When Aggie Football Was Great

May 22, 2017

As the Founder, President, and main client of the Make Aggie Football Great Again Movement I often get asked when Aggie Football was ever great.  Obviously it was great in 1939 when the Aggies won their only official National Championship.  In addition there was the 1956 team that went 9-0-1 and finished 5th in the AP poll, the 1976 team that went 10-2 and finished 7th in the AP poll, and of course in recent memory the 2012 team that went 11-2 finishing 5th in the AP poll.  Those are four isolated seasons where one was definitely great and three others that were really good bordering on great.

For me there was a decade of Aggie Football in recent memory that was borderline great that I think Aggie Football can get back to with the right head coach.  College football is cyclical but there’s a decade of Aggie Football that should the standard by which Aggie Football is judged.  That decade is from 1985 to 1995.  20-30 years ago seems like a distant memory now but it should be a reminder of what’s possible.

In those 11 seasons Aggie Football finished outside of the Top 20 only once.  They finished in the Top 10 in five of those seasons.  They finished with 10 wins in six of those seasons in a period when only 11 games where the norm as opposed to the 12 games that are played now.  There were some 12 game seasons back then but the majority of those seasons were 11 game seasons so 10 wins is a big milestone.  There were three 9 win seasons and only one season of 8 wins and one season of 7 wins.  That’s pretty damn impressive from a win standpoint.  That’s a combined record of 104-27-2 for those 11 seasons for a winning percentage of .782.  That is an outstanding winning percentage over a decade.

Here’s a chart that summarizes each season:

There’s a lot to digest but there’s no doubt that’s a decade of REALLY good football bordering on great.  Win one national championship in there and that’s absolutely a great decade of football.  There were legitimate chances to win it all in 1985, 1992, and 1994.

1985 was a lot like the 2012 season where they opened up with a tough loss to a ranked Alabama team on the road, lost to a ranked Baylor team in the middle of the season, and then got hot and just rolled everyone they played absolutely thrashing their final three opponents in TCU, Texas, and Auburn that included Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson in the Cotton Bowl.  Had they not lost one of those early season losses they might have had an outside chance to get Penn St to the Cotton Bowl instead of OU getting them in the Orange Bowl which is how OU won the national championship that year.  Early season losses set this team back just like in 2012.  There’s no doubt though at the end of the season this was one of the best teams in the country.

1992 was an undefeated regular season but like the modern day Big 12, Texas A&M was playing in a wretched Southwest Conference.  So wretched there wasn’t one team in the Southwest Conference that was ranked when they played.  A&M’s only win over a ranked opponent was to open the season against Stanford who was ranked 20th at the time.  At the same time both Alabama and Miami went undefeated beating more ranked opponents than A&M so Miami went to the Sugar Bowl instead of the Cotton Bowl.  Had Bama lost a game that season there’s an outside chance Miami and A&M would have matched up in the Cotton Bowl for the national championship but that’s still a stretch as Miami might have played Florida State in a re-match.  The Southwest Conference did A&M no favors that season because the teams were crap much like what top Big 12 teams face today.  Of course A&M losing to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl makes talk of a national championship that season moot but that was a damn good Notre Dame team.  However, A&M didn’t help itself for that game having to suspend Greg Hill for receiving improper benefits.  As it was A&M belonged in the conversation of Alabama, Miami, Florida State, and Notre Dame teams that were just loaded with talent.  That was a great team.  Probably the greatest of that decade for Aggie Football.

The 1994 team technically went undefeated but thanks to Greg Hill not going to his cush job for Warren Gilbert at a Dallas apartment complex they were on NCAA probation.  A&M was banned both from the post season and television that year.  A&M had no chance to win a national championship that season but if Greg Hill goes to his job or doesn’t take the money this potentially could have been a championship team.  The reality is this team wasn’t really all that close as even if they weren’t on probation and hadn’t tied SMU in one of the worst games I’ve ever witnessed as an Aggie fan, an undefeated Texas A&M likely wouldn’t have climbed over undefeated Nebraska and Penn St who had better regular season opponents and impressive bowl victories to remain undefeated.  Playing in the Southwest Conference was just not going to position a team for a National Championship unless a bunch of other teams lost in their better conferences.  That didn’t happen in 1994 but if A&M goes undefeated in 1992 and isn’t on probation it’s not a total stretch to think this team is playing for a national championship assuming they beat SMU that season.

