Texas A&M

What Jimbo Fisher Means for Texas A&M

Jimbo Landing in Aggieland

A Change in Perception:

When Texas A&M made the hire of Jimbo Fisher official it sent a clear message.  Underestimate Texas A&M all you want but Texas A&M doesn’t hold the same belief.  Many national and regional “experts” believe Texas A&M is a second tier program in college football.  They don’t think A&M can compete with the “bluebloods” of college football.  They haven’t been to College Station in 10 years and they still hold their stock in IBM having never invested in Apple, Amazon, or Microsoft.  You know, because nothing ever changes.

7 years ago these “experts” that make a living talking college football said Texas A&M wouldn’t get an invite to the SEC.  Well, Texas A&M got the invite to the SEC and made the move in 2012.  They said it was a stupid move.  The first season in the SEC Texas A&M won 11 games and finished in the Top 5 while Johnny Manziel won a Heisman.  That was only six seasons ago where Texas A&M competed at the highest level.  Sure, it turned out to be a blip but the reality is Texas A&M competed at the highest level and built the most expensive stadium in college football over the last six seasons.  Texas A&M can compete at the highest level.

When chatter of Jimbo Fisher getting hired by A&M recently surfaced these “experts” said there was no way Jimbo Fisher would leave FSU.  They said it was a second tier program under Florida State.  They’re talking about the school that finished in the Top 5 only six seasons previously and had the most expensive college football stadium ever built.  No stadium even comes close to the amenities of modern day Kyle Field.  These “experts” couldn’t think past the last 12 months.  They were convinced Texas A&M despite the 2012 season, it’s location, it’s facilities, and it’s resources couldn’t attract a coach of Jimbo Fisher’s caliber because it was a second tier program.  On December 1, 2017, Jimbo Fisher made it official he was leaving Florida State for Texas A&M.

Sadly for these “experts” if they have any historical context their historical context is that of Dennis Franchione, Mike Sherman, and recently Kevin Sumlin.  They forget Texas is a hotbed of football recruits and economic development.  And I mean a hotbed of football recruits and money.  They forget the years from 1985 to 1995 when Texas A&M finished in the final Top 20 for 10 of those 11 seasons.  The overall record over those 11 seasons was 104-27-2.  That’s a winning percentage of 78 percent.  The record at Kyle Field was 63-5-1.  That’s a winning percentage of 91 percent.  That’s a flat out decade of dominance at home.  1985 was 32 years ago which seems like a long time but it’s not forever ago.  For whatever reason these “experts” assumed Texas A&M was just a second tier football program that didn’t belong in the discussions of the upper tier programs.

They believe despite the brand new $450 million stadium and facilities that rival anybody in the country along with a hotbed of recruiting Texas A&M can never compete at the highest level of college football.  These people get paid to be “experts” about college football.  The truth is these people are idiots and lazy.  They sit in their studios watching the games never visiting any campus.  Their sole basis for being an “expert” is the most recent decade of success.  They’re judging Texas A&M based solely on the jobs done by Mike Sherman and Kevin Sumlin.  Mike Sherman and Kevin Sumlin are outstanding people but they didn’t prove to be great college football coaches.  College football more than any other sport is about the head coach.  In college football the head coach has the highest input of 85 scholarship players including their recruiting, the walk-ons, and the largest staff of any college sport.  The sport requires 22 different starters with 11 of those having to work in perfect unison on every play.  No other sport comes close to the overall volume and detail the head coach must think about.  Because of that the head coach has to be something special.  The greats are few and far between.  A&M has simply failed on having a great head coach since R.C. Slocum around 1995 with a couple blips in 1998 and 2012.  We’ve been in a coach drought.  Simple as that.  It hasn’t been a resource problem.

The hire of Jimbo Fisher changes that perception.  At least it should.  The hire of Jimbo Fisher makes these “experts” wake up and pay attention.  They can deny it but they’re paying attention.  The hire of Jimbo Fisher changes the national perception of Texas A&M’s willingness and ability to compete at the highest level in college football.  The hire of Jimbo Fisher says A&M is capable of things people have forgotten about.  The hire of Jimbo Fisher tells the “experts” you can think what you want about Texas A&M but Texas A&M thinks differently about itself.

A lot of these “experts” will continue questioning if A&M is a better job than FSU when a man just staked his career to it.  Sure, Jimbo Fisher left for more money but he was already a Top 5 paid coach in college football.  The dude is as driven by anyone to win college football games.  It’s not like he’s coming to College Station for more money and ride out his career for a decade.  That makes no sense at all if you think about it logically.  A man who seemingly had it all at FSU left for another program.  Why would that be?  The only real logical explanation is the person himself who has more vested than anyone feels that Texas A&M offers a better chance to win a national championship than Florida State.  It really is as simple as that.  Sadly the “experts” will go on and on this is about money and Jimbo Fisher is an idiot.  I don’t think it’s about money as Jimbo already has plenty and FSU wasn’t firing him anytime soon.  Jimbo Fisher may be wrong in the end but the reason he made the move is he feels Texas A&M offers a better chance to win a national championship.  It’s the only reason an established coach at a proven Power 5 program would leave for another one.  It doesn’t happen very often.  I don’t think Jimbo left because of the FSU fans being critical over this season.  That seems awful petty.  Jimbo seems to have more confidence and pride to let a few fans piss him off and leave.  Jimbo left because he thinks Texas A&M offers more resources to win a national championship than Florida State.

Some of the “experts” will also say Dennis Franchione left Alabama for Texas A&M and look how that turned out.  They won’t look under the hood and realize Dennis Franchione was a fraud because he was built up by Gary Patterson much the same way Dan Hawkins was at Boise St.  Dennis Franchione jumped because of the pending scholarship restrictions coming Alabama’s way.  He too at the time believed Texas A&M offered a better chance to win a national championship than his current situation like any coach that decides to move.  Alabama was pretty bad after Fran left until Saban showed up.  The problem with Fran was he wasn’t actually a good football coach.  This is why he struggled at Texas State when he did get another job.  Winners win at any level they coach if given enough time.  Comparing Jimbo Fisher and Dennis Franchione is an exercise in being lazy.  Much different circumstances.  Still, those with the inability to have logical thoughts will use that as an argument because they sit in a studio having never been to the campus and regions around Texas A&M and Florida State football.  Just because the wins and losses over the last two decades are different doesn’t mean the resources and potential are different.

Ironically enough I’ve been saying for two decades if Florida State, Miami, and Florida can all be seen as equals on the football field why can’t Texas and Texas A&M?  Texas has access to great football talent just like Florida does.  How is Florida allowed/able to have three marquee programs in their state but Texas which is a bigger state than Florida can only have one?  Spare me the argument there’s more bigger schools in Texas because Florida has a boat load of schools as well.  Also spare me the argument Oklahoma steals recruits out of Texas.  There are PLENTY of great Texas high school football players to build a championship team at A&M.  The problem has been and always will be coaching.  Texas A&M since R.C. Slocum started declining in the late 90s has failed to hire a competent coach.  Dennis Franchione, Mike Sherman, and Kevin Sumlin were simply not great football coaches.  Texas A&M for two decades had the wrong person under the headset.

For most, the perception of Texas A&M football will change but some people will keep their head in the sand even though a man staked his career to the move.  He burned his legacy on the way out of Tallahassee so he obviously sees something beyond the money.  At least I think he does.  Most will understand and watch with curiosity if he’s right while the truly moronic people will continue to question why he’d make the move.  Those people need to shut up and save the world’s oxygen for something else.

The ultimate perception shift will only occur if Jimbo actually wins and competes with the team in Tuscaloosa.  If he mimics Sumlin’s regular 8-4 record and third to fourth place in the SEC West the “experts” will be proven right.  If at minimum Jimbo replaces LSU as the second best program in the SEC West while Saban is at Alabama then he’ll prove it was the right move.  If Jimbo actually wins a national championship at Texas A&M I’ll start a Go Fund Me page to send every person that questioned why Jimbo would leave FSU for A&M an actual plate of crow.  I’m dead serious.  Keep those Tweets.  I’ve got two from Mike Greenberg and Richard Justice even though Richard Justice deleted his.

Will Jimbo prove the critics right or wrong?  Nobody has any idea.  That includes Jimbo and the people that made the decision to bring him in.  Only time will tell but Texas A&M on December 1, 2017 put their proverbial nuts on the table.  Those in charge of hiring a football coach for Texas A&M believe completely different than the “experts” that say Jimbo Fisher is an idiot.  Jimbo Fisher has to win to fully change the perception.  If that happens those “experts” that questioned the move will be proven the idiots.  I can’t wait.

The Mechanics of the Hire and the Contract:

Kudos to Scott Woodward on this hire.  Much like when Dr. Loftin took us to the SEC he spoke very minimally and executed like an assassin.  With assassins you never know what’s going on but the results are crystal clear.  The hire of Jimbo Fisher is crystal clear.  Scott Woodward is an assassin and that’s a good thing.  While everyone else was out creating wasted noise Woodward was doing his work and when it mattered most pulled the trigger with clear results.  No fanfare and no hype.  Just the clear result for the main target all along.  You love an assassin when they’re on your side.

In the end it sort of seems like a simple hire because there was no fanfare.  It wasn’t.  LSU tried to do it the previous two seasons and failed.  There’s speculation of how long Woodward has been working on this but it doesn’t matter.  He got the best coach that would come to Texas A&M.  Texas A&M was not getting Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Dabo Swinney, or Jim Harbaugh.  I suppose there’s a possibility of getting Chris Petersen but I like the Jimbo Fisher hire more than Chris Petersen which I’ll get to in a little bit.  I don’t know the full mechanics of this hire but Woodward executed them perfectly.  He zeroed in on Fisher as the biggest attainable fish and reeled him in with flawless execution.

Despite what the “experts” say this wasn’t simply a money whip either.  Like I referenced above Jimbo didn’t leave just for money.  His situation at Florida State wasn’t bad at all.  It took Woodward convincing Jimbo he would be better served at Texas A&M.  That’s one hell of a sales job and Woodward should get more credit by the “experts” for pulling this off.  LSU has been perceived as the better program but yet Texas A&M is the one that could pull off the hire in one try.  Give credit where credit is due and that appears to be the work of Scott Woodward and those at Texas A&M that supported Woodward.  Thank goodness we’re not Tennessee.  Plus, we’re about to find out what’s going on at FSU as it seems Willie Taggart has turned them down.  Scott Frost is also going to Nebraska so he’s not a candidate.  This hire couldn’t have been cleaner.  Great job by Woodward.

As for the magnitude of the reported $75 million contract over 10 years let’s break it down a bit.  Had Sumlin stayed at A&M for 10 years we would have paid him $50 million.  That’s assuming he never got a raise.  That’s $2.5 million a year difference.  If Sumlin had more repeated success there’s no doubt we would have paid Sumlin more than $5 million a year through a raise.  On a per year basis it’s really not that much difference because in big time college football $2.5 million isn’t much.  We’ll make it up in Double Dave’s pizza rolls sales each season.  That is if Double Dave’s can get their act together and have enough on hand where there’s no line and they never run out.  Double Dave’s with better execution can make up the difference if they’ll execute like Woodward.  There’s always a line for pizza rolls and they always run out.  Talk about missed opportunity.  Although I’m more of a Gumby’s pizza roll guy because they add garlic or something giving it more flavor.  Never understood why Double Dave’s got all the pizza roll love when Gumby’s pizza rolls are better.  All marketing and not product in my mind but that’s a blog post for another day.

