Texas A&M Football

2019 Aggie Season Prediction

As we enter the 2019 Aggie Football season we all know about the difficult schedule.  Four games against teams ranked in the Top 6 of the Pre-Season Coach’s Poll.  This includes the Top 3.  Three of those four games are on the road.  The craziest thing about this schedule is it makes games against Auburn, Mississippi State, South Carolina, and even Ole Miss and Arkansas seem like after thoughts.  Nobody is even talking about the other 5 SEC games on the schedule.  We’re all focused on those four games.  It’s a daunting task but welcome to the SEC.

For the most part everyone would consider 8-4 a successful season.  That would be a solid season beating everyone else except for the teams ranked ahead of you.  I think 8-4 is a good barometer for this team in 2019.  However, it doesn’t mean this team can’t go 10-2 like the 2012 team.  The talent is certainly there but it’s young and inexperienced.  It’s even possible this team could catch lightening in a bottle and go 11-1 like the 2013 Auburn football team.  They lost to LSU early and then beat Georgia and Alabama in back to back games to get into the SEC Championship game where they won that game too.  They then went on to the national title game losing to Jimbo Fisher and FSU.  I don’t see A&M making the College Football Playoff but it’s not impossible if a few breaks go their way in close games.  College football can be funny sometimes.

It’s also possible this Aggie team loses those 4 games and then loses a couple other games going 6-6.  That would be an extremely disappointing season but depending on how those 6 losses played out it wouldn’t mean it’s a terrible team.  It would just mean they lost to some really talented teams and then didn’t get some breaks against teams as talented as them.

I did a preview on how I think the position groups look going into 2019 which you can read here:

https://rcwouldhavegonefor2.com/2019/07/10/2019-aggie-position-group-thoughts

I think these position groups in this order have the most influence on the final wins and losses for the Aggies in 2019:

  • Offensive Line
  • Linebackers
  • Wide Receivers
  • Quarterback
  • Secondary

The Secondary was our worst unit last year but I think we have enough influx of young talent that it will be markedly better.  I believe Armani Watts would have been worth at least one if not two wins more last season.  I think the addition of Leon O’Neal and Elijah Blades if they play to their talent and potential will make the Secondary much better.  I won’t get into details on the other groups as you can click the link but just wanted to clarify why I think our worst unit last year isn’t a higher question mark heading into 2019.

My last two season predictions have been spot on record wise.  I predicted 7-5 in 2017 and 8-4 in 2018.  I flipped the Florida and Mississippi State games in 2017.  In 2018 I was wrong on the Mississippi State and LSU games.

Here’s my game by game breakdown for 2019:

Texas State Bobcats:

Jake Spavital and his index card-based offense return to Kyle Field for his debut as a head coach.  Perfectly ironic.  You know I’m no fan of Jake Spavital as a coach.  I think he’s HIGHLY overrated.  I don’t think he’ll be any better as a head coach than he was an offensive coordinator.  I just wonder if he’ll have color coded index cards for offensive and defensive items so he doesn’t get confused.

The last time these two historic teams met on a Thursday night Hurricane Rita was barreling towards the coast.  That game wound up being closer than expected at 44-31 but I don’t see the same thing happening in this game.  That was Fran against David Bailiff and this is Jimbo against Spav.  Major advantage to the Aggies.

What I’d like to see in this game is a flawless first half with a score of 35-3 at half.  Have the starters play 2-3 series in the second half scoring another touchdown so it’s 42-6 at worst by the time the second units find their way in full time.

More than anything I want to see a healthy game with an offense and defense that control their side of the ball for most of the game.  Scores are hard to predict but just give me a healthy Aggie team that executes their game plan and controls the entire game.  I think we’ll see that.

WIN (1-0)

Clemson:

Of all the “Big 4” games I believe this is the most daunting game of them all.  This will be the first big start for a lot of our younger guys and we’re going on the road to Clemson.

There’s also these factors:

  • We’re not sneaking up on Clemson
  • This is a different team than we played within 2 points at Kyle Field
  • This is the biggest game on their schedule

We’re the highest ranked team on Clemson’s schedule by a large margin.  We’ll likely be coming in as the 11th ranked team in the country.  They have one other opponent ranked in the Top 25 on the rest of their schedule.  That team is Syracuse and they’re ranked at 22 headed into the season and play Clemson the week after us.

Clemson has their toughest two games in back to back weeks early in the season so there will be no surprising them.  They know if they can get through weeks 2 and 3 then they’re headed for the playoffs more than likely.  We’re their biggest game because if they can beat an SEC team that affords them a loss on their schedule and still easily make the playoffs if they win the ACC.  If they lose to A&M then their margin of error for the rest of the season becomes much smaller to make the playoffs.

In addition to motivation this is a different team than played at Kyle Field.  Their defensive line might not be as good but their defense will still be really damn good.  The big change will be on offense as Trevor Lawrence might be the best quarterback in college football.  He only played about 33% of the snaps against us last season.  In addition, Justyn Ross barely saw the field against us.  He was a true freshman but all he did was go on to lead Clemson in receiving last season.  In the national championship game he caught 6 balls for 153 yards including a 74-yard touchdown against the Bama secondary.  Against Notre Dame Ross caught 6 passes for 148 yards and two scores.  Needless to say we didn’t see what Ross had to offer in our game last season.  Lawrence and Ross might be the best QB/WR combo in the country so they’re going to test our young secondary.

This doesn’t even account for the rest of their roster which is loaded with talent.

I’ll likely do a more in-depth piece closer to the game.  It’s not an impossible win but it will take everything A&M has to pull off a victory in Clemson.  On paper right now I just don’t see it happening.  They’re the defending national champions for a reason.

Loss (1-1)

Lamar:

After taking on Clemson the Aggies get to come back to Kyle Field to take on Lamar.  This might be a minor let down game where the score is closer than it should be but I don’t see us losing this one.

We’ve got Auburn the week after so I think Jimbo can keep their focus.

Win (2-1)

Auburn:

I’m not sure what to make of this Auburn team.  They were under-achievers last season going 7-5 but they beat us.  They should have been 6-6 as we gave that game away.

They lose Jarret Stidham who didn’t quite achieve what he should have at quarterback under Gus Malzahn but he wasn’t terrible.  They look to start either Bo Nix who’s a true freshman or Tyler Gatewood who redshirted last season and didn’t take any significant snaps.  Gus is calling the plays again which will make things interesting.  It usually takes Gus a few games to get his quarterbacks in sync so I don’t think he’ll have his offense humming quite yet.  They’ll still be talented and will move the ball but I just question how much they’ll be able to score.

Defensively Auburn has one of the best defensive lines in the country.  The rest of their defense is solid as well.  Points won’t come easy for the Aggie offense.

This feels a lot like the Mississippi State game of last year with these two exceptions:

  • It’s at Kyle Field
  • There’s no Nick Fitzgerald

Jimbo appears to be making Kyle Field a home field advantage again and Nick Fitzgerald had our number so it’s good Auburn doesn’t have a guy like him.  This will be a game likely dominated by defensive line play shutting down the other offense for most of the game.  Welcome to old school SEC football.

I think the Aggies will scratch out just enough points to come out on top of this one but it won’t be easy.

Win (3-1)

Arkansas:

At some point we have to lose to Arkansas.  I just hope it’s not 2019 and I don’t think it will be.  2018 should have been the year they beat us but Chad Morris screwed up that one.  I’ll never understand why he chose to not attack our secondary from the get go.  If Arkansas comes out passing last season we probably lose that game.  I’m glad he didn’t as I like beating Arkansas.

Bret Bielema pretty much ran the Arkansas program into the ground from a talent standpoint.  Chad Morris has a daunting task in front of him and I don’t think he’s quite there yet.  I like Chad Morris and John Chavis as coaches but I don’t think they have the talent they really need to compete in the SEC.

This Arkansas team was 2-10 last season not winning a single SEC game along with losing to the likes of Colorado State and North Texas.  The lost to both Ole Miss and Vanderbilt in Fayetteville and then were shut out 38-0 at Missouri to close the season.  That’s a really bad season for a program like Arkansas.

Despite that Morris recruited surprisingly well and obviously got Nick Starkel to transfer.  I know he’s an Aggie fan favorite and everyone thinks we’d win a national championship with him but I don’t think he’ll make a difference at Arkansas.  Aggies keep the winning streak alive.

Win (4-1)

Alabama:

My heart wants to say the Aggie win this game but my head says they’re not quite ready yet.  The Aggies will be coming off a bye week before this game but not sure it will matter.  Alabama will be too.

I think the most underrated thing Jimbo Fisher did in 2018 was not lose a conference game at Kyle Field.  You must go back to 1999 to find a season where the Aggies didn’t lose a conference game at home.  Dennis Franchione, Mike Sherman, and Kevin Sumlin never did that.  Jimbo did it in his first season.

I want to believe this trend continues in 2019 but Alabama is going to be a sticking point.  All Alabama did in 2018 was go undefeated until they lost to Clemson in the national championship game.  What a terrible coaching job by Nick Saban.  The dude won 14 games in a row but couldn’t win the 15th for the title.  He’s terrible.  Bama should just go ahead and fire him.

Tua is back at quarterback along with his fleet of receivers.  They’ll be salty through the air.  They lost some defenders to the NFL Draft but like a AAA baseball team they’ll have some new ones for the NFL to scout in 2019 for the 2020 NFL Draft.

It’s simply amazing what Saban has done at Bama.  I want to believe it’ll change and there’s a slide coming but I must see it with my own eyes first.  Until then Bama is Bama under Nick Saban and I think he hands Jimbo his first conference loss at Kyle Field.

I hope I’m wrong and some 2012 magic finds it’s way to Kyle Field.

Loss (4-2)

Ole Miss:

After Bama the Aggies head to Oxford to take on Ole Miss.  Oxford has been a weird place for us and this is a different Ole Miss team than we’ve played in the past.  They lost a lot of skill position talent on offense.  Even with that talent they were still bad though.

They were 5-7 last season and lost their last 5 SEC games.  I don’t think they’ll be any better in 2019 and will probably be worse.  I think they’ll battle Arkansas for the worst team in the SEC West.

Even with a potential Alabama hangover I think the Aggies will be fine and win this game.

Win (5-2)

Mississippi State:

Much like the Aggies have had Arkansas’ number the Mississippi State Bulldogs have had the Aggies’ number.  Since Johnny Football left for the NFL the Aggies have only beat Mississippi State once in five tries.

Outside of the Auburn game last season this loss was the most frustrating.  Mississippi State had two things going for them the Aggies simply couldn’t overcome:

  • Nick Fitzgerald
  • Three first round defensive starters

Nick Fitzgerald simply had the Aggies’ number.  In three starts he never lost to A&M.  He’s gone.  Thank goodness.

To compound matters last season the Bulldog’s had two defensive lineman that gave our offensive line problems all night.  Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat.  They’re gone along with Jonathan Abrams who was a solid safety.

Mississippi State was 8-4 last year but I think they take a decent step back this year.  I think they’ll struggle to make a bowl game as they lose a lot from last year’s team and I don’t think Joe Moorhead re-stocked it or Dan Mullen on his way out of town.

Couple all of that with it being at Kyle Field and I think the Aggies win this one pretty easily.

Win (6-2) BOWL ELIGIBLE

UTSA:

The final crappy game of the season at Kyle Field.  Those in charge of college football keep wondering why attendance keeps dropping but they keep putting crappy opponents at home.  Nobody wants to see these crappy teams past the first two weeks in September.  They really don’t even want to see them then.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – If A&M wins the SEC West they’ll have one game to prove their worth for the college football playoff.  You win the SEC championship game and you’re a lock for the college football playoff.  It’s as simple as that.

I’m not saying we have to play Texas but we shouldn’t be playing more than two crappy games a year at Kyle Field.  I think playing two is even a stretch.

You want attendance to improve?  Put some damn home games the fans care about going to.  UTSA ain’t one of them.