While the Southwest Conference was pretty bad for the most part the statistic that stands out to me during that decade is the record at Kyle Field.  63-5-1 is just flat out amazing.  That’s partially where the mystique of Kyle Field came from in recent memory.  In 11 seasons Texas A&M only lost FIVE games at Kyle Field.  FIVE games in 11 seasons.  That’s unreal.  In 7 seasons Texas A&M never lost a game at home.  There was one tie which is kind of losing but it’s not a loss so we won’t count it that way.  Only one season did A&M lose 2 games and that was easily the worst team of that decade.  A&M never lost more than 1 game at Kyle in any other season and had a five year run where a fan at Kyle Field never saw a loss with just one tie.  That is flat out amazing at defending Kyle Field.  That my friends is absolutely great Aggie Football at home.  I don’t care how bad the Southwest Conference was as there were some big wins over non conference opponents and some solid Southwest Conference teams along the way.  Five losses in 11 seasons.  That’s amazing.

I won’t classify that entire decade as truly great because of the struggle in bowl games and key road losses but it’s not far from it and it’s what Aggie Football expectations should be.  With A&M’s resources there’s no reason why we can’t return to a decade of Aggie football like this and make it even better.  Make the right hire and we can get back there.

The most interesting part of this decade is a conversation I had with Dr. Loftin in 2010 after Nebraska and Colorado announced they were leaving for the Pac 12 and we had flirted with the SEC but didn’t pull the trigger.  This was prior to the Longhorn Network being announced.  Dr. Loftin told me the support for going to the SEC wasn’t as large as it seemed.  He said it was actually divided more to staying as there was a silent majority that was fearful of the SEC.  He told me he had basically divided support for the SEC between two major groups.  One was the recent graduates who were enamored with the SEC because of all the publicity it was getting at the time and the other was those Aggies that had graduated during this decade of Aggie Football and more specifically those that had been in school when Jackie was coach.  Those Aggies didn’t fear the SEC like those that didn’t attend school during that decade.

Dr. Loftin didn’t say this but there’s no doubt those Aggies during that period remember dominating football teams and most importantly dominating Kyle Field.  They weren’t scared at all of the SEC as they know Aggie football can compete at the highest level with the right coach.  This decade of Aggie Football should be the minimum standard of expectations going forward.  If those results aren’t being achieved then we need to be doing a serious study of what’s going wrong and what change is needed.  Shift the mindset that this decade is what Aggie Football should be.  We’re not there from a mental standpoint.  We really aren’t.

If you didn’t experience that decade as a student or fan you don’t know what you’re missing out on.  Kyle Field rocked every game and the biggest reason was the Wrecking Crew.  Defense was the staple of that decade and a coach needs to focus on bringing the Wrecking Crew mentality back.  It won’t be easy in this new era of high powered offenses but A&M needs a head coach that makes recruiting and preparing defensive players to thrash opponents a top priority.  Easier said than done but offense just wins games and the Wrecking Crew can win championships.  If a coach doesn’t understand the importance of bringing the Wrecking Crew back then we stand no chance of ever being great again.

There is no doubt with the right mindset a head coach can absolutely Make Aggie Football Great Again.  There’s a decade that says it’s possible.

#MAFGA

The Curious Case of Lane Kiffin

May 8, 2017

I actually planned on writing this blog entry for a while and decided last week to write it.  In researching this blog I learned the day I’d post the link would be Lane Kiffin’s 42nd birthday.  Happy birthday, Coach Kiffin.  I hope you’re on a Florida beach with a beer bottle in hand soaking in your 42 years.  I’d be disappointed if you weren’t.

Everything about Lane Kiffin intrigues me.  The dude has a genius football mind but he can’t seem to keep focus or have any kind of drive to want to be great.  Something I talk about all the time in what I think drives people to be great is channeling losing to get better but losing doesn’t seem to bother him.  He just seems like a frat guy that doesn’t take anything too serious.  He’s extremely gifted for his profession but he doesn’t seem to really care.  He was definitely too young to be named head coach of the Raiders at 31 but in a decade of having major responsibilities as a coach he hasn’t appeared to have grown up or developed any kind of drive to be great.  He’s just living life.

