda Accord at quarterback since he got to Bama and got a Ferrari this season.  This Bama offense is different than anything he’s had before.  There’s a reason Vegas put a 27-point spread on this game.  They weren’t far off.

I don’t know that A&M beats a Jalen Hurts quarterbacked offense but there’s no doubt in my mind A&M would lose that game by less than 2 touchdowns and likely single digits.  Tua is that much of a difference maker for the Bama offense.  It’s likely Bama loses a game this season but in my mind this is the best Bama team Nick Saban has coached.  When you see that 45-23 score just know this is a different Bama offense than you’ve ever seen.

Overall I like what I saw in this game from a relative talent standpoint.  Bama is loaded with talent and the Aggies have holes.  Bama exposed those holes in a major way but the Aggie players and coaching staff never quit.  This could have been a similar game to 59-0 but the players and coaching staff weren’t going to let that happen.  A lot of teams would have quit after giving up an interception on their first offensive possession and then giving up a touchdown on the first play by the opposing offense.  When you’re on the road in Tuscaloosa and Bama gets an interception and then scores on their first play to go up 7-0 in less than a minute that can be REALLY demoralizing.  This Aggie team didn’t quit though.  Credit the Aggie players and coaches for that.  If an Aggie fan tells you they didn’t have thoughts of 59-0 dancing through their head check to see if their nose is growing.  Luckily this is a different Aggie team than in the past.

I still believe while not as talented as teams in the past few years this is a better Aggie football team than the last few years.  I like what I see on the field even if I don’t like what I see on the scoreboard and stat sheet.  I’ve said since Jimbo got here that 2020 would be the season where the Aggies finally push through to the elite teams of college football.  There’s no doubt Jimbo is trying to win today but there’s holes he can’t plug until his recruiting classes get on campus and get some experience.  This could have been a blowout but it didn’t happen.  Don’t discount what could have been when you see that 45-23 score.

Offense:

Offensive Line:

I’m starting with the worst part of the offense for the game.  I’ve consistently said this is the weakest part of the offense by far.  Saturday that showed up.  Mond was sacked 7 times as the offensive line continually whiffed at slowing down Bama defenders.  It was partially due to talent deficiencies but it was also due to blown assignments.  Those talent deficiencies might have lead to the mental issues but either way the offensive line was exposed for needing serious help from a talent standpoint.  We just don’t have the talent we need at offensive line to compete as an elite team.  They do have their moments where they can create plays thanks to the play design but for the most part this line struggles against more athletic defensive lines.

Tray Williams is not a bruiser running back but there was nothing between the tackles at all.  They weren’t getting blown back on running plays but they weren’t getting any push or creating holes to run through.  I suppose creating a stalemate on running plays against the Bama defense is a positive thing but that’s got to get better.  The offensive line has got to get backwards movement if they’re not going to create holes.

From a pass blocking standpoint they were pretty bad continually blowing assignments when Bama blitzed.  I’m afraid Bama just gave teams a blueprint on how to slow down our offense with blitzes.  I don’t recall Clemson blitzing like Bama did.  Bama had great success running blitzes against our offensive line so I expect to see more of that from defensive opponents going forward.  Our offensive line must get that cleaned up or Mond is not going to have a lot of time to throw.  Sure, Bama has superior talent but there were plays where our offensive line couldn’t read the blitz at all.  That is really disappointing.

If we need to shuffle our offensive line personnel to get experience for the future I’m fine with it.  I’m not saying this line is a steaming pile of junk as they do execute some plays well but this offensive line has issues.  A&M won’t be dominant until their offensive line is dominant.  Like getting a truckload of Coors from Texarkana to Atlanta we’ve got a long ways to get there.

Skill Positions:

We knew it was going to be tough sledding for Tray Williams coming into this game and it was.  He carried the ball 8 times for 32 yards.  He had two nice runs outside but other than those two runs there wasn’t anything there for him.  That’s not his fault as he’s not designed to run behind our offensive line against that Bama defense.  Just a total mis-match.  At least we didn’t continually run between the tackles and just tested it from time to time.

At receiver no one dominated at all.  The unit had some nice catches but were wildly inconsistent getting open and catching balls.  Kendrick Rogers is looking like Mond’s safety blanket but they failed to connect on a couple passes where the ball should have been thrown better or Rogers should have caught it.  This unit isn’t wildly talented but they seem to be a little more disciplined than receiving corps of the past.

Against teams not named Alabama I think there’s enough weapons here to move the ball through the air with more work.  Getting 263 yards through the air using 9 receivers against Alabama is a decent sign even with their mistakes.  I’m happy with the development I’m seeing here.  It’s shorter on talent than we’ve had the past few years but they seem to have some promise as a complete unit.  We’ll see if they keep developing as there’s definitely work to do but they seem up to the task.  At least they did make a few plays rather than be completely afraid of a team like Bama.  I think a lot of that has to do with the next part of our offense.

Kellen Mond:

I can’t say enough about Kellen Mond on Saturday.  He’s the reason this team didn’t quit.  He threw 2 interceptions and had some missed passes but it wasn’t from lack of effort.  The dude was under pressure all day long and never backed down from the best team in the country.  He used his head, arm, and legs all game long.

I can’t believe this is the same Kellen Mond from last season.  It’s completely night and day.  The dude keeps developing every game and it bodes well for Aggie Football over the next few years.  In 2020 Kellen Mond will be a senior and I think he’ll be the key reason A&M breaks through to the elite level of college football.  He’s not as talented as a Tua but he’s young and pretty complete right now on decision making.  He just needs more experience executing plays so it becomes second nature.  I don’t see any reason why he won’t continue to get better.  I’m pleasantly shocked at what I’ve seen from Kellen Mond through 4 games this season.  Maybe one day we’ll send Kevin Sumlin a flower bouquet for recruiting Mond over Jarret Stidham.  We’ll just need to make sure we get his address correct because there’s no telling where Sumlin will be at the end of 2020.  Yes, Kevin Sumlin ineptitude jokes are still fun.  He cost us millions so I’m going to keep making them.

Play Design/Calling:

My favorite part of the game was the play design and execution at times.  Any good offensive coach will have 5-10 plays a game that give the defense a different look either before snap or post snap.  Sometimes both.  This is the result of watching film and designing plays that look to exploit a matchup or counter reads a defense tends to make.  We haven’t seen that in the past because we’ve had offenses that keep the same design and try to react to the opposing defense.  Defenses tend to figure those out over time.

We did it some against Clemson and continued it against Bama.  My favorite play from a design, call, and execution standpoint was the pitch out to Tray Williams on 3rd down in the middle of the second quarter.  It was 3rd and 3 on the Bama 34.  We gave Bama a look we hadn’t shown before with our receivers stacked on the right side.  Tray was to the left of Mond.  On the snap Mond did a quick pitch to Tray.  Tray had a linebacker on him who he was able to avoid (barely) and got outside for a 16 yard gain to the Bama 18.  Everything about that play was beautiful.  I mean just beautiful from a design, timing, and execution standpoint.  That is not something you would have seen with Aggie offensive coordinators since 2013.

There were some other plays but that was the best example where it’s clear we have an offensive staff that is adjusting and scheming to each week’s opponent.  The best thing you can do as an offense is have the defense worried about plays they’ve never seen.  When a defensive staff has to worry about plays they’ve never seen you have a strong advantage.  I absolutely love the fact it appears Jimbo and the offensive staff really study film and design plays each week that look to take advantage of the defense.  When you become predictable as an offense you get beat.  Through 4 games Jimbo is showing his offense will adapt each week.  It’s so refreshing to see.

Overall:

Despite the issues with our offensive line and lack of a power back I like what I see from this offense.  It’s certainly not as powerful as I would like it to be but I feel the staff is getting the most out of what they can from the talent at their disposal.  This is an offense that appears to be able to put up at least 20 points in every game from here on out.  It’s also designed to chew up time of possession which is a big key for our defense.  We once again won time of possession on Saturday which is a bigger factor than most people think.

Defense:

Front Seven:

I can’t say enough about the defensive line and linebackers.  They weren’t dominant by any stretch but they held their own against a powerful Alabama offense.  Alabama’s running backs got 106 yards on 21 carries.  That’s about 5 yards a carry.  Half of those yards were on 2 carries.  Take away those two runs and that’s a respectable 2.7 yards a carry for the other 19 carries by Bama running backs.  Not many teams in the country can do what the Aggie Front 7 did.  Alabama is going to run the ball and they’re going to rip off long runs against you unless you’re Georgia.  Even with Tua at quarterback Alabama is still going to attempt to establish the run to wear down defenses.  The Aggie defense did all they could against one of the best running teams in the country.  You might not have thought it was a dominant effort by our Front 7 against the run, but it was as good as it gets for a team not named Georgia.

The Front 7 didn’t get any sacks but this defense isn’t really equipped to get sacks.  Especially against Tua.  We have no edge rushers and that’s what you need against a guy like Tua.  What we did was collapse the pocket as much as possible causing Tua to throw before he wanted for the most part.  Tua torched us through the air but it wasn’t because our front 7 wasn’t completely getting to him.  In my mind our Front 7 did everything they could.  Alabama tried to establish the run and really couldn’t but did carve us up where we’re weak.  Kudos to the Aggie Front 7 for holding their own against a powerful Alabama offense.

The Secondary:

The Aggie secondary was terrible on Saturday.  There is NOTHING positive to take from it in my book.  We couldn’t cover and we couldn’t tackle.  Coming into the season I thought our safeties would be serviceable but our corners would really struggle.  So far this season the entire secondary has struggled.

I thought Derrick Tucker and Donavan Wilson would be decent but the reality is they’re not the same player when they’re not playing next to Armani Watts and Justin Evans.  Watts and Evans really helped covered up Tucker and Wilson’s issues.  For you Aggie fans that can remember back to 2011 this is basically like Garrick Williams at linebacker when he lost Cody Hodges.  Williams had all the talent in the world to play linebacker but he was lost without the direction of Hodges.

