Taxslayer Gator Bowl

Thoughts from the Gator Bowl

trayveon gator bowl

I don’t care the record, location, or opponent of a bowl game.  When you dominate your opponent in a bowl game it feels good.  Especially after experiencing recent losses against Louisville, Kansas State, and Wake Forest.  I know Louisville had Lamar Jackson but that was still a very winnable game that we lost.  I don’t like losing.

After three seasons of frustrating bowl showings it’s good to see Jimbo bury an opponent in a bowl game.  This really reminded me of the 2012 Cotton Bowl where we played OU close for a half and then buried them in the second half.  The Gator Bowl had a slight question mark for the Aggies in the second quarter but the Aggies responded right before half and then buried NC State early in the second half.  The second half turned into a party for those Aggies in attendance at the Gator Bowl as Tyrel Dodson picked off a pass on NC State’s opening drive for a touchdown.  The Aggies then forced a punt and responded with a touchdown followed by forcing another punt and responding with a touchdown for a 42-13 lead right after the fourth quarter started.  When Trayveon Williams finished off his 93-yard touchdown for a 42-13 lead, the party was in full effect.  It wasn’t like it used to be.

Let’s get to what happened.

Offense:

The Key Decision:

The thing that’s impressed me most about Jimbo Fisher so far this season is his in-game recognition and adjustments.  He’s not perfect but Jimbo is really aware of what’s going on in the game.  I’ve never seen a more obvious moment with an adjustment like in the Gator Bowl.

We all know about Kellen’s long run for a touchdown on the first drive.  On the second drive it was an inconsistent drive with Kellen going 3 for 7 on completions.  Trayveon had one nice run with 2 runs for no gain.  The drive gained 3 first downs but ultimately stalled after a false start on 1st down.  They couldn’t gain 15 yards on three downs and the Aggies would punt.

On the third drive Corbin had a nice 4-yard run but on the next play Mond’s pass is tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted.  Back to back bad drives.

The fourth drive was by far the worst drive of the night.  I think because of what happened on this drive Jimbo changed things up.  The drive started with two incompletions where I don’t think the receivers were that open but Kellen threw the ball anyway.  On 3rd and 10 Kellen drops a beautiful ball between coverage to Quartney Davis for a 30-yard gain.  The Aggies are set up 1st and 10 at the NC State 35 and down 13 to 7.  Looks like they’re about claw back into this thing after giving up 12 unanswered points and struggling on offense.

Kellen hands the ball off to Trayveon who is stuffed by the NC State right defensive end who blew up the Aggie left tackle.  That results in a loss of 4 yards.  On 2nd and 14, Mond hits Ausbon on a nice slant route for 13 yards.  On 3rd and 1, Mond keeps the ball and tries to go left side but gets nowhere.  It’s 4th and 1 at the NC State 26-yard line.  Jimbo decides to go for it rather than kick a 43-yard field goal.  Mond hands the ball off to Trayveon who tries the left side and is stuffed for a one-yard loss.  Once again, the NC State right defensive end destroyed our left tackle.

Up until that moment the Aggie offense had a couple solid plays in Kellen’s long touchdown run and the 30-yard pass to Quartney.  The offensive line had looked decent pass blocking but the receivers weren’t really getting open.  Run wise the Aggies hadn’t done much and it appeared the NC State defense was owning the line of scrimmage against the Aggie offense.  Especially the NC State right defensive end against the Aggie left tackle.  Things weren’t looking good for the Aggies despite only being down by 6 points.

I was at the game so I didn’t see this but apparently the television showed Jimbo talking to the offensive line in the second quarter.  It seemed like he was challenging his offensive line and asking them if they could get push.  I’ve seen this before with Jimbo at Florida State where he would basically tell his offensive line they were getting pushed around and asked them if it was going to continue.  Basically, Jimbo was telling his offensive line they were getting their ass whipped and if they wanted to respond.

That’s great recognition by Jimbo to know his offensive line wasn’t dominating the line of scrimmage.  A lot of coaches would just look at their spreadsheet trying to figure out plays that might have a “schematic advantage.”  Apparently Jimbo understands if you’re not winning the line of scrimmage it doesn’t matter what plays you’re calling.  Every play works better when the offensive line isn’t getting pushed back.  Rather than try new plays, Jimbo went to the heart of the matter addressing the offensive line directly.  That’s solid coaching.