I know nothing about the Roadrunners but I know we win this game.

Win (7-2)

South Carolina:

I personally think South Carolina is the most underrated program in the SEC since Dan Mullen took off to Gainesville.  Will Muschamp has matured a lot since his Florida days and has built a solid program after Steve Spurrier.  That doesn’t mean they’ll win a lot of games but they won’t be easy to beat.  At best they’re shooting for third in the SEC East every season but they’re not a terrible football program like some others in the conference.

Jake Bentley returns for his 4th season as starting quarterback.  He’s a scrappy quarterback but he lost his best offensive weapon in Deebo Samuel.  Defensively they’ll be like they usually are where they’re fundamentally sound but just don’t have the talent to beat the more talented teams on their schedule.  Sleep on them and they’ll beat you though.

Like Arkansas we’ve never lost to South Carolina in the SEC.  That’s right, the illustrious Bonham Trophy has never seen the East side of the Mississippi River.  I don’t think it changes in 2019 either.

Win (8-2)

Georgia:

This Georgia game confuses me because I’m not sure who Georgia is right now.  Kirby Smart seems to have that program on a great foundation but they experience hiccups from time to time.  They lost some key offensive talent but they’ve recruited well and their recent history says they’ll still be one of the best teams in college football.

Two years ago, they were a half away from a national championship before they choked it away.  Last season they were a quarter away from the SEC Championship and headed to the playoffs before choking it away.  They then went on to get outplayed by Texas in the Sugar Bowl for the entire game.  Georgia had a couple of costly turnovers but if you watched the game you saw a Texas team whip Georgia at the line of scrimmage.  It wasn’t a good look.

At the end of 2018 there were plenty of question for if this Georgia team is really all that good.  There’s the 36-16 loss at LSU but that game was in Tiger Stadium and Georgia had 4 turnovers.  I’m chalking that game up to an anomaly during the Kirby Smart era.  Tiger Stadium can get the best of you.  Kirby Smart is 24-5 over the last two seasons.  Make no mistake Kirby Smart has an elite program in college football.  I don’t think that changes in 2019.

I went back and looked at the SEC teams that have lost the Sugar Bowl to a Big 12 team and what happened the following season.  That’s happened twice in the last decade with Alabama losing to Oklahoma after the 2013 season and then Auburn after the 2017 season.  Each team then went on to play in the SEC Championship game the following season.  It’s a small sample set for sure but losing to a Big 12 team in the Sugar Bowl doesn’t appear to have a detrimental effect on a program.  Sorry Big 12 fans.

Before I can really predict this game I want to see what Georgia does against Florida and even Notre Dame.  If Dan Mullen can compete and even beat Kirby Smart with Feleipe Franks then I’ll have confidence Jimbo can do the same with Kellen Mond.

Until I see Georgia truly falter in 2019 I must predict this as a loss for the Aggies.  They’re just a better program right now.  The short sample set of losing the Sugar Bowl doesn’t lead me to believe there’s any detrimental effect.   Georgia will continue to be an elite team and a force to be reckoned with.

Loss (8-3)

LSU:

Do you know we close the season at LSU?  Do you know we beat LSU in a 7 OT thriller last season?  Do you know that Coach O has circled this game on his calendar?

I believe this is the most important of the Big 4 games this season.  I know other wins will be more lustrous but if there’s only one to win of the Big 4 this is the game.  I said this when Jimbo came to Aggieland – As long as Nick Saban is at Alabama Jimbo’s most important task will be establishing Texas A&M as the second-best program in the SEC West above LSU and Auburn.  Beating LSU in back to back seasons will be a MAJOR feather in Jimbo’s cap.

Closing the season with another win over LSU does so much for the program when it comes to perception.  This will help with the media, recruits, and casual fans of Texas A&M.  To get to Alabama you must establish yourself above LSU first.  This win of the Big 4 will matter the most if you can only have one.  If we beat 2 of the 3 before this I don’t mind losing to LSU nearly as much but this is the biggest game on our schedule in my mind.

As for the game itself I have no idea what to expect right now.  There are just too many variables.  LSU loses a couple key guys on defense in Greedy Williams and Devin White.  Don’t be mistaken though as they’ll just re-load with talent that’s not far off from those guys.  Offensively Joe Burrows is back and while he’s not electric he’s as gritty as they come.  This will be a tough LSU team.

The biggest variable will be LSU’s record coming into the game.  If they lose to Texas, Florida, and Alabama then they might not be as motivated to beat us.  Coach O’s team is loaded with talent but he just seems to have games he loses when he should have won.  Those three stick out to me before we play them.

That Texas game seems like one of those games because it’s in Austin early in the season and Tom Herman has shown to be nails against higher ranked opponents.  I want to see LSU win that game but I think Texas knows they need it more.  Coach O might not have his charges ready.  If LSU loses that game they could be set up to lose a couple more before playing the Aggies.  The more they lose the less motivated they’ll be to beat A&M despite having it circled on their calendar.  That will help A&M’s chances of winning this game.

Even if LSU comes into the game with only a loss or two I don’t think it really changes A&M’s chances of winning this game.  Winning last year’s game got the proverbial monkey off their back.  The Aggies now know they can beat LSU.  The Aggies know LSU wants payback for an early Powerade celebration gone awry.  The Aggies don’t want to give it to them.  The Aggies will be plenty motivated to beat LSU regardless of how motivated LSU is.

I also believe that if 2020 is the year for the Aggies then this LSU game must be the launch point.  If this group is truly talented enough and motivated enough to win it all in 2002 they’ll beat LSU in 2019.  It won’t be easy but if Jimbo and his team are truly building something special for 2020 this is a moment we’ll look back to as a major phase in the building process.

I believe in Jimbo.  By the end of the season I believe this team will walk into Baton Rouge and make one more statement against LSU.  I believe the Aggies will take that step to 2020.

Win (9-3)

 

There you have it.  The Aggies will finish 9-3 and be the second-best team in the SEC West yet again.  They’ll make a New Years 6 Bowl game and be set for a 10-win season looking to 2020 for a solid chance to make the playoffs and the national championship.

I still believe there’s a chance this team does what the 2012 team did and go 10-2.  It’s not a far reach if the talent develops as the season wears on.  For now, I’m putting it at 9-3.  Even 9-3 is a daunting task when you look at the schedule and the youth on this team.  But as Jimbo says – Even you don’t bite as a puppy you won’t bite as a dog.  This Aggie team is gonna get some bites this season.

We just need Jake Spavital and his collection of index cards to get here sooner than later so we can start taking those bites.

Make Aggie Football Great Again
#MAFGA

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We’ll do a re-cap of each game throughout the season along with some other things like game previews for bigger games.

If you want a Make Aggie Football Great Again hat we have some in stock.  They’re $20 including shipping.  You, your friends, and your family will look great in one 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.

The Ultimate Aggie Grill:

Aggie Grill small

At the 2019 Houston Coach’s Night the ultimate Aggie grill was on display.  Chaz Hammonds ’13 with Soul Fit Grill has created a maroon kamado grill.  As someone who has one of the big name kamado grills I can tell you this thing is on par quality wise.  It’s comparable in size to the XL of the big name brand for much less.  For $899 you get the grill, side boards, and stand.  If you’re in Houston he’ll even deliver for free.  If you’re in the market for a kamado grill give Chaz a look.  You won’t be disappointed.

Here’s a link to his website:

http://www.soulfitgrill.com/grills/the-legend-kamado-by-soulfitgrill

He also has a smaller grill if you’re looking for a smaller one:

http://www.soulfitgrill.com/grills/r4enfujd21dlcgtzq64zbkkbw8lyqe

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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

 

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2018 Wasn’t Like It Used To Be

Jimbo with team on Sidelines

On the surface, an 8-4 regular season record in Jimbo’s first season doesn’t look much different than Kevin Sumlin’s final five seasons.  In those five seasons Kevin Sumlin had the following regular season records: 8-4, 7-5, 8-4, 8-4, and 7-5.  Strictly on wins and losses, which is the ultimate metric, Jimbo Fisher doesn’t seem that different of a coach.

When you dig a little deeper, Jimbo’s 8-4 record in his first season looks MUCH different than Kevin Sumlin’s tenure.  Jimbo still has a long way to go to get A&M into the national championship picture but I’ll take his 8-4 over Sumlin’s 8-4 any day of the week.

A lot of Aggies will look at 8-4 and feel we should have been 9-3 or even 10-2 with wins over at least Auburn and maybe Clemson or Mississippi State.  The reality is we’re just as close to 6-6 as we are to 10-2.  We could have EASILY lost to Kentucky and LSU.  Those were both OT games where we came out on the right side.  Hell, we could have been 5-7 had we not overcome key turnovers against Ole Miss.  In the end I do think our 8-4 record is a true indication where this program is under Jimbo after his first year.  It’s a good record in the toughest division of college football but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Let’s look at how Jimbo’s 8-4 is different than Sumlin’s 8-4.

Why 2018 Wasn’t Like It Used Be:

Kyle Field Matters Again:

While it’s only one season it’s nice to have only one loss at Kyle Field.  Especially when it’s a 2-point loss to the second best team in college football.  Alabama was on the road, but the Aggies held their own at Kyle Field this season against some good teams.  This includes the overtime wins over Kentucky and LSU.  Even the Ole Miss game was a bigger win that it appeared.  I’m not certain under Sumlin we win the games against Kentucky, Ole Miss, and LSU the way the flow of the game was.  In each of those games the Aggies had to overcome key turnovers and didn’t give up.  I think we certainly lose one of those games under Sumlin.

We talk about Kyle Field being a home field advantage but under Sumlin it didn’t really seem to matter.  He didn’t just lose games at Kyle Field.  We routinely got our ass kicked at Kyle Field under Sumlin.  It wasn’t just Alabama either.  Every SEC West team at one point throttled our ass at Kyle Field.  Ole Miss, Auburn, Mississippi State, and LSU all kicked the shit of the Aggies at one point during Sumlin’s tenure.  All but Mississippi State have multiple wins against Sumlin at Kyle Field.  That’s right, Ole Miss won multiple times at Kyle Field with Sumlin running the show.  That was inexcusable.

Maybe things change with Jimbo where he loses at Kyle like Sumlin but the first step to Make Aggie Football Great Again is winning games at Kyle Field.  It’s that simple.  During that run from 1985 to 1995 the Aggies lost 5 games at Kyle Field.  That’s right.  In 11 seasons the Aggies lost FIVE games at Kyle field.  The record during that time at Kyle Field was 63-5-1.  That’s a 91% winning percentage.

You must make Kyle Field a tough place to play as an opponent.  Jimbo took care of that in his first season.  Let’s hope it continues.

Ironically enough in Sumlin’s best season where we went 10-2 the two losses were at Kyle Field.  They were against REALLY tough teams and were REALLY close games but for whatever reason Sumlin couldn’t make Kyle Field an advantage in his six seasons as head coach.  You have to leverage 100,000 people including 30,000 screaming students on the opponent’s side of the field.  If you can’t do that you’ll never be successful as head coach of Texas A&M.

Undefeated at Kyle in SEC Games:

Building on the first point but it needs to be noted for the first time ever the Aggies were undefeated in SEC play at Kyle Field.  I think we kind of took those wins for granted because everyone harps on the Miss. St. and Auburn losses.  Don’t discount how important it is to win every SEC game at Kyle.  This was a MAJOR step and I hope like hell it holds.  I can’t state this enough – You can’t lose games at Kyle Field.  It’s too much of a home field advantage to not leverage.

3-1 in November:

Going all the way back to the Dennis Franchione years and even R.C. Slocum’s final years the Aggies had a bad habit of going flat in November.  Every coach suffered from this other than Sherman in 2010 and Sumlin in 2012.  Those were anomalies.