On his 42nd birthday Lane Kiffin will have had the following titles:

  • Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders
  • Head Coach of the Tennessee Volunteers
  • Head Coach of the USC Trojans
  • Offensive Coordinator at Alabama with three straight berths in the College Football Playoffs winning one national championship.
  • Head Coach of Florida Atlantic University

There are coaches in their 60s that would die to have just one of those titles.  Lane Kiffin has done this by his 42nd birthday.  It’s remarkable.  And he hasn’t been terrible at each stop other than Oakland but who hasn’t been terrible in Oakland.  His main issue is he never lived up to the expectations put on him at USC but he was working with a stacked deck against him with postseason bans and scholarship restrictions.

I really didn’t watch much of Lane Kiffin while he was at Tennessee or USC to know what kind of coach he truly was when it came to games.  I remember the remarks he made at Tennessee that pissed off Urban Meyer and some of the shenanigans he had at USC like claiming he didn’t know the ball boy was deflating footballs or whatever it was.  There was some other stuff at USC that I remember thinking he wasn’t taking things seriously as a head coach.

Where I really started paying attention to Lane Kiffin was as OC at Bama.  With A&M playing Bama every year and Bama being the bell cow of college football I started watching a lot of their games.  To me Kiffin has hands down been the best play caller in the country over the last three years.  Sure, he’s working with a ton of talent but the reality is he jump started a Bama offensive that was pretty bland and vanilla before he got there.  Bama started putting a lot more points on the board.  I don’t think Kiffin gets enough credit for it because everyone just points to Bama’s talent and thinks anyone could have done it.

For people that make that argument let me make a counter argument in that Kiffin won the SEC three years in a row with Blake Sims, Jake Coker, and true freshman Jalen Hurts as his QB.  Look at that list again.  I don’t think there’s another OC in the country that even with Bama’s other offensive talent would have won the SEC and been to the College Football Playoff three years in a row with that string of quarterbacks.  The only consistent in Bama’s offensive output in those three seasons is Lane Kiffin.  The dude has been a magnificent play caller in his three seasons as Bama’s OC.

The only game I can recall where I thought Kiffin was questionable was the 2014 CFP Semi Final against Ohio State.  Ohio State took the lead in the third quarter and then Sims threw a pick six which put Ohio State up by two scores.  Bama was able to score and get the game within six and then both teams punted back and forth a little.  On one particular punt the Bama defense pushed Ohio St back to the goal line and Ohio St botched the punt giving it to Bama at the 23 yard line.  That is opportunity pounding on the door if I ever saw it.

Considering Sims had thrown the pick six three series ago I felt Bama should have pounded it down Ohio State’s throat with Derrick Henry.  Lean on their defense and at worst get three points out of the deal while giving the defense some rest.  What does Kiffin do?  On the very first play of getting the ball on the Ohio State 23 he calls a pass play to the goal line.  Ohio State picks it off at the one yard line and returns it to the 8.  Bama had a chance to gain all the momentum back but Kiffin gave it right back to Ohio State.  He trusted his play calling over Sims ability.  Kiffin got greedy instead of being smart and it cost Bama the national championship with that playcall because to me Bama never recovered from that call.  There’s little doubt in my mind they would have beaten Oregon just like Ohio State did had they beat Ohio State that game.  Had Kiffin made a different set of play calls there and then coached the national championship game this year there’s a good chance Nick Saban has three national championships in a row.  I’m dead serious.  If that’s Kiffin’s only blemish that’s still REALLY damn good for his three years at Bama.

Midway through last season Kiffin started getting mentioned as a head coaching candidate again.  Had we fired Sumlin last season I thought the combination of Kiffin running the offense and John Chavis running the defense would be a pretty salty staff.  Kiffin’s actions at the end of the season have given me major pause that he’s matured and is driven to be a great head coach.