Time and time again on Saturday the secondary was struggling in coverage and tackling.  While the Front 7 was looking like a legit SEC defense the secondary was looking like a Pop Warner team.  They seemed confused by routes and didn’t like wrapping up on tackles.  They’re not disciplined at all.  They’re short on talent other than Tucker for the most part.

If you’re an offensive coordinator that has watched the Aggie defense through 4 games there’s no doubt you’re going to look to light it up through the air.  There’s no point in trying to establish the run against A&M if Bama and Clemson struggled.  The Aggies should be ready for offenses that want to exploit their secondary.  A somewhat competent head coach and offensive coordinator should realize the Aggies can be passed on.

How to fix it other than to repeatedly work on tackling drills I’m not really sure.  Outside of Leon O’Neal I don’t think you have the talent in the younger guys from a coverage standpoint.  I do think it’s okay to get O’Neal more playing time now.  Sure, he struggled against Bama but he’s a true freshman being thrown to the wolves.  Hopefully his struggles on Saturday drive him to be a contributor in year one.  I don’t think he could do much worse than Tucker and Wilson at this point.  I know Carper (safety) and Chattman (corner) are supposed to be coming back but I don’t think they’re the answers either.  Maybe they can improve on what’s out there now but until the 2019 signing class gets on campus and seasoned our secondary is going to be vulnerable without much hope for improving.

Michael Clemons coming back might help some as he and Durham can team up to provide more pressure in passing situations.  It’s just without true pass rushing pressure from the edge this secondary is going to be prone to big plays.  We simply have a talent issue in the secondary and no Von Miller or Myles Garrett to mask it.

Overall:

It’s amazing how different the Front 7 and secondary can be.  The Front 7 I’d put up against any team in the country.  We’ve now slowed down the running games of Bama and Clemson.  Other than LSU we won’t see a team on the schedule the rest of the way that has a true power running attack like Bama.  The defensive staff has their work cut out for them in trying to improve this secondary so we’ll see how good this staff is.  Even if they started just wrapping up that would be a major improvement as you could basically play bend but don’t break football.  Getting to red zone situations would help as you’ve got less area to cover and your Front 7 has shown they can hold their own against anyone in the country.  We’ve got Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina coming up to find out if we can have some improvement.

Special Teams:

A lot of Aggies were worried about losing Jeff Banks.  As you saw on Saturday unless your name is Frank Beamer the quality of the players matter way more than the special teams coach.  The Aggie special teams were better than Bama’s.  We’re fine without Jeff Banks.  Braden Mann is an absolute weapon.  I mean absolute WEAPON.  He had 5 punts and averaged 60.8 yards.  That is insane.  He’s a junior so he’s been on the roster for two years.  Why he hasn’t been punting until this year I have no idea.  I know Shane Tripucka was pretty good the last two years but what Mann is doing this year is unbelievable.  He’s flipping the field and that’s a huge weapon to have.

Seth Small filled in for the injured Daniel LaCamera and was remarkable going 3 for 3 on field goals.  He hit on a 52 yarder along with a 32 and 25 yarder.  He’s a true freshman so to be perfect in your first game in Tuscaloosa with a 52 yarder being your first attempt bodes well.  I suppose you give LaCamera his job back when he’s healthy but he better be on a short leash if you have a guy that can boot 50+ yards with no fear against Alabama.  Having him as your backup is a serious luxury to have.

There was one minor issue on special teams and it was the return early in the game by Jaylen Waddle.  Whoever was running down didn’t flare out to keep contain on Waddle.  Waddle is a guy we recruited and has absolute jets.  As a special teamer on punt coverage you have to keep contain if you’re alone.  You let a guy like that get around you and he’ll burn you like he did.  We got bailed out by a block in the back but that was a big mistake not keeping contain on a guy with Waddle’s speed.  With Mann booming punts, getting downfield and keeping contain is going to be crucial to limit return yards.

 

Looking Forward:

I think Jimbo can mask our offensive line issues enough to get us to 8 wins.  He’s scored 20 plus points against two great defenses so it seems we’ll be able to move the ball and score points the rest of the way.  I don’t think we’ll have any games where our offense completely goes in the tank like we’ve had in the past.  We have two more really good defenses on the schedule in Auburn and LSU.  They’ll test our offense.  Auburn struggles to run the ball and LSU struggles to pass the ball although LSU has looked better throwing than in years past.  I like to think we can get one win of Auburn and LSU to get us to 9 wins.  I’m not sure which is more likely at this point though.

The key is we’ve got some tough games on the schedule that don’t look like tough games.  Jimbo has to win those.  Kentucky has an all-world running back so it’ll be interesting to see if we can slow him down with our Front 7.  South Carolina hasn’t looked as good as I expected but that’s a road game so it could be a challenge.  Mississippi State was shut down by Kentucky so why can’t the Aggies do the same?  However, if that’s an 11:00 a.m. game in StarkVegas then all bets are off.  The Aggies haven’t won in StarkVegas when we kicked at 11:00 a.m.  Let’s hope for a night game there.

Right now I have to think Arkansas, Ole Miss, and UAB are sure wins.  We’ll find out this weekend when we head to JerryWorld.  That’s been a back and forth contest in the past but I think with our respective new coaching staffs that’s finally a game the Aggies control from start to finish.  I’m hoping for a 35-10 type showing.

It’s entirely possible this team wins out but we’ve got a LOT of work to do to get there.  If we can get through Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina in convincing fashion from start to finish then I’ll feel like we have a real chance.  I’m ready to make some maroon Kool-Aid and start serving it around.  I’ve got the water and jug ready.  I just need Jimbo to give me the powder over the next three weeks so I can start mixing.

#MAFGA

 

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Thoughts on U.L.M. and Alabama

Alabama Texas A&M NCAA Football

I chose not to go to the game last weekend as I had a customer event at noon on Sunday.  Don’t worry, Good Ags sat in my seats.  Had it been a Power 5 school I would have made it in a heartbeat but I took Saturday easy so Sunday was easy as well.  I did watch the game on TV along with a lot of other games.

I won’t do my normal breakdown of offensive and defensive positions because it was ULM and there’s more important things to talk about.  Mainly Bama and some other things about the SEC.

Louisiana Monroe:

Negatives:

I’ll start with the negatives here.  Obviously we got off to a slow start in this game.  That’s kind of to be expected being the third game sandwiched between Clemson and Bama.  Doesn’t make it right but it’s reality.  Kind of seems like we thought we could show up and have our way with ULM but that wasn’t the case.  At least not in the first half.  The team was mostly uninspired and not executing well.

Coming into the season I said our biggest weakness on defense was the secondary.  It really showed in the first half on Saturday night.  In the second quarter they gave up passes of 44, 34, and 36 yards.  This was against ULM.  That’s not good.  The 34 and 36 yarders were back to back which allowed ULM to get a touchdown.  Wilson and Tucker at safety are our most talented and experienced guys but they’re not playing good football.  Our corners struggle to cover for an extended period so if a team can buy time their receivers can likely get open against our cornerbacks.  I’ve said we need to be prepared to give up big pass plays but I didn’t expect that repeatedly against ULM.  It sure happened though.

Our other weakness coming into this season is our offensive line.  They didn’t look good at all in the first half.  Just like Northwestern St. it was pretty clear we wanted to establish the run.  Trayveon had a couple nice runs around 20 yards each but we never got him sprung for anything really long or consistently long.  Seems like he was always running in some kind of traffic.  You would hope our offensive line could blow up some big holes against ULM for him to use his speed and wiggle for some consistent long runs.  Pass blocking was suspect too as Kellen seemed to be a little rushed and took off a few times when I think he would have rather passed.  We also gave up a sack in the first half as well.  It wasn’t a terrible effort by our offensive line but it wasn’t even close to dominating which is what you would have like to have seen.

We had five holding penalties against ULM.  That’s pathetic.  As an offensive line you can control holding penalties.  One or two is allowable but five against ULM is inexcusable.  That’s just lack of focus and preparation.  If it’s pure talent related we’re in bigger trouble than I thought.  We’re not in that big of trouble so I’m just exaggerating but five holding penalties against ULM is damn embarrassing for this offensive line.  Yes, the tight end is an offensive lineman as they go through the same blocking drills the offensive lineman do.  Tight ends know better than to hold.

We still went in with a 24-10 lead at half time but you hope for better considering the opponent.

Positives:

The most positive thing about that game was the effort in the second half.  It was clear the team and staff weren’t happy with a 24-10 lead against a much inferior opponent.  They seemed to come out more focused and executed better in the second half.  The offense stalled on the first possession of the second half but then a quick 3 and out by the defense.  The offense then took the ball 54 yards for a touchdown.  They followed that up with a field goal and then a touchdown before completely giving away to the second stringers for the most part.  A holding penalty caused the offense to likely trade a touchdown for that field goal but most of that drive was impressive with 9 plays covering 61 yards and eating 3:36 of clock.  Penalties will cost you.

The other positive thing was Kellen Mond.  The dude showed this is his team.  He may be in his third game of his second season but he knows he’s a leader.  This is a great sign as everyone will rally behind a quarterback that wants to lead them.  That’s just how football works.  When your quarterback is willing to lead and can back it up with results on the field a team is always better off.  Mond still has some development to do but this guy is completely different from the Mond of last year.  Jimbo has done wonders with this kid.  We all scratched our heads a little when Mond was named the starter prior to the season but three games in it’s clear Jimbo knew what he was doing.

Overall:

I would have certainly liked to have seen a stronger showing to start the game but the effort in the second half makes me feel good.  I have a feeling teams in the past wouldn’t have put their foot down in the second half and let more of the same continue over from the first half.  It would have been easy to blame a Clemson hangover or Alabama look ahead but the coaching staff and players didn’t let it happen.  That’s a good sign overall.