Here’s the breakdown of total wins and losses for previous Aggie coaches in November games:

R.C.’s Final Three Seasons: 2-8
Dennis Franchione: 4-12
Mike Sherman: 7-9
Kevin Sumlin: 13-11

Sherman went 4-0 in 2010 but other than that he was 1-3 in November games each season or 3-9 outside of 2010.  Sumlin had the 4-0 November in 2012 which boosts his November record but he also got a major boost due to the SEC schedule where a non-conference team played at Kyle in November.  Take away the 2012 season and that non-conference game for each season and Sumlin is 4-11 in SEC November games.  Since 2000 the Aggies haven’t played well in November except for two seasons.

Maybe 2018 is anomaly for the Aggies as well.  Hopefully it’s the start of something new.  Either way don’t under estimate the Aggies having a winning record in November.

A Win over LSU:

We’ll find out in a couple more years but the win over LSU feels like it could be the second most important win since joining the SEC.  No doubt until we win a Division Championship the 2012 Alabama will always be the biggest SEC win.  That win got us a Heisman Trophy and national attention.

Since Jimbo got here I’ve said the biggest step we’ll take is replacing LSU as the second-best team in the West.  No doubt replacing Bama as the best team in the SEC is the ultimate goal but in order to get there we have to prove we’re consistently the second-best team in the SEC West.  We finally beat that team that’s been entrenched as the second-best team in the SEC West.  That’s a good start to the ultimate goal of being the best in the SEC.  We just need to beat LSU consistently now.

2nd in the SEC West:

Building on that last point, for the 2018 season we are in fact the second-best team in the SEC West.  We tied with LSU in overall SEC record.  Since we have the head to head win we can claim second in the SEC West.  This is the first time we’ve ever been able to claim second in the SEC West.  In 2012 we shared the same SEC record as LSU but they beat us head to head so they got to claim second place.

A win over LSU is key but coupling it with a good enough record to claim second in the SEC West is even bigger.  That’s a great body of work in SEC play and this needs to be our new baseline going forward.  Expectations don’t go below here.

Margin of Defeat:

Other than the Alabama game where the Aggies lost by 22 the Aggies held their own in every game.  Note that was the smallest margin of defeat for an Alabama regular season game.  The Miss. St. lost was the next largest margin at 15 points but the Aggies where within a score the entire game until Nick Fitzgerald’s late touchdown run.  The other losses were by 2 to Clemson and 4 to Auburn.

I think this is one of the hardest things for Aggies to understand in how Jimbo coaches.  I know the offense and Kellen Mond struggled at times, but the reality is the Aggies were in every game until the final whistle except for Alabama and Miss. St.  That’s a MARKED improvement from Kevin Sumlin where it wasn’t uncommon to get our ass kicked by at least one more team other than Alabama every season.  By getting our ass kicked I mean you could leave the game or turn off the television at some point in the 4th quarter with no concern of missing an Aggie comeback.  Other than Alabama this season you can’t say that about the other 11 games.  Even after Fitzgerald scored his long TD run to go up by 15 the Aggies had 2 minutes to score a TD and get an onside kick.  Against Clemson we were looking to tie the game with a 2-point conversion with less than a minute left.  As big of a collapse as Auburn was we still had one final play to try and win as time expired.

To be competitive in every game this season other than Alabama was also a big step.

Reduction in Blown Leads:

Blowing massive and numerous leads in 2011 got Mike Sherman fired.  Blowing a massive lead to UCLA in 2017 ultimately got Kevin Sumlin fired.  In addition, Sumlin had plenty of other games where blew a 14-point lead to lose or to have to pull out in overtime.  Arkansas, UCLA, and Tennessee all come to mind.

The worst blown lead by Jimbo was a 10-point lead to Auburn with around 5 minutes in the 4th quarter.  Auburn was able to score 14 unanswered points in the 4th quarter to win 28-24.

I certainly don’t like the outcome of the Auburn game but if that was our worst blown lead then I do see this as a minor step.  It’s one thing to get beat but it’s a completely different thing to have a game in hand only to give it to the opponent.  That happened once in 2018.  It happened a LOT under Sumlin.

Time of Possession:

Despite what Kevin Sumlin and Mike Leach say, time of possession in a football game is important.  It’s even more important to a guy like Jimbo Fisher who has a complete game plan.  When you hold the ball longer than your opponent it allows you to control the game more how you want it.

Time of possession is predicated on two things more than anything:

  • The defense getting off the field on third downs.
  • The offense being able to string drives together to get first downs limiting three and outs.

The Aggies winning time of possession while going 8-4 says they did those two things pretty well.  What hurt the Aggies this season was the big plays against their secondary.  With more talent in their secondary the Aggies easily win 1 or 2 more games this season.  Hell, they might have won 11 games as long plays against Clemson, Miss. St., and Auburn were the reason the Aggies lost.

I’ve said it all season that I think Armani Watts is worth one more win and Christian Kirk is likely worth another.  Glad to see Jimbo control the possession clock but he just needs more playmakers to translate that time of possession into more wins.

Comprehensive Game Plan:

It was pretty clear to me Jimbo had a good feeling going into each game the strengths and weaknesses of his team and the opponent.  It didn’t always work out like he wanted but essentially being in every game with 2 minutes left indicates a coach who game planned pretty well.  It feels like Jimbo watched film of both teams on all sides of the ball and knew what the overall game plan should be.  It wasn’t simply let the coordinators do their jobs and see what happens.  He understood how it all fit together from every aspect of the game.

The biggest indicator of this to me was when Jimbo called timeout in the Ole Miss game halfway through the fourth quarter.  The Aggies were up 24-21 and Ole Miss had 4th and 2 from the 5-yard line.  It looked like an easy field goal.  Jimbo frantically called a timeout to keep the ball from being snapped.  Apparently Jimbo or someone on his staff picked up on a potential fake.  It certainly wasn’t to ice the kicker as a time out for that situation is too valuable.

If Jimbo isn’t paying attention to the entire game or isn’t aware of Ole Miss’ special teams tendencies he may not have called the timeout.  That could have swung momentum.

Jimbo’s press conferences also indicate he’s very aware of what happened in the game.  He can speak to the entire game citing specific plays right after it’s over.  There’s no generic coach speak.  He speaks to key moments of every game right after it happens.  He was paying attention to the whole game.

Jimbo is a solid offensive coach but when I watched the Aggie team this year it was pretty clear to me Jimbo had an entire plan to win the game.  It didn’t always work.  It was much more enjoyable to watch someone executing an entire plan rather than someone hoping random selections on a play sheet will produce more points than the opponent.

New Bowl Destination:

In the previous four seasons the Aggies have gone to bowl games in Memphis, Nashville, Houston, and Charlotte.  Nothing against those places as they’re great cities but nobody dreams of playing in those cities for a bowl game.  Especially when it’s not even close to New Year’s Day.  Two of those were even games that started early in the day which tells you how they rank in the grand scheme of bowl games.  ESPN doesn’t air the most intriguing bowl games when the sun is just peaking.

The Aggies lost the last three bowl games to Louisville, Kansas St, and Wake Forest.  Louisville was Lamar Jackson’s coming out party but the Aggies still could have won that game.  I’m sorry, but there’s no excuse for Texas A&M to lose to Kansas St. and Wake Forest in a mid-tier bowl game.  None.  Somehow it happened in back to back years.  That’s bad coaching.

Kevin Sumlin took the Aggies to the Cotton Bowl in his first season which was a major feat but it was a slow and steady decline from there.

In Jimbo’s first season he’s got the Aggies in Florida on New Year’s Eve.  I was hoping for the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day but it could be MUCH worse than playing in Florida on New Year’s Eve.  Crazy to think if we beat Auburn we’re probably in a New Year’s Six Bowl but at the same time had we lost to LSU we’d been in Memphis or Nashville more than likely.  Like I said earlier, 8-4 feels about right for the season.  Starting off the Jimbo Era in Florida on New Year’s Eve is certainly MUCH different than what we’ve experienced in the last four seasons.

Let’s hope Jimbo gets a win over the Wolfpack of NC State to keep the momentum going.

 

Overall Feelings for 2018:

Obviously I’m pretty pleased how things turned out.  In March I established what I felt would be 8 conservative steps for Jimbo to take as head coach of A&M.  Right now he’s slightly ahead of those steps because we’re sitting second in the SEC West after one season.  He got us 8 wins and it looks like there’s no issue closing on a Top 10 class in 2019.  It’s looking like Top 5 but Top 10 for sure.  2nd in the SEC West and a Top 5 recruiting class for his first year is really solid.

If you want some more off season reading here’s the link to what I wrote back in March and those steps:

https://rcwouldhavegonefor2.com/2018/03/27/expectations-for-jimbo-fisher/

Quick Look Ahead to 2019:

I think this team will be better in 2019.  It’ll be young with talent but overall it should be more talented.  I’m not quite sure what that means in terms of wins though.  After all, wins and losses is the only metric that matters in the end.

In my original steps I felt Jimbo needed to win 10 regular season games in 2019.  That is going to be EXTREMELY difficult due to playing Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia in addition to LSU.  Now I think just getting one win more in 2019 will be fine.  If Jimbo can pull off 9-3 in his second year with that schedule it’ll be a really damn good season.

I’ve always thought 2020 would be the year when A&M should take that big step to national prominence.  I don’t think the youth on the team and the schedule will allow us to take that big step to national prominence in 2019.  That’s okay because that’s all part of the building process.  Aggies may just have to be patient one more year before realizing for certain things ain’t gonna be like they used to be.

I’ll leave you one final thing for the 2019 schedule – In 2017 Auburn won the SEC West with almost the EXACT same schedule.  They played at Clemson the second game of the year and then played Georgia as part of their SEC East schedule.  Auburn was able to pull off 10-2 and win the SEC West so it’s not impossible.

We shall see if the Aggies can do the same.

First, we need a win over N.C. State to reverse the losing momentum in bowl games.  It’s small steps to Make Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

 

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Thoughts on the Auburn Game

Mond vs Auburn

That loss to Auburn on Saturday was a serious deflation to the 2018 Aggie football season.  Nobody liked the lost to Mississippi State but the reality is they’re a good team that beat us from the get go.  Against Auburn it looked like everything for the 2018 season was going to get right back on track.  Then the Aggies fell apart.

Losing a game like that spans a ton of emotions.  Right after the game you’re upset and disappointed.  The next day you feel the sky is falling and Aggie football can’t get any worse.  Monday comes around and you start looking forward to the next game against Ole Miss and hopefully getting back on the good side of the win and loss column.  By the time you’ve read this you’ve forgotten all about the Auburn game for the most part.  Being a devoted sports fan is truly a span of emotions most of the time.

The reality of Saturday’s game against Auburn is this Aggie team is not as bad as some Aggie fans make it out to be.  It’s also not as good as we’d hoped from earlier in the season where we came close to upsetting Clemson and played Alabama closer than anyone in the country this season.  That’s right.  The Aggies have the closest margin of victory against the two best teams in the country.  I know.  I can go stick my moral victory where the sun doesn’t shine because we’ve lost the last two weeks and that’s what matters most right now.

The truth is this Aggie team is somewhere between the “moral victories” against Clemson and Alabama and the disgusting defeats against Mississippi State and Auburn.