Even more solid was a recognition and adjustment based on what had happened.  On their fifth offensive possession the Aggies were set up nicely thanks to a decent punt return by Rashaud Paul.  On the first play Mond hit a wide open Sternberger for 28 yards.  Mond misses Rogers on the next play but the following play changed everything about the game.  Mond handed off to Trayveon who ran to the right side and ripped off a 30-yard run to the 2 yard line.  This run was even on the right hash so it was the short side of the field.  The right side of the Aggie offensive line sealed the edge for Trayveon to get loose.  Trayveon would punch it in on the next play to take the lead back.

From that moment everything changed for the Aggies.  On their next possession they’d mix passes and runs covering 72 yards in 11 plays consuming 5:15 of the clock.  They’d score on a typical Kendrick Rogers leaping touchdown grab to go up 21-13 with 32 seconds left in the half.  Momentum was clearly on the Aggie side.

Coming out of the second half Jimbo was determined to crush the will of the Wolfpack thanks to a 28-13 lead coming from Dodson’s interception return for a touchdown.  On the first offensive series of the second half Trayveon got the handoff five straight times where he ripped off runs of 38, 5, 4, 18, and 17 yards.  5 handoffs and 82 yards to Trayveon.  The first 4 runs went to the right side.  The final run for the touchdown went to the left side but the play design was perfect.  The Aggie left guard pulled left to kick out the right defensive end that had wreaked havoc on our left tackle.  The play used the aggressiveness of that right defensive end to get up field where the left guard easily pulled and sealed him so he was neutralized on that play.  The rest of the line was blocking downfield and Trayveon strolled into the end zone for an easy score.

On the next offensive series we all know what happened on the first play.  Mond handed off to Trayveon to the right side.  Trayveon had a huge hole to run through and it was off to the races for a 93-yard touchdown.  In addition to the offensive line springing Trayveon, Jhamon Ausbon did a tremendous job blocking his defensive back.  Ausbon flat out owned his defensive back making sure he wasn’t anywhere close to the play.  Without Ausbon’s block those 93 yards don’t happen as Trayveon never broke stride once he hit the second level.

The first 6 offensive plays of the second half were to Trayveon resulting in 165 yards and 2 touchdowns.  That’s 27.5 yards per carry.  That’s total dominance.  That 93-yarder would be Trayveon’s final run of the evening as Corbin would see the next carries where he hit on runs of 4 and 35 yards before the Aggie offense sputtered a tad settling for a field goal.

We all know about Gillaspia’s run on the final offensive play of the night.  I’ve been critical of Gillaspia’s blocking this season but I could not be happier for him scoring that touchdown.  He’s busted his ass and represented the 12th Man well his entire Aggie career.  For him to score a touchdown on his final play could not be a better ending for the 12th Man.

When it was all said and done Jimbo and the Aggie offense simply stomped on the Wolfpack defense with the run.  A team that was struggling at the line of scrimmage early in the first half was challenged to get push.  Most importantly, a coach realized he was better off running away from one side of the ball.  Don’t underestimate Jimbo realizing the left side of the Wolfpack defense was the vulnerable side to run to.  There’s a good chance an offensive coach might have thought a simple “rah rah” speech was enough.  Jimbo knew better than to attack the side that had dominated his offense.  Sometimes it takes words and brains to get the job done.  Jimbo smartly used both in that game which was the difference between a close game and a blowout.

Running Backs:

I pretty much covered everything on the running game above.  Trayveon carried the ball 19 times for 236 yards and 3 scores.  That’s a 12.4-yard average.  That’s insane.  Jashaun Corbin made hay in his short time carrying 4 times for 41 yards so 10 yards a carry.  One carry was for 35 yards but that’s still an impressive 4 carries.

I’ll get to Trayveon’s decision to go pro later but after that final touchdown run it was clear he was going pro.  He started blowing kisses to the Aggie faithful and waving goodbye.  His decision was made before the game and he was just living in the moment.  After that performance I don’t blame him one bit.  The Aggie fans in attendance certainly ate it up.