As for the length of the contract these “experts” and “critics” are some of the same people that said we didn’t give Kevin Sumlin enough time with 6 years.  We’re committing to Fisher for a decade so that’s only 4 years more than what Sumlin got.  That should be a positive.  Fisher is only 52 which at the end of his contract he’ll be younger than Nick Saban is now.  Arizona State just hired a 62 year old to run their football program.  It’s not unexpected that Fisher can coach 10 more years.  Maybe he doesn’t win a national championship but his track record says A&M will be better off than the previous three coaches we hired.  Winners win and history indicates Jimbo Fisher is a winner.

Winners don’t come cheap so committing $75 million over 10 years for a coach with Jimbo’s track record seems reasonable to me.  It’s steep but it’s a cost of doing business.  Attempting to win a national championship requires money or luck.  We’ve run out of luck at Texas A&M so time to throw money at winning it all.  Mike Gundy was offered 6 years at $7 million by Tennessee and Gus Malzahn has apparently received a raise to $7 million by Auburn.  Jimbo at $7.5 million doesn’t seem out of line at all compared to the numbers that have come out this past week.

If in 10 years Jimbo Fisher has not won more than the coaches that came before him then Texas A&M needs to do a serious internal analysis.  Stop wasting money on football and turn Kyle Field into a bullfighting arena or something.  If Jimbo is worse than or even equal to Kevin Sumlin then we need to stop wasting money on football all together at Texas A&M.  This is an experiment at the highest level to see where Aggie Football can go.  It’s time to step up to find the ceiling.  Finding that ceiling costs money.

I’ve seen Mike Leach’s name get thrown out there for saving money and getting similar results.  Nobody loves Mike Leach more than me since he’s no longer at Tech clowning Franchione and Sherman.  I don’t really get it though.  Mike Leach is a fine coach but he’s never won a division.  Sure, he tied for it once at Tech but after beating Texas to have the inside track to win the division his team got clowned by OU.  He had the division in front of him and he couldn’t get it done.  Then he lost the Cotton Bowl to Ole Miss that season.  That’s the closest he’s ever come to winning a division and a major bowl.  Mike Leach will do more with less but he has a ceiling in my mind.  Mike Leach has won 10 games in ONE season of 16 seasons as head coach.  I know Texas Tech and Washington State aren’t perennial winners but you would think he’d have at least one more season where he won at least 10 games.  He’s only had one.

I don’t think rolling the dice and saving money would have been a good move with Leach.  I don’t see the “great” switch going off for Mike Leach at Texas A&M or any major program.  He’ll be a thorn to opponents but he’ll never win it all.  It’s not worth saving money to not have a chance to win it all.  That goes for any other similar unproven coach.  It wouldn’t have been worth it to save some money and “hope” that coach becomes great at Texas A&M.  We tried it with Franchione and Sumlin and it didn’t work.  Like I said earlier we’re out of time for “hope” so it’s time to spend money.

$75 million for ten years seems like a risky investment but let’s take a look at Jimbo the coach and see how risky it is.  Everybody said the Red Sox and Cubs couldn’t win it all until they finally hired someone competent enough to lead the team.  It’s always about leadership and that costs money.

Jimbo the Head Coach:

I believe a coach’s record matters more than anything else.  You can play ifs and buts all you want but over a period of time a coach’s record no matter where they coach will reflect their ability.  If he’s at a horrible program he’ll improve the record he took over if he’s a good coach.  Let’s look at Jimbo’s record and the four seasons at Florida State before he took over from Bowden.

The first four years are Bobby Bowden and the final eight years that are bolded are Jimbo Fisher.

Year Record Conference Bowl (W/L) Final Rank Title
Bowden – 2006 7-6 3-5 Emerald – W NR
2007 7-6 4-4 Music City – L NR
2008 9-4 5-3 Champs Sports – W 23 Division
2009 7-6 4-4 Gator – W NR
Jimbo- 2010 10-4 6-3 ChickFilA – W 16 Division
2011 9-4 5-3 Champs Sports – W 23
2012 12-2 7-1 Orange – W 8 Conference
2013 14-0 8-0 BCS NCG – W 1 National Champ
2014 13-1 8-0 Rose – L 6 Conference
2015 10-3 6-2 Peach – L 14
2016 10-3 5-3 Orange -W 8
2017 5-5 3-5

 

As you can see, the four seasons before Jimbo took over Florida State was not exactly a dominant program.  Florida State only finished once in the Top 25 those four seasons.  Their best record was 9-4 with an ACC division championship.  Other than that Florida State had a 7-6 record each season prior to Jimbo Fisher taking over.

The first season Jimbo took over he lead Florida State to a 9-3 regular season record winning the Atlantic Division.  They lost to Va. Tech in the ACC Title game but beat South Carolina in the ChickFilA Bowl.  That’s a pretty quick turnaround from the previous season at Florida State where they went 7-6.

Overall, including bowl games, Jimbo Fisher won 10 games or more in 6 of 8 seasons.  He was 6-2 in bowl games including 2 Orange Bowl wins and a national championship in the Rose Bowl.  That’s three marquee bowl game wins which is damn impressive in 8 seasons.  He went to 5 marquee bowl games from 2012 to 2016.

He lost the Rose Bowl in 2014 in the first year of the College Football Playoff to Oregon and Marcus Mariota.  In 2015 FSU lost to UH in the ChickFilA Peach Bowl.  I believe FSU was on their third string quarterback that game.  That can be considered a bad loss but that UH team was hitting on all cylinders and Tom Herman at UH was 5-0 against Top 25 teams at UH.  I’m not going to completely ding Jimbo for that loss even though it looks pretty bad.  In 2016 Jimbo beat Jim Harbaugh’s vaunted Michigan team in the Orange Bowl.  He’s played in big bowl games and done pretty well.

A lot of people like to point out Jimbo’s greatest success came with Jameis Winston under center.  That can be considered true but the fact of the matter is Florida State went 27-1 those two seasons.  Say what you want to about Jameis but Jimbo harnessed his talent to only lose 1 game in 2 seasons. That’s remarkable.  Jameis was a great college quarterback but Jimbo deserves credit for going 27-1 in those two seasons.  How many coaches have gone 27-1 over two seasons?  Not many at all.  It still takes coaching to win like that even if you have talent.  Ask Mack Brown, Les Miles, and Ron Zook.

Outside of Jameis, Jimbo has lead Florida State to a 56-21 record which is a 73 percent winning rate.  That includes the 5-5 record this season which has brought it down some.  Even without Jameis Winston and a .500 season he’s basically winning every 3 of 4 games.  Add in the Jameis Winston years and Jimbo has an overall record of 83-22 which is an almost 80 percent winning rate.  That’s winning every 4 of 5 games over 8 years as the head man at Florida State.  That’s damn good no matter how you want to spin his time there.  I firmly believe winners win and there’s no denying Jimbo Fisher won a lot of football games at FSU.

Based on the last 12 years of Florida State football there’s no reason to think Jimbo Fisher won’t improve the number of wins the Aggies have going forward.  His 8 seasons of football at Florida State speak for themselves compared to the previous 4 seasons.  He wins football games plain and simple.  There’s plenty of talent on the A&M football roster to win more games in 2018 than in 2017.  His biggest issue is going to be improving the A&M offensive line along with deciding pretty early if he wants to have a dual threat attack with Kellen Mond or a straight passing attack with Nick Starkel.  He may also bring in another quarterback but my guess is he’ll roll with either Mond or Starkel.

The schedule is pretty tough playing Clemson and Alabama in 2 of the first 4 games so we’ll find out pretty quickly if Jimbo can make improvements to Aggie football.  I don’t expect A&M to win those games but I do expect them to be competitive in those games.  The rest of the schedule should be pretty manageable with Auburn and LSU posing the toughest tests for the remaining 8 games.  I don’t think it’s out of the question for A&M to go 8-4 next season at minimum but if Jimbo is worth his $7.5 million a year we should win at least 9 games and potentially 10.  I do expect to see immediate improvement when it comes to wins and losses next season.  We didn’t hire Jimbo to “build” a program.  We hired him to come in and start winning more games right away.  He’s got a 10 year contract but he’s being paid to win more in Year 1.  No excuses.  There’s no “building” with his pedigree and what he’s being paid.

In addition to his coaching record Jimbo is known as an elite recruiter.  He had a head start on Kevin Sumlin’s time in Aggieland having already been at Florida State for 2 seasons but Florida State out-recruited Texas A&M in each of Sumlin’s six seasons.  Sumlin was seen as a strong recruiter but Jimbo proved better.  In 8 seasons of signing recruits Florida State was ranked in the Top 10 every season except for one where they came in at number 11 so almost in the Top 10.  In those 8 seasons Florida State was ranked in the Top 5 for 5 of those signing classes.  That’s an elite level of recruiting for sure.  There’s no reason to think Jimbo Fisher can’t do the same at Texas A&M.  He’ll be leading the only SEC team in the state of Texas and the other flagship school struggling right now so he shouldn’t have issues recruiting.  He’s an offensive coach but Jimbo recruited elite talent on both sides of the ball at Florida State.

Jimbo and his staff appear to do a pretty good job developing that talent.  Florida State has had 35 players drafted in the last 5 years.  That’s averaging 7 players each year of the last 5 NFL drafts.  There’s been 35 rounds in the last 5 NFL drafts so Florida State basically had a player for every round.  It didn’t break down that way but you get the point.  It certainly appears that Jimbo can not only recruit elite level talent but he and his staff can also develop it.  There are lots of coaches that can recruit but can’t develop talent and Jimbo seems to develop talent.

The data basically speak for itself in Jimbo’s time at Florida State.  If you look at record, recruiting, and drafting Jimbo Fisher is a Top 5 coach in the country.  That’s pretty hard to argue.  There’s no guarantee those things will carry over at Texas A&M but at least he’s proven he can do it.  I don’t think he would have taken the job if he didn’t feel he can replicate his success.  Maybe he just cashed a huge lottery check but I really think he believes he can do at Texas A&M what he did at Florida State.  He wouldn’t have made the move if he didn’t because his situation at Florida State was really damn good.  I mean the “experts” say that Florida State is the better job.  Jimbo Fisher made a calculated decision he can do at Texas A&M what he did at Florida State.  I’ll trust the man with the skins on the wall over the “experts” that sit in a studio or behind a keyboard.  One man has done it.  The others haven’t.

Make no mistake Jimbo Fisher was hired to Make Aggie Football Great Again.  Only time will tell if he actually can.  Based on his time at Florida State there’s no reason think in 5 years he won’t change the phrase Make Aggie Football Great Again to Made Aggie Football Great Again.  For $7.5 million a year he better change the “k” in Make to a “d” for Made.  When that happens it will prove every single dollar we signed Jimbo for was worth it and the “experts” are idiots.  We’ll be shipping plates of crow all over the country.

#MAFGA

Gig ‘Em Aggies!

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Is Jimbo Fisher a Good Hire for Texas A&M?

Jimbo Fisher

There’s some chatter out there that Jimbo Fisher is a primary target of Texas A&M to replace Kevin Sumlin.  I don’t know if he’s an achievable target or not but the chatter is out there.  He has a history with A&M’s Athletic Director as they were both together at LSU back in the day.  They know each other which always helps in the hiring process.  Would he be a good hire for Texas A&M?  I’m not sure but let’s take a look.