Kiffin wasn’t in line for any major coaching jobs it seemed.  I think the best opportunity he had was for the UH job and the rumor is he turned that down because of the restrictions and buyout they wanted to prevent him from leaving after a year or two.  I get him not wanting the restrictions but UH is a good program where he could have spent 3-4 years and then stepped up.  They were going to pay pretty well but instead he took the Florida Atlantic coaching job for less money than he was making as OC at Bama.

There’s no doubt his time at Bama had run its course and he had to move on.  I just don’t understand why he took the FAU job for less money than he made at Bama and much less money than he would have made at UH.  FAU is a crappy job.  They haven’t won a damn thing and as great as I think Kiffin is as an OC he’s not going to turn FAU around overnight.  He’ll need to spend 4-5 years there I believe.  He would have been better off going to UH for more money even with the restrictions.  If he won at UH like Briles, Sumlin, and Herman before him there’s no doubt he’d be set up for a solid head coaching gig in a Power 5 conference.  I don’t know that there’s anything more he could accomplish at FAU over UH and he’s taking probably 1/3 of the money to do it with more risk.  It makes no sense if he’s matured and truly driven to be a national championship winning head coach.  The FAU job is a real head scratcher from a coaching standpoint.

In addition to the UH job there’s another clear better option than FAU.  Kiffin could have gone to LSU to be OC for his buddy Ed Ogeron.   LSU would have likely paid Kiffin $2 million a year to run their offense and there’s enough talent at LSU to beat Bama and win a national championship.  If Kiffin had at minimum beaten Bama just once in two years then SEC schools would have backed up dump truck piles of cash to give him their head coaching job.  There’s no doubt in my mind about that.  I actually think taking the LSU OC job would have been his best move as he would have made twice the money he’s making at FAU and he could have beaten Bama with LSU’s talent.  LSU has every bit of talent as Bama but just doesn’t have the coaching.  With a Bama win under his belt at LSU he could have the pick of SEC jobs.  SEC schools would have fired their coach not named Saban or Coach O to hire Kiffin.  Hell, LSU might have fired or demoted Coach O if Kiffin actually beat Saban.  I’m dead serious.

What I really think happened is he took the FAU gig solely to chase women.  He got divorced a year or two ago and outside of coeds on the Bama campus I can’t imagine there were any single women in Tuscaloosa up to his standards.  He knew Bama coeds were off limits or Saban would actually castrate him.  He thought with the wrong head and headed to Boca Raton where the women for his standards are plentiful and nobody cares about the social life of Lane Kiffin because he’s basically a nobody in South Florida.  I really think that was the main factor for his taking the FAU job.

At USC he made $3.4 million in his last year which was 2013 and he had two years left on his deal so he also made $3.4 million in 2014 and 2015 between USC and Bama.  In 2016 he made $1.4 million which is $2 million less a year from his previous salary.  Then he took a gig for $1 million a year while turning down better opportunities for at least twice the money.  Plus, he’s paying child support and alimony to his ex wife so it’s not like that money is going directly to him so he’s taking a SIGNIFICANT pay cut to coach at FAU.  I really think he just moved to Boca Rotan for the women because he doesn’t care about coaching all that much.  There’s no doubt money isn’t everything but I just wonder if he’s driven to be great.  It doesn’t seem like it’s a driver for him right now.

The other thing that makes me pause for his true drive to be great is how things went down at Bama.  When he accepted the FAU job it was stated he would finish with Bama including the national championship game if they got there.  After beating Washington to get in the national championship game two to three days later it’s announced Kiffin would not be coaching in the national championship game.  That was out of the blue and my guess is Saban told him to pack his stuff because he wasn’t focused anymore.  A guy driven for success would have been so focused to win that game knowing it would help his recruiting at FAU even more by being able to show off back to back championship rings.  If he’s suffering burnout at 41 for being just the OC at Bama it gets much worse trying to be a national championship head coach.

Maybe I’m wrong about Kiffin.  Maybe he has a plan in place for achieving greatness which to me is winning national championships.  Maybe he doesn’t care and just wants to live an easy life away from the stresses of big time college football.  If he truly wants to be great there are better paths to take than the one he’s taking now.  He just turned 42 today so maybe there’s time for him to mature but I believe this is about the time he should really mature and change his focus.  Based on his actions in the last 6-9 months he’s definitely not ready to be head coach at an SEC program competing for national championships in my mind.