Before I get to the Auburn unit analysis I want to point out a few things:

  • If Gus Malzahn had followed Joe Moorhead’s game plan there’s a chance Auburn wins this game the same way Mississippi State did where A&M never chokes away a victory. We don’t know that for sure but I was shocked Auburn didn’t come out firing through the air.  They wanted to establish the run and the Aggies flat out denied it.  Maybe Gus wanted to try and establish the run to keep our safeties’ eyes toward the line of scrimmage which worked a couple of times.  Their first touchdown on the reverse pass was based on their trying to establish the run.  Maybe Gus was afraid Stidham would throw it away like he did against LSU.  No telling the reason but I was surprised Gus didn’t attack our secondary like MSU did from the get go.  The outcome could have been a totally different where there was no lead to blow with 2 minutes left.
  • We all have our opinions but I don’t think this team is as talented as last season’s. I believe if this team had Armani Watts and Christian Kirk we would have beat one of Mississippi State or Auburn if not both.  I sure don’t see anyone in our secondary or receiving corps that is close to their level of talent.  Our defensive line and linebackers are certainly better than last year, but I think that’s more scheme and coaching along with being a season older.  Our offensive line and running backs are basically the same as last year.  I really feel our secondary isn’t even close to what we had last year with Watts and our receiving corps doesn’t have on playmaker like Kirk.  Maybe you feel this team is as talented as last year but even if that’s the case last year’s Aggie team got humiliated at Kyle Field in back to back weeks against these two teams.  We got beat 35-14 against MSU and 42-27 against Auburn.  At Kyle.  This season on the road we lost 28-13 and 28-24 to the same teams.  I know “moral victories” suck but the reality there is some progress using similar measuring sticks from 2017 to 2018.
  • This Aggie team flat out collapsed in the final minutes against Auburn. Here’s the sequence of events:
    • With 2:19 left on the clock and Auburn having just used their second timeout Kellen Mond flat out misses Quartney Davis on a wide receiver screen on 3rd and 15. Mond totally misses Davis high when Davis is wide open.  Davis doesn’t likely get a first down but at worst Mond completing that pass would have forced Auburn to use their final timeout.  Auburn would get the ball back with around 2:00 on the clock and no timeouts.
    • Mann then punts the ball 41 yards to the Auburn 14. He kicks it near the right sideline.  The Auburn returner doesn’t fair catch.  The Aggie gunner is in position to bring him down but doesn’t make a play on the returner.  He completely lets him go with no contact.  The rest of the Aggie team for whatever reason is nowhere near the returner.  Several of them are actually on the other side of the field.  Let me repeat that – the rest of the Aggie coverage team is NOWHERE NEAR the catching the ball.  Auburn had two guys back and the punt coverage team bit on the guy who wasn’t getting the ball pretending he was about to field it.    Three Aggie defenders run to where the ball isn’t.   The Auburn punt returner who is not challenged by the initial Aggie defender heads up field 28 yards where he’s brought down by Braden Mann.  That’s right, the freaking punter makes the stop when the returner was pinned to the sideline but the Aggie punt team had NO clue where the damn ball was going and let the returner go.  Great job by Auburn to fool the Aggie special teams.  Auburn now has the ball at their 42 with a little over two minutes left and one timeout.  They should be pinned inside the 20 if not the 10 with less than 2:00 left and no timeouts.

If you want to see the punt click here.  Watch it several times and start/stop to break it down and see how this was a colossal failure by our punt unit.  If they tackle the punt returner at the 14 the outcome could have been totally different I think.  Momentum wouldn’t have swung Auburn’s direction like it did after the punt return.  I set it to the Mond/Quartney Davis play so you know just how maddening and crucial these plays were in Auburn’s comeback – https://youtu.be/IlEMg2cGkCk?t=757

  • They say bad things come in threes so with the offense and special teams already on the board for bad plays the defense got involved on the next play. With our defense playing back Stidham throws a one-yard crossing route.  That’s right, a one-yard crossing route.  With no Aggie defender around the Auburn receiver heads up field where he weaves and runs into Charles Oliver at the Aggie 40-yard line.  In addition to him running into Oliver there are two other Aggie defenders within 2 yards of the ball carried and a fourth Aggie defender closing in 3 yards away.  Somehow the Auburn ball carrier spins away from all FOUR Aggie defenders and keeps running.  He winds up getting pushed out of bounds at the 11 yard line.  That’s a 47 yard gain on a 1 yard pass when he was nailed dead to rights 18 yards from the line of scrimmage.  Auburn would then put the ball in the air and score an 11 yard touchdown on the next play.
  • As if that weren’t enough the Aggies get the ball back with 1:35 and one timeout on their own 16 yard line. Not ideal, but enough time to drive down and potentially get a hail mary to try and win.
  • The Aggies get two quick plays to get to their 44 yard line.
  • On the next play Mond misses a pass to Hezekia Jones but it doesn’t matter because Quartney Davis is illegally downfield. Let’s back it up 5 yards and try again, Ags.
  • On the following play we have a screen set up for Trayveon but the unblocked defender bats the ball away.
  • Mond is then rushed where he’s basically sacked but squirms for a two yard gain. This sets up a 4th down so we take our final timeout.
  • Mond then hits Kendrick Rogers for 10 yards across midfield and a 1st
  • Mond then hits Quartney Davis on a roll out running for his life for 10 yards down to the 39 yard line and out of bounds. So, we’re at the Auburn 39 yard line with a stopped clock and 23 seconds left.  This is doable, Ags.  One problem – Davis had stepped out of bounds making him ineligible for the catch.    No play.
  • On the next play Mond is running for his life again and throws the ball away. Another problem – holding by Carson Green so back across midfield to the Aggie 41 and 12 seconds left.  One step forward and two steps back.
  • We essentially have one hail mary left. Auburn rushes 2 guys against our 5 offensive linemen and get pressure on Mond where he as to roll out and heave it downfield.  The ball is intercepted out of bounds.  After a review it’s deemed there’s one second on the clock so the Ags get one final shot.
  • This time Auburn sends three guys and gets pressure on Mond and he’s sacked for a loss of 9 yards as the time expires.   Three Auburn guys against five Aggie guys and Mond gets sacked 9 yards deep.

I know that’s a lot to read but in 2:19 of football with a 3 point lead and around midfield the Aggies have a comedy of errors on the offense, special teams, defense, and offense again.  Auburn definitely took the victory but the Aggies did nothing to stop them in the final 2:19 of the game.  I mean nothing.  That’s on the players and coaches equally.  It’s mind boggling how a team sitting on a win just completely botches so many consecutive plays.  Maybe Auburn still wins but if Mond hits Davis on the screen not even getting a first down we force their final timeout.  If our gunner stops their punt returner at the 14 he doesn’t get a free 28 yards.  Then if Charles Oliver makes the stop at our 40 maybe they hold Auburn to just a field goal sending it to overtime rather than a loss.

In the end you have to make plays but those three consecutive plays are totally maddening.  Just a lack of focus and execution by the staff and players.  They played almost 58 minutes of winning football but brain locked in the final 2 minutes and lost the game.  Football is 60 minutes and when you don’t play all those 60 minutes you stand a chance to lose.  Coffee is for closers and the Aggie football program doesn’t deserve any coffee after Auburn.

Overall:

Defense:

We all know about the issues with the secondary.  We can’t cover.  What’s interesting is our guys are not completely out of position but they can’t play the ball because they’re using every ounce of athleticism just to keep up with the offensive player.  Their lack of ability to play the ball even though they’re on the receiver shows the athleticism is just lacking.  Time and time again receivers have gone up to make plays against our defensive backs.  Unfortunately, even though our defenders are on the receiver they’re just not athletic enough to make a play on the ball.

The defensive line and linebackers were outstanding against the run.  Auburn running backs had 41 yards on 18 carries.  That’s outstanding.

Not much else to say about the defense.  We’re the best in the nation against the run.  Against the pass, well, we can see it with our own eyes.  It’s bad, Ags.

Offense:

The majority of this is going to be about Kellen Mond since he’s the focal point of every Aggie’s thoughts on why we’re losing.  Before we get to Mond I want to point out the following:

  • This offensive line is MUCH better at run blocking than pass blocking. The performance of this offensive line is deceptive because they’re pretty decent at blocking forward.  When they must slow someone down in the passing game they’re terrible at technique and assignments.  I think most of this is talent but if you’re watching the offensive line these guys leave a lot to be desired when it comes to pass blocking.  Mond may hold the ball too long but his offensive line is not helping him when it comes to giving him time and space.  He’s constantly trying to feel out pressure.
  • Trayveon Williams was a stud against Auburn. Jashaun Corbin gets better every day.  Those guys are proving to be a really good 1-2 punch against most defenses.
  • Our receiving corps is not that good. All of our receivers not named Kendrick Rogers are listed at 6’2” or shorter.  I think that’s being a bit generous as I don’t think many of these guys are over 6’.  They certainly don’t play tall at all.  They don’t go out and fight for the football.  In addition, none of them are true burners with break away speed or a knack for finding the open area on the field.  I know we’re missing Ausbon but he has yet to blossom.  Rogers is the tallest but I’m telling you he’s not a strong route runner and unless his legs are still and he’s turned back for the ball he’s not a consistent receiver.  If you want to see what I’m talking about watch that highlight film of the Auburn game above.  Watch the number of catches their guys make where they go up and get the ball.  We don’t have anyone in the receiving corps that plays above a defenders helmet other than Kendrick Rogers.  Sure, some of it is Mond isn’t making those passes but I don’t see our receivers going up and fighting for the ball on a regular basis.  Right now I wouldn’t put a single receiver on this team above any of these guys from past teams – Mike Evans, Josh Reynolds, Christian Kirk, Ryan Swope, Uzoma Nwachuku, Malcome Kennedy, Jeff Fuller, and Receiver Ryan Tannehill.  I’d take any of those guys from the past 10 years over anyone on the roster right now.  Hell, 2017 Damion Ratley might be better than anyone on the roster right now.  These guys have talent but they have a LONG ways to go to develop into a solid receiving corps.  I just don’t see it right now.

Kellen Mond:

Let’s talk about everybody’s favorite scapegoat.  Before I do I think it’s obvious no matter what anyone thinks Jimbo is sticking with Mond.  I think there’s some reasons for that.  The first is that physically Kellen Mond is fine.  His mechanics are pretty sound and he’s got mobility.  He made some plays in the Auburn game nobody else on this roster can make.  As crazy as it seems Mond was 50% passing against Auburn.  That’s not terrible.  You remember the bad throws and decisions but you forget the good throws.  He had one play where he was rolling right and then threw left hitting Sternberger on a backside drag for 42 yards.  Nobody else on this roster can make that throw.  It was really an amazing throw.  He also had some other good passes.

He’s not without fault though because his greatest issue is 100% mental.  If the play is not there he doesn’t know what to do.  He’s also slow to diagnose the play at the line.  He’s at odds with Jimbo which you can see as he comes off the field.  Jimbo is questioning his decision making and he doesn’t have an answer.  Couple his uncertainty with a line that can’t pass block and receivers that struggle to get open and fight for the ball making this offense a damn mess right now.  It’s on everyone.

Kellen Mond is basically a student that has the ability but is utterly confused on what is going on.  He understands some of what Jimbo wants him to do but not all of it.  He’s not helping himself as he’s lost confidence.  He appears afraid to make a mistake and that’s causing him to make mistakes.

It’s easy to point to Mond’s mistakes for the last two losses but I think he’s playing within what Jimbo is wanting him to do.  He’s not without fault but he’s not total garbage either.  He’s just utterly confused on what’s going on at times.  He definitely makes bad decisions at times with the ball.  At times he makes pretty good decisions and plays as well.  It’s good and bad with Mond right now.

I think it’s clear Jimbo sees something and is hoping that if he can get over his mental hurdles then he’s going to take off.  It’s basically the same thing with how people perform in their first year on the job as opposed to their second and third year.  Maybe Mond never advances from here.  I have no clue, but I understand what Jimbo sees and what his long term plan is.  Jimbo is sacrificing a little for this season hoping Mond turns into a veteran signal caller by his senior year.  No doubt Jimbo wants to win now but I think he’s also having some patience to see if he can develop Mond.  He’s the guy on his roster that fits his system the best.  Remember, Jimbo is the guy that got Deondre Francois to 10 wins a couple of seasons ago.

As for Starkel I get he’s everybody’s darling because he’s the back up.  That’s always the case.  Starkel might be a better decision maker but I don’t think he’d fare any better behind a line that can’t pass block and receivers that struggle to get open.