Before I look at anything coaching related let’s be clear Jimbo Fisher is an asshole.  He’s got a temper and it gets the best of him sometimes.  Earlier this season he told a fan to come down and fight him after the fan told Jimbo he needed to fire some of his coaches.  A lot of coaches are assholes so that’s not a big deal but you can’t engage fans and invite them to come out of the stands and fight you.  If they jump out of the stands and confront you that’s one thing.  If there’s a fan in the stands saying bad things as you run back to the locker room you have to keep going.  You can’t engage any negative behavior from anyone in the stands ever.  Words from a distance are just that and nothing more.  Be bigger than that and move on.

Beyond that the thing that bothers me the most about Jimbo Fisher is his involvement in the Jameis Winston rape issue.  It’s very Art Brilesesque.  I obviously have no direct knowledge of what happened between Winston and the girl that night but what I do know is there appears to be a systematic failure to truly discover what occurred that night.  The Florida State administration (including Athletics), Florida State Police Department, Tallahassee Police Department, and Tallahassee District Attorney are all either completely incompetent or weren’t really interested in finding out the truth over what happened that night.  Jimbo Fisher is a part of that.  Where they purposefully covering up for a star athlete, afraid to find out the truth, or just incompetent?  I don’t know the answer but it was one of those three if you read how everything was handled involving the investigation.  It doesn’t give you a warm and fuzzy feeling things were handled correctly.  Well, that is if you think rape is a really bad thing and deserves investigating.  If you think rape is no big deal then I’m sure you don’t have an issue with how things were handled.

If Texas A&M is serious about hiring Jimbo Fisher I want a very lengthy and extensive conversation as to what he knew and how he would handle the Jameis Winston situation looking back at it.  I would purposefully ask him what he thinks of the situations with Joe Paterno at Penn State and Art Briles at Baylor.  In both of those instances those coaches just wanted to wash their hands of the situations.  They had no interest in taking the lead and doing what was right in those situations.  Fisher at best was similar with Jameis Winston.  He seemed to just want to know if he’d have his star quarterback to play games.  Fisher did not take the lead trying to uncover the truth about that night.  That’s fine as it shouldn’t necessarily be the head coach’s job but at some point I hope he at least had an uneasy feeling for how things were handled.  I would ask him that point blank.

If he’s flippant or not contrite in how things were handled I’d thank him for his time telling him he was free to leave.  Think back to the Art Briles interview on ESPN the season after he was let go.  He was very vague about everything never offering specifics and seemed to fake feeling contrite only because he was supposed to.  If Fisher is not sincere in his answers to how things could have been handled with Winston then there’s no point in asking him further questions.

I can handle an asshole as a head coach but when it comes to matters of rape I want someone that understands the severity of something like that.  I want someone that understands there’s a point where a line is crossed and people need to step back thinking about more than football.  I don’t expect a head coach to be a saint and perfect at all times but I do need to know my head coach does in fact have a moral compass and there’s a line that once crossed everyone needs to step back and think about what is truly going on.  There’s a time to protect the players but there’s also a clear line when a player is accused of something that maybe football shouldn’t be a factor until it’s all sorted out.  It took A&M too long to handle the Kirk Merritt situation appropriately and I want a coach that recognizes those situations and handles them quick and swiftly.  There’s a clear line between boys being boys and someone doing something harmful to someone else.  I want to know Jimbo is FULLY aware where that line is.

I certainly don’t want A&M ever turning into a Penn St or Baylor where I fully question my support of the University as a whole.   I also don’t want A&M turning into a Florida State or Oklahoma where I question if a player was protected or given something they don’t deserve simply because they’re really good at football.  No player is ever above the program.  Even if it means a national championship because we’re playing a player that likely raped someone or laid a woman out.  I want Jimbo Fisher to understand that up front.  If he’s not on board with that then there’s no reason to continue discussion any further.  Being an asshole is one thing.  Being a sleazy coach putting wins above what’s right is another.

With that out of the way let’s look at Jimbo as a head coach.  He’s an outstanding head coach.  He’s having his worst season in his 8 seasons as head coach.  He’s currently at 3-5 and in jeopardy of not making a bowl game if he can’t beat Florida.  He’s doing so bad they had to re-schedule the canceled game against Louisiana-Monroe because FSU will need that game to become bowl eligible.  That game was originally canceled thinking it wouldn’t be needed for bowl eligibility.  This season has turned out differently for FSU so they scheduled that game so FSU can get 6 wins to go to a bowl.  FSU lost their starting QB in the opening game against Bama but they’ve looked terrible this season with close wins over Wake Forest, Duke, and Syracuse.  Those shouldn’t be FSU’s only wins and they shouldn’t close.  That’s not a good look for Jimbo even losing his starting QB in the first game.

When you look at the other 7 seasons during his time at FSU it paints a different picture.  You know about the national championship in 2013.  Coming into this season Fisher has only had one season where he didn’t win 10 games.  6 out of 7 seasons he’s had 10 wins or more.  That’s pretty damn impressive.  He’s been to a bowl game every year and is 5-2 in bowl games including 2 Orange Bowl wins.  He beat Michigan in last year’s Orange Bowl.  His two bowl losses were the Rose Bowl in 2014 when they lost to Oregon in Winston’s second season and then in 2015 when they lost the Peach Bowl to Tom Herman and UH.  I believe FSU was missing both of their starting quarterbacks on the season at that point.  Great win by UH but I don’t think FSU was playing with a full deck.  Fisher’s bowl record is pretty damn impressive.  He seems to have his team show up in big games for the most part.  I like that.

Fisher’s coaching tree is pretty impressive having coached under both Nick Saban and Bobby Bowden.  He was named Bowden’s successor as coach in waiting and it actually worked out.  FSU was actually pretty mediocre before he took over as they went 7-6 in three of the four seasons before Fisher took over.  FSU’s best season in those four seasons was 9-4 two years before Fisher took over.  Fisher made immediate improvements to a FSU program that had slipped to above average and was no longer dominate.  The dude can coach without a doubt.

He’s an offensive coach through and through having been a quarterback in college.  He’s always been on the offensive side of the ball having coached mainly quarterbacks and been a very high profile offensive coordinator at LSU and FSU before assuming the head job after Bobby Bowden.  FSU for the most part has never had issues scoring points.  Fisher is the main reason for that as he appears to call the plays himself.  He has two co-offensive coordinators but not sure how much they help with the game plan and calling plays during the game.

From a recruiting standpoint Fisher is an outstanding recruiter.  The area around Tallahassee is a hot bed for recruiting but Fisher has had a top 10 class every year except for 2013 where FSU ranked 11th so it wasn’t far off.  In the last four years he’s signed a class ranked #6 or higher.  That’s pretty damn impressive even if he’s in a great area for recruiting.  No reason he couldn’t do the same in Texas as it’s a great area to recruit as well.  He must not be that big of an asshole to kids if he’s pulling those kinds of recruiting classes.

In doing research on Fisher my main concern outside of the moral question is his staff seems to be pretty complacent.  It looks like a lot of the same guys he’s had for a while and many of them should be considered to be replaced.  The hiring of assistants is one of the most important things a college head coach can do.  Nick Saban is a master at it.  He’s continually replacing his guys because some of his guys move on to better jobs or Saban feels they need to be replaced.  I would want Fisher to challenge his assistants and never let them get complacent.  I think Kevin Sumlin has done a lot of that with his offensive staff letting everyone getting complacent.  Sumlin has definitely done this on the offensive side of the ball.  I would want Fisher to detail out his plan for his assistants in the immediate and long term.  A complacent staff can kill a football program.

In looking at Fisher there’s no doubt in my mind he’s a Top 10 college head coach.  He has some unexplainable losses every season but so does every coach not named Nick Saban.  That includes Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops, Les Miles, Chris Petersen, James Franklin, Jim Harbaugh, and any other coach you can think of.  It happens and you just have to deal with it unless you’re Alabama with Nick Saban.  Jimbo Fisher clearly belongs in that next class of coaches that aren’t Nick Saban.

If A&M hired Jimbo Fisher I think he’d immediately vault Texas A&M to at least the third best team in the SEC West and likely the second best SEC West team every season.  We’d become a better LSU during the Les Miles era as we’d actually have a competent offense.  This is assuming nobody in the West hires a lights out coach like Fisher as well.  I think we could compete with Alabama year in and year out even winning one every four years or so.  Fisher wouldn’t be cheap at all but the results are pretty guaranteed.  We’d be a legit Top 15 team year in and year out with Fisher.  More than likely we’d be a Top 10 team most of the years.

Assuming the A&M higher ups make it clear to Fisher there’s a CLEAR line when it comes to the morality of players I’m good with the Fisher higher.  I’m fine with him being an asshole sometimes because he wins games.  What I’m not okay with is him being a sleazeball putting wins above doing what’s right when it comes to his players.  No player is above the program at Texas A&M.  Johnny Manziel came close but he was just signing autographs and getting drunk like a lot of college players do.  I don’t expect a team of saints but I do expect a team that knows things like rape and female assault are never acceptable.  Other violent crimes and major theft also apply here.

If Jimbo is aware of that and willing to make his players aware and uphold those standards then I’m perfectly fine with him as Texas A&M’s head coach.  He’d make us a damn good program in no time at all.  He’s not a slam dunk hire and wouldn’t be cheap but he’s about as big of a guarantee in college football as it gets right now.

Thoughts from the Auburn Game

Auburn v Texas A&M

There is no doubt in my mind Kevin Sumlin sealed his fate on Saturday losing to Auburn.  He’s done at Texas A&M as head coach.  I suppose that officially makes him a spec home builder if the news is true he’s in the middle of building a new house in College Station.  I don’t think he’ll ever live in it.  He might want to leave the flooring and countertops for the eventual buyer.  Even if he wins the last three games he’ll still be 8-4 and that’s not going to cut it.  I think the decision to move on from Kevin Sumlin has been made and A&M is doing their due diligence for its next head coach.  What that due diligence is I have no idea but I hope it’s a serious search considering a major budget and plenty of names.

Two moments from that game signal to me Sumlin is done.  At the end of the first half we got the ball back with 1:36 left in the game.  Auburn had just scored on a quick drive capped by a 53 yard touchdown pass that put Auburn ahead 14-13 heading into half.  Auburn was getting the ball coming out of half so they were set up well.  We had the ball at the 20 yard line and Auburn had two time outs.  Starkel had lit a fire under the offense and had been moving the ball.  What does Sumlin do?  He runs the ball three times which burned about a minute off the clock thanks to Auburn’s two timeouts.  There was NO sense of urgency by the A&M offense and no desire to run a two minute drill to see if they could make something happen.  None at all.

A&M lines up for the punt and what happens?  Auburn who had taken two timeouts playing aggressively sends their punt return team for a block and gets through.  They block the punt into the end zone for a touchdown and a 21-13 lead heading into half and getting the ball.  That was the moment I knew Sumlin was officially done.  He had no sense of urgency and got owned by a coach who did have a sense of urgency.  I don’t know if we were lined up in max protect but we should have been.  That was a failure by both Sumlin and Jeff Banks to not have their punt protection and punter prepared for that situation.  Auburn took advantage of Sumlin not being aggressive by being aggressive themselves.