Alabama:

The Aggies are a 27-point underdog to Alabama.  That sounds like a lot of points but if you’ve watched both teams play this season it sounds about right.  This Alabama offense is unlike any Alabama offense you’ve seen under Nick Saban.  The Alabama defense is, well, the Alabama defense.  I have a feeling Alabama is going to exploit our two weaknesses which are our secondary and offensive line.  If we cover 27 points in Tuscaloosa that will be a serious moral victory.  This game could get out of hand in Bama’s favor.  I don’t expect a 59-0 beat down but a 35 to 40 point difference wouldn’t shock me.  If we can’t move the ball and Tua lights up our secondary it won’t take much to see that kind of point differential.  Ask Louisville and Ole Miss.

I do think the Aggies can keep the game close but they’re going to have to go against conventional wisdom.  For whatever reason teams like to play Alabama conservative trying to establish the run and not bringing pressure defensively.  I think the whole mindset of that game plan is to run as much clock as possible on offense and keep the Alabama offense in front of you from a defensive standpoint.  The problem with this is unless you’re LSU you can’t establish the run on offense.  It’s not possible.  On defense if you don’t bring pressure then Alabama will pick you apart on methodical drives with the occasional big play of 40 yards or so.  Next thing you know you look up and you’re down by 21 headed into half.

In order to beat Alabama you have to do two things:

  1. Bring pressure defensively to slow down the run and force them to pass before they want to.
  2. Offensively you have to get the ball to receivers in space with plays they haven’t seen before. You can’t run the ball against them and if you think your read and react Run Pass Options will work against Bama think again.  They can defend the run and RPOs in their sleep.

For number one above this seems scary as hell because if you don’t get to the Bama quarterback he can burn you.  Here’s the deal – you’re not getting to Tua or Hurts with normal pressure.  Their offensive line will handle whatever defense you throw at them.  Tua or Hurts will sit back and wait for a play to develop.  Tua will either burn you with his arm and legs or Hurts will burn you with his legs.  In order to slow down Bama’s offense you better have a big package of blitzes that you’ve never shown before.  Go look at Wade Phillips’ designed blitzes and employ as many of those as you can.  Even if you do it’s likely a long shot as you probably don’t have the athletes to execute them.  You might as well try though.  You need an edge rushing linebacker like Von Miller you can line up all over the line of scrimmage and bring pressure from the outside.  Even a Myles Garrett isn’t a huge help against Bama if you’re going to line him up on a tackle.  I don’t know if the Aggies have a guy that can bring pressure from the outside linebacker position but if do they better be ready to turn him loose.

That must be done to force Bama to throw before they want to.  If not, they’ll eat you alive waiting for something to develop.  The other thing you obviously must do is slow down the run and keep containment with their quarterbacks.  Both Tua and Hurts can run and if they get into space they’ll burn you.  The Aggie defense needs to bring pressure but it has to be containing those guys from getting outside.  It’s a tall order but it’s the only way.  Pressure and contain.  You sit back defensively and you’ll get run over.

Offensively we don’ have the offensive line and running back to establish any kind of running game against Bama.  I love Tray Williams as a running back but he’s not designed to run between the tackles against Bama.  He’s fine being in the game but I would keep him split out and never behind or near Mond.  For Williams to have any kind of effect on the game he’s going to have to get the ball in some kind of space or on well timed screens.  I’m fine giving him the ball between the tackles a few times early on or even later to see what happens but if we run the ball between the tackles with Tray Williams more than 5 times we’ll lose.

My ideal offensive set would be two tight ends and two receivers split evenly about 50% of the time.  Give Bama the same look but have multiple variations of plays where Bama can’t really read who’s likely getting the ball.  Have Tray lined up in multiple spots so he’s the wildcard on what’s going on.  With this set you can run Mond and most importantly get your tight ends involved between blocking and running routes.  It’s amazing what can happen with a good tight end and quarterback that can read how aggressive a defense is playing.  A good chip block and release is an amazing tool that doesn’t get used a lot anymore.  It seems boring but it’s usually effective.  I think the Aggies have a couple tight ends that can execute this.

On occasion you can run bunch formations with the wide receivers and tight ends that can hopefully spring one guy free.  The key is have a few different looks but don’t become predictable based on what you’re doing before you ever snap the ball.  The Bama defense is way too talented and smart.  They know the play you’re running if you’ve run it before.  You must show them something they’ve never seen the entire game.  Trying to run between the tackles or running the same systematic offense will just make Nick Saban smile.  His defense can defend those things in their sleep.

I put the Aggies wining at about 15%.  Mond will have to have the game of his life which is entirely possible but the defense will have to step up which is my major question.  We don’t have the secondary or guys that can apply a lot of pressure so I think Bama keeps rolling.  If we keep them under 50 and score more than 20 that’s going to be a major win for Jimbo.  This team just isn’t ready to compete with Alabama just yet.  Believe it or not losing by less than 27 points will be an encouraging showing.

Rest of the Season/Other Games:

Season Prediction Update:

After watching LSU and Auburn on Saturday I’m leaving my prediction at 8-4.  I think it’s possible we beat one of those teams but they’re both damn good football teams.  They’re still more talented than A&M as a whole team.  I can see us winning one of LSU and Auburn but losing to South Carolina or Mississippi State.  8-4 just still feels right based on what I’ve seen.  Hell, it’s entirely possible we go 6-6 this season due to our issues on the offensive line and secondary.  I don’t think that will happen though.  I think Jimbo will get us to 8-4 which will be solid considering our issues and this schedule.

Speaking of schedules how about that 2019 Aggie Football schedule?  I’ve said all along 2020 would be the Aggies year and seeing that schedule for next season confirms it even more.  Welcome to the SEC West and big boy football.

Auburn/LSU – This was exactly the game these teams have had the last 2 years.  Close game for four quarters and the team that makes the play at the end wins.  Why people expected this game to be different surprised me.  Everybody wants to write these two programs off for some reason.  They both have tremendous talent on defense with sporadic offenses.  When you have a stout defense you’re going to win more than you lose.

A lot of people don’t think highly of Coach O and Malzahn but I think they’re really good coaches.  They’re not elite level coaches but at their current program they’re easily in the Top 25% of coaches in college football if not in the Top 10%.  Outside of Malzahn’s first season where he caught lightening in a bottle with fluke wins over Georgia and Bama along with a questionable win over A&M he’s exactly who he is.  He’s going to win 8-10 games a year and pull off some upsets.  He’s not Nick Saban but who is?  Worst thing he ever did was play for the national title in his first season as head coach and win a national championship as the offensive coordinator.  That’s not really who he is but it doesn’t mean he’s an overrated coach.  Auburn could do much worse than Gus Malzahn.

As for Eddie O he seems to have grown as a head coach since Ole Miss.  He was pretty solid in his interim gig at USC and hasn’t been bad at LSU at all.  Take away the Troy loss last season and he’s been REALLY respectable in his tenure at LSU.  He’s not Nick Saban either but he’s like Les Miles which ain’t bad.  I swear critics blow up one or two losses writing someone off rather than looking at their full body of work.  The full body of work by Malzahn and Eddie O at their current school is not bad at all.  I don’t see that changing anytime soon so expect Top 15 programs that can beat anyone as long as they’re head coach.  They may not win a national title but that list of coaches is short.

OU/ISU – Speaking of underrated coaches, one day Matt Campbell at ISU is going to get a gig at a big-time program.  Every program that has hired a head coach not named Jimbo Fisher since December of 2017 will wonder why they didn’t hire him.  He took a back up quarterback and moved the ball on OU never giving up.  OU has another juggernaut at offense but ISU exposed their passing defense.  ISU might go 7-5 this season but Matt Campbell is a stud head coach.  The dude just knows how to coach football.  As for OU they’ll probably run the table this season.  Odds say they’ll lose a game somewhere but I think they’re a lock for the CFP at this point.  They’re not being talked about from a playoff standpoint right now but their path to the CFP is the easiest of anyone in college football.

Michigan/Notre Dame – Both of these teams won their games but I expected bigger margins based on their opponents and playing at home.  Maybe their game on Week 1 wasn’t the marquee matchup some people thought it was.  I thought Notre Dame was better than how they played Vandy in South Bend.

Bama/Ole Miss – Ole Miss scored on their first offensive possession and then didn’t score again.  Bama then scored 49 points in the first half.  Ole Miss doesn’t have a defense but I’m telling you this Bama offense is unlike anything we’ve seen in the past.  Get ready for Saturday, Ags.

USC/Texas – This game was U.G.L.Y.  It’s amazing USC won the Rose Bowl two years ago and won the Pac 12 last season.  This isn’t even close to the same team.  I know they lost Darnold but that was just one guy.  Make no mistake this is a great win for Texas but I don’t think it’s a measuring stick at all.  There’s a good chance Texas reels off 8 or 9 wins this season but they still have some major talent and coaching issues.  They can certainly improve from here but that game against USC shows there’s still more questions than answers.

OhSU/TCU – TCU is one of the best coached teams in the country but this game shows they don’t have the elite talent to be a consistent major player in college football.  I love Gary Patterson as a coach but until he starts getting 4 and 5 star talent on campus TCU will be a second tier program at best.  Without some major luck I don’t see Gary Patterson ever playing for or winning a national championship.  He’ll beat a lot of teams in his time at TCU but I don’t think TCU is a nationally elite program.  At some point you have to have the big horses.

As for OhSU they’re now in the same boat as OU.  Their path to the CFP seems clear as well.  Based on the way the B10 looks all they must do is get by Penn State and they’ll roll into the CFP.  They’ll trip up a game but they’ll be 12-1 with a Big 10 Conference Championship I have a feeling.  They’re a good football team in a down conference.  Now they get their memory challenged head coach back which made me throw up in my mouth.

If I had to predict the CFP based on what games I’ve seen and paths to get there I’m predicting Bama, Clemson, OU, and OhSU all with 12-1 records and conference titles.  The CFP will have an easy choice as that Auburn win over Washington in Week 1 will keep them out of the playoff discussion.