Offensive Line:

Outside of our left tackle struggling against their right defensive end I thought these guys were tremendous.  The running stats speak for themselves especially when you throw in Mond’s long touchdown run.  In passing situations they gave Mond plenty time of to throw as he wasn’t sacked all night.

Maybe the NC State defense isn’t an SEC caliber defense but they still had enough talent to give our offensive line fits if they didn’t play well.  I questioned Jim Turner and this unit coming into the season and at points this season but there’s no doubt the line got better as the season went on.  That is an EXCELLENT thing to see.  This line developed and improved as the season got better.  They saved their best effort for the last game which was a welcomed sight as they were the key unit in blowing this game open.  We don’t score 45 points on offense without the effort of these guys.

Wide Receiver:

Our receivers had an average game.  Some of this was due to the fact of how well we did on the ground in the second half but a lot had to do with not getting open all the time.  There were times nobody was open.  This is consistent with what we’ve seen all season.  They totaled 14 receptions for 140 yards and the Kendrick Rogers score.  Not a bad day but they weren’t dominant by any stretch.  I think that’s partially why Jimbo finally went to the run to see if we could put it away on the ground.

After watching this game I’ve realized this unit gets open because of play design for the most part.  We run a bunch of routes that feed off each other and force defenders to pick one or the other.  A fair amount of time they pick wrong and we have a receiver running open.  This applies to everyone.  We just don’t really get separation in true one on one situations with a defender.

It’s great to see Jimbo and staff create plays where these guys can get open but right now I don’t have faith in any of these receivers dominating man coverage.  We have guys that complimented each other really well so this receiving corps was serviceable all season.  There’s just not a guy on this roster that you’d completely trust to dominate man coverage and make a play.

Ausbon is your go to guy on a quick slant/in route to pick up 5-10 yards.  Sternberger is your guy to exploit the middle of the field.  Quartney Davis is your quick guy you hope the defense forgets to cover.  Of course, Kendrick Rogers, Jr. is they guy you’re throwing it to the end zone as he’ll battle for a ball when he doesn’t have to worry about continuing to go downfield.

I don’t want to take anything away from the effort and productivity these guys had this season.  It’s just we’re still missing a Mike Evans, Josh Reynolds, or Christian Kirk type play with this unit.

Kellen Mond:

Oh boy.  Here we go.  I thought this was a normal Kellen Mond game.  He had a tremendous run on the second play of the game and then was hit or miss on a couple series after that.  He wound being 14 of 26 for 140 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception.  That’s not a bad day at the office at all.  I don’t necessarily put that interception on him as it was batted at the line of scrimmage and a defensive lineman caught it.

There’s no doubt the offensive line and Trayveon carried this team but Kellen was a big contributor.  He wound up as a 54% passer and had some really solid throws.  The 30-yard pass to Quartney Davis was beautiful as he stepped up in the pocket to avoid their right defensive end who had beat our left tackle and threw a beautiful ball between coverage.  That was an amazing play.

He certainly missed on some passes as he missed some receivers high but when receivers were open he hit them for the most part.  He had a solid game.  If you can’t admit that then I can’t help you.

The reality with Kellen is I don’t think we’re ever going to see him win a Heisman Trophy or be a guy that carries a team all by myself.  That’s okay though as that’s not what Jimbo is looking for.  JImbo wants a guy that understands every play design and can execute it quickly when the defense does exactly what’s expected.  I’ve seen Kellen do that all season long where he follows the play design and executes it quickly.  His job is to anticipate where guys will be open based on the play design and hit them when they’re open.  He does that pretty well other than a few mistakes this season.

Kellen isn’t a guy that’s going to consistently make something out of nothing.  That’s not a bad thing.  Just give me the guy that can execute Jimbo’s play design and calling because we finally have a coach that can read and adjust to a defense in game.  Kellen does this pretty well for the most part.  He certainly still has some developing to do but we don’t have a 9-4 season if Kellen is a complete waste of space under center.

I have no clue if we win a national title with Kellen.  It certainly won’t be because of his play by himself.  I do understand that.  It’ll be because we have 85 scholarship players contributing with a few walk-ons potentially thrown in as well.  Kellen will be under center minimizing mistakes and simply running Jimbo’s offense.  It’s entirely possible we win a national title in 2020 with Kellen under center.  There’s no way to tell right now.