He was 2-5 as a starter and 1-3 in the SEC last year.  He also never beat a ranked team and I feel he was playing in a system better suited for him.  Quick reads and throws are his thing.  Sure, he got hurt against UCLA so maybe the outcome of his 2017 stats change but I’m not sure it would other than the outcome of that UCLA game.  Overall, he wasn’t that bad as he completed 60% of his passes but he did throw 6 interceptions to 14 touchdowns.  He was better against non-conference opponents as he was a 65% passer in those games as opposed to 55% in SEC games.  The big contrast was his TD/Int ratio which was 8/1 in non-conference and 6/5 in conference games.  He certainly had his challenges in SEC games last year.  It’s possible that carries over from last season but it’s also possible he improves under Jimbo.  Nobody knows that but for some reason Jimbo believes Mond is the better option.

I’d be fine if Jimbo put Starkel in but I don’t think we’d see overall improvement.  We might see a quick lift but I think defenses would learn to play Starkel with a lot of pressure.  They’d basically copy what Mississippi State did stacking gaps along the line and challenging our receivers at the snap so they couldn’t get into their routes.  They would probably apply pressure to Starkel and we’d see sack after sack I think or bad throws leading to interceptions.  Maybe not.  No way to know that but there are indications Starkel wouldn’t have time or open receivers.  It’s infinitely better for a quarterback when they both.

If you want a one sentence summary of all of everything it’s this – Jimbo makes $7.5 million a year to coach football because he has a lot of skins on the wall and right now he believes Kellen Mond is his best option to win football games.

It really boils down to that.  Maybe Jimbo is a complete moron and doesn’t know what he’s doing.  Maybe the people that don’t get paid to coach football know more than he does.  It’s entirely possible.  I’m certainly not going to say I’m right in that Mond is the better option right now than Starkel.  I do firmly believe that Mond is not as bad as some Aggie fans make him out to be.  We did come back against Clemson, put points up against Alabama, and currently sit at 3-3 in conference with wins over Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina.

Mond certainly needs to improve but so does the entire talent on this team other than defensive line and starting linebackers.  Maybe Mond gets there.  Maybe he doesn’t.  You can gnash your teeth all day about Mond taking snaps but I don’t think it’s going to do any good.  There’s a different style of football being played from the past and it may take a little time to get where it needs to be.  After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Yes, I went there.

At least we’re not getting our asses kicked like we have in so many games the last 4 years.  I do see that as improvement.

Looking Forward:

Right now I can’t look past Ole Miss.  I feel like coming back to Kyle and with their defense this is just what we need.  I think we’ll put the ball on the ground and keep their receivers in front of us for the most part.  Keep their offense in the red zone instead of the end zone as their red zone offense is worse than the Aggies.  We’ll get a win against Ole Miss and UAB so we’ll be sitting at 7-4 with LSU coming to town.  If Jimbo can somehow pull off the upset against LSU which is entirely possible we’d be looking at an 8-4 season with SERIOUS momentum heading into our bowl game.

I think right now EVERY Aggie fan would trade losses against MSU and Auburn for a win against LSU.  It’s an absolute long shot but football is a crazy game.  Let’s see Jimbo’s first year body of work before we decide he’s not the guy to Make Aggie Football Great Again.  I still think he is.

#MAFGA

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Thoughts on the Mississippi State Game

A&MvMSU Line

We’ll get to some specifics of how it happened but on Saturday night in Starkville Jimbo Fisher got outcoached by Joe Moorhead.  At the same time, the Mississippi State Bulldogs outplayed the Texas Aggies.  Make no mistake about those two things.  The Aggies made mistakes because of the MSU game plan and how well the MSU players played.  MSU won this game while A&M lost it.

A LOT of credit has to go to Moorhead who realized the Aggies’ greatest two weaknesses and decided to attack them.  I’ve been saying all season the secondary and offensive line had major issues from a talent standpoint.  Despite that, a lot of coaches this season chose to run their team normally rather than attack where the Aggies are weak.  We saw this against Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina where they tried to have a balanced attack.  Those teams lost.

Moorhead apparently decided to do things differently and it paid off in a win for his team.  All night long MSU looked to apply pressure through the air on offense and at the line of scrimmage on defense.  Nick Fitzgerald only attempted 22 passes but he attacked the Aggie corners down the field.  Defensively MSU stacked the line of scrimmage giving the Aggie offense looks and pressure they couldn’t defend.  The Aggies had no answer for what MSU was doing simply because they don’t have the talent needed at those positions.

Before I get to any analysis I want to point out three groups of plays that did the Aggies in:

MSU First Possession – After the Aggies went three and out, MSU took the ball and drove down for a touchdown.  On that possession MSU had FOUR instances of 3rd and 6 or longer and converted all FOUR.  This was a defense that has been solid at getting off the field on 3rd downs all season.  On that drive they failed on four attempts including a 3rd and 12 that resulted in a touchdown.  This really set the tone as MSU would wind up converting some other crucial third downs.

3rd and 21 – This was the biggest killer.  The Ags had just clawed back to be down 14-13 and were about to force the MSU offense to go 3 and out.  All the momentum was about to swing in the Aggies favor.  They not only let MSU convert a 3rd and 21 but gave up an 84 yard pass to the Aggie 2 yard line.  Three plays later MSU would score and be up 21-13.  Still a one score game but it was a dagger to the chest we wouldn’t recover from.  They stop this play and the outcome of the game could be different.

Fitzgerald’s 76 Yard Touchdown Run – While the 3rd and 21 conversion was the dagger to the chest, this run by Fitzgerald twisted the dagger.  Any hope the Aggies had of coming back was squashed with this run.  Even if Fitzgerald doesn’t score MSU likely wins.  It was disheartening to see the Aggie defense give up a long run rather then get a stop and give our offense one last chance to tie things up and get it to overtime.  This run put the game away with a little over 2 minutes left on the clock.
If the defense holds on those three sets of plays this game looks totally different.  Football is about making plays so credit has to be given to MSU but if the Aggie defense holds on two third downs (opening series and 3rd and 21) the Aggies have a legit chance to win this game.  They didn’t though and that’s why MSU won.

Coaching:

This was a tale of two different head coaches in my mind.  I’ve already talked about Moorhead deciding to attack where the Aggies are weak.  His strengths are a running quarterback and solid defense that doesn’t necessarily have to apply pressure.  Moorhead felt he could attack the Aggie secondary through the air as well as attack the line of scrimmage applying pressure to the Aggie offensive line.  It worked and Moorhead got the win.

For Jimbo I feel he coached this game just as he had Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina.  That style worked in all of those games but it didn’t work here.  The only slight difference is other than Kentucky for a little bit we lead or were tied in those other games from start to finish.  I think Jimbo felt we were 1-2 plays away from gaining and holding the lead.  He wasn’t far off as we were never more than 7 points down until the 3rd and 21 happened.

Here’s how it played out.  We took advantage of Moorhead not punting on 4th down to go into half up 10-7.  I think Jimbo failed to make any major adjustments at half thinking this game would turn out like the previous three.  MSU took the opening possession of the second half for a score to go up 14-10.  The Aggies then clawed back with a field goal to make it 14-13.  The Aggies kick off and on the first play of that possession sack Fitzgerald for a 12 yard loss.  Fitzgerald then gains a single yard setting up that 3rd and 21.  Seems like the Aggies are about to gain momentum but that didn’t happen.  MSU goes down the 2 yard line which leads to a touchdown putting them up 21-13.  Up until that 3rd and 21 there was no reason for Jimbo to believe his defense would fail him.  But it did, and the Aggie team would pay the price getting a loss in what was a winnable game.

Even with that score to go up 21-13 the Aggies weren’t completely out of it.  They got the ball back with 7:33 left on the clock and down 8 points.  They promptly drove down to the MSU 10 yard line before the wheels came off.  On first and goal from the 10 they got a substitution infraction making it 1st and goal from the 15.  Mond is then sacked making it 2nd and goal from 23.  Mond hits a 12 yard play to make it 3rd and goal from the 11 but he’d miss his next pass and then throw an interception in the end zone on 4th down.  Two plays later Nick Fitzgerald would run 76 yards for a score putting MSU up 28-13 and any hopes of the Aggies winning were done.

What worked in the previous three games didn’t work for Jimbo against MSU.  That’s on him.  He thought he could withstand MSU’s attacks against his secondary and at the line of scrimmage against his offense.  He was wrong.  His team lost and he has to take the blame.

I get what he was thinking as he hasn’t had to play in a shootout in a meaningful SEC game until Saturday night.  His method of controlling the time of possession had worked because his defense and offense had always made enough plays to come out on the right side of the scoreboard.  We won the time of possession by 3 minutes on Saturday night but we lost by 15 points.  Time of possession doesn’t always equate to wins when you don’t make enough plays.

The most frustrating thing I can’t figure out from Saturday night is if Jimbo is to blame for the lack of response to MSU applying pressure at the line of scrimmage or if Mond was completely confused by it.  The best way to get a defense to back off excessive pressure at the line of scrimmage is to attack the middle of the field with hot routes.  We did that a few times but there was confusion most of the night on what to do.  It appeared Mond felt like he had more time than he did.  I don’t know if that was by design or a result of Mond being confused.

Based on Jimbo’s reaction on the sideline I believe it had a lot do with Mond.  In watching Jimbo through the years he has a face I like to call “Disappointed Dad” when an offensive series fails to result in something positive.  The quarterback comes to the sideline and Jimbo has his readers sitting on his nose.  He’ll start questioning his quarterback and roll his eyes when the quarterback gives his feedback on what he saw.  They’ll have a discussion but it’s clear Jimbo is disappointed in his quarterback’s decision making.  That happened quite a bit on Saturday night.  A lot more than it’s happened previously this season.  I really think Jimbo had hot routes/plays for Mond to jump on but he just wasn’t pulling the trigger.  Some of that might be on the receivers too which we’ll get to in a bit.

Either way it’s still on Jimbo to have plays his quarterback can execute when a defense is looking to apply pressure.  That wasn’t the case on Saturday night.  MSU made more plays to win that game than A&M did.  That starts with coaching.  Moorhead looked to apply pressure while Jimbo looked to withstand pressure.  Moorhead’s team executed his plan better than Jimbo’s team.  Moorhead got the better of Jimbo that night.

Offense:

Mond:

Poor Kellen Mond gets the brunt of criticism for this game from most fans I’ve seen and heard.  He’s certainly not without fault but do you realize he was 50% on completions on Saturday?  50% completion isn’t horrible by any stretch.  Do you realize the receivers dropped 10 balls on Saturday?  Do you realize Mond was sacked 3 times?  Do you realize Mond was officially hurried 10 other times?  Do you realize we didn’t score a touchdown in the Red Zone again?

It’s natural to blame the quarterback when a team loses but you can’t pin this loss solely on Kellen Mond.  He was under pressure all day long along with his receivers not getting open and dropping the ball when they were.  There’s no doubt Mond could have made better decisions due to the pressure (based on Jimbo’s Disappointed Dad face on the sidelines) but this was a failure on the entire offense.

Blame Kellen Mond all you want but if you do you’re ignorant.  There’s no better option at quarterback than Kellen Mond for this Aggie team.  Starkel would have got pounded too.  I still contend for guys not named Tua, Mond is as good as the next group of SEC quarterbacks.  He’s certainly no Feilepe Franks at Florida who is terrible.  Mond is MUCH better.  He’s in the same conversation as Jake Fromm, Drew Lock, and Jarret Stidham.  I never thought I’d say that this time last year but Kellen Mond is not a bad quarterback.  He’s a true sophomore.  He certainly can still develop but he’s playing behind a suspect offensive line and doesn’t have a single go to receiver to throw to.  Do you see a Mike Evans, Josh Reynolds, or Christian Kirk on this offense?  I sure don’t.

If you’re putting the blame for this loss on Mond’s shoulders you need to pay closer attention to the rest of the issues on offense.

Running Back:

MSU didn’t just stack the box with defenders all night.  They put guys in gaps all night.  They showed they weren’t going to get run on and we didn’t even try.  We only attempted 13 runs totaling 59 yards on the night.  This loss isn’t on our running backs from an attempts standpoint.