I’ll even go so far as to pick each team’s one loss:

Clemson – South Carolina
Alabama – LSU
Oklahoma – West Virginia (which they’ll then turn around and beat them in the title game to win the conference)
OhSU – Maryland

Same old teams as always which is boring but it’s all about coaching in college football.  You either have a great coach or you don’t.

#MAFGA

 

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Thoughts From The Clemson Game

NCAAF 2018 Texas A&M vs Clemson Sept 8

It’s kind of hard to define what happened at Kyle Field on Saturday night.  It certainly wasn’t a win on the scoreboard and it really didn’t feel like a moral victory either.  Sure, the Aggies never quit but the fact of the matter is they ran out of time 2 points shy of Clemson.  It was a loss.  For me, the definition of what happened was validation.  Validation this era of Aggie football is going to be different.  Validation the Aggies finally got the right coach and staff.  Validation we have a team that will learn how to win big.  Validation that Kyle Field is one of the best venues for college football anywhere in the world.  Validation we’re on our way to Make Aggie Football Great Again.

Coming into this season I wasn’t too worried about wins and losses.  If Jimbo gets us to at least 8 wins the long-term plan would be on track.  I don’t want the fool’s gold of 2012 where we had an amazing season but that was just it.  One season.  Nothing more.  I want Jimbo’s first year to be about a different look for Aggie football.  What we saw on Saturday sure makes it look like things will be different this time.  I saw a team that never quit but most importantly I saw a coaching staff that schemed to have a chance to beat a more talented team.  That Clemson team on Saturday night was more talented than A&M which is the difference for why Clemson won.  Coaching and execution had the Aggie team looking for a two-point conversion at the end of the game to send it overtime.  The Aggies fell short but there’s a LOT of positives to take away from this game.

For the first time since Alabama in 2013 something happened at Kyle Field.  The stadium fed off the team.  No doubt there were plenty of moments where the team fed off the fans, but this Aggie team didn’t quit.  If they didn’t believe in themselves Kyle Field would have been deflated.  The 64-yard touchdown pass to go up 14-3 had a lot of Aggie fans wondering if it was more of the same from the last 4 years.  Even worse was when the Aggies went down 21-6 late in the third quarter.  You could feel the excitement escaping from Kyle Field like we’d felt so many times in recent memory.  The excitement didn’t escape though.  The Aggie team fought back and Kyle Field roared back to life.  Man did it roar back to life.  For the final quarter of football the team and the stadium were willing each other to a win.  The 12th Man had been waiting on this moment.  The team was leading the way back and the 12th Man was ready to follow.

Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.  I don’t see any reason why it’s not.  That was a team that learned to fight and most importantly learned it can compete with the best college football has to offer.  Maybe it’s a blip but this feels different.  This was coaching and playing.  This was a staff devising plays against a great team and players executing believing they’d come back.  No quit.  Just a clock that ran out of time.

Before I get to the breakdowns of units and players I can’t say enough about what Jimbo and the staff did on Saturday night.  They took a less talented team and went to the final second against the #2 team in the country.  Maybe Clemson isn’t the second-best team in the country but there’s no doubt they’re a Top 5 team.  That’s the best college football has to offer.  Defensively we held our own for most of the game other than a few big plays.  Offensively the play design and execution was something I hadn’t seen since 2012.  Our offensive staff had a very good idea of what Clemson was capable of and schemed against them.  What happened in the second half wasn’t luck.  It was awareness and preparation.  It was confidence too.  Coaches leading players and players following because they believed.  It sure feels like validation Aggie Football finally got it right when it came to hiring a coach.

Offense:

Kellen Mond:

This was no doubt a team effort but Kellen Mond deserves MAJOR props for what he did on Saturday night.  At the end of last year I wondered if Mond would ever see another snap at Texas A&M.  He seemed destined to transfer like some other Aggie quarterbacks that lost their job.  Turns out we all forgot Kellen was a highly recruited 4 star quarterback and coaching really matters.  If you don’t believe me ask Kahlil Tate in Arizona how his Heisman chances are looking after his first two games.  Ask Deondre Francois at Florida State if he misses Jimbo.

I never expected Mond to have the game he did.  Statistically he was 23/40 for 430 yards with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.  That’s a damn fine game considering he’s a true sophomore still getting his feel in a new system.  What impressed me most was not anything that shows up in the statistics.  What impressed me most was his awareness and confidence.  I’ll get to the receivers and line in a little bit as they deserve major props as well but Kellen Mond made some damn big throws in that game.  Anyone that says his receivers bailed him out didn’t really watch that game.  Mond let the ball fly and gave his receivers a chance to make big plays.  Don’t underestimate Mond’s willingness to let the ball go and throw passes in a game like that.

Mond has the ability to run but unlike some quarterbacks with the ability to run Mond did it as a last resort.  He used his legs to avoid pressure and buy time but he kept his eyes down the field looking to make a pass.  A lot of young guys would have tucked the ball and ran for what they could get against that Clemson defense.  Not Mond.  He hung behind the line of scrimmage for as long as he could hoping something would develop downfield and when he saw it he let the ball go.

The most impressive play of the game and defines what I’m talking about was the pass to Quartney Davis to make it a 28-20 game.  Clemson brought a linebacker blitz from the outside.  Kellen IMMEDIATELY notices it and prepares for it.  He times his spin out to the left perfectly to avoid the pressure but is still running for his life.  They key here is he never drops his hands below his waist and is looking to get his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage.  He’s running for his life but he’s still looking to make a throw.  He had a lot of green in front of him.  The easy play would have been to get the 5-15 yards by tucking the ball.  He was looking to make a play with his arm rather than his legs though.  He doesn’t have the speed of Johnny or Kyler Murray but he did have the athleticism and most importantly the awareness to make a BIG play.

Here’s the play.  Watch this thing over and over if you want.  Start and stop it during the play to process everything.  He picks up the blitz right away.  He waits to bail.  He spins at the right depth away from the defender.  He’s looking downfield.  His hands never drop below his waist and always has both hands on the ball.  He’s squaring his shoulders.  He sees Davis going back to an open spot.  He releases the ball right when he’s getting hit.  As Dave South once eloquently said, “He got a touchdown.”  That was a well-coached and confident quarterback that knew his limitations.  That wasn’t all luck.  I guarantee you Jimbo ran that play back and forth 10 times on Sunday in film telling Kellen what a great play it was.  And it was great.

I couldn’t get the video to embed at the right spot but fast forward to about the 2:02 mark and watch the play.  You can also click the link below it which will take you right to the play.  Sorry my Internetting is lacking where I can’t get the YouTubes and WordPress to sync up right.  You get what you pay for.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=napBx4gMovI&feature=youtu.be&t=122

It was a total team effort but Kellen deserves major props.  This is his team and he owned it on Saturday night.  I’m sure there will be some hiccups along the way but this isn’t last year’s Kellen Mond at all.  This is a well-coached quarterback with some great natural talent.  If you want to know why Kellen Mond won the quarterback battle go back and watch that play again.  The perfect combination of awareness, poise, and athleticism.

Wide Receivers:

Um, Kendrick Rogers, where have you been?  Right behind the effort of Kellen Mond is no doubt Kendrick Rogers.  I NEVER expected to see the production we saw out of that guy on Saturday night.  He caught 7 balls just outjumping Clemson defenders.  His two touchdown catches were beautiful with athleticism and concentration.  I had no idea he had that ability but I sure hope this is more than a one game deal from him.  He has the size and athleticism so there’s no reason to think there’s not more there from him.  7 catches for 120 yards and two pretty damn amazing touchdown catches sure doesn’t seem like a fluke.  Next to Mond he’s no doubt the offensive MVP.

Outside of Rogers the rest of the receiving corps was solid.  Buckley, Ausbon, Sternberger, Trayveon, and Davis all had key catches at time.  That was really the difference in the game as Clemson couldn’t shut down the whole receiving corps.  Mond made Clemson pay by finding and hitting the open guys.  The receivers did their job but catching the ball and getting yards after reception.

Through 2 games this receiving corps looks completely different than last year.  They seem more aware and ready for the ball looking to make a play.  Last week they were blocking really well in the ground game and this week they were going after balls.  This doesn’t seem like a receiving corps that’s waiting on the play or ball to find them like last season.  They want to go make the play.  This only helps Mond when he knows if he puts the ball up his guys are going to fight for it.  It’s only one game but this receiving corps looks MUCH deeper than I ever imagined.  And what’s crazy is we have some true freshman on the bench that likely won’t see the field based on what we saw Saturday night.  I’m totally okay with that.

Offensive Line:

I have to put them at third on this list but the offensive line was tremendous on Saturday night all things considered.  We really couldn’t establish the ground game for the most part.  We only gained 57 yards on the ground other than Mond’s runs.  I’m really surprised by this as I expected our ground attack to do better than our pass blocking.  That wasn’t the case but the offensive line did a fine job for what was there.

Kellen didn’t have a ton of time to throw but thanks to the offensive line he had enough time to throw all night for the most part.  Coaching also helped here as Jimbo and Dickey started moving Kellen around as well as started using Trayveon Williams out of the backfield.  The few times we ran screens they were well timed and well executed.  Mond was sacked three times but that was all in the first half I think.  They adjusted in the second half nicely giving Mond enough time to throw the ball.  Great job by the coaches and offensive line.

Probably the biggest compliment to pay this offensive line is you completely forgot they were playing the best defensive line in college football.  They still have some room to develop since we got stuffed on short yardage situations a couple of times.  I’m not complaining though as last year’s line would have been embarrassed.  This unit is still growing but they held their own against the best defensive line in college football for most of the night.

Running Game:

It seemed pretty clear Clemson’s goal coming into this game was to shut down the run.  That’s what they did with their defensive line.  Trayveon only averaged 1.8 yards per rush.  He’s not built for this type of defensive line because he needs to get to the second level to use his speed and wiggle.  This isn’t on Trayveon because the matchup never really favored us here.  Our offensive line couldn’t get him to the second level.  Great job by Jimbo and Staff recognizing it wasn’t there for the most part and adapting.  The Aggies never truly went away from the run so Clemson always had to think about it, but it was clear we weren’t running our way to yards and scores against that line.  They’re just too good.