Either way he’s accomplished more than most head coaches at the age of 42 so maybe he’s just on the beach with a cold beer in his hand smiling that he figured out the world before it figured him out.

Happy Birthday Coach Kiffin.

Was Colin Cowherd Right about Aggie Football?

May 1, 2017

If you’re offended by what Colin Cowherd said about A&M underachieving then you’re part of the problem.  He nailed it.  He absolutely nailed it.  I believe Texas A&M is a Top 10 program to win a National Championship.  I’m not talking a coaching job, history, tradition, or anything else that most people look at.  I’m talking in its current state the ability to win a national championship and nothing more.  In the current climate of college football I strongly believe Texas A&M is a Top 10 program to win a national championship.

To put it in perspective I think LSU is the top program in the country to win a national championship.  Nobody has the resources of athletes and attitude to win like LSU.  I firmly believe that.  Nobody has the quality of athletes in one state all to themselves and LSU has the attitude to win.  I think Les Miles definitely under achieved if you’re wondering.  When I measure a school right now I’m simply looking at winning a national championship as that’s all that matters to me.  What you did in the past doesn’t matter to me.  Region, conference, facilities, and support are really all that matter to win a national championship in this day and age.  Just look at Notre Dame and Nebraska to what tradition and history get you in this modern age.

There aren’t more than 10 schools that have Texas A&M’s resources for athletes and facilities to win a national championship.  There is no reason we can’t do what Florida State does on the field.  We’re just missing the attitude.  This attitude has caused us to hire and hang on too long to the wrong coach time and time again.  RC Slocum failed to see the recruiting game changing when OU hired Bob Stoops, LSU hired Nick Saban, and Texas hired Mack Brown.  Blame facilities all you want as RC did but the reality is RC now had competition in recruiting and he struggled.  He was not on the level of Stoops, Saban, or Brown when it came to recruiting.  The attitude of RC being defeated along with administrators being asleep at the wheel for the changing landscape in college football ended the dominant decade from 1985 to 1995.  We were actually dominant for a decade in the last 35 years but so many people forget.  I’ll write about that decade in a later blog.

We replaced RC with Fran which wound up being the greatest criminal act in Aggie football history.  Fran set this program on a downward spiral that we’ve yet to recover from.  In Fran we hired a guy that had already won a national championship in his mind.  This is a guy that honestly already hired a biographer who followed him around and had already selected the title of his autobiography.  Seriously.  I wish I could remember the title as it was clear Fran was always about himself and nothing more.  He didn’t know how to get it done on the field though.  It seemed like a slam dunk hire but it wound up being criminal as Fran cashed big checks producing nothing.

After Fran came a fine man in Mike Sherman but he wasn’t cut out to be a college football head coach.  The man loved Aggieland and was a solid offensive coach but as a head coach he failed.  Mike Sherman was built to be an NFL offensive coordinator.  He was never built to be a college head coach.  He didn’t get recruiting and he didn’t totally get how the college game works.  That hire always boggled my mind because on the Friday night of the announcement of Fran being let go Bill Byrne said we would begin an immediate national search.  Byrne wound up in a hotel room in Hempstead that weekend talking to Sherman and announced his hiring on Monday.  We rushed a hiring on Mike Sherman and then allowed him to finish his coordinating job for the Texans.  While that’s an admirable thing for Sherman to do that wasn’t a winning attitude by A&M.  The whole timing of that hire still boggles my mind.  It wasn’t the attitude to win a national championship.

After Sherman was let go we hired Kevin Sumlin.  This hire kind of made sense as Sumlin had done a fine job at Houston and got Texas A&M as a former assistant under Slocum.  He seemed dynamic and knew the state.  I didn’t mind the hire and when he caught lightening in a bottle in 2012 I thought we were on our way to dominance.  That glory would be short lived as Sumlin wasn’t the secret sauce to that 2012 season.  It was senior leadership on defense, a dominant offensive line thanks to Sherman, a good receiving corps with Evans and Swope, and obviously Johnny Football.  Sumlin just happened to have the headset when lightening was caught in that bottle.