We know of quarterbacks like Tim Tebow, Vince Young, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, and Deshaun Watson winning national titles for their teams.  Here’s another list of names that have also won national titles as the starting quarterback in the last few years – Matt Flynn, Greg McElroy, AJ McCarron, Cardale Jones, and Jake Coker.  I don’t think we’ll see Kellen in that first list of names but it’s entirely possible he shows up in the second list of names.  He’s finishing up his true sophomore season so he can absolutely still develop.  There’s a lot of positives with Kellen after the 2018 season.

If sorry if none of that helps your Kellen Anxiety.  There certainly won’t be anyone on the roster better to run Jimbo’s offense in 2019.  Probably the same in 2020.  It’s not nearly as bad as you think.  I promise.

Defense:

I’m going to write about the defense as an entire unit this game mainly due to a couple key injuries and how the game played out.  The Wolfpack had one drive in the 1st quarter where they drove 71 yards on 12 plays and consumed almost 6 minutes of the clock.  That play resulted in a field goal.  That was by far the most impressive drive of the night for the Wolfpack.  The Wolfpack’s next most impressive drive was to open up the second half where they drove 50 yards in 7 plays consuming 3:42 of clock.  The only issue with this drive is it resulted in Tyrel Dodson baiting them in to an interception return for a touchdown.  I don’t think I’d call that an impressive drive when you give up a touchdown to the defense.

Their touchdown came off our interception where they only had to drive 27 yards for the score.  They had a couple of other series where they gained 35 and 36 yards with one of those resulting in a field goal.  Other than those four drives it was basically three and out all night for NC State.

You probably already know this, but NC State was 0 for 13 on 3rd Down conversions for the night.  That’s right.  In THIRTEEN tries the Wolfpack converted ZERO third down plays for a first down.  ZERO THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS.  That’s unreal.  They were 2 of 4 on 4th Down conversions but to fail on 13 3rd Down conversions is a real testament to our defense.

We only had two sacks on the evening but we had 11 tackles for losses.  We brought pressure to the Wolfpack backfield all night long.  We had 7 defenders credited with 6 tackles or more with the highest number of tackles being 9.  It was spread evenly between those 7 guys.  To me that’s the mark of a defense knowing their assignments and making plays.  Everybody contributed.

I think early on we really missed Otara Alaka as NC State was able to rip off a couple of decent runs on their 71 yard drive.  I think Tyrel Dodson was getting used to playing middle linebacker in Alaka’s absence.  After that drive though, the defense seemed to really settle down and controlled the game for the most part.

It’s hard to isolate any single player on defense because everyone contributed and that’s what you want out of a defense.  Everybody just did their job and helped each other out.

This isn’t a terrible NC State offense either.  Their quarterback is a potential first round draft pick and their center won the Rimington Award as the best center in the country.  They had a nice duo at running back with Reggie Gallaspy II and Ricky Person, Jr.  Yes.  One guy goes by the second and the other guy goes by Junior.  Either way, those guys were solid running backs.  I know NC State was missing their best receiver who decided to sit out and focus on the draft but I’m not sure he would have made that much difference.  The Aggie defense was that dominant.  At best he’s worth two touchdowns.  It would have certainly made the game different but the Aggie defense was ready for what the NC State offense tried to do.

Overall this unit really reminds me of the 2012 defensive unit.  A few really talented guys but for the most part a cohesive unit.  I know out secondary was terrible most of the season but the defense’s ability to play the line of scrimmage was outstanding all season.  I think next season we’ll have even more talent and depth but I think we’ll step back at linebacker trying to fill the holes left by Dodson and Alaka.  Those guys were studs all season long.  I just hope Elko can keep the cohesion going for next years unit as this unit was solid defending the line of scrimmage all season.  If you can defend the line of scrimmage you can win football games.

Special Teams:

Not much to report here.  Seth Small missed a 52-yard field goal at the end of the first half but also hit a 35-yarder.  Rashaud Paul had a nice 21-yard punt return and Jashaun Corbin had a nice 30 yard kick-off return.  It was un-eventful for the Special Teams and I’m okay with that.