Tray Williams is a great back but we did miss having someone like a Keith Ford or Tra Carson that could pound the ball a little more between the tackles.  It likely wouldn’t have made too much of a difference but we do miss that threat.  Just not much you can do against a defensive line where all four of their guys will be drafted in the first two rounds.  Just admit your deficiencies and try something else which Jimbo did and it worked for the most part.

Defense:

Defensive Line:

I thought the defensive line played really well.  147 yards on the ground isn’t ideal but Clemson has a very mobile quarterback.  That makes it hard to key in on the running back.  We didn’t give up any long touchdown runs.  We kept Travis Etienne corralled for the most part other than one 28-yard scamper.  He’s a very underrated back as if he gets to the second level he can flat out burn you.  Elko did a good job moving people in and out.  Kingsley Keke had his usual good game along with Landis Durham.  It didn’t show up on the stat sheet but Daylon Mack had a couple plays where he was completely disruptive blowing the center and guard off their blocks.  I don’t know if it’s scheme or want but it’s amazing how Mack can be so dominating at times and then get blocked other times.  I’m sure it’s a little of both.  Justin Madubuike really showed up in this game bringing pressure all game long.  He spent a lot of time in the backfield getting a sack and a quarterback hurry.  He’s only a sophomore but he seems like he keeps developing better and better every game.  Our defensive line isn’t as good Clemson’s defensive line but there’s no doubt this is a solid unit.  They just show up every game and do their job.

Linebacker:

Thanks to our defensive line Dodson and Alaka were freed up to make plays.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Not sure what else what to write here as these guys did their job plain and simple.  Dodson is probably the most underrated linebacker in the SEC and maybe even the country.  He led the team in solo tackles and even had a nice pass break up on the wide receiver reverse pass to their quarterback.  Was hoping he would come down with it but it was pretty good awareness.  He knocked the ball away so there was no chance of a completion.  Saw Anthony Hines in there a couple of times late in the game but don’t recall him doing much.  We still need to add some depth here but Dodson and Alaka just show up every week and clean up what the defensive line doesn’t take care of.  I’m totally okay with that as that’s how the front 7 is supposed to work.

Seems Donovan Wilson is kind of our third linebacker as Elko technically runs a 4-2-5.  This makes the third linebacker and safety situational.  Wilson fits in with Dodson and Alaka.  He may not seem all that dominant, but Wilson is as dependable as they get.  Whatever comes their way Dodson, Alaka, and Wilson are going to handle.  We could be MUCH worse than these three guys manning the middle of the play.

Secondary:

Coming into the season the position that concerned me the most beyond the offensive line was our cornerbacks.  I don’t think we have amazing talent at corner.  Certainly not upper level college football talent.  That showed up on Saturday night as we gave up two long 64 yard passes with one being for a touchdown.  We also gave up another 50 yard pass which set up a touchdown.  That’s 178 yards through the air on three plays which is over half their passing offense.  That’s too much.  I get giving up a big play here and there but our cornerback coverage is definitely the weakest part of our defense by far.  Clemson knew it and attacked it on several occasions.

I feel good about our chances against the run but if we’re going up against an offense that has strong deep threats and a quarterback that can get it to them we’re going t be susceptible to the deep ball.  We just don’t have the talent at corner to compete with great deep threats.  Along with depth at linebacker we must get more talented corners on campus and get them up to speed.  This won’t be the last time you see an opponent get a long touchdown against us.  It’s our Achilles heel and it’ll continue to get tested until we prove we can slow it down.

Safety wise the guys not named Donavan Wilson did okay.  I like Derrick Tucker’s long-term potential but he still makes some goofs from time to time.  Deshawn Capers-Smith doesn’t have Tucker’s talent but he doesn’t make the mistakes Tucker does.  We’ve got a lot of young talent at the safety position so we’ll be fine long term, but this really feels like a transition year from having Evans, Watts, and Wilson roaming the secondary like we’ve had the last few years.

 

Overall:

Clemson was 4 of 13 on third down conversions and failed on their only 4th down attempt.  They also held the ball for only 26 minutes.  Those two stats are all because of our front 7 doing what they do.  All in all this defense is starting to remind me of the 2012 unit but with a worse secondary.  It’s a really good unit with the front 7.  Much better than most people realize.  So far Elko looks to be an upgrade over Chavis as the front 7 is more fundamentally sound.  It doesn’t seem as prone to the goofs the Chavis defense would have at times and especially late in games.  We’re just going to give up big pass plays from time to time so get used to that.  At least against the teams that have fast receivers and quarterbacks with big enough arms.

Special Teams:

Obviously we know about LaCamera with his miss and block.  Obviously that makes Clemson feel like 2012 Florida and LSU.  Not sure it’ll come to that where we’re looking back at a missed field goal away from a potential national championship but I’m fine if so.  That will be a much better season than most expected.  He still hit two 40 yarders so he’s not terrible.  Kickers are going to miss so you’re better off being in a position where you don’t rely on them.  Even Alabama had a kicker a while back that routinely missed field goals which drove Saban wild.

No doubt the special teamer of the game was Braden Mann.  I can’t recall seeing a punter just driving a ball with no trajectory like he was.  He was knocking it low and deep all night.  I don’t know if he was doing it by design but it was working perfectly.  The way he was hitting it wouldn’t allow the return guy to set up underneath it so he was having to chase it like a center fielder on a deep line drive.  Clemson only had 9 yards of punt returns so whatever it was needs to keep happening.  Anytime you have a punter averaging 55 yards a punt and hits a 73 yarder with 9 return yards you’re doing something right.  Mann was tremendous.

On returns we didn’t really have anything spectacular but I thought Roshauud Paul did a nice job of knowing when to fair catch and return.  He had two returns off 14 and 11 yards which isn’t that long but shows he appears to have pretty good awareness.  Last thing you want on a punt return is to try and make a return when nothing is there.  That’s how fumbles happen.  If you don’t feel there’s anything to be gained get your arm up and call for the fair catch.  Make the catch and move on down the road.  Fumbled punts can really turn the momentum.  I like Paul’s apparent awareness in fielding punts.

 

Going Forward:

It’s hard not to like what happened at Kyle Field on Saturday night even though the Aggies are now 1-1 on the season.  Alabama is in two weeks and that’s the biggest test of the season.  Based on what I’ve seen this season Alabama is a better football team than Clemson.  The Aggies have to get through Louisiana Monroe this weekend but I don’t see that being an issue.  At least I hope not.

Right now I’m leaving my season prediction at 8-4.  The SEC West is still looking strong with Mississippi State being better than I originally thought.  South Carolina might be a little worse but that Georgia game could be a wake up call for them.  Arkansas looks like an easier game and Ole Miss apparently has all offense and no defense.  LSU is still so far away it’s hard to predict that one.  Kentucky doesn’t look like the easy win either after they beat Florida in Gainesville.  Still a lot of football to be played only 2 games in.  I want to make sure that Clemson game wasn’t a blip before I chug all of my maroon Kool-Aid.  What I had on Saturday night sure tasted good though.

I will say after Saturday night this team might be closer to the 2012 team than I originally thought.  That team that played at Kyle Field can beat anybody left on their schedule not named Alabama.  I think there’s at least one more loss in there but I feel much better about Auburn and LSU right now than I did coming into the season.  Let’s see what we look like against Alabama and then we can figure out what could happen the rest of the way.  I said a realistic dream season was going 9-3 winning the bowl game finishing at 10-3.  That seems really possible right now.

If we play the rest of the season like we played Clemson there’s no doubt we’ll Make Aggie Football Great Again well ahead of schedule.

#MAFGA

 

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Thoughts from Houston Coach’s Night

Jimbo Coach's Night

Nobody knows the eventual outcome of Jimbo Fisher’s tenure at Texas A&M.  He may never win the SEC West or he may win multiple national titles.  Only time will tell.  The telling thing will be how much he wins and loses.  It’s the only thing that matters in sports.  Sure, you want to win with integrity but at the end of the day the only thing fans really care about is wins and losses.  Jimbo’s tenure will be judged on wins and losses.  This much we know.

When Jimbo was hired I said if he doesn’t win big we might as well shut the Aggie Football program down.  I feel no different after seeing him at the Houston A&M Club Coach’s Night.  For 45 minutes Jimbo talked football and Aggieland at a pace that made the auctioneer on stage before him seem like he was talking slow.  This was after flying back from Atlanta where he spent all day talking at SEC Media Days.  Sure, he flew on a private jet so it wasn’t like he was fatigued from travel but regardless the man rattled off things about his team and Texas A&M at a pace and length most people in the audience couldn’t keep up with.  They became dis-interested not because what he said was boring but because their brain couldn’t keep up with Jimbo’s words.  Seriously.  Some people at my table gave up trying to follow along with what he was saying.  It got me excited.  You needed your brain’s full capacity to catch every word Jimbo was saying.

It’s clear Texas A&M finally has a legitimate football coach again.  It’s been since around 1995 that we’ve been in this situation.  The last legitimate football coach we had was R.C. Slocum before Mack Brown, Nick Saban, and Bob Stoops arrived on the scene and R.C. lost his way.  I’ll get to that in more detail in a bit.  I finally feel confident we have a coach with no question marks when it comes to being a college head football coach.

I won’t get into the details of what he said as it’s the same thing he’s said repeatedly in other press conferences but it’s crystal clear Jimbo Fisher knows and loves coaching football.  Jimbo carried a small piece of paper to the podium with a few notes but for 45 minutes he spoke completely from his brain.  His brain is filled with football knowledge.  Players, schemes, technique, coaches, and motivation he covered it all.  He knows football is a complex sport that combines all those things.  His brain is constantly thinking about all those things combined.  He’s very focused and he’s very driven.  That much is clear.  He wasn’t up there speaking to speak.  He was speaking about his knowledge and his expectations.  He constantly thinks and works to win football games.  He understands it’s not just plays and players that matters.  It’s every drill about technique in practice that matters.  It’s about his staff.  It starts with a bunch of individual things that must be combined to work in unison.  He knows he’s the leader and it starts with him.  He’s going to set the example for work and knowledge.