One issue I did see from Trayveon is his pass blocking is suspect.  He whiffed on a few guys blitzing during the night.  The difference between Trayveon playing in the NFL will be pass blocking.  There’s a whole lot of guys that play like him so if he wants to play at the next level he’s got to block better on blitzes.

Wide Receivers:

Other than Quartney Davis our receivers had a truly forgettable night.  They didn’t get open for the most part and when they did they dropped 10 passes.  Sternberger had the worst night compared to what he’s capable of.  It wasn’t even close to what he did against South Carolina.

There’s no go to receiver in this group.  There really isn’t.  I know we all hoped Kendrick Rogers would be that after what he did against Clemson but he’s really not that strong of a receiver.  He doesn’t run solid routes and he’s not great catching the ball on the run.  He excels when he’s stopped and looking back to the ball.  When his legs are still and he can focus on the ball he’s fine but if he’s moving downfield he doesn’t have the same hands.

This is not a horrible group by any stretch but they’ve got a long ways to go to be a dependable group.  There’s just too much inconsistency and there’s not a single receiver that commands a double team from a defense.  If there was a single dominant receiver this group probably looks different but there’s a talent deficiency right now.  Not as bad as other units on this team but it’s still missing at least one dominant playmaker.  See the guys I mentioned above like Evans, Reynolds, and Kirk.  Just one of those guys changes the dynamic of this receiving corps in a big way.

Offensive Line:

These guys had their hands full all night long with MSU stacking guys in gaps.  For whatever reason they didn’t know how to handle it.  They weren’t terrible as they gave Mond some time to throw but didn’t give him nearly enough.  They were able to slow down most of the MSU defenders but their biggest issue was they couldn’t anticipate what the stacked gaps meant so a defender would slip through quite often pressuring Mond.

We know this unit isn’t that talented but the confusion and mental mistakes 8 games into the season is frustrating.  I know everybody loves Jim Turner but there’s still issues with this line.  The lack of talent I’m fine with to a degree but the constant mental mistakes and confusion on what the defense is doing makes me wonder how good Turner really is.  He’s certainly a better offensive line coach when he has NFL caliber talent.  Every coach would be, but let’s tap the brakes on Turner being the greatest offensive line coach ever.  I question how great he really is.  Sometimes I wonder if he just does more yelling than actual coaching so everybody believes he’s a great coach because he sounds like it.  Offensive line is not about emotion.  It’s about technique and being extremely smart.  There’s PLENTY of room for this line to learn both.

I don’t think we’re going to see much improvement in this unit the rest of the season so be ready for inconsistencies in blocking and mental mistakes.  Let’s just hope the guys that are redshirted this year and committed show up to campus ready to contribute.

Defense:

I’m not going to spend a lot of time here as we all saw what happened.  Our secondary has been a glaring issue all season.  MSU just decided to attack it from the get go.  It worked as MSU played in front score wise most of the game.

Truthfully, I’m tired of writing about the defense as it’s the same thing week after week.  The defensive line along with Alaka and Dodson show up every week but our secondary is just so terrible.  Sure, the defensive line and linebackers gave up the 76 yard run they shouldn’t have but the game was realistically over at that point.  You take away that run and MSU rushed for 67 yards on 30 carries.  That’s basically 2 yards per carry which is outstanding.  Our defensive line and main linebackers played good enough for most of the game for the Aggies to win.

Our secondary on the other hand was the issue.  We know this.  Our corners aren’t shut down guys and if you’ve got a receiver that can get downfield you can challenge our secondary.  Our safeties are just as bad at covering.  They’re also terrible at defending at the run.  I’m not sure what happened to Derrick Tucker but he’s been REALLY bad all season.  I’m not sure he should even see the field the rest of the season.  We really miss Armani Watts in a bad way.  That guy would make this secondary infinitely better.

Much like our offensive line the secondary is what it is at this point in the season.  There’s not much hope for it to get any better this season.  We must hope the young guys not playing big minutes (Leon O’Neal I’m talking about you) and the committed guys are ready to contribute next year.  We simply don’t have the talent.

Special Teams:

Seth Small was 2 of 3 on field goals so at this point we must realize he’s probably going to miss a kick each game finishing somewhere between 50% and 80% depending on the number of chances he gets.  Braden Mann had an off day which makes perfect sense considering most of the team had an off day.  Rashaud Paul had a nice return we only turned into a field goal since our offense wasn’t able to capitalize it into a touchdown.  I like Paul as a returner.  He’s not Christian Kirk but he’s got pretty good awareness for where the ball is coming down and the punt coverage coming at him.

 

Looking Forward:

The most frustrating part about this game is we have no idea what we have with Jimbo Fisher.  We think we do but it’s ultimately decided solely by wins and losses.  We were on the verge of having a 2012 season but with much less talent.  8 games in we could still go anywhere from 6-6 to 9-3 which is a MAJOR swing.  Jimbo wins out getting 9 wins and nobody gives a damn about this MSU game.  He wins less than 8 and we’ll all look back at this game as the difference maker for the season.  It will be the game we coulda shoulda won but didn’t get it done.

Something tells me we repeat last year where we trade what we thought would be a win over Mississippi State for a win over someone else.  Last year it was Florida and this year I think it’s Auburn.  Sure, there’s a lot of hope in that statement as I sure as hell don’t want Jimbo finishing 7-5 his first season.  I really do think we can beat Auburn as they’re not as good as advertised coming into the season.  Much like Florida last season.  Auburn still has plenty of talent to beat A&M so don’t get confused on that.  This is a 50/50 game based on how both teams have played all season.

The Aggies played their worse game of the year in Starkville and still only lost by 15.  That’s not terrible.  I hope the loss wakes Jimbo up he needs to be a little more aggressive if his secondary is being attacked.  If Auburn is trying to establish the run then it’s okay to play how we played against Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina.  If Auburn comes out attacking our secondary and is successful Jimbo better be ready to instill a sense of urgency and respond.  He tried his normal method against MSU and it didn’t work.  I’m fine playing a little conservative if you’re up but if you’re behind and your secondary is being attacked the Aggies need to get it going not worrying about time of possession.  Attack their defense as well.

As for the other remaining games I’m still confident we beat Ole Miss and UAB.  LSU looks like a certain loss but we’ll probably match up better with them than MSU.  I don’t see Eddie O doing what Joe Moorhead did.  LSU wants to run the ball and play outstanding defense waiting for the opponent to make a mistake.  When that happens LSU will pounce and score points.  There’s still a chance for this Aggie team to beat LSU but we’ve got three more games to worry about before worrying about LSU.

I still believe Jimbo is the right guy to Make Aggie Football Great Again.  Unfortunately, we’re going to have to wait at least one more week to find out.  Believe it or not there’s still a chance at 10 wins on the season which would be remarkable.  Right now, I think our best realistic scenario is an 8-4 regular season adding a bowl win to finish up 9-4.  That will still be a REALLY good year for Jimbo.  We just have to get through Auburn first before we worry about anything else.

#MAFGA

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What’s Left for the Aggies

Jimbo Pointing at Ref

The Aggies are sitting at 5-2 with five official games left.  One of those games is against Alabama Birmingham so let’s just say the Aggies are 6-2 with four SEC games left.  Yes, I’m chalking up that game against UAB as a win.

The Aggies have Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss, and LSU left on their schedule.  Ironically enough all four of those teams played each other this past weekend.  I was able to watch bits and pieces and feel the Aggies can run the table if they play mistake free football.  I doubt that will happen and it’s more likely the Aggies go 3-1 in their final SEC games.  There’s a chance the Aggies go 2-2 as well.

These four games have always been set to be the biggest test of Jimbo’s first year as Aggie coach.  The reality of this season and schedule was the Aggies didn’t have the talent to beat Clemson or Alabama and had more talent to beat Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina.  That’s not to downplay those three teams but the reality is as a team Texas A&M has more talent.  Those were wins all along assuming the team played to its talent level.

So far, this season has played out exactly as one would expect.  Now is when we find out what kind of coach Jimbo Fisher really is.  He’s about to go up against teams with as much if not more talent than Texas A&M.  Ole Miss is not more talented but they have the best passing weapons of any team we have left on the schedule.  We know how bad our secondary is.  We should beat Ole Miss but they can absolutely beat us with how their team is built.

Let’s breakdown each game:

Mississippi State:

There’s a LOT of uncertainties in this game.  I don’t think anyone can quite tell what either team is at this point.  MSU spent a good portion of the season ranked in the Top 25 but now sits at 4-3 and outside the Top 25 after this past weekend’s loss to LSU.  They have wins over Stephen F. Austin, KSU, Louisiana Lafayette, and Auburn.  They have losses against Kentucky, Florida, and LSU.  In those three loses they’ve scored one touchdown.  One touchdown.  LSU has an outstanding defense but I wouldn’t rank UK and Florida’s defenses as stellar.  They’re certainly pretty good defenses but I think the Aggie defense is as good if not better than those two.

This team centers around Nick Fitzgerald on offense.  He reminds me of a Trevor Knight style quarterback.  He’s a suspect passer but he’s a great runner.  He’s got power, speed, and jukes.  Joe Moorhead is the new coach of MSU and runs the offense.  Moorhead likes to pass so Fitzgerald’s inability to pass and ability to run appears to be a mis-match.

Early in the season it was fine as MSU was able to win their first three games in convincing fashion including a win over KSU.  They then went to Kentucky and got pounded 28-7.  The following week came a 13-6 loss to Florida at home.  In that game MSU didn’t score a touchdown.  That’s a good Florida defense but not a great Florida defense.  After five games they were sitting at 5-2 but 1-2 against P5 opponents and 0-2 against SEC teams.

After they lost to Florida they took on Auburn and Moorhead seemed to get back to Fitzgerald’s strengths as he rushed more times than he passed.  Fitzgerald ripped off 197 yards on the ground and 2 touchdowns.  MSU won that game 23-9 which might say more about Auburn than it does MSU’s ability to win with Fitzgerald running.

Last week MSU went to LSU and it appeared MSU wanted to run Fitzgerald more like against Auburn.  Fitzgerald had some nice runs early on but MSU couldn’t find the end zone all game.  Fitzgerald threw some early interceptions that allowed LSU to get a comfortable lead where they basically sat on the ball.  Fitzgerald had a decent day running as he carried the ball 23 times for 140 yards.  Passing wise he was horrible throwing the ball 24 times with only 8 completions and 4 interceptions.  That’s a 33% completion percentage.  In watching the game LSU wasn’t even really jumping routes.  LSU either had good coverage or Fitzgerald didn’t see or didn’t care there was a defender where he was throwing the ball.  He was extremely lazy or ignorant throwing the ball.

Here’s a summary of Nick Fitzgerald statistically against Power 5 opponents this season:

Fitzgerald Stats

He’s 44% in completions, averages 105 yards a game, and has thrown 2 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.  That is HORRIBLE.  Even Trevor Knight wasn’t that bad.  He’s a decent runner averaging 123 yards a game but he only has 3 touchdowns in 5 games with 2 of those coming against Auburn.  This is not the kind of quarterback Joe Moorhead wants.

I think the Aggie defense shuts down the run with no issues.  The key is for the Aggie defensive line along with Dodson and Alaka to continue what they’ve been doing.  Maintain gap integrity and execute assignments.  Don’t try to do too much or improvise as a play is breaking down.  Let your assignment dictate if you’re the one making the play or not.  Don’t give Fitzgerald a seam to run as he can exploit it if he gets to the second level.

Even if Fitzgerald starts to pass I think the Aggie secondary will be just fine.  If the Aggie defense plays like they’ve played all year I don’t see MSU scoring more than 10 points against this defense.  If UK, UF, and LSU can hold them to single digits I expect the same from the Aggie defense.

Defensively the MSU front 7 is experienced and talented but they’re not better than Clemson or Alabama’s front 7.  The Aggies put up 26 and 23 points on those defenses so I expect more of the same here.  In fact, the Aggies have scored more than 20 points in every game all season.  I don’t see how this game is any different.