The other moment in the game that told me Sumlin was done coaching was late in the fourth quarter.  We had shown some signs of life offensively but the defense had given up too many points.  With a little over 5 minutes left Auburn scored to go up 42-20 which is a pretty steep hill but in college football it’s not insurmountable.  In fact it happens way more than it should.  It’s still a three score game but it’s not impossible.  If you feel you’re coaching for your job you should coach with some serious urgency.  Kevin Sumlin clearly wasn’t doing that.

After Auburn goes up 42-20 Trayveon Williams returns the kickoff to the Auburn 28 with a little over 5 minutes left.  A&M has two timeouts left with 5 minutes left.  We should have had 3 timeouts but had to use one because we tried to punt with 12 people on the field which is another story.  It’s a longshot but three scores in 5 minutes on their 28 yardline is technically doable with good clock management, play calling, and some luck which is not uncommon in college football.  So what happens is we get to the Auburn 11 yard line thanks to a pass interference call with a little over 4 minutes left.  4 minutes and two timeouts left on the opponent’s 11 yard line needing 3 scores.  Not likely but with the some breaks you can make it happen.

We call back to back run plays in that situation.  Seriously.  We’re on the 11 yard line needing to conserve as much time a possible and we call two run plays.  Two run plays.  Unreal.  We got a gain of six yards and a loss of 3 yards.  We ran the ball twice needing to conserve the clock.  I couldn’t believe it.  At that moment I realized Kevin Sumlin is just totally clueless when it comes to game situations or he just doesn’t care.  I think it’s a combination of both.  He’s just not a great head coach.  Completely unaware of what’s needed in certain situations.

We did wind up scoring there but burned a minute off the clock we didn’t need to.  If we score with a little under 4 minutes left and two timeouts you can at least make a decision on the kickoff to kick deep or onside kick.  Sure, you probably onside kick but at least you have an extra minute and there is some element of surprise.  As it is you burned a minute and everybody in the stadium knew an onside kick is coming so there’s no element of a surprise.  We failed the onside kick and that moment sealed any chance of coming back.  The odds of scoring 22 points in 4 minutes is not likely but it is possible with some breaks.  As it was Kevin Sumlin had ZERO interest in finding out if we could get a few lucky breaks.  No sense of urgency or care on his behalf.  And because of that he’ll be gone after LSU unless he pulls a Jim McElwain saying something stupid that forces A&M’s hand.  I don’t think he’s that dumb but you never know.

It’s also ironic that Jarret Stidham is part of the final nail in Sumlin’s coffin.  Kevin Sumlin twice had the opportunity to recruit Stidham but passed the first time in order to get Kyler Murray.  We saw how that turned out.  He also had the chance to recruit him in the 2017 February class but passed on him for Mond along with Hezekiah Jones and Jhamon Ausbon.  Evidently they were a package deal and Sumlin was scared signing Stidham would scare off all three.  Mond got pulled in the first half on Saturday while neither Jones or Ausbon caught a ball.  Meanwhile Stidham went 20 for 27 throwing for 268 yards and 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.  Basically Sumlin not signing Stidham can be seen as a direct reason Sumlin will no longer be the head coach at Texas A&M when this season is done.  Another reason Sumlin needs to go.  He didn’t recruit quarterback with a sense of urgency in the off season.  He had nobody with any experience under center and passed on Stidham for fear it would scare off people who likely wouldn’t contribute this season.  Once again Sumlin is just unaware of his current situation and doing things to immediately right the ship.  I said at the time he would regret not signing Stidham and Saturday proved that to be right.

For the rest of my normal thoughts I’m going to keep it short.  It’s basically the same from the Mississippi State game.  I want to keep it short because with it clear Sumlin is gone I want to start looking at potential candidates in more detail.  Big rumor is Jimbo Fisher is our top target because we think he’s attainable.  I want to spend my time digging under the hood of Fisher and get that written up.

Offense:

This was basically the same thing as the Mississippi State game other than the change at quarterback.  Before I get to that change I’m just going to say the line looked slightly better with Starkel in there because defenses know they have to respect the pass with him as QB.  With Mond they were just loading the box and destroying our line.  At receiver it was more of the same except Damion Ratley caught balls and had a great catch and run for a 62 yard touchdown.  Outside of that he caught 3 balls for 20 yards so not explosive on the other catches.  Kirk caught 8 balls for 62 yards with a long of 29 yards so he didn’t exactly light it up either.  Trayveon caught a beautiful shovel pass for 41 yards but other than that not much in the passing game.  Receivers still don’t seem to be getting or separation unless it’s just busted coverage.

The running game was definitely improved with Starkel under center as the defense backed off the line of scrimmage to respect the pass it seems.  Keith Ford and Trayveon Williams combined for 29 carries totaling 151 yards.  That’s a little over 5 yards a carry and most of that came with Starkel in.  The longest run was 40 yards by Traveon.  Ford and Williams were chewing off good runs which we definitely didn’t see against Mississippi State.  Pretty clear having to respect the passing game helped our running game.

As for Starkel he was 11 for 22 for 184 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions.  That’s not outstanding but it’s the best outing we’ve seen all year from a quarterback against a respectable defense.  He had the 62 yard pass to Ratley so that was a big play that accounted for 33% of the yards but Starkel did a nice job passing the ball considering the play calls and lack of receivers getting open.  Barring an injury this is Starkel’s job the rest of the season and heading into next year no matter who the new coach is.  He’s just a better passer and its clear Mond has a ways to go from a passing standpoint.  The one big difference I saw between Starkel and Mond in the game is that Starkel played with a sense of urgency.  He was begging for the play to get everyone lined up.  I never saw that from Mond.  I think it’s completely a confidence and comfort thing.  Starkel appears more confident and comfortable taking snaps at the college level.  Starkel also seems to make much quicker decisions in the passing game.

One thing I’d love to see happen but it won’t is eliminate the red zone fade route.  I don’t know that it’s worked all year but I can count at least a dozen times we’ve tried that and it hasn’t been close to a completion.  It’s like Mazzone thinks we have Mike Evans or Josh Reynolds who can go up and get the ball.  We don’t have anyone like that and the ball hasn’t even been close to a completion if we did have someone that could go get it.  Sumlin needs to go rip that page out of Mazzone’s play sheet but let’s face it those two don’t care anymore.  They both know they’re gone so we’ll see it a few more times this season.  I can’t wait.

Defense:

Defensively this felt just like the Misissippi State game for the most part.  The defense played well enough in the first half save for one play.  That was the 53 yard pass with under 2 minutes left where they just got isolated coverage with their fastest receiver against our backup corner because our best cover guy wasn’t playing.  The Auburn receiver got separation from our corner and Stidham hit him in stride for a touchdown.  Great coaching isolating talent on lesser talent and great job by Stidham hitting the guy in stride.  Other than that I thought our defense played just fine in the first half despite our offensive issues until Starkel came in.

The second half was pretty bad as the defense held Auburn to a three and out on their first possession of the half but it went downhill quickly after that.  Our offense responded to the defense starting the second half with a three and out by also going three and out giving the ball right back to Auburn.  Auburn would then score on their next two possessions making the game 35-13.  The game was over halfway through the third quarter for the most part.  The back breaker was when Auburn got the ball on their own 4 yard line and took the ball 96 yards the other way on 14 plays burning 8:17 of the clock.  They ran the ball 11 times and passed only 3.  That’s pretty demoralizing for the defense .  There’s no way to defend a defense that gives up a drive like that.  If they can hold them there it could have been a 35-27 game at one point.  Ifs and buts though don’t get anyone anywhere though.

Individually the two best performances for me were Tyrel Dodson who has turned into an absolute beast.  The dude is legit.  Anthony Hines was the other who had his best game of the year.  Armani Watts had his solid game as well.  The front four looked solid most of the game other than that demoralizing drive in the 4th quarter.

All in all they played great in the first half but the second half was a different story.  Time of possession wasn’t too far off at 35:44 to 24:16 but I do think there’s an element of always playing defense from behind that becomes a mental battle.  Defenses want to be aggressive knowing they’re playing for something and that’s just happening with our offense.  It would be interesting to see what would happen if our offense could actually get a lead or swing time of possession in their favor.  This defense has not been great the last two games.  They have looked really solid in the first half but faded in the second half when the offense wasn’t doing anything.  Hard to blame them.  Despite all of that I still contend our “Front 6” has looked really solid for most of the season with a few hiccups here and there.

I’m still on the Chief Train mainly because I think the offense is not giving this defense any chance to shine.

Special Teams:

Talk about a Jekyll and Hyde game.  Two blocked field goal attempts and a great kick return by Trayveon Williams.  But we had the blocked punt where we should have been in max protect fully expecting a jailhouse break trying to block the punt.  Auburn executed it perfectly and we weren’t ready for it.  The timeout in the third quarter because we were trying to punt with 12 guys was maddening.  After we got the personnel straightened out we punt the ball off the up back.  Like I’ve said all season this special teams unit isn’t spectacular for the most part other than some big individual contributors.  I know Jeff Banks gets lots of love but I personally think the guy is just average.  Just too much inconsistency and bone headed plays like we saw on Saturday.

Going Forward:

Sumlin is done and he knows it.  He’ll coach out the season and be done after LSU.  I expect us to go 2-1 finishing 7-5 but it could be worse.  This team could just collapse going down the stretch.  I don’t think that will happen as I think there’s enough young leadership.   Starkel and Dodson on their respective sides of the ball won’t let that happen I don’t think.  7-5 will be a disappointment but it’ll get us to a bowl game which we should accept as you always want the extra practice and experience.
Make Aggie Football Great Again!

Chad Morris is Better than Kevin Sumlin

Morris Greater Than Sumlin

Before I get going with this column I want to make two things clear:

  • At this point there’s a 97% chance Kevin Sumlin will be let go as the A&M coach. Even if he wins the final 3 games he’ll wind up at 8-4 which will be too little too late.  I don’t see him beating LSU as I think the LSU defensive line will destroy the Aggie offensive line.  If he goes 7-5 he stands no chance of coming back.    We’ll be 5th in the West and that’s not going to cut it in Season 6.
  • This column isn’t advocating for the hiring of Chad Morris. This column is to simply establish a baseline for those people that believe we won’t be able to hire someone better than Kevin Sumlin.  Chad Morris would be our “worst” hire.  The attitude that Kevin Sumlin is the best we can do is a terrible one to have.  Kevin Sumlin is in over his head at Texas A&M.  There are a LOT of coaches that can do what Kevin Sumlin has done at Texas A&M.  Kevin Sumlin has never won more than 8 games in the regular season other than his first season.  Let’s not forget about his struggles in November as well.  He’s not a very good coach despite what some think.  Texas A&M can absolutely do better and we need to eliminate this defeatist attitude.

I also want to establish two questions those in charge of the hiring decision need to make perfectly clear as they go forward:

  • How much are we willing to pay? It can be fluid but I think those making the hiring decision need to know if money is going to be a factor.  Don’t go shopping without a budget as that will get you in trouble.
  • Are we looking to hire someone that can potentially compete with Nick Saban or do we want to be second in the SEC West? A coach that can compete with Nick Saban doesn’t exist so you have to take a chance on an unproven coach like Matt Campbell or Scott Frost if you’re willing to pay money.  Those guys won’t come cheap.  If you want to get a “proven” coach that’s not going to compete with Nick Saban but win 9-11 wins every year then go get Chip Kelly or Mike Leach.  Both of those guys will win more games than Kevin Sumlin but will be expensive because they’re proven in P5 football.