In addition to his football knowledge he’s quickly learned his A&M knowledge.  It was impressive the things he’s already realized about Aggieland.  He’s not learning about Aggieland to just speak about it.  He’s doing it because he’s figuring it out how it will help him win football games.  He’s using it to help recruit and he’s doing it to garner support from Aggies all over.  It is good though that Jimbo does seem to get Aggieland.  It’s a special place and he truly seems to understand that now more than ever.  Understanding Aggieland will only help him win games.  Plus, if he does win it all he’ll sell the school as much as the football program.  He’s going to take that next step we’ve yet to realize since joining the SEC.

I’ve never spoken with Jimbo personally but I don’t think he’d be any different than what you see on stage and in interviews.  He’s real and he’s raw.  He speaks from the brain more than the heart.  He’s not covering up any deficiencies.  Having helped put on Coach’s Nights in Houston and Fort Worth I’ve been able to be around every head coach since Jackie Sherrill.  Jimbo seems different than all of them.

Jackie is by far the most personable of all of them.  He knows football but Jackie is a natural salesman.  There’s no doubt why Jackie recruited like he did.  Make the paying the players joke if you want but it was the nature of the beast at the time.  Jackie could recruit for a reason beyond what was going on at the time.  He’s extremely personable.

R.C. Slocum is a fine person but he was stubborn as a coach.  He didn’t want to adapt to how football was changing and what other schools were doing.  Both on the field and in recruiting.  He thought showing up as R.C. Slocum wearing Aggie gear would be enough.  He won a lot but it wasn’t enough.  R.C. was a great coach when he took over from Jackie but he couldn’t sustain it.  Mack Brown, Bob Stoops, and Nick Saban exposed his deficiencies as a coach in my mind.  He’s a fine person but he was put in an outstanding situation and didn’t adapt to keep it going long term.

Dennis Franchione was an arrogant punk.  He felt he was better and smarter than everyone else.  He didn’t like being bothered by regular people.  He was a fraud as a coach as he rode some good luck with Gary Patterson and Ladinian Tomlinson at TCU.  He then inherited a loaded Alabama team before he headed to Texas A&M.  He had his work cut out for him at A&M but he was in over his head.  He masked it with arrogance until he couldn’t win enough.

Mike Sherman is as fine of a person as you’ll meet but he has no charisma and the big picture is not his strength.  He’s a very intelligent man at certain things.  Mainly offensive play calling.  He makes for an outstanding Executive Vice President but he’s not cut out to be a Chief Executive Officer.  His hiring as Head Coach at Texas A&M is still the most confusing thing I’ve ever seen.  I never got it then and I still to this day don’t get it.

Kevin Sumlin just wants to be a celebrity.  He doesn’t want to work because he’s not all that smart.  He caught lightening in a bottle with that 2012 team (and Case Keenum at UH) but the reality he’s not interested in being a great football coach.  He wants to give rah rah speeches and never look at film or work drills with a player.  He’s a great public speaker and a funny guy but he’s horrible as a head coach.  He’s made for a television headset and not a coach’s headset.

Jimbo seems different than all of them.  He has the raw mental horsepower to understand complexities and not be overwhelmed.  He has the curiosity to learn from others and change for the better.  He’s funny and charming enough that he can sell recruits.  He has the work ethic to set the example if you’re not willing to work for it you’ll never achieve it.  He seems humble enough that when assembling a staff he wants people to challenge him and not just compliment him.  He’s the leader but he wants independent thinkers offering feedback.  While he clearly knows a lot and likely knows more than any one person in the room he knows he doesn’t know it all.  Others can still offer him knowledge.

Jimbo referenced Scott Woodward several times last night.  It’s clear Jimbo wasn’t completely sure what he was getting into at Texas A&M and it wasn’t just about money.  He came to Texas A&M because of one person.  Jimbo believed that person when he was told he’d have more resources to win a National Championship than at Florida State.  That person is Scott Woodward.  Let’s never forget what Woodward means for the Jimbo hire.  He’s the man that made it happen.

I loved the Jimbo Fisher hire from the first day.  I didn’t have any reservations about him like I did with Fran, Sherman, and Sumlin.  From what I’ve seen from Jimbo since that day nothing has changed.  Seeing him speak in person I haven’t had faith in the Aggie Football program like this since the early 90s.

Maybe Jimbo never wins that National Championship.  Something tells me he will.  He’s done it once at Florida State and I think the timing is right for him to do it at Texas A&M.  I don’t think Tom Herman will be super successful at Texas so our main in state competitor for talent is susceptible.  I think in the next 2-3 years Nick Saban will step down as Bama coach.  I think LSU will wander aimlessly for a spell like before Saban got there.  I think Georgia and Florida are poised to rise in the East which hill hurt Auburn for recruiting.  You have to win the SEC West before worrying about a National Championship and it could get easier for A&M to do so.

I think everything is lining up for Jimbo to have one hellacious decade at Texas A&M.  It won’t happen this year as our offensive line is too weak.  I think by the third year Jimbo is going to have Texas A&M poised for a run at the National Championship.  I really do.  I don’t feel like I’m drinking the maroon Kool-Aid.  I really feel I’m looking at it objectively.  A part of success takes timing.  I think the timing is finally lining up for Texas A&M.  It’s about damn time.

If you’re an Aggie get ready to enjoy this next decade of Aggie Football.  It’s going to be like that period from 1985 to 1995 where there’s a realistic expectation win every game.  I’ve been behind the phrase Make Aggie Football Great Again for over a year now.  It’s about to happen.  When it’s all said and done Jimbo Fisher will have changed it to Made Aggie Football Great Again.

Get ready to #MAFGA

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Expectations for Jimbo Fisher

Jimbo Spring Practice

With Spring Practice hitting its full stride it’s time to talk a little football.  I take Spring Practice reports with a grain of salt.  Everything I’ve read is pretty much what I’ve expected.  Jimbo Fisher actually coaches football and coaches more than anyone on his staff.  Anyone that’s paid attention to Fisher in the past knows this.  He doesn’t stand around clapping and offering encouragement with hollow words.  Fisher gets in player’s faces offering ways to improve as a player.  Jimbo Fisher is an actual football coach that understands the game and works directly with his players.

Some people say Jimbo is not a “CEO Coach” like Sumlin.  Actually, he is a “CEO Coach.”  He just happens to be the type of CEO that happily goes on sales calls looking to close more deals, meets regularly with the R&D team to see what’s being worked on digging into any issues with the team, understands the current HR issues to see how he can improve things, and a host of other activities related to his organization.  He’s more interested than just earnings calls and going to conferences to talk on panels.  CEO’s can get involved in the details and Jimbo is one of them.  One coach loves to coach football along with handling everything else a head coach must do.  The previous coach just liked to be the figurehead of a major organization hoping his assistants and players figure it out while he claps and says words.  So yeah, things are different.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that’s been paying attention.

I won’t take much stock in practice reports until bullets start flying in September.  Starkel will likely remain as the starting QB throughout the Spring, Summer, and Fall.  It’s his position to lose although I’m sure Mond and Blumrik will get a chance to unseat him.  There’s no Johnny Manziel on this team so get that out of your mind.  Our offensive line continues to be a major work in progress lacking overall talent and depth.  We’re converting from a spread offense to a more traditional pro-style offense.  That presents a challenge we won’t know the reality until live action.  Defensively we have starting talent but are still lacking overall depth.  You just hope that Jimbo’s overall ability to actually be a coach is an improvement from the last coach.

From this point forward Jimbo must win and recruit in consecutive steps.  This is what doomed the last four coaching regimes.  You must continually both win on the field and in recruiting.  R.C. stopped wining and his recruiting fell off which only made winning harder.  Fran had the Cotton Bowl his second season and some decent recruiting classes with star talent but he could never do it consecutively.  Same thing with Sherman.  He had the 9-4 season but then went 6-6 blowing multiple first half leads.  Sumlin had the 2012 season but then went 9-4 and never improved from there where his recruiting also fell off.

You can recruit all you want but if you don’t win your recruiting will fall off.  The best recruiting tool is to win and continually win.  The top recruits want to play for winners because winning on the field is all that matters.  Jimbo was brought here to win football games on the field and nothing else.  The belief is A&M just made a $75 million investment for a national championship.  Anything less than that will be a disappointment.  Winning a national championship is EXTREMELY difficult with the new playoff system but that’s what Jimbo was brought here to do.

Ideally Jimbo wins a championship in his first five years at A&M but that seems difficult considering the state of the program.  I’ve come up with what I think are eight achievable steps based on the current state of A&M football, his pedigree, and the potential for the football program at Texas A&M.  He can certainly improve on any of these steps and I hope he does but at minimum I think he needs to do the following 8 things to put Texas A&M in contention for the national championship over the next 10 years.  To me these are reasonable steps and can be exceeded for a coach like Jimbo Fisher.

 

Step 1 – Close 2018 Recruiting Class:

This is done and Jimbo did a fine job.  The class only ranked #17 nationally but the way Jimbo closed it was solid.  The recruiting momentum was dead upon Sumlin’s departure.  Not because Sumlin left but because there was just nothing to sell at Texas A&M.  I’m convinced Leon O’Neal would have left A&M for good had it not been for Jimbo Fisher.  Most people don’t realize it but Bobby Bowden’s last 4 years included Top 10 classes in 3 of those and the other was still Top 20.  Florida State was struggling on the field but Bowden was still recruiting talent.  Jimbo just had to keep it going at Florida State.  At A&M he’s having to build it but he got off to a good solid start.  Now he must win on the field to keep it going.