It won’t be pretty but I think Jimbo is going to do the same thing he’s done all season against opponents not named Clemson and Alabama.  He’s going to come out and chew up clock not trying to do too much on offense letting his defense do what they do.  I think this will be what we thought South Carolina was going to be.  We’ll be up 13-3 at half and then won’t make mistakes in the second half pulling away winning this game 27-10.  It’s entirely possible we hold MSU without a touchdown but I think Moorhead finds a way to break off a big pass play against our defense.

This feels a lot like 2012 when we walked into Starkville.  There were a lot of questions about those teams where the Aggies where ranked 16th coming off an Auburn beatdown and MSU was ranked 17th after a beatdown by Bama the week before.  They were on the downswing and A&M was on a slight upswing after pounding Auburn.  The Aggies won a convincing 38-13 game and we all know what happened after that.  This team won’t do what the 2012 team lighting up college football, but I think this will be a game where we look back and know Jimbo is for real.  It may not happen at the national level but those paying attention will see this game as A&M showing it’s truly different than the past 4 seasons.

Somehow A&M is the underdog in this game so feel free to take the points and wager your house, boat, vehicle and even loved ones.  Jimbo will make sure your money and/or loved ones return with more than you put up as collateral.  Assuming you want more loved ones than you have now.  If not, then just put up cash and personal property.

Auburn:

I have no clue what to make of Auburn.  They’re more talented than their record indicates but they’re just disjointed.  This is basically a normal Gus Malzahn team other than when he catches lightening in a bottle.  He’s only done that twice winning 10 games in 5 seasons.  At best he goes 9-3 this season but that would include wins over A&M, UGA, and Bama.  That ain’t happening.

I feel good about A&M’s chances in this game except for one thing – Jarret Stidham.  He’s not had the season everyone expected but he’s still a damn good passer and has some decent weapons.  If Auburn decides to attack the Aggie secondary and his receivers hold on to the ball they’ll beat the Aggies.  They’ll be coming off a bye week so they have plenty of time to work on the passing game before the Aggies get to town.

I put this game as a 55/45 chance of the Aggies winning right now.  If the Aggies do what I think they do against MSU and Auburn doesn’t/won’t/can’t attack the Aggie secondary then this is an Aggie win.  Trends favor the Aggies as Gus tends to have very average years after catching lightening in a bottle and ironically enough the road team has won every A&M/Auburn matchup since joining the SEC.  Coming into the season I had this as a loss but right now I’m leaning to an Aggie victory.

Ole Miss:

This matchup scares me ever so slightly because Ole Miss strengths are where we’re weakest.  They’ve got a solid quarterback and really good receivers.  They can attack the Aggie secondary.  Fortunately for the Aggies they’ve got a HORRIBLE defense and they’re bad in the red zone.  Don’t be shocked to see Ole Miss put up over 300 yards in the air.  The problem is they’ll run for less than 100 while scoring less than 20 if they even get that.

Meanwhile I expect the Aggie offense to roll up and down the field likely scoring more than 35 points.  This seems like an easy Aggie win.  However, there’s a slight chance it’s one of those bizarre games where Ole Miss hits some long passes for touchdowns so this game turns into a shootout.  I don’t think Jimbo and company will get sucked into something like that though.  Jimbo once came back down 28-6 in the 2016 season opener against Ole Miss to win 45-34.  He’s dealt with an early Ole Miss lead before and won.  Even if Ole Miss somehow gets up early on some fluke plays Jimbo will stay the course and exploit their terrible defense.  This seems like a certain Aggie win.

UAB:

Win.  Nothing more to say.  If we don’t it’s a BAD loss.

LSU:

Right now I think this is an Aggie loss.  Mainly I don’t want to drink the Aggie Kool-Aid just yet and there’s too much uncertainty for both teams.  Despite what others said coming into the season LSU is a really talented team and Ed Orgeron is not the idiot everyone thinks he is.  Turns out he’s a pretty decent coach with a pretty good staff.

The LSU defense is still extremely talented and Joe Burrow has moments where he can throw the ball.  What you can’t do against LSU is throw interceptions on your side of the field and let them establish the run.  I know that sounds obvious but you’d be shocked at the teams that allow them to do that.  Just ask Miami, Georgia, and MSU.  LSU plays a brand of football where they don’t make mistakes and force the other team to make mistakes where they’ll capitalize.  It’s simple but EXTREMELY effective when you have the talent that LSU has.

I think this is a VERY winnable game for the Aggies but it won’t be easy.  If Florida can beat LSU with Feleipe Franks at quarterback there’s no reason the Aggies can’t beat LSU with their defense and Mond at quarterback.  It’s just too early to predict this game right now.

I need to see what A&M does against MSU, Auburn, and Ole Miss when it comes to making mistakes.  Even if they win those games but make mistakes they’ll lose to LSU.  I also need to see what LSU does against Bama to make sure they’re the team I think they are.  They’ll likely lose to Bame by 20 points even in Baton Rouge.  I think Bama is that good and LSU is slightly worse than they’ve been in the past.  However, if LSU goes toe to toe with Bama then my outlook on this game completely changes.  I don’t see that happening though.  I just need 2 more weeks of Aggie and LSU football to get a more certain feel on this one

Overall:

There’s a REALLY good chance A&M and LSU march into Kyle Field at 9-2 hovering around the Top 10 (if not both Top 10)  which will make for an epic battle.  This is still not the 2012 team in terms of talent but it’s possible Jimbo pulls off an epic run finishing the season at 10-2.  The odds right now say he won’t but it’s very possible.

If he does there’s no doubt he’ll be well on his way to Making Aggie Football Great Again!

#MAFGA

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Thoughts on the South Carolina Game

Jace at SCThe good part about the Clemson game earlier this year is it showed A&M can play with an elite team.  The bad part about that Clemson game is it fooled a lot of people into thinking A&M could be an elite team this season.  Texas A&M is not currently an elite team and will not be this season.  As I said coming into this season the offensive line and secondary are major areas of concern.  Those two things keep getting proven out week after week.  They’ve not been a major liability yet but they’re still not even close to being on an elite level.

Those Aggie fans that are down on the way A&M is WINNING are missing HOW the Aggies are winning.  They’re mainly bitching about Mond and/or how the Aggies aren’t putting teams away.  I’ll get to Mond later but the reason the Aggies aren’t putting teams away is because this team has flaws.  Opponents are able to exploit those flaws to keep the game close.  At the same time, those bitching Aggie fans aren’t giving credit to a team that won’t quit fighting and hasn’t let the other team gain full momentum when they’re making a push.  Just when it looks like the other team might grab all of the momentum this Aggie team does something to make sure it doesn’t happen.  This trait needs to be recognized by Aggie fans.  This isn’t an immensely talented team but they’re taking care of business winning games they could have lost.

I didn’t get a chance to write up my thoughts on the Kenucky game.  I was in Cleveland for the Astros game but the Arkansas, Kentucky, and South Carolina game have basically been the same game for the most part.  Sure, Kentucky took the early lead on A&M but they never really had a lot of momentum.  After all, Kentucky never ran a play on the Aggie side of the field in regulation.  The Aggies controlled things for most of the game against Kentucky.  Same thing with Arkansas and South Carolina.

What complaining Aggie fans are missing is how there’s a game plan developed for the strengths and weaknesses of both teams every week.  That game plan seems to be pretty spot on and when it’s not working adjustments are made.  It’s clear to me Jimbo Fisher and his staff know what they have in their Aggie offense, defense, and special teams.  They also appear pretty good at identifying the strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies of their opponents each week.  There’s a cohesive game plan each week to depend on the strengths and cover the weaknesses as much as possible.

These games might be boring or even concerning but this is an Aggie team that has a plan.  In the past we’d put up points but there was no rhyme or reason.  The Aggie offense would sputter on drives and then would hit a quick touch down.  The Aggie defense would bring pressure and get a sack but then would give up a big touchdown on more than one occasion.  It was just a hodge podge of offense, defense, and special teams.  There was no cohesive plan.  Just individual units going out and hopefully making more plays than the other team.

This team is different.  This staff and team have a cohesive plan to have more points at the end of four quarters.  It begins and ends with keeping the Aggie defense off the field.  Our defensive line and linebackers named Alaka and Dodson are as good as anyone’s in the country.  Our secondary is not.  The last thing we want to do is get in a shootout with another team.  This team is not built for that.  We can control the line of scrimmage so that’s what we want other teams to play into.  We want an opponent’s offense to try and establish something at the line of scrimmage rather than sling the ball around.

Our offensive line and running backs aren’t built to grind people into submission.  We don’t have major deep threats and even if we did our offensive line can’t hold up well enough to buy the needed time.  This is an offense that has some talent but it has to take short and intermediate yards based on what the defense gives them.  This offense has to be smart with the ball and slowly move up and down the field for a host of reasons.  This offense simply can’t dictate it’s will on an opposing defense.

With all of that, I think Jimbo is being very smart from a play calling standpoint.  He’s not sandbagging plays by any stretch but he’s calling fairly conservative plays based on what he truly feels the defense will give them.  Most of the time he’s been right.  When the offense needs to do something they’ve been able to do it for the most part.  When needed they’ve been able to move the ball up and down the field chewing clock and yards.  We could use some help in the Red Zone but the talent just isn’t there to pound the ball once we get there.  We’ve still got to methodically move the ball based on what the defense gives us.  For the most part this offense has done that.  There’s plenty of room for improvement but at least there’s a solid plan and understanding of what’s possible.  There’s been a lot of timely play calls this season on both sides of the ball.  It doesn’t appear plays are just being called with no reason for the opponent or momentum of the game.  This is a different team and staff from in the past.  There’s an actual legitimate game plan each week.

I would love to see A&M close out games stronger with no threat in the 4th quarter but I like what I see from this staff.  For the first time in a long time I see a coaching staff that has a solid feel for their team and the opponent.  With that feel they’re creating and calling a game plan that’s won games we might have lost in the past.  At the end of the day a win matters more than anything else.  Don’t get lost in the style of how we win.  Stay focused on the fact we’re actually winning win momentum is swinging against us.  That’s a great sign.

On to the South Carolina game…

Offense:

Kellen Mond:

I’m starting with Mond this week because I’m tired of Aggie fans bitching about his play.  Is he perfect?  Hell no.  Has he been good enough for the Aggies to have won every game except the two teams that have perennially been in the College Football Playoff?  YES!!!  Yes, he has.  If you think Kellen Mond is inadequate and needs to be benched either stop watching Aggie games or go watch highlights from 2017.  Kellen Mond is LIGHT YEARS better than last year and easily in the Top 25% of college quarterbacks.  He’s a true sophomore that continues to develop.  He has a suspect offensive line and a decent but not great receiving corps.  He has no Mike Evans, Ryan Swope, Josh Reynolds, or Christian Kirk.  He’s still out there making plays though.

On Saturday Mond was 25/37 for 353 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.  That’s a 68% completion percentage.  That’s a DAMN good day at the office for a quarterback in the SEC not named Tua.  He also had some nice runs to account for the challenges of our offensive line.

Can Mond improve as a quarterback?  He sure can and likely will as he gets more experience.  Does he need to be benched in favor of someone else?  HELL.  NO.  If you truly think Mond isn’t the best option for this Aggie team then you’re a football moron.  I don’t know a nicer way to put it.  You don’t know anything about football and the quarterback position.  Especially in the college game.  Kellen Mond is a true sophomore playing in a new system behind a suspect line and no true playmaker to throw to.  Kellen Mond is doing just fine as the Aggie quarterback.  If you don’t think so, go watch some Bob Ross videos on YouTube and learn to paint some nature scenes.  It would be a better use of your time than watching Aggie football as you’re watching something you don’t have a clue about.

Sorry about the rant but it’s just frustrating to hear and read people complaining about Kellen Mond’s performance.  He’s doing a damn good job all things considered.  There’s not a better option on this team at quarterback.  I promise you that.