Where Chad Morris comes in is if we’re not willing to spend money but want to improve over Kevin Sumlin.  Chad Morris will win more games than Kevin Sumlin without a doubt.  While his head coaching record at SMU is in question it’s still SMU.  Nick Saban wouldn’t walk into SMU and win 10 games in 2-3 seasons.  Chad Morris is not a horrible head coach once you dig below the surface of the wins and losses at SMU.  He’s improved his record each season he’s been there.  He went 2-10 his first season at SMU but he inherited a team that was horrible.  They didn’t score an offensive touchdown until their 5th game the season before as June Jones quit on that team.  Last year he went 5-7 with a blowout over 11th ranked Houston.  That’s progress.

This season he’s sitting at 6-3 so he’s already improved last season’s win total with 3 games left.  He’s got 2 tough games in Navy and Memphis but he could absolutely beat Tulane improving SMU to 7-5 in his third season.  That would be a marked improvement for the program he took over 3 seasons ago.  He’s not a coach that inherited a great program like Kevin Sumlin and Tom Herman did at UH.  He took over a crappy program that won 1 game with a wretched offense the season he took it over.  He only won 2 games the next season but he made immediate improvements to their offense which is his specialty.  The SMU defense was horrible.

Digging beyond his time at SMU he was the offensive coordinator at Clemson for 4 seasons.  During those 4 seasons the Clemson offense established 127 offensive records and posted the top 3 scoring seasons in Clemson history.  While there he was crucial in recruiting and developing Deshaun Watson’s early collegiate career.  Clemson would play for the national championship in the two seasons after Morris left with coordinators that served under Morris.  If Chad Morris was still the Clemson offensive coordinator and had played in the last two national championship games winning one and maybe two would your perception of him be different?  He’d be the hottest name in coaching without a doubt.  Instead he’d be an “underwhelming” hire from SMU.  He’s still the same coach but now with some collegiate head coaching experience so he’s actually better served to be a head coach at a P5 school.

Before Clemson he served one season as OC at Tulsa where they averaged 41.4 points a game.  The dude is a successful collegiate offensive coordinator.  Before Tulsa he served as head coach in the Texas high school ranks for schools like Bay City, Stephenville, and Lake Travis.  His record as a high school coach is 169-38 winning 3 state titles including two back to back titles at Lake Travis before going to Tulsa.  The dude can coach.  Art Briles and Billy Gillispie made the jump just fine to winning games at the college level from high school.  Let’s leave their personal issues out of it as I think Chad Morris is a fine person based on what I know.  We’re just looking at the transition to win from high school to college in Texas.  It’s very possible to have it translate.

He’s won pretty much wherever he’s gone but hasn’t won enough for Aggies that are only aware of his record at SMU.  He took over a HORRIBLE SMU program and has improved them each year.  When you dig under the hood he’s a damn good football coach and I promise you better than Kevin Sumlin.  When you dig under Kevin Sumlin’s hood you learn there’s not much there other than being in the right place at the right time.  Sumlin’s timing up until this point has been impeccable but his coaching is far from it.  Sumlin got rich from A&M and it’s time to move on.

I’m not advocating for the hiring of Chad Morris right now.  I want Texas A&M to do an exhaustive search and analysis for the best coach that fits the parameters of the two questions above.  Chad Morris is going to leave SMU at some point for a better program.  Maybe it’s A&M and maybe it’s not but he will leave SMU for a P5 job sooner than later.  I just want Aggies to realize that if we wind up with Chad Morris as our “worst” option it will be MUCH better than Kevin Sumlin because the dude can coach football.  I don’t know that he’ll be able to compete with Nick Saban but I do know he’ll be able to do better than what Kevin Sumlin has done here.

I do think if we hire Morris he’ll have to leave many of his SMU assistants behind as his staff isn’t amazing and he’ll need more seasoned SEC guys.  If we do hire Morris I’d actually like to keep our defensive staff in place.  Our defense has played pretty well in the first half of games but the lack of offense has really hurt our defensive efforts.  I think a combination of Morris and Chief would create a staff that could easily win 2 games a season more than Sumlin right away.

What Texas A&M has in Kevin Sumlin is not working.  It’s a bad marriage that needs to end.  If Chad Morris is our next hire then be pretty damn excited because things will get better without a doubt.  We will have hired a coach that’s going to make Texas A&M a better football team from Day 1 over what Kevin Sumlin has offered us the past 5 seasons.  Chad Morris is not the “sexiest” hire out there for Texas A&M but he’s a damn good coach that will absolutely make us better.  He’ll come at a price that will make the move worth every penny “invested” in what’s owed Kevin Sumlin after this season.

Don’t get caught up in the glitz on the surface.  There’s lots of good coaches that can do what Kevin Sumlin has done at Texas A&M.  There’s no doubt in my mind Chad Morris will do better than Kevin Sumlin and if he’s the “worst” hire Texas A&M can make then we’ll still be better off.  I truly think Chad Morris and John Chavis would win 9 games next season at Texas A&M.

That’s still a far cry from what we really want but it would be a hell of a lot better than what Kevin Sumlin is doing right now.  If you can’t get excited about that then I’m not sure what else to tell you as improvement has to start somewhere.  Chad Morris would absolutely offer immediate improvement with the right staff.

EDIT:  One thing I wanted to make clear but didn’t in the original piece is I don’t care that Chad Morris is an Aggie.  It’s a non factor for me.  I don’t care about someone with ties to Texas or “gets” Texas A&M.  It shouldn’t even be a consideration in this hire.  Winners win.  Simple as that.  Aggie and Texas connections don’t matter to me.

Also an interesting note in doing some light research on Morris is he interviewed for the Tech job when Kingsbury got it.  Sounds like Kinsbury was the selection over Morris.  Think Tech would like to have that decision back?

 

Thoughts from the Tennessee Game

trayveon-vs-tenn

First off, something VERY major happened with that Tennessee win.  Kevin Sumlin confirmed his spot as Aggie head coach for one more season.  It was trending he was off the hot seat but if the Aggies collapsed like the last two seasons and he lost to Tenn, Bama, Ole Miss, and LSU there’s a slight chance Sumlin could have lost his job.  With this win we’re a 9-3 regular season team and will play in a damn good bowl game.  Kevin is gonna win at least nine so with that Tennessee victory on Saturday night he guaranteed he’s fine for 2017.  Congrats Coach.

Secondly, I’m TIRED of all the hand wringing about the Wrecking Crew.  Yes it’s frustrating and statistically it doesn’t look good at times but the reality is this Wrecking Crew while not dominant responds and makes plays when it has to.  The offense is still a work in progress but for 90% of the game our defense is playing their assess off and making plays.  I get the frustration of the 10% when they’re not dominant but don’t ever forget what those guys are doing for almost the entire game.  Tennessee is a damn good football team and dialed up some great plays and made some second half adjustments we were late to adjust to.  Still, that defense played their ass off on Saturday night and they’re the reason we won.  While our offense was sputtering our defense was holding their own for most of the game.

If Trayveon Williams doesn’t fumble out of the back of the end zone there’s a good chance we win that game 42-28.  I’m not sure Tennessee would have scored knowing they had to come back two scores down with under 2 minutes.  If he’s tackled it’s a 35-28 game that we kneel out.  That changes the perception of things big time.  I’m not putting this on Trayveon directly but the odds of that play happening are miniscule and yet totally changed the perception of the game from a defensive standpoint.  In overtime the Wrecking Crew showed up and held Tennessee to only 5 plays including the field goal.  When they had to, the Wrecking Crew has shown up twice in overtime games.  I don’t like the stats either but the point is this defense has shown they can show up and make plays when it’s needed most.  We haven’t had this trait in a LONG time.  Like I’ve been saying this defense won’t be this good next year so quit with the hand wringing on this defense and enjoy it because you’re going to be doing lots of hand wringing next season.

Before I get into the analysis can we PLEASE stop assuming when a defensive player goes down he’s faking it?  Every time a Tennessee player went down someone in my section was yelling they were faking.  Even before they carted their guy off people were yelling he was faking.  Uh, he went off on a stretcher.  That’s one hell of a fake.  We’re not even running a true up tempo offense right now so Tennessee had ZERO incentive to fake injuries because they were already missing three starters on defense.  When you’re injured you have to sit out a play.  They weren’t faking.  The rules allow a defense time to make substitutions based on offensive substitutions so you don’t see the amount of faking you used to see.  The worst was I heard an impromptu yell while a Tennessee player was on the ground.  That’s completely classless.  I would love to think Aggie fans are better than that but maybe not.  The MOST important thing that should come out of every game is every player leaves without any kind of injury.  Please have some respect when people are down on the field.  If we’re running true up tempo and an opponent’s player goes down repeatedly then it can be questioned.  But please don’t boo or yell at a player down on the field just because you think they’re faking it.  I don’t want Kyle Field turning into a place that’s not respectful of the opposing players when they’re injured and it sure got close on Saturday.  We’re not the idiots in Austin.  At least I hope not.

The Wrecking Crew:

I’m starting with the defense this time mainly to drive home the work these guys did.  Statistically at the end of the game they look liked crap.  I mean utter crap.  Evidently we witnessed the defense that gave up the most yards ever in an Aggie football game.  That’s insane because for the 3 quarters and then in 2 overtimes I saw a damn dominant defense.  At the end of the first half we were up 21-7 and at the end of the 3rd quarter the score was 28-14.  I mean that’s REALLY respectable.  Damn respectable.  That’s where I wrestle with Tennessee played better than A&M and we got lucky to get a win.  For 3 quarters we soundly beat Tennessee mainly thanks to our defense.   We really did.

Tennessee was 0-7 on third down conversions to start the game.  They didn’t convert one third down the entire first half.  Say what you want but that’s DAMN impressive.  They wound being 6-17 for the game which means they were 6-10 in the second half which isn’t so impressive.  I don’t know the exact stats but I’m assuming at least 4 of those came in the 4th quarter.

We clearly melted down in the 4th quarter giving up 21 points and everybody forgets what this defense did for 3 quarters.  We won 3 quarters and OT and Tennessee won the 4th quarter.  So did Tennessee really play better than us?  I don’t think so.  I think Tennessee just got really hot in the 4th with some REALLY great play calls and our defense was too slow to adjust.  Most of those play calls were screens that took advantage of aggressiveness and pressure along with crossing routes that took advantage of the pressure our linebackers and safeties were applying. We were leaving the middle of the field wide open for crossing routes.  It was some really great play calls by Tennessee.  We probably should have gone to a much more conservative defense but that’s not how Chavis rolls.  He likes to bring pressure.  I don’t like what happened in the 4th at all but it’s hard to fault these guys for how they played for 3 quarters and the overtime.  They were truly dominant for 45 minutes of the game and then the same thing in overtime.  I can’t fully explain the 4th quarter melt down other than solid play calling by Tennessee and execution by a pretty talented team.

There are two things I can fault this defense for and the first time I’ve seen it all season.  The tackling was TERRIBLE.  I mean just terrible.  I don’t know if it was because Tennessee is the best team we’ve played athletically all year or something else but this defense was not bringing Tennessee players down like we’ve done with other teams.  It was really noticeable.  The other terrible thing by this defense was the defensive ends playing in place of Myles Garrett were biting on the zone read really bad.  So much so Dobbs got some pretty nice runs when there shouldn’t have been anything there.  On the zone read the defensive end is left alone and the QB makes the decision to leave the ball with the running back or pull it and run outside if the defensive end is crashing.  Usually there’s not much help out there so if the QB sees the defensive end crash and pulls the ball he’ll get a decent gain.  Dobbs was doing that repeatedly so I don’t know why our defensive ends kept crashing as they need to stay home and be disciplined.  I think it was just a case of those back-up defensive ends being excited to make plays and forgetting what should have been disciplined football.