Step 2 – 8 regular season wins in 2018 Season:

I believe 8 regular season wins is the minimum for 2018.  The West will take a step back in 2018 due to coaching changes except for Arkansas who should improve but we still have enough to beat them.  The only acceptable losses I see for 2018 are Clemson, Bama, Auburn, and LSU.  Clemson, Auburn, and LSU are all winnable games but I’m not sure we have the talent on the offensive line, at QB, and depth on defense to win those games.  Don’t forget we’re going from a spread team to a pro-style offense so there’s going to be an adjustment.  Even with that adjustment we must win 8 games.  The learning curve isn’t that big and there’s enough talent to beat everyone else on our schedule.  We get Kentucky at home from the East so the schedule is setup well.

The ideal realistic scenario is we beat LSU and win our bowl game winding up at 10-3 with a TON of momentum going into the off season.  I’m all for doing better than that but if Jimbo pulls off 10-3 winning our last two games against LSU and the bowl game he’s going to have A&M sitting pretty.  At minimum though he must go 8-4 and ideally win a bowl game putting us at 9-4.

Step 3 – Top 10 Recruiting Class in 2019:

It’s early but Jimbo currently has a Top 10 recruiting class.  Lots of things can change but if Jimbo keeps doing what he’s doing and wins on the field he should have a Top 10 recruiting class for 2019.  Most importantly though he must sign kids he can develop.  I think he will based on how he’s been recruiting so far.  He looks for football guys and not just numbers guys that look the part.

Step 4 – 10 regular season wins in 2019 Season:

10 regular season wins likely puts us second in the SEC West which should be the main goal for 2019.  I’ll give Jimbo a little rope here just in case Stidham stays at Auburn for his final year or Eddie O pulls off something amazing in Baton Rouge.  I don’t think either of those things happens so 10 wins puts us behind Alabama in the SEC West which would be perfect for Jimbo’s second year.  We go to Clemson so that’s a wildcard right now but either way 10 regular season wins should be the minimum goal here building on the 2018 season.

Step 5 – Top 6 Recruiting Class in 2020:

At some point just being in the Top 10 won’t be good enough.  To win a national championship you must recruit at the highest level.  Jimbo needs to be knocking on the Top 5 at this point.  Even better if he’s there.

Step 6 – Second in the SEC West in 2020:

Ideally we’re already second in the SEC West in 2019 and focused on winning the SEC West in 2020.  If not, the 2020 season needs to be about being the clear second-best team in the SEC West.  Nick Saban could be gone by 2020 making wining the SEC West easier but I’m not going to assume that.  Saban will outlive us all and still be coaching Bama at 120 years of age.  Seriously.  Until he’s gone from the game I’m assuming nothing because he’s the king of college football.  To think otherwise is foolish.  If Saban is in Alabama you’re chasing second place.

Step 7 – Top 5 Recruiting Class in 2021:

Jimbo continues to build an elite recruiting school.  Coaches can say all they want about getting “our guys” in a recruiting class but if you’re not consistently getting a Top 10 class you won’t win a national championship.  “Our guys” means you’re picking from the second tier of athletes and not the true elite.  The higher the ranking the better as it’s about being elite.  It’s easier to coach when you have talent.  That’s the difference between Nick Saban and Bill Snyder.  Jimbo needs to be Top 5 at this point.

Step 8 – Win the SEC West in 2021:

Ideally we’re repeating as SEC West champions and poised for a national title run here.  If Saban is still at Bama Jimbo needs to beat him for the SEC West in his fourth season.  A&M isn’t chasing anyone else but a Saban lead Bama team at this point.  Ideally Saban is gone and Jimbo has replaced him as the class of the SEC West.  If that happens we’ll be on track to maintaining a status of an elite national football program.  Once that happens every year will bring about a chance for a national championship.  That’s what we’re paying Jimbo $75 million to do.  It could take 4 seasons to get there and that’s okay.  We just need to get there.

 

I have no clue if Jimbo gets there.  Anybody that pretends they know is being a fool.  Based on his pedigree and short time at A&M all of that looks VERY attainable.  He wasn’t brought here to build ever so slightly on what R.C., Fran, Sherman, and Sumlin left.  He was brought here to elevate A&M to a level we haven’t seen since the early 90s.  Actually even better as we never really sniffed a national title from 85-95 which were the prime years of Aggie football.  I hope he does better than those 8 steps above.  I think it’s very possible but at minimum those are the steps I’d like to see over the next four years.

Let’s hope Jimbo Makes Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

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Thoughts on the Defensive Coordinator Hire

Mike Elko

Before getting to the hire of Mike Elko let’s touch on the Belk Bowl.  It seemed like the perfect summary of the Kevin Sumlin era.  The Aggies jumped out to a convincing 14-0 lead thanks to two blocked punts deep in Wake Forest’s territory.  It seemed like it would be an easy win for Texas A&M with an early 14-0 lead and equally matched teams.  Wake Forest then rips off 31 UNANSWERED points in basically a quarter of football.  Seriously.  In around 15 minutes of football Wake Forest scored THIRTY ONE points and the Aggies scored ZERO.  On A&M’s first 6 possessions that didn’t involve a blocked punt they punted 5 times and fumbled on the 6th possession.  Meanwhile the Aggie defense is handing out points like candy on Halloween to let Wake Forest have a 31-14 lead.  The Aggies clawed back and went into halftime down 38-28 which is pretty remarkable.

The Aggies came out in the second half looking much better as the Aggie defense held Wake Forest to only a field goal in their first five possessions.  The defense forced two turnovers on five of those possessions and the offense continued moving the ball.  This allowed the Aggies to take a 45-41 lead early in the 4th quarter despite giving back one of those turnovers with an interception.  As would be typical of many Aggie games, the defense couldn’t hold as Wake Forest scored two touchdowns on their last two possessions.  The Aggie offense couldn’t respond to both scores and Wake Forest wound up with a 55-52 win.  It seems like the perfect ending to the Sumlin era where things looked great early on, then looked really bad, then clawed back making things look respectful by even taking the lead.  In the end the Aggies couldn’t hold on to a lead running out of time one final game with the Sumlin regime.

Someone asked me what I expected before the bowl game.  My response was that I didn’t expect anything different from the last four seasons other than Kevin Sumlin wouldn’t be on the sidelines chewing gum.  That’s the way it turned out.  The Belk Bowl was pretty much the mirror of Sumlin’s time at A&M.

Now we can truly begin the Jimbo Fisher Era.

Before bowl season there was a lot of speculation on who A&M might hire as it’s defensive coordinator.  Early on there was talk of Bud Foster, Alex Grinch, and Travaris Robinson.  They seemed like likely candidates given their current positions and A&M’s resources.  As bowl season cranked up the speculation started dying down as it seemed A&M wouldn’t be making a hire until after everyone played their bowl game.  During this time bigger names started getting whispered about with the biggest name being Dave Aranda of LSU.  It seemed like a long shot but the rumors got stronger and stronger that he was Jimbo’s main target.  Along with the way names like Manny Diaz of Miami, Mike Elko of Notre Dame, and Don Brown of Michigan were also speculated.

It was very much like the Jimbo Fisher hire where nobody knew for sure but there seemed to be a clear target and it was Aranda.  After the New Year’s Day games the smoke around Aranda really started to thicken.  Of all the names being speculated Aranda’s name seemed to be the most consistent.  There was speculation on the LSU side that it was pretty apparent A&M was coming after him.  At one point it sounded like he might have turned A&M down but nobody knew for sure.  Brent Zwerneman then tweeted A&M was in fact going after Aranda and a pretty wild afternoon/evening ensued with no one publicly knowing what was going on.  It was clear though that A&M had in fact zeroed in on Aranda.  Later that evening it became pretty clear that Aranda was not going to leave LSU.  It appeared LSU had given Aranda the exclusive keys to the LSU defense and a new contract for four years worth $10 million in total compensation.  Hard for Aranda to turn that down.

Aggies everywhere seemed pretty dejected Jimbo didn’t land Aranda.  They lamented all the momentum A&M had built with the Jimbo hire was gone.  The Aggies would be stuck with some average defensive coordinator that even his current school didn’t want.  A lot of Aggies went back to their “woe is us” mentality as it seemed like Aranda or bust.

Fortunately for A&M Jimbo Fisher didn’t see it that way.  Less than 24 hours after being publicly turned down by Aranda the Aggies hired Mike Elko away from Notre Dame.  It was a major get by A&M to hire an up and coming defensive coordinator away from a major program.  The momentum A&M created by hiring Jimbo seemed to be back.  All was good in Aggieland for football.

While Jimbo didn’t land his top target in Aranda I love the way this hire played out.  It was clear Jimbo had his top target and A&M threw everything they could at him.  When he didn’t bite A&M didn’t get phased and simply went after the next major hire they had on their list.  In less than 24 hours they had their defensive coordinator.  Nobody likes getting rejected but rejection is a lot easier to swallow when you immediately rebound with something just as good.  That’s what A&M did and shows this is a different day for A&M football.  There seems to be a plan with targeting, approaching, and hiring the football staff.  It certainly feels different.

As for Elko it seems like a really solid hire.  I’ll admit I haven’t watched a lot of Notre Dame football this year but it’s pretty clear the biggest difference from Notre Dame in 2016 to 2017 is the improvement of their defense.  Notre Dame went from 4-8 to 9-3.  That’s pretty remarkable.  What I’ve read and watched about him he seems like a guy that coaches fundamentals and adapts each week to the offense his defense is facing.  I don’t think fundamentals and adaptability are understood enough by coaches.  It seems at times a lot of coaches want to out scheme everyone but if you don’t have fundamentals and adapt each week there is no “schematic advantage” as Charlie Weiss likes to say.  Elko seems like a guy that focuses on fundamentals and changing his approach each week based on the opponent.  The one common comparison that can be made is Notre Dame held LSU to 17 points in their bowl game while A&M allowed LSU 45 points this past season.  I would bet the talent level on the Notre Dame and Aggie defense isn’t far apart so that’s a feather in Elko’s hat.