I don’t think Sumlin is a horrible head coach and would actually list him as the top coach of Slocum, Fran, Sherman, and himself.  He recruits well, has a decent staff, and has won a reasonable amount of games.  The problem is his attitude.  He doesn’t hate losing enough.  He has thin skin and wants to be liked.  Losing doesn’t drive him.  It frustrates him because it means a decline in popularity.  He doesn’t consume himself in the game and the game plan all week leading up to the game.  He doesn’t read the flow of the game at all.  His clock management has gotten worse.  He hasn’t changed his approach in 5 years.  Just his staff.  I hope Sumlin wins 9 games this season and proves me wrong.  I want Kevin Sumlin to be coach that Makes Aggie Football Great Again.  I just don’t think he has it in him.

Going back to Cowherd he’s dead on.  Since 1998 we haven’t even played for a conference championship much less won one.  That’s almost 20 years y’all.  20 years since we even played for a conference championship.  I won’t list the schools that have played for a conference championship much less won one in the last 20 years.  The biggest bowl win was the 2012/2013 Cotton Bowl.  We haven’t even sniffed a bowl of that caliber outside of the 2012 season since 1998.  The Cotton Bowl in 2004/2005 doesn’t count as it was a second tier bowl back then.  Plus, Tennessee kicked our ass.  Since that Big XII Championship in 1998 other than 2012 we really haven’t done a damn thing in football.  We really haven’t.  I think it’s all in our attitude.  We don’t hate losing like other schools.  We want to win but if we don’t then it’s no big deal.  We’re just happy being Aggies which is a great thing but those at the top need to develop a killer instinct.

I assume Sumlin is replaced this season because his 5 years indicates he won’t win 9 games to save his job.  If that happens we have to have a killer instinct when it comes to hiring the next coach.  We have to nail this next hire because the college football landscape is changing again as the decline in cable will change things in the next 10 years.  History and tradition don’t matter to recruits as much as it has in the past.  I firmly believe conference, facilities, and most importantly winning are the three factors that matter the most for getting recruits.  We are the ONLY Texas school in the premier football conference in college.  Sure, the ACC has made up major ground but it’s still the SEC and everyone else.  Look at the recent draft.  Until the SEC stops dominating the NFL draft it’s the premiere conference.  Recruits want the dream to play in the NFL and the SEC can sell that dream better than anyone.  You have to sell that and A&M can being in the SEC.  It’s the ONLY school in the state of Texas that can.  It’s huge.  However, like anything it’s not likely to last forever.  There could be a window we’re looking at and we need to take advantage of it while we can before it’s gone.  We need to become at minimum what Florida State is and pronto.

As for facilities we have the largest stadium in the premiere conference.  Facilities aren’t our problem.  We can’t rest on our facilities and not keep updating them but the RC Slocum issue of having facilities that are lagging behind is not even close.  We have the facilities to sell recruits.  We’re in one of the best hot beds of talent anywhere in the country.  Conference and region are major strengths for us.  It puts us above traditional powers.

What we really can’t sell right now is winning.  We’re not losing big time but we’re missing that killer instinct to close out a season.  It’s all about attitude.  With the exception of 2012, Kevin Sumlin’s time has resulted in failing down the stretch.  We’ve seen plenty of Top 10 rankings in under Sumlin but the minute it happens we tend to immediately fall.  It’s all attitude in my mind.  Those in charge don’t get pissed off about underachieving.  At least if they get pissed off they don’t channel it in the right way.  Cowherd is totally right about culture.

I believe this next coaching hire is likely to be the most important hire in Aggie football history.  Maybe more than when we hired Jackie Sherrill and put Texas A&M on a track to dominate for a decade.  We’re sitting in the SEC and not doing anything with it.  We are completely set up to be the Western outpost for the premier conference in college football.  If you’re west of the Mississippi and want to play in the SEC there’s only one school you should consider and that’s Texas A&M.  Technically Arkansas and Missouri are west of the Mississippi but we shouldn’t be competing with them for recruits on a national level west of the Mississippi.  That should be our recruiting pitch – The destination SEC school for any recruit west of the Mississippi.    But I don’t think that’s our attitude.  We’re just happy being Aggies in the SEC.