Speaking of defensive ends I have no clue what was going on with Myles Garrett. Early in the game he was playing on passing downs but then he kind of went away for the most part and then showed up in the 4th quarter and played basically the rest of the game.  He was even in on a punt return in the 4th quarter.  If he was hurt why was he in a punt return?  I don’t get why we’d even expose him to special teams.  Either way I’m not sure why they handled him like they did.  Maybe they realized they finally needed him in there later in the game but it’s kind of head scratching how he was handled.  I will say when he finally did go full time in the 4th quarter he looked solid.  He wasn’t his normal dominant self but Tennessee was focused on him and Myles was  pushing their tackle around.  In VERY limited action he still got 1 sack and a tackle for a loss.  I hope he’s fully healthy going into the Bama game as he’s a flat out game changer.  Even injured he helped stabilize a defense late in the game.

As for the rest of the defense the guy who stood out the most was Armani Watts.  Watts is such a baller.  I mean flat out baller.  The dude took the ball away from a guy that was about to walk into the end zone again.  He just clean stripped it from the guy and held it.  He just does that time and time again.  It’s amazing.  Obviously he got the game saving interception which looks like a bad throw by Dobbs but if you watch Watts on that play he had great anticipation knowing where it was going.  He was playing the ball and not the receiver because he knew where it was going.  His instincts are uncanny.  I questioned if he was going pro after this season but there’s no doubt in my mind he’s gone.  I think he’s a first round draft pick.  He should be an All-American based on how he plays.  I once thought Evans was better but Watts is the better all-around safety and it’s not even close at this point.  That’s not a knock on Evans at all but Watts is just better.

The other guy that stood out the most was Shaan Washington.  That dude seems to be coming into his own right now.  I really feel like he’s gotten better each week where he’s now a legit SEC linebacker.  Alaka looked decent but Washington is clearly our best linebacker right now and I don’t think it’s close.  I’m not sure how many plays Tyrel Dodson got but he had some really solid plays.  He’s a true freshman but I think he’s going to be a really solid contributor the next 2-3 seasons.  I doubt he goes pro early but the kid looks like a baller as a true freshman.  Nobody really stood out from the linebacker position as the lack of tackling was really bad.

The defensive line didn’t get as much pressure as it usually does but it wasn’t bad at all.  Dobbs wasn’t holding on to the ball very long but we still wound up with 4 sacks and 5 QB hurries on 47 pass attempts.  Keke, Henderson, Walker, Mack, and even Chevis did they usual thing of just consuming blocks for a big part of the game.  Henderson and Mack each got ½ a sack each.  Hall had a pretty solid game bringing pressure from his side as he wound up with ½ sack but most importantly he had 4 QB hurries.  Even though I griped about the other defensive ends biting on the zone read when they shouldn’t have, Dobbs only wound up with 57 yards of rushing with a long run of 33 so he wasn’t gashing us on the zone read.  As usual the defensive line was the strongest part of our defensive effort.

Not much more to say about Watts and Evans as they wound up being the leading tacklers on the team along with each having an interception.  I don’t know what more you could want out of these two.  Donovan Wilson was tied for 4th on the team in tackles so all our safeties do is produce.   At corner I actually thought Harvey and Willis played really well.  Probably their best game yet.  Dobbs threw for 400 yards but 160 of them were to their running back so I can’t fault our corners for those yards.  I mean that’s 40% of their passing yards right there.  They didn’t get burned deep as the longest pass was for 43 yards and the rest were under 27.  All of the passing yards just seemed to be screen plays to the running back and then crossing routes late in the game.  As much as I love Chief that’s really on him for not adjusting to a Tennessee OC that was clearly calling great plays against an overly aggressive defense that wasn’t watching for certain plays.

I know people want to rail on the Wrecking Crew for the total yards and the defense at the end but I just can’t.  For three quarters they played stellar football and I contend had our offense taken better advantage of the turnovers the defense got then everyone is talking about what an amazing game the Wrecking Crew played.  I’m not totally putting it on the offense but the offense did need to do more in the second half when the defense was giving them the ball.  I know Tennessee had 7 turnovers but a lot of those were caused by us and most importantly we got to the ball.  There was one fumble late in the game where the running back fumbled it and Dobbs tried to pick it up rather than run with it to which he bobbled it and we jumped on it.  We have to give credit to our defense for being around the ball and jumping on it rather than trying to be a hero.  Just jump on the ball.  Fundamentals.  The Wrecking Crew just makes plays when they have to.  It doesn’t look like the Wrecking Crew of old but like I’ve said time and time again this ain’t the Southwest Conference.  We need to clean up our tackling but these guys play their asses off and make plays when they have to.  We now have two 2 OT wins where the defense held the offense to a field goal in the first OT and then didn’t let the other team score a TD when they had to in the second overtime.  That’s pretty damn solid.

Offense:

Not sure where to begin here.  Do I start with Knight or Williams?  I’ll start with Williams.  Except for ONE play this guy was amazing.  I mean flat out amazing.  217 yards on 28 carries averaging almost 8 yards a carry.  That’s unreal for a true freshman that wasn’t touted like an Adrian Peterson, Fournette, or any of those Georgia running backs.  This dude has essentially been carrying this offense since the Auburn game.  He really has.  He’s the biggest difference maker on this offense and it’s not even close.  He’s come so far since his first game when I honestly thought Keith Ford was the better back.  Williams’ vision is his secret.  The dude is so good at anticipating things and adjusting before it happens.  He knows when to cut and when to be patient.  This was his 4th SEC game and he hasn’t been denied the end zone in any of them.  When he gets to the second level he’s really dangerous but watching him he’s so good at getting beyond the line.  He sees the whole develop and knows to accelerate or do a jump cut and go.  Then when he’s on the second level he doesn’t go down with contact and constantly adjusting while going forward.  I don’t know who he looks like to be honest.  It’s a rare combination I haven’t seen in a long time.  Maybe more like Ladanian Tomlinson more than anyone but I think Williams is bigger.  He’s just amazingly fluid in doing it that it looks effortless.  He obviously had the fumble at the end of the game.  If he scores or gets tackled that game is over and never goes to overtime.  It’s hard to fault him for what happened because of his effort the entire game but hopefully he learned a lesson you don’t ever give up until you cross the goal line including protect the ball.  Still, this guy has carried this offense to 4 straight SEC victories so I’m not going to get on him about anything.  He’s going to be a BIG reason why we win 10 or 11 games in the regular season as opposed to just 9 if we wound up with 10 or 11.

Good ol’ Trevie Knight.  At this point he is who he is.  He was a dead flat 50% passer with 2 TDs and 2 INTs.  That’s about as half good and half bad as it gets.  But the damn kid can flat out run.  I mean flat out run like you wouldn’t expect.  If he didn’t have his legs I think we’d be miserable with him as our quarterback but if he gets a seam up the middle on the zone read and into the secondary the kid has amazing top end speed.  It’s actually really amazing to watch as he’ll frustrate you with his passing and decision making through the air but then the next thing you know he found a seam up the middle and he’s prancing untouched into the end zone because no one could catch him.  He sucked everyone into being frustrated and then next thing you know he’s in open field showing off his wheels no one expects him to have.  All you can do is smile as he crosses the goal line and gives everybody the double gigs.  Kid doesn’t get down and just keeps grinding waiting on opportunity to strike.  That’s actually a very admirable trait as a quarterback has got to have confidence and persistence.

Watching him pass is just really remarkable because he’s so inconsistent.  He’ll have some flat out amazing passes and then have some head scratchers on how the same guy can be so inconsistent.  The pass I do like the most although I don’t always agree when it’s called is the deep sideline ball.  He’s obviously inconsistent but he hits it enough it’s worth trying and with our receivers it’s likely to not be intercepted.  I love that it keeps the defense honest because if they don’t account for it and Knight hits it then it’s a big play.  Mazzone tends to do it on second downs where I’m wanting to string along a more consistent drive but it’s worked enough I’m okay with it.  Mazzone is trying to hide it between 1st and 3rd downs to keep defenses on their toes and to give us another down if it doesn’t hit.  It’s worked enough that I can’t really complain but there’s been a drive or two where I just wanted to keep the ball on the ground and move the chain that way.  The biggest problem with Knight passing is that his bad passes are so frustrating they outshine the good passes.  After every game I can remember a lot more bad passes than I can his good passes but that’s just the way it goes.  I’ve also gotten so used to his passes being bad I thought the pass to Kirk in the second overtime was actually picked off the way people dove for it.  I was shocked when it was actually caught by Kirk.  Sorry for ever doubting you Trevor as I don’t know if it went where it was supposed to but it was between two defenders where only Kirk could catch it.  Keep doing what you’re doing as you have more confidence in yourself than any fan does.  More often than not it’s worked in everyone’s favor so just be you and we’ll enjoy this ride with you.

I thought the offensive line did fine as usual.  Tennessee slowed down our running game it seemed in the late 3rd and early 4th quarters but when it mattered most they made holes for Williams to run through and gave Knight time in the pocket late in the game.  They weren’t really dominant at all but they only gave up one sack and we had almost 600 yards of total offense so we clearly had time and holes most of the game.  I don’t remember any WTF moments like we tended to have 2-3 times last year in a game which is a big positive.  There were a couple of penalties that need to get cleaned up and only one high snap on a play I thought we were going to fumble but Knight was able to get into Williams hands for a touchdown.  I’d obviously like to see this line keep getting better and better but the end results are about as much as you can ask for considering we had no clue what to expect coming into the seasons.  Jim Turner has just done a tremendous job with this group considering this was a major question coming into the season.

As far as receiver goes I still stand by the fact Josh Reynolds is the best receiver on this team and the most underrated receiver in the country.  I’m not sure if he plays at the next level but he’s got the speed with decent size that some NFL scout and GM has to watch some film and be giddy at the fact they could take a flier on this guy late in the draft at this point because no one talks about him.  He had a tremendous one handed catch that went for over 30 yards.  It was just an amazing catch with a defender draped all over him.  He had a 15ish yard catch that would have been a clutch 3rd down conversion but we had a lineman downfield so it came back.  That would have pushed him to over 100 yards on the day.  He’s not Mike Evans so you can’t just lean on him like we did with Evans but I firmly believe we should use him more often.

Kirk had a nice day as well catching 7 balls for 80 yards and a score.  I’m not sure what to think about Kirk at this point.  I love the guy and we all know he’s amazingly talented but I’m not sure Mazzone is using him the best way he can.  He seems to be using him mainly on the edges on the bubble screens.  Kirk is an amazing talent so it seems like we should be using him more in space.  I know defenses are keying on him but it just seems we’re not exploiting him as best we can.  We love to run him in all kinds of motion but we don’t ever use him in the motion.  I keep waiting for us to flip the ball to Kirk as a diversion but we haven’t done it these last few games.  Maybe it’s being done to keep defenses honest and read coverage but we’ve never used him of all the times we’ve run Kirk in motion and snapped the ball with him in the backfield.  We did do it against UCLA I think but nothing in SEC games.  I’d love to see him and Reynolds lined up in a stack and run routes downfield off each other.  It just seems he could be much more productive.  I’m not down on Kirk at all as he’s producing but I’m just not sure Mazzone is really using him like he should be.