The thing I like most about this hire is Jimbo Fisher appears to be doing his due diligence and hiring competent people he doesn’t have a relationship with.  I think the worst thing a head coach can do is only hire people they’re familiar with rather than look for the most competent person no matter their relationship.  It appears Fisher targeted people he has no relationship with but through due diligence identified people he thinks are great coaches at their respective positions.  I absolutely love that because it seemed Kevin Sumlin only hired people he had a prior relationship with.  The only time he hired someone he didn’t have a relationship with was Dave Christensen and that was a disaster.  I don’t think that’s happening with Fisher as he seems to be targeting coaches on their way up instead of their way down when Sumlin hired Christensen.

For those disappointed by the failure to get Aranda there’s no reason to be concerned.  I think Elko is likely just as good as Aranda.  I think a lot of coordinators get over-rated based on the school they coach because of their talent.  I think in college football there’s a group of 10-15 coordinators that are all interchangeable.  For the most part they’re excellent coaches but none of them are perfect and they have bad games.  There’s no coordinator that’s head and shoulders above anyone else.  Even Aranda who’s deemed as one of the best defensive coordinators in college football had games this past season where they gave up 37 to Mississippi State, 26 to Syracuse, 24 to Troy, 24 to Ole Miss, and 24 to Bama.  That’s 5 of 12 games where his defense gave up over 20 points.  That’s certainly not dominating by any stretch.

We’ll find out in 2018 how good Elko is as he has some decent components to work with on the Aggie defense.  I think Elko has a much easier job than Jimbo Fisher on the offensive side of the ball.  I think there’s more talent across the board on the defense compared to the offense mainly because the offensive line is so bad.  There’s no reason to think that Elko can’t improve on what John Chavis did as defensive coordinator.  It won’t be a major improvement but the goal should be a more consistent defensive effort from game to game.  Based on Elko’s history as a defensive coordinator there’s no reason to think he can’t do that.  It won’t be the true return of the Wrecking Crew but those days are likely never coming back.  Football has changed to an offensive game for the most part.  What the Aggies need is a defensive coordinator that preaches fundamentals and adapts to the opponent each week.  In Elko it seems that Fisher has found someone that can do exactly that.

Scott Woodward – Sniper Athletic Director

scottwoodward

Scott Woodward is a bona fide sniper athletic director.  He’s been on the job since January of 2016.  That’s about 23 months of service and most Aggie fans don’t know much about him other than he previously served as Washington’s Athletic Director before coming to Texas A&M.  Well, Aggie fans know all about him now with the hire of Jimbo Fisher.  The media can grade out the Jimbo Fisher hire however they want but the fact of the matter is Scott Woodward pulled off the hire of the year and maybe even the past decade.  He convinced a coach with a national championship and a program that by many accounts was established as a Top 10 program to move to Texas A&M.  I can’t think of another time that’s happened in recent memory.

Nick Saban was looking to leave Miami and get back to the college game.  Urban Meyer was sitting on the sidelines.  Chip Kelly was also on the sidelines and was familiar with the West Coast along with being able to hide in Los Angeles.  I don’t think the Chip Kelly is a bigger hire than Jimbo Fisher this year. It took a lot more to convince Jimbo Fisher to leave Florida State and come to Texas A&M than it took UCLA to convince Chip Kelly UCLA was the right school for him.  Going back to recent big hires there was Jim Harbaugh but he’s a Michigan alum and was looking to leave the NFL.  It certainly wasn’t Charlie Strong, Tom Herman, Kevin Sumlin, Art Briles, Chris Petersen, or any other mid-major to major hire.  Maybe I’m missing a hire in the last decade but I can’t think of a hire where a coach left a program like Florida State for Texas A&M.  The most recent might have been Dennis Franchione when he left Alabama for Texas A&M but that was way back in 2002.  That’s been almost 15 years ago.

If you listen to the Jimbo Fisher press conference there’s one reason why Jimbo Fisher is at Texas A&M – Scott Woodward.  Scott Woodward’s friendship was the main reason but there’s no doubt it took some serious convincing to get Jimbo Fisher to make the move.  Bill Byrne nor Eric Hyman could have made this hire.  I’m not convinced any other athletic director in the country could have made this hire.  LSU tried twice and I’m pretty sure Texas asked as well last season.  Jimbo Fisher is a bigger higher than Tom Herman.  There’s no denying that.  I’m sure there’s also been other programs that expressed an interest in Jimbo Fisher but he’s never made the move from Florida State to anywhere but Texas A&M.  Texas A&M has Scott Woodward to thank for that.  There’s no doubt Woodward got plenty of support from those in charge of Texas A&M but this hire is solely Scott Woodward’s.

The interesting thing about Scott Woodward if you pay attention to conversation about athletic directors across the country you never hear his name mentioned.  At all.  Scott Woodward’s name never comes up with the “big named” athletic directors.  The only thing anyone knows about Scott Woodward at Texas A&M other than this hire is when he went on the record saying Kevin Sumlin needed to win more at SEC media days.  Outside of that comment you’ve never heard about Scott Woodward.  People have heard of Joe Castiglione at OU, Scott Stricklin at Florida, Jeff Long formerly of Arkansas, Chris Del Conte now of Texas, Greg Byrne at Alabama, and others but you NEVER have heard of Scott Woodward with those names.  You likely won’t hear Scott Woodward’s name much despite pulling off the biggest hire in college football in the last 10-15 years.  He just sits in the weeds and does his job with no self-promotion which is why you don’t see his name thrown out there.

No matter what anyone says the MOST important thing an AD in college athletics can do is hire a winning football coach.  You win in football and everything else falls in place.  Athletic Director’s careers are made based on the success of the football coach.  Everything else is a distant second.  If you’ve got a winning football coach and have the ability to string complete sentences together in a crowd you’re going to be crowned a “successful” athletic director.  There’s no doubt Jeff Long got ran off from Arkansas because he hired Brett Bielema.  The man had done really well with the Arkansas athletic department but got fired because he hired Brett Bielema.  Joe Castiglione, Chris Del Conte, and Greg Byrne are all considered elite athletic directors because of the football program.  There’s no doubt those guys are competent athletic directors but the success of the football program lifts the perception of the rest of the athletic department.  It’s that plain and simple.

Scott Woodward is a Sniper Athletic Director because you haven’t heard a peep from him other than his introductory press conference in January 2016 and his comments this year at SEC Media Days.  On December 1, 2017 he fired a shot that made everyone stand up and take notice.  At least those with half a brain took notice.  Scott Woodward without any fanfare brought Jimbo Fisher to Texas A&M.  He made his comment during SEC Media Days stating expectations and that had been it from him.  When it came time to pull the cord on Sumlin he quietly and calmly pulled the trigger bagging his mark.  Everybody knew he was around but nobody was really sure what was going on.  There was lots of speculation but nobody knew for sure.  Woodward didn’t say anything during the whole process other than when it was announced Sumlin would no longer be the head coach.  Woodward simply said the next time you would hear from him is when the new coach was named.  That was it.  That’s operating like a sniper rather than an infantry person spraying bullets hoping something big falls.  See Tennessee for an example of that later.  Woodward had his mark, his perch, and fired a clean shot.  That’s the way snipers work.

His use of the media was very well done.  Rather than let some wild speculation happen there was just enough leaks to keep any media person specifically covering Texas A&M on the Jimbo Fisher trail.  Some media people were speculating other names but those that cover Texas A&M closest always pointed to Jimbo Fisher.  It wasn’t just one media person either.  Brent Zwerneman, Billy Liucci, and Mark Passwaters who cover A&M the most were consistent in their updates it was Jimbo Fisher.  I’m hoping that was by design to get just enough information out there but not too much if Jimbo Fisher couldn’t be landed.  On the day Sumlin was let go, Randy McIlvoy of KPRC in Houston was brought into the mix to announce “according to sources” Jimbo Fisher would be the next head coach at Texas A&M.  Jimbo Fisher had one more game to go but something tells me McIlvoy’s source was the Athletic Director at Texas A&M.  At least whoever told McIlvoy had the blessing of the Athletic Director to go ahead and get the name out there.  This way when the hiring was made official it wasn’t a total shock and the media was ready cover it from different aspects.  Woodward proved the doubters wrong but he left enough crumbs out there for those truly paying attention with an objective lens.

The hiring process really reminded of the move to the SEC.  Dr. Loftin spoke just enough to control the message but never overpromised anything.  There was denial and speculation early on by a lot of the media people just like with the Jimbo Fisher.  Through it all A&M kept quiet making sure everything was lined up.  As things appeared to be happening enough news was leaked so people were prepared for the official announcement and it wouldn’t be complete shock and awe.  I thought Texas A&M handled the move to the SEC and hiring of Jimbo Fisher with almost perfect execution.  They spoke less and executed more.  As Jimbo Fisher said in his opening press conference, “Your actions speak so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying.”  Texas A&M’s actions said exactly what Texas A&M is about.  Doubt us and we’ll prove you wrong.

With a 10 year, $75 million contract Scott Woodward’s entire legacy is likely tied to the success or failure of Jimbo Fisher.  It seems he knows that which is why you don’t hear much from him.  I suspect Woodward will stay behind the scenes and let the football program speak for his acumen.  This was his hire and he knows this will be his legacy.  He knows ultimately the actions of the football program will speak so loudly nobody will hear what he’s saying.  There’s no point in saying anything.  Just sit back like a sniper hoping his job is done.

If you want to know a little more about Scott Woodward he’s a graduate of LSU which makes the hire of Jimbo Fisher ironic because his alma mater couldn’t do it in two previous attempts.  He graduated in 1985 and worked in politics working mainly on campaigns for state and national elections.  In 2000 he was hired by LSU as director of external affairs also serving as the liaison between the chancellor and athletics.  In 2004 he left LSU for Washington working in the same role.  In 2008 he was named the athletic director at Washington where he served in that role before taking the same role at Texas A&M in January of 2016.