We need to have an attitude to do better than obvious hires.  Fran, Sherman, and Sumlin were all obvious and easy hires.  They all had ties to either Texas or Texas A&M and were safe and obvious hires.  No dice was rolled when the hire was made.  For this hire Texas A&M needs to either hire a big time guy like James Franklin or a very calculated roll of the dice for someone different than what we’ve hired in the past.  No more obvious hires.  I don’t think there’s a slam dunk obvious hire sitting out there for us like Tom Herman and Texas so we need to do something different.  I think the floor for us should be Chad Morris as that’s an obvious hire but even then we need to look deeper into whom the next coach should be.  Channel the disappointment in losing and make a hire that’s been different than in the past.

Cowherd was 100% spot on.  Even his comment about not being better than Arkansas.  That seems to annoy Aggies the most but he’s right.  The era of Bobby Petrino was on par with any era at A&M since 1998.  They too just hired the wrong coach after Petrino went for that Sunday ride on his motorcycle.  We’re really no better than Arkansas for the most part despite being 5-0 against them in the last 5 years.  Do we really need to remember the 3 games prior to that when Arkansas beat us?  So we’re 5-3 since playing them again.  They ain’t far off.

So it’s all about attitude with Texas A&M Football.  No more hires of guys who are just happy about getting the head coaching job at Texas A&M.  No more making the easy and obvious hire.  It’s all about hiring someone that wants to establish Texas A&M as a Top 10 program for winning the national championship and being the Western outpost for football in the SEC.   Finding someone that hates losing more than they love winning.  Someone that is willing to hire someone they’re not familiar with simply because they realize that hire makes them greater.  Someone with a real winning attitude and willing to put in the work.

Attitude.  Cowherd nailed.  The culture is off.  Until the attitude changes and everyone realizes it’s more than just facilities and conference and it’s about not accepting losing nothing will change at Texas A&M.  I’m not talking about getting angry and throwing chairs or breaking stuff.  That’s channeling losing the wrong way.  I’m talking about using losing as a driver to become a better program.  The hate of losing needs to identify the mistakes that were made, admitting to those mistakes, and not making those mistakes again.  That’s how the attitude changes.  And it needs to be changed.  If Kevin Sumlin doesn’t do it to win 9 games this season those in charge of the next hire need to do it in hiring the next coach.

#MAFGA

Random notes:

Did you know Bill Byrne was the AD when Fran, Sherman, and Sumlin were hired?  He’s the sole person of leadership that has a common tie to all of those hires.  He has the sole hand in the almost two decades of under achieving.

Here are the Top 10 programs I consider having the best capability of winning a national championship in current day college football due to location, conference, facilities, and attitude.  This is in no order other than LSU at the top because I genuinely feel they have the most talented team top to bottom every year.

LSU
Bama
Florida
Georgia
Florida State
Ohio State
Michigan
Texas
Texas A&M
USC

I really feel that A&M is above programs like Oklahoma, Miami, Tennessee, Auburn, Penn St, Notre Dame, Clemson, and others.  Being the only SEC school in Texas is a MAJOR advantage but we’re squandering it right now because of our attitude.  If we had a coach like Jimbo Fisher we’d be there.  There is NO reason we can’t have the success of Florida State because we can get the athletes if we win.  We have to nail this next hire and start winning.

2017 Aggie Spring Practice Review

April 24, 2017

Before I get going on my “analysis” of A&M’s Spring Practice I want to be clear that I will never cheer against Texas A&M and I’m not rooting for Kevin Sumlin to fail.  Not at all.  I hope Sumlin proves me wrong in what I’m about to write but I’m trying to look at this objectively.  We’ve had 5 years of Kevin Sumlin and nothing that I’ve seen says this is the year he finally flips the switch.  I’m just being realistic here.