As for the rest of the receivers they didn’t do too much which is pretty disappointing considering Tennessee’s secondary isn’t one of the best we’ll face all year.  I know RSJ was out but with the way Tabuyo played last week I was hoping he might be a factor and wasn’t.  Speedy had a 27 yard catch but he also dropped a 3rd down conversion that hit his hands so that was a little disappointing.  I know Trevor is an inconsistent passer but this whole squad of receivers except for Reynolds and Kirk just seems to be inconsistent as well.  There’s plenty of talent there but they just seem to underachieve.  I don’t know if that’s on the receivers themselves or Moorehead as their coach.  If he wasn’t our receivers coach next season I wouldn’t be too disappointed as I haven’t see anything come out of that guy in the time he’s been here other than late night Twitter battles.

As for the play calling I’m still not sure what I think of Mazzone.  I still believe he’s a play picker and not a true play caller.  To me a true play caller is someone that is always setting plays up or sequencing plays to keep drives alive.  We were 5-16 on third downs which isn’t great by any stretch and how we’ve been all season.  We have to get better at that.  I mean it’s actually really terrible as we could be sniffing 50%.  The offense is a little too sporadic for me to think he’s always thinking 2-3 plays ahead or knows the perfect time to call a play based on what he anticipates the defense is going to do.  He’s not horrible by any stretch as we saw horrible the last two years but we just seem to stall out for periods at a time and can’t sustain drives.  We’re a big play offense more than anything else and at some point we’re going to run into a defense that doesn’t allow big plays.  I’m looking mainly at LSU and Bama in that regard.  It’s why I don’t think this is a playoff caliber team.  I do think it’s a borderline Top 10 team because we can hit the big plays but we need more consistency from our offense to sustain drives to truly be an elite level team.   This is a really good football team but it’s not elite mainly because our offense can’t sustain consistent drives.  That’s on Mazzone.

Special Teams:

Man what a cluster this whole day was.  My theory on special teams is unless you truly practice it or are fully dedicated to it like Frank Beamer used to be then it just shouldn’t be noticeable.  That wasn’t the case for us on Saturday.  We all know about the missed potential game winning kick but there was PLENTY of other issues during the game.  Tripucka shanked 3 punts and all in the second half I think.  He had some nice points but midway through the game he just seemed to hit a funk where he didn’t connect cleanly on 3 or maybe even 4 punts.  He did pin 6 punts inside the 20 so he’s actually really good at that but he can’t be shanking balls.  Braden Mann who is our kickoff specialist kicked a ball out of bounds in the 4th quarter.  It wound up not hurting us as I don’t think Tennessee scored on that possession but he can’t be kicking the balls out of bounds.  He just can’t.  Boom it out of the back of the end zone and be done.  The 12th Man did make an awesome hit on a kickoff to cause a fumble we recovered so that was solid.  According to the stat sheet on 12th Man.com we didn’t return one punt or kickoff which I guess is right but Tennessee punted 6 times so I guess we just fair caught each one that didn’t get downed or go in the end zone.

My take on our special teams right now is we’re not going to win any games with special teams so we need to make sure we don’t lose any games because of special teams.  No shanked punts, no kickoffs out of bounds, or mis-handling of the ball.  I do have to give LaCamera credit as he was perfect with extra points and after missing the 38 yarder to win the game he hit the 34 yarder to tie the game and send it to the second overtime.  It’s good to see a kid put a major miss behind him and come back with confidence.  Still, hit the field goals in regulation and let’s avoid overtime all together!

 

Make no mistake that was a damn fine win on Saturday.  Any of the Aggie teams in the last 3 years would have lost that game.  There’s no doubt in my mind.  That win puts as at 9 wins minimum and I think we actually win 10 games splitting one of the Ole Miss or LSU game.  It’s possible we win both of those but I still need to see more of each of those teams to figure out who they are.  It’s possible we go into Bama and win that game but we’re going to need lots of help or Trevor to channel the Trevor that beat Bama in the Sugar Bowl.  In fact now that I think about it I’d love for Sumlin to tell Mazzone to roll the dice and create some plays we haven’t ran all season.  We have two weeks to prepare and nothing would excite me more than to see us come out with stuff Bama hasn’t seen all season.  It’s what I wanted Spav to do last year which he clearly didn’t.

I might do a more in depth analysis of us vs Bama next week after watching Bama and Tennessee this weekend.  It really couldn’t set up any better for us to have a common opponent take on Bama while we take the week off.  Ole Miss put up 43 on Bama and Arkansas put up 30 on them so they’re not invincible.    Bama scored 48 and 49 points in those games but our defense is clearly better than those teams.  I’m not saying we beat Bama but if Sumlin, Mazzone, and Knight realize we’re essentially playing with house money we stand a real chance.

As it is let’s just enjoy this victory over Tennessee and being 6-0 for the first time since 1994.  We’ll worry about Bama next week.  Oh and if there was a Gameday curse we finally got the sucker off our back!  Good job Ags!

Chief vs. Gus

chief-vs-gus

For the upcoming matchup with Auburn I got to wondering how Chief and Gus have matched up over the years as DC vs OC/Head Coach.  Even as head coach there’s no doubt Gus has his hand on how Auburn runs their offense.  Make no mistake Gus likes to run.

I went and looked at their matchups between LSU/A&M and Auburn with Chief and Gus at the helm.  I didn’t go back and dig into statistics for each game.  I just wanted to see if there was a general pattern and if anyone got the better of the other for the most part.

Here’s the summary of the matchups:

chief-vs-gus-chart

Based on this I’m not sure what to think.  Early on it looked like Chief owned Gus with the exception of the year Gus had Cam Newton and even then Chief held that offense to 24 points and LSU only lost by 7.  It also appears the home team had an advantage until last season where Gus came in and ran over Chief’s first Aggie defense.  All I can really glean from that is Chief got the better of Gus the first four years including Gus’ national championship year as head coach but not the year Gus had Cam.  But, Gus has owned Chief their last two match-ups so they’re dead even at 3 to 3.

I like the results the first four times they matched up but man the last two times really make you scratch your head if Chief now struggles against Gus.  Is that what we should expect this Saturday?  I honestly don’t know.  I like to think based on this defense Chief can shut down Gus’ desire to run which you know Gus is going to want to do.

In looking at Auburn’s two games this year they struggled to run against Clemson only getting 87 total rush yards and then blew it open against Arkie St. rushing for 462 yards.  They threw for 244 passing yards against Arkie St for a total of 706 total yards with 1 fumble.  Surprisingly enough they passed for 178 yards against Clemson but 262 total yards is pretty anemic.

Looking at the Clemson game in more detail Clemson’s defense definitely shut down Auburn’s offense.   In addition to the anemic total yards Auburn also had 3 turnovers with one interception and fumble being on failed 4th down conversions.  Gus was swapping QBs in and out this game which he didn’t do against Arkie S.  That seemed to make the offense take off against Arkie St. so maybe their performance against the Clemson D isn’t an indicator of what a strong defense can do to this offense.

I just don’t know what to think of all that Chief vs Gus so let’s look at some other stuff.  Offensively Clemson rushed for 151 yards with 248 passing for a total of 399 total yards but turned the ball over twice.  Still, comparing yards and turnovers for that game I’m scratching my head how it was a 19-13 game with Auburn firing at the endzone at the end of the game to potentially win.  Clemson should have walked away with that game.

Making it even more head scratching Auburn was 3-17 on 3rd down conversions against Clemson.  That’s an EIGHTEEN percent conversion rate.  EIGHTEEN percent.  Now, they were 3-5 on 4th down conversions which is pretty impressive so basically that means they were 6-17 on those third down conversions but that’s still only 35% which is pretty bad.  Crazy enough if Gus had kicked field goals on the 4th downs they didn’t convert the game likely goes to overtime if they don’t win it in regulation.

In looking at the drive charts it looks like Auburn had field position for much of the game.  Gus was gambling on those 4th downs as I’m guessing he felt he needed a TD and couldn’t rely on field goals to win the game.  I guess he didn’t trust his defense.  Odd choices that ultimately cost him a chance at a Top 10 win to open the season.  Still, it’s a head scratching game because I don’t know if Auburn played smart considering their competition keeping it close or Clemson just couldn’t get it going.

With that, my thoughts are Kevin Sumlin needs to channel his inner RC Slocum and rely on the run and his defense.  I’m not sure if Sumlin has this in him to be honest.  Sumlin loves receiving the ball to open up the game but if I’m him I want Auburn to have the ball first.  I want to see what my defense can do against Auburn to dictate what I do offensively.  If the Aggie defense can hold Auburn to a punt and even better a straight three and out on the first series then I can go conservative on offense.  I tell Chief and the D to focus on stopping the run and let Auburn try to pass.  Don’t over pursue and hold your lanes and assignments.  Have seven guys holding the line of scrimmage and not worried about sacks or tackles for a loss.

Tell the safeties play smart on play actions and movement as we’ll need them to help our corners this game.  Auburn will throw the ball at some point so don’t suck up too soon.  It goes against what our safeties are best at in supporting the run but we’ll need them to be real safeties against the pass.  They’ll still need to do their normal thing of bringing the wood if runners do get beyond the linebackers.  Evans and Watts are going to be a big key to what we do diagnosing run or pass correctly.  Basically our safeties better not be moving forward unless the ball is beyond the line of scrimmage or it’s a designed blitz obviously.  We need to see if our front 7 can slow down or even stop Auburn’s running attack as when the safeties start cheating forward to defend the run Auburn will pop a big pass and we can’t have that.  They have to stay disciplined to look to help our corners and not let anyone deep on a play action pass.

Now if Auburn wants to go pass over run and we need to get in a track meet then we’ll get in a track meet with our receivers but I’ll be damned if Auburn is going to run on us like they did last year.  Gus likes to run and we’re not going to let them.  I don’t trust his QBs against our secondary without establishing the run.  Give them some yards through the air but don’t let them rip off long runs against us because that’s what Gus lives for.  If Gus gets that you’re dead as he’ll punish you with play action for over compensating against the run.  Focus on shutting down the run by staying in lanes and not over pursuing and make Auburn pass in true passing situations.  They’re going to get yards but let’s keep them contained on the ground.

Offensively assuming our defense can do what I think they can against the run then I give Auburn a taste of their own medicine.  I want to establish the run between the tackles.  It’ll be pretty boring and unlike what Sumlin likes to do but it’s what I’d do.  It may take a while but I want to show Auburn we’re fully committed between the tackles.  Once that’s established then use a lot of play action in the second half to open it up assuming Auburn starts committing to the run.  With our interior line I think we can establish the same 3.4 yards per carry that Clemson got against Auburn if not better.  If we do that and Chief’s defense holds against Auburns desire to run then we’ll walk away with this game in the second half thanks to play action.

Keep the first half fairly ugly from an offensive and scoring standpoint letting the defenses slug it out.  There’s no need to get in a track meet this game unless Auburn dictates that.  Maybe Gus opens it up from the get go but I don’t see that happening.  He’s going to want to establish the run and pass off that.  If we need to adjust then we’ve shown we can apply pressure on the QB but we need to go in focused on shutting down the run through discipline and establishing the run ourselves.  Sumlin needs to be having breakfast with RC every morning this week getting advice.   Don’t let Knight make any mistakes in the first half and if the flow of the game allows it then let him make plays in the second half to see if we can pull away.