 

I think that pretty much covers the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl for the Aggies.  You can’t ask for much better when it comes to a bowl game.  Sure, there were some minor issues here and there but for the most part the Aggies took their foot and stomped it on the Wolfpack.  It was a nice ending to Jimbo’s first season.  Maybe this is a total repeat of the 2012 season with a few more losses but this time feels different.  This entire team feels different than that 2012 season.  That was lightening in a bottle.  This feels like the foundation of something bigger being built.

 

Georgia vs Texas:

If you don’t care about the Texas Longhorns no need to read this section.  Here’s the reality of what happened – Texas came out and beat Georgia.  You can blame Georgia not being ready or some other lame excuse like Georgia made some early mistakes with the knee being down on the punt and Swift’s early fumble.  It doesn’t matter.  Texas came out and soundly beat Georgia.  Texas beat Georgia.  Simple as that.

It wound up being a 28-21 game so the final score looks close but Texas controlled that game from start to finish.  I’ve watched a fair amount of Texas games under Tom Herman and what I was most impressed with was Texas’ ability to control the line of scrimmage.  They didn’t let Georgia run the ball and did an outstanding job running the ball on Georgia.  I’ve not seen that under Herman and it was impressive.

Sam Ehlinger managed the game really well.  He didn’t light it up passing but he made some key throws and didn’t make mistakes.  He also did a really good job running the ball fighting for hard yards while protecting the ball.  It was just a solid effort from Ehlinger.  This guy has really grown in his two seasons under center.  He made a lot of mistakes throwing the ball last season and against Maryland but he did a really good job making smart plays the ball down the stretch.

I’ve had my questions about Tom Herman since he got there but that was a damn impressive win.  They were underdogs against a team that almost won the National Title last year and took Bama to the wire in their last game.  It didn’t faze Texas.  They came out and took it to Georgia all game long.

Don’t look now but don’t be surprised to see Texas in the Playoffs next season.  If they can get by LSU at home in their second game of the year they have a very manageable schedule to at worst go 12-1 winning the Big XII.  I expect OU to take a step back unless Kyler Murray comes back but that seems like a longshot.  OU also hired an outstanding Defensive Coordinator but I think Texas is set up REALLY well to make the playoffs in 2019.

I’m not totally convinced it happens as they lose a lot of starters on both sides of the ball from this 2018 team.  They’ve recruited well so they’ll have young talent filling the departures.  I know they played close games against Tulsa, K-State, Baylor, Tech, and even Kansas this season but it’s pretty clear they learned how to win.  There’s a lot to be said for a team that learns how to win.  They get past LSU though and then everything is front of them to make the Playoffs in 2019.

It’s also possible Georgia isn’t that dominant as the body of work on Kirby Smart gets bigger.  They’re certainly a really good football team but he’s not had them prepared against Auburn last season and LSU and Texas this season.  They’ve been playing in a down SEC East the last two seasons so maybe they’ve just benefited.  He also may just know how to coach against Saban.  I tend to think Georgia is a really good football team and Texas won a big football game that could propel them to bigger things.

We’ll just have to find out in 2019.  I do know this – if Texas makes the College Football Playoff next season that means they got past a perennial SEC West power in LSU.  This is partially why I don’t have a problem playing Texas every season.  If Texas makes the Playoff then Aggies can only blame ourselves because we didn’t line up and keep them out of the Playoff.  I still believe in lining up and playing Texas every season as a lot more good than bad can come of it in my book.

Maybe Texas sputters in 2019.  Right now though Tom Herman has a TON of momentum rolling in Austin thanks to the win over Georgia.  If Texas can figure out a way past LSU which is entirely possible their path to the College Football Playoff might be as easy an anyone else’s.

We’ll just have to see what happens.

 

Early Departures:

There shouldn’t be any surprise by the early departures of Erik McCoy, Trayveon Williams, and Tyrel Dodson.  All three of those guys are three-year starters in the SEC and some of the best at their positions.  They have nothing to gain by coming back to A&M for another year.  They’re basically who they are as players.  They wouldn’t get much better by coming back.

While all of three of those guys are a loss for A&M there’s no doubt Dodson is the biggest loss.  We’ve got Corbin behind Trayveon so we might not see a drop off at running back.  McCoy has been our best lineman for three seasons but I think we have enough talent and depth next season where we won’t see a major drop off.  At least I hope.