Running Back:

I love Trayveon Williams as a running back but this wasn’t his game.  For most of this game South Carolina wasn’t going to let him get established.  Not including Kellen Mond runs we ran the ball 24 times to 37 passes.  That’s a slight variation from what we’ve done in previous games.  South Carolina stacked a lot of people in the box basically daring A&M to pass.  Luckily, Jimbo noticed that and rather than try and establish something that wasn’t there he let Mond run and throw.

When Williams did get the ball he was his usual self where he’d squirm for 3-4 yards along with a couple nice intermediate runs.  Most impressive was his carries on the final drive of the game.  His first three carries of the drive went for 4, 9, and 6 yards.  His next carry was for a loss of 3 yards but the next play was the 23 yard pass to Sternberger that got us into South Carolina territory.  Corbin had a couple nice rushes while Williams was out and then Williams came back in with 1st and goal from the 9.  Williams ripped off a 6 yard run to set up and 2nd and goal at the 3 and then took the next carry to pay dirt for a big touchdown.  That drive consumed 78 yards and 5:45 resulting in a rushing touchdown that basically put the game away.

Statistically it wasn’t one of A&M’s better rushing days but South Carolina didn’t want A&M to establish the running game.  However, when A&M needed it most they were able to put the ball on the ground and control the clock along with punching it in the end zone.  Had the defense held on South Carolina’s next possession it gives this game a totally different feel.  The running game did their part when they had to.

Offensive Line:

This will never be a dominant offensive line but against South Carolina they were pretty serviceable.  They were confused by a couple early blitzes but for the most past gave Mond enough time to throw the rest of the game.  Mond was sacked in the 1st quarter and then early in the 2nd quarter but wasn’t sacked after that.

Penalty wise I remember one holding call on a 19 yard run by Trayveon so that nullified that.  I don’t remember any false starts.  If your offensive line has one hold and no false starts you can’t really complain about that.

This line was a key part of the final touchdown drive helping Williams grind out yards including the precious 9 yards needed to score.  I would like to see this line be better in the Red Zone really imparting their will but I just don’t think there’s enough talent to do so.  Either way if they do what they did against South Carolina the rest of the way they’ll give us a chance against every defense left on the schedule.  It won’t be dominant but it’ll be good enough to help us win if every other unit does their job as well.  There’s still lots of room for improvement with this offensive line but I have to give them credit they’ve done a better job than I expected coming into this season.

Wide Receivers:

This unit was shorthanded this week with Ausbon and Kendrick Rogers being out.  Jalen Preston is still coming along slowly so that basically left Sternberger, Quartney Davis, Cam Buckley, and Hezekiah Jones to throw to.  Outside of Sternberger none of those guys are true playmakers.  Those 4 guys caught 22 balls for 340 yards so they had a damn nice day.  We all know Sternberger had a day catching 7 balls for 145 yards including a touchdown and taking defenders for a ride.  Don’t discount Quartney Davis’ effort catching 7 balls for 127 yards though.  Buckley and Jones also pitched in catching three balls each so they all contributed at some point.

Even shorthanded it’s great to see them step up as South Carolina was basically daring A&M to beat them through the air with their defensive alignment.  We still need some true playmakers in our receiving corps but I can’t say anything bad at all about the effort by these guys on Saturday.  When they were called upon they delivered.  That’s all you can ask for.

Defense:

Front 6:

Not a lot to say about these guys that I haven’t already said this season.  Against South Carolina it was more of the same.  South Carolina running backs rushed 14 times for 67 yards with a long run of 27 yards.  Their other long was 14 yards right before that run.  On back to back plays they got 41 yards that accounted for 60% of their rushing yards by a running back.  Other than those 2 runs they got about 2 yards a carry from their running backs.  That is solid.

If there’s one negative it’s that we only got one sack.  We did get 4 additional quarterback hurries so it’s not like we weren’t bringing some pressure.  Bentley likes to run so my guess is the plan for our front 6 was to not blow lane assignments to keep the running backs and quarterback contained so they didn’t break off any big plays.  For the most part we did that.

Would it be nice to get more pressure?  Sure, but these guys aren’t built for that.  They’re big bodies designed to consume blockers and space.  They do an excellent job.  Complaining about the lack of pressure kind of feels like complaining about Mond holding on to the ball too long.  What they’re doing is working so no need in really changing it.

Secondary:

As I’ve been saying all year this is our Achilles heel.  On Saturday it showed up in the second half.  In the first half Jake Bentley was 6 of 17 for 46 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.  That’s a 35% completion rate which is really bad.  That’s as good as the secondary has been all year I believe.

Charles Oliver made a great interception mid-way through the first quarter keeping South Carolina from getting points on the board.  That potential touchdown wasn’t the fault of the secondary giving up any passes.  It was set up due to a personal foul on the previous punt giving South Carolina the ball near mid-field.  The first two offensive plays were the runs of 41 yards.  Two plays later the personal foul on Renfro that got him ejected setting up South Carolina deep in the Red Zone.  There was South Carolina with 1st and goal at the 5.  Oliver made the play to bail out other mistakes by the defense and special teams.  Credit to him for making that play.

Statistically the first half looked pretty dominant for the secondary but there were some cracks in the dam that were exposed.  Most notably Bentley missed some passes where his receivers had Myles Jones burned pretty bad.  It’s pretty clear South Carolina took note of that going into the locker room.

The second half was a different story as Bentley went 11 of 18 for 177 yards and three touchdowns, two two-point conversions, and no interceptions.  That’s not really all that dominant from a percentage and yards standpoint but the three touchdowns and two-point conversions were killer.  One of the touchdowns was a 22 yarder and the other a 33 yarder.  The secondary had problems covering in what was a reasonably short field on both of those.  I don’t like giving up long scores but if a receiver makes a great play to break off a long score you just tip your hat.  When teams are scoring touchdowns on 22 and 33 yard passes your secondary either busted its coverage or just isn’t talented enough.  I think for the Aggie secondary it’s a little of both.  The coverage was somewhat busted and the defensive backs didn’t have the athleticism to make up for it.

We also had some big penalties along the way that hurt us including two targeting calls on Renfro and Wilson.  I think the call on Renfro was technically correct but the call on Wilson was a little suspect.  That call on Renfro brought in Myles Jones and he got picked on pretty bad.  He had a couple of big pass interference penalties along with just some bad coverage all the way around.  Charles Oliver looked decent on a lot of pass plays but he’s still not a dominant shut down corner.  The second half likely looks different with Renfro in there but I think South Carolina would have likely still completed 50% of their passes for 120ish yards and a couple touchdowns.

The safeties have become bigger question marks in my mind.  Derrick Tucker played early in the game and did something that caught my attention but I can’t remember what.  I believe he got burned on a pass play that Bentley also missed on.  Whatever it was he looked completely clueless about the play on the field which he’s been prone to do this season.  Looking at the stat sheet his name doesn’t show up for anything.  Donovan Wilson, Deshawn Capers-Smith, Keldrick Carper, and Leon O’Neal, Jr. all show up on the stat sheet.  Looks like Tucker got pulled early and didn’t see the field again.  Fine by me as I think he’s a big liability at this point.  He’s talented but he doesn’t know his position very well and has also has had issues tackling this season.

How you fix this secondary I don’t know.  At this point it’s clear Renfro and Oliver are our best cover guys.  I don’t think Clifford Chattman coming back changes that.  Renfro and Oliver are serviceable but they’re going to get burned here and there.  At safety I think you just keep rotating guys in and out.  Wilson isn’t the best in coverage but he’s a great third linebacker playing the run and short routes.  You just need to make sure he’s not in a position where he must cover someone beyond 15 yards.  He’s not good going backwards.  Capers-Smith while not extremely talented seems to know his assignments and does a good job tackling.  Like the rest of the secondary he’s going to be prone to lapses in coverage.  I would like to see Leon O’Neal get more playing time if it’s warranted.  His shirt is burned so might as well get him as much experience as is reasonable.  We going to need him in a big way next season.

Basically, this defense is what it is.  We’re great up front but suspect in the secondary.  If we can eliminate ALL penalties (including targeting) and limit the big touchdown plays this unit can help us win the rest of the games on the schedule.  You just have to assume against the rest of the SEC teams there’s a good chance we’ll give up 20 to 25 points if a team has any semblance of a passing attack.  That’s not great but it’s not horrible.  You can win games if you’re honest in your game plan each week looking to minimize the secondary exposure.  Just eliminate any chance of getting into a shootout.

Special Teams:

Mann oh Mann:

Brand Mann “only” averaged 52 yards on 4 punts but he hit 3 over 50 yards including a 67 yarder.  Obviously his best play was on the punt return where he created a fumble the Aggies recovered.  The dude’s legend just continues to grow.  I haven’t paid attention to every punter in college football this season but I can’t imagine someone out there better than him.

Seth Small:

Seth Small was 4 of 5 on field goals including his first one which was a 52 yarder.  He missed on his second field goal which was 42 yards but he then connected on his next 3.  Those were critical so good to see him respond when needed.  I know a lot of Aggies have been down on this kid but I’m hoping he’s finally right.  Remember this is a guy that was perfect in his debut in Tuscaloosa.  It could be MUCH worse than what he’s done so far as a true freshman.  Surely he only gets better with experience and confidence.

Returns:

Nothing of any real substance here as Corbin and Paul had a couple decent returns trying to make something happen.  Probably the best thing about our kick teams were limiting Deebo Samuel on his two returns.  He’s an incredibly explosive player and he got to the 20 once and the 12 the other time.  He did nothing on the two kick offs he tried to make something happen.  Nice job but our kick off coverage team.  Our punt coverage was a bit suspect but thanks to Mann oh Mann lowering the boom it didn’t hurt us.

 

Looking Forward:

I still can’t move the needle from my 8-4 prediction before the season started.  So far I’ve nailed every game.  I truly believe in what Jimbo is doing but the secondary and offensive line is leaving little room for error.  I love the 6:00 pm start in Starkville as I think that works in our favor.  The 11:00 am starts in Starkville have been trouble for us.  I think we stand a good chance to win that game but it won’t be easy.  It’ll be tougher than our last three games so we can’t make mistakes.

Auburn sure looks like a possible win after the last two weeks but never under-estimate Gus Malzahn backed up against the wall.  If he comes out slinging the ball looking to test our secondary it could be tough.  They have a pretty solid defense that will be tough to score on.  I think the Tennessee win actually works against A&M.  We don’t want a desperate Auburn team.  It’s not a great Auburn team but neither is A&M.  That’s a 50/50 game right now to me even with how Auburn has looked of late.  Gus may wake up looking to throw that sucker 50 times on us.

Ole Miss should be a win but we could get into a shootout with them.  If that’s the case it’s not the easy win it looks to be.  They have talent at receiver and QB.  If their line can buy their receivers enough time to get downfield their QB can hit them.  I don’t think it happens and A&M wins but it’s a matchup problem for us to a degree.

UAB should be a win so no concerns there.

LSU just beat an elite Georgia team so if you’d pick A&M over LSU right now you’re a damn fool.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again it fascinates me how every season after a “bad loss” everyone wants to write off LSU as a bad team.  They’re as loaded as any team in the country outside of Alabama.  On any given day they can beat any team in the country and even give Bama a scare.  I do think A&M can beat LSU so it’s not impossible but that will not be an easy win by any stretch.  There’s a legit possibility there’s two 9-2 teams looking for their 10th win in their final game.  If you don’t think LSU will be up for that wanting their 10th win you don’t follow college football very closely.

I think we’re in a good position to go 8-4 and with some good breaks wind up at 9-3.  If we finish 9-3 and then win a bowl game to get 10 wins we’ll be well on our way to Make Aggie Football Great Again.  It’s looking very possible at this point.  It may not be as pretty or convincing as you want but it’ll be a remarkable job by the players and coaches.

#MAFGA

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