Basically this game is going to come down to head coaching.  Gus is going to do what Gus does trying to establish the run and hoping Sumlin wants a semi track meet.  Gus’ defense will get off the field if we’re continually looking at 3rd and 6s because we missed passes on 1st and 2nd down.  If that happens it works in Gus’ favor based on the Clemson game.

Sumlin needs to do what Mike Sherman didn’t do against Texas in 2011 by trusting his defense and not let his QB make mistakes by keeping the ball on the ground.  If Sumlin sees this whole game with his defense and offense working to complement each other then I think this is A&M’s game no doubt.  If Sumlin allows his offense and defense to work independently then Gus will own Sumlin this game.  It’ll come down to players making plays but it’s up to the head coach to decide the scheme and flow for the game.  The loser of this game will be coaching for his life for the rest of the season which makes it hard to predict to a degree.  One dog might be crazy enough to try something different and if the other coach is not expecting it then that other coach could be hosed.

Does Gus have tricks up his sleeve?  I don’t think so.  I think Gus plays Gus hoping Sumlin plays Sumlin  so it’s basically a repeat of the Clemson game but Gus doesn’t make the same mistakes on his side rotating QBs and gambling on 4th downs when a field goal can be had.  I hope Sumlin plays a little more RC like and gives Gus a taste of his own medicine on the ground believing his defense contains Auburn running game.  We’ll see what kind of coach Sumlin is this week as he walks in with the better overall team.  Coaching makes the difference here.

I like to think Chief is going to get the best of Gus and with that the Aggies are going to win a close 23-19 game.  That seems odd as Gus doesn’t like kicking field goals but if it’s a close game I think he doesn’t repeat his mistake against Clemson.  I expect to see something like a 10-6 Aggie lead at half time where A&M scores on a play action deep ball to Reynolds or Kirk and the other points are just field goals due to a defensive battle.  If that’s the score at half then the Aggies will prevail.  If a semi track meet has broken out and Auburn is grinding yards on the ground then I’m not so hopeful.

For now, I’m hoping those morning breakfasts with RC make Sumlin see the light for this game.  Speaking of, our hotel is next to a Waffle House this weekend.  It doesn’t get any more SEC than that!

Thoughts From the UCLA Game

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First off, despite the Aggies blowing a 15 point fourth quarter lead, that was a damn solid win.  As we saw on Saturday a lot of good teams lost games they probably shouldn’t have.  You hate the minor collapse but you have to love the fact a win was had.  That’s a really good UCLA team and probably the best team A&M has opened against since Florida in 2012.  Lots of areas to work on but a win is a win.  Take it and move on down the road.

Offense:

I like a LOT of what I saw on the offense on Saturday except for two things – the QB play and play calling.  I’ll get to those two negativess in a bit as I want to hit on the positives first.  I thought the offensive line played pretty solid.  Not great but they looked better than last year as a unit.  The interior of the line looked MUCH better than last year.  It’s only one game but I think this line can be serviceable.  This line appears much better than last year.  We lost our starting left tackle but Koda Martin actually looked pretty decent in Gennesy’s place.  He wasn’t dominant by any stretch but he did a decent job of engaging and staying with their defensive end much of the time he was in there.  I was worried when Gennesy went out but Martin did okay and held his own.  With Turner as their coach I have faith this unit gets better and better along with having some depth.

I LOVED our running back tandem of Keith Ford and Trayveon Williams.  I don’t want to diss Tra Carson as that dude was all heart last year but this tandem is a BIG step up.  Those two guys have a burst and run angry not shying away from contact.  They’re not the top RBs in the country by any stretch but they’re very serviceable and better than what we had last year.  I’ll take that.

Our receivers are exactly the same as last year and that’s not a bad thing.  Josh Reynolds is probably the most underrated receiver in the country.  I’m not kidding.  He might be the best receiver on this squad including Kirk.  RSJ still has issues with his hands at times.  Kirk didn’t see the ball enough in my book but we know how good he can be.  He’ll get his at some point.  Speedy comes back next week and can’t wait to see if he’s progressed like has been said.  No issues here at all but would like to see these guys utilized a lot more.

Now for the negatives – I know everybody loves Trevor Knight because he looks and talks the part but in this game he reminded me of another Aggie quarterback in Stephen McGee.  I know everyone loves McGee because he looks and talks like Aggieland Central Casting would want in a quarterback but McGee really wasn’t all that productive if you watched him objectively.  McGee had horrible pocket awareness and I saw a LOT of that from Knight on Saturday.  There were at least 5 times where a pocket was forming for Knight to step up into but instead he kept going backwards.  I’ve always felt pocket presence is something that’s either there or not and can’t really be coached.  For a 5th year senior in college I’m not sure if Knight is going to develop it at this point.  It’s really important he have faith in his pocket, step up, and find an open receiver quickly.  He’s athletic but he’s not athletic enough to be a great scramble QB when the pocket breaks down.  He needs to step up with his eyes down field and find the open man and hit him or run for whatever gain he can get.  Going backwards is never a good thing.

In the end Knight was very serviceable on Saturday and helped us get the win but if his play had been a little more stellar we would have won walking away.  Some of that is on Mazzone as I’ll get to in a bit.  I still contend Trevor Knight is not going to win us any ball games.  The best he can do is not let us lose any games.  He’s got to be careful with the ball and most importantly aware of his limitations as a pocket passer.  He wasn’t terrible at all but he was the Trevor Knight that got beat out by Baker Mayfield last season.  I hope he can improve but once again he’s a 5th year senior so you really wonder how much improvement is there.  Even just a little bit would likely mean another win on the season.

As for the play calling, 2 quarters I loved and 2 quarters I didn’t.  The first four series seemed to basically focus on pass, run, pass, run.  We did nothing on any of those series and I was wondering if Mazzone was just trying to figure out what he had as on the fifth series he started combining pass and run and we moved the ball down the field.  In the second and third quarter we moved the ball up and down the field and then in the 4th quarter we just went stagnant with conservative and predictable play calling.  The proverbial taking the foot off the gas if you will.  I don’t know if that was an order by Sumlin or he was just trying to protect Knight from making a mistake.  At least it’s better than Spav as I hated his play calling for all 4 quarters.  Hopefully after watching the film and realizing what he has from an actual game he’ll make some adjustments.  I loved the up tempo stuff so hopefully we keep developing that.

The two stats I HATED from an offensive standpoint were we only converted 4 or 5 third downs in 15 attempts.  That’s pathetic.  Absolutely pathetic.  The other is UCLA won time of possession by a pretty wide margin.  With our defense that shouldn’t happen.  Our defense has shown they can get off the field so our offense has to do a better job of staying on the field via third down conversions.  We improve third down conversion and our time of possession goes up and we limit the other offense’s opportunities which results in more wins.  It’s really as simple as that.

Defense:

For 3.5 quarters and an overtime period our defense was flat out nails.  That’s a great UCLA offense and we held them in check for 3.5 quarters.  We did so with our offense turning the ball over twice and not being able to sustain drives to stay on the field.  Our defense was on the field more than our offense and that always put your defense in a bind.  Had our offense done more in the first and fourth quarter our defense likely doesn’t let UCLA score 15 points to tie the game in the final half of the 4th quarter.  We all want perfection and the Wrecking Crew but in the current college game that was a solid defensive effort due to our offense not being able to stay on the field and score more points.

The defensive line and specifically Mr. Myles Garret brought pressure all game long.  Garret’s stats might not have been as gaudy as we want but if you watched him all game that was Garret’s best game by far.  For the entire game he brought pressure from where lined up.  He played pass and run extremely well and his technique was outstanding.  He mixed up edge rushing, bull rushing, and interior spin moves which I don’t recall him doing an entire game last season.  Let’s cherish it because I think he’s about to have a Von Miller type final season in Aggieland where it’ll be a while before we have someone like him again.  That was also a pretty good left tackle he was going up against.

The rest of the defensive line was solid as well.  Hall was bringing pressure from the other side and the interior was bringing pressure all day as well.  Most impressive was the stunting and twisting we were doing along the front with the other the DLinemen thanks to Garret commanding so much attention.  Our DTs weren’t just firing straight up the field but attacking the UCLA line with multiple looks so they never knew exactly what was going to happen.  Lots of athleticism along that defensive line which should prove to be really big as the season wears on.

The linebackers looked solid as well.  What was most impressive to me was the amount of playing time they all got and how effective they were for the most part.  Alaka, George, Washington, and Dodson all got plenty of PT and to be honest they all looked the same.  That’s not a bad thing as we need depth at linebacker more than anything so no one is too burdened.   I wouldn’t say anyone truly stood out but they worked well with the defensive line and safeties to bring pressure from all over and maintain their assignments.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this crew against a run first team like Auburn in a couple of weeks because we were more about pinning our ears back to apply pressure.  That’s my only concern of this crew for now.

The secondary outside of a couple of botched plays late in the 4th looked really good.  Watts and Evans brought it all game long along with Wilson when he was in there.  The corners looked really serviceable but they’re not lock down corners at this point.  If our pressure doesn’t get to the QB they can’t hold all that long.  It’s just part of how this defense is built though.  I’ll take what I saw as if last year is any indication this crew gets better with each game.

The defensive unit as a whole basically picked up where they left off last season.  I’m not kidding in that if I was the Athletic Director I’d go guarantee John Chavis two more years of his salary no matter what Kevin Sumlin thinks.  Chief is one of if not the best defensive coordinators in the country and I don’t want him going anywhere.

Special Teams:

Nothing special here other than our punter looked solid.  Placekicking is in question.  I didn’t really like Evans returning kicks as I want someone with some wiggle.  Maybe with Speedy back that changes.

 

Looking forward I don’t want to get too high or too low after one game.  It’s the best opening game win we’ve ever had with Sumlin but lots of work to go.  I’m still just really uncertain on Knight.  Heart and leadership are not in question but he really was the weakest link of our offense in my mind.  What happens when he gets pressured or we can’t establish a running game?  I really would like to see the pocket moved with him more or him being more confident in the pocket and looking downfield.  His drop back pocket awareness just scares me based on this game and his time at OU.

Mazzone did say in his press conference it’s like a first date where they have to get to know each other.  Hopefully that’s true and they both adapt and grow together.  If that’s the case then I really like this team.

To be clear this is not a playoff team.  At best this is a 10-2 and maybe 11-1 team.  I just don’t see us getting past Alabama.  I’m not sure Bama goes undefeated in the SEC but after Week 1 it’s very possible they do.  They looked that good and the rest of the SEC showed major holes.  Bama will likely lose to someone but we’ll lose to Bama and then someone else in a best case scenario.  I’m totally okay with 10-2 though.  Totally okay with 10 wins.

Auburn looked MUCH better than I ever expected.  I’m not as confident about that game anymore.  Their defense and their penchant to run the ball will prove to be a major test for us.  Tennessee, Ole Miss, and LSU all look like much more winnable games after Week 1 but there’s lots of football to be played.  Let’s wait and see what happens between now and when we play them before moving the needle to a win on those game.  For now I’m sticking with 8-4 but I see us trending to more wins than less right now which means we’ll keep Sumlin another year as if he wins nine he’s fine.