Behind Dodson there’s major question marks at linebacker.  Anthony Hines and Buddy Johnson have plenty of talent but they haven’t played the majority of snaps in a full season.  We’ve got a lot of youngsters with talent behind them but playing linebacker is as much instinct as it is talent.  Tyrel Dodson was a legit SEC linebacker and I really think our best linebacker since Dat Nguyen.  For selfish reasons I wish he was coming back but I fully understand his decision.  He’ll likely have a pretty long career in the NFL so time to go make that money.

Jace Sternberger is the guy I think made a questionable decision.  He graduated high school 4 years ago and wants to capitalize on a great season so I get why he made the decision he made.  I’m not sure it’s the best one though as he really could use another season in the SEC.  He’ll get his shot at the NFL but I’m not completely sure he’ll stick.  He had issues blocking this season and he disappeared at times receiving in games.  Most of the time he got open because of the play design.  He wasn’t a guy that just dominated defenders when he was covered.  He also had his fair share of drops this season.  He’s excellent after the catch but I think he would have done himself a favor by getting one more season in the SEC so he’s truly ready for the next level.  For the most part you get one shot to make an NFL roster.  If you don’t make an NFL roster your first season out of school you likely won’t make it in the NFL.  There’s stories of practice squad guys getting a shot on a different team and flourishing but those stories are few and far between.  The reality is if you don’t make an initial 53 man roster you’ll never make it in the NFL.  I hope Jace makes it in the NFL but I’m not convinced he’s fully ready for the next level.

I think we’ll be fine at tight end as we have some awesome tight ends coming in.  He’ll be a true freshman but I think Baylor Cupp might be a more talented receiver than Sternberger.  Jalen Wydermeyer can also catch along with block so I don’t think we’ll see a major drop off with Sternberger leaving.  It still would have been good to have Sternberger back for both the Aggies and for him to develop for the next level.

I wish them all the best and hope they have fruitful careers in the NFL.

 

The Future of Aggie Football:

There’s still a decent path to go to truly Make Aggie Football Great Again.  Things look really good right now but the 2019 season will be the most crucial season for Jimbo.  I don’t think we’re quite ready to break through as we’ll be much younger in 2019 than in 2018.  I think we’ll be more talented across the board but in the SEC you need talent and experience.  That’s the main reason Alabama is so good is because when they roll out a new starter it’s someone who’s been on the roster for a year or two.  Unless they’re an exceptional talent Nick Saban doesn’t roll out freshman on his team including redshirt freshman.

In addition to a young team we have a BRUTAL schedule.  We get Alabama at home but I don’t think it’ll matter.  We must go on the road to Clemson, Georgia, and LSU.  While I’d like to see us win more games in 2019 it might not happen.  At minimum we need to go 8-4 to match this season’s total.  I don’t think we beat Bama.  If we can beat everyone on our schedule of the teams I haven’t mentioned and then win one of those three road games I mentioned above that will put us at 9-3.  That would be a really solid season setting us up nicely for 2020 which I think could be the real breakthrough year for the Aggies.

What makes the 2019 season so crucial is we can’t have a regression from the 2018 season.  We’ve seen it time and time again over the last two decades where the Aggies would have an impressive season but then do nothing the year after.  1999, 2005, 2011, and 2013 all come to mind.  For Jimbo to keep this MAFGA train on track we can’t do worse record wise in 2019 than 2018.  We just can’t.  That’s been the missing element for Aggie Football over the last two decades.  We could get a positive step but couldn’t string another step go with it.  When we couldn’t follow up a successful season with another things fell apart.  That has to change in 2019 with at least an 8-4 record but 9-3 would obviously be even better and a major step forward.

Jimbo needs to make sure 2019 ain’t gonna be like it used to be in order to Make Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

 

If you’re reading this blog for the first time and want to get notice when new blogs are posted you can follow us on Twitter and Facebook by using the following two links:

Twitter – https://twitter.com/m_a_f_g_a

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/Make-Aggie-Football-Great-Again-1998293353741315/

If you want a Make Aggie Football Great Again we have some in stock.  They’re $20 including shipping.  You, friends, and family will look great in one as we get ready for the 2019 Aggie Football season!  You can email chewyredding at yahoo dot com for more information.  Payment can be made by PayPal or Venmo.