There’s nothing that can come out of Spring Practice/Games that should get anyone excited.  Its practice and nothing more.  Every program in the country does it.  All it’s really good for is getting the younger guys some reps and for a coaching staff to maybe determine who might start where heading into the summer.  It’s a practice where players are going up against each other and not real competition.  It’s good to get those reps in but nothing at all matters until real bullets start flying on Labor Day weekend in California.  That game is the only thing that matters for now so until that happens there’s no need to get worked up over practice reports.  Practice matters and means a ton but the ultimate evaluation comes in the form of wins and losses.  Until live bullets start flying in September there’s no reason to get worked up over anything you see or read related to spring practice.

The absolute best thing that can come out of a spring practice is naming your starting quarterback if there’s any question.  That’s what happened last year with Trevor Knight but Sumlin didn’t name a starting quarterback this year.  That’s not a good thing because it means the trio of Hubenak, Starkel, and Mond didn’t separate themselves.  In the Sumlin era Trevor Knight is the unquestionable #2 quarterback when judged solely by wins and losses behind Johnny Manziel.  It’s not even close.  No other quarterback even comes close to a season of work when it comes to wins and losses to be the #2 quarterback behind Johnny.  I say that because I think we’re really going to miss Trevor.  As wildly inconsistent as he was as a passer, he was a consistent winner.  He had control of the team and ran Mazzone’s offense pretty damn well.  If he didn’t transfer in from OU last season would have been a DISASTER and Sumlin wouldn’t be our coach.

Quarterback:

So here we sit with a trio of quarterbacks that no one can figure out who’s going to start including the coaching staff.  There’s no Trevor Knight here.  Let’s not forget we’re headed into Year 6 of Sumlin’s tenure and have no clear quarterback.  We could be in Kyle Allen’s senior season, Kyler Murray’s third season, or something else but we sit here wondering who is going to be taking snaps because Sumlin has botched his handling of quarterbacks since Johnny.  He flat out has.  This is all on him.

Under center against UCLA we will have a quarterback who’s never won a start and some that haven’t even taken a snap.  Hubenak started in some big games against Louisville, Ole Miss, and LSU and didn’t win any of them.  I think Jake Hubenak is a fine Aggie but when it comes to production measured by wins his body of work doesn’t look good at all.  He couldn’t bring A&M back against Mississippi State either.  If it’s not Hubenak then it’s going to be a guy who’s never taken a snap in a college game in redshirt freshman Nick Starkel or true freshman Kellen Mond.  We’re going to have a guy under center who has NEVER won a game at the college level against another Power 5 conference team.  None of these guys are Johnny Manziel so get that out of your head.

I think it’s either going to be Mond or Starkel but what bothers me about those two is they’re both completely different quarterbacks.  Starkel is a classic pocket guy and Mond is a dual threat guy.  I kind of wish Sumlin had named Starkel the starter coming out of spring practice as it would give the players and staff some idea of what type of offense they’ll be running.  As it stands we’ll go into summer camp with no clue if we’re going to have a pocket or running quarterback.  A redshirt freshman or a true freshman.  I would have given the nod to Starkel and told him it was his job to loose.  It doesn’t mean you hurt Mond’s development as you can have some plays for him but I think the sooner you establish your starting quarterback the better off your team is.  Just like Trevor Knight last year.

I just don’t how this team does better than last year record wise when Trevor Knight is clear head and shoulders above anyone on the roster.  I think Mond could be really solid at some point down the road but Kevin Sumlin should only be looking at 2017 right now and what’s best to get more than 8 wins.  He might survive an 8 win season depending on how it goes but there’s no way in hell he survives a 7 win season.  No way at all.  He’ll only survive an 8 win season if we beat LSU with Mond under center showing there’s some progress but good luck doing that in Baton Rouge this season.

Pass Rush:

In addition to not having a quarterback we also don’t have a pass rush.  I mean none.  We lost our two best defensive ends to the draft and the guys we have behind them showed virtually no promise last season.  We had a massive drop off in defensive end play when Myles Garrett wasn’t on the field.  So much so that South Carolina and Mississippi State ran their QBs at Garret’s replacement on their first offensive play of the game and ripped off 75 yard touchdown runs.  We’re not going to have any pass rush to speak off and that’s going to stress our already weak cornerback situation I believe.  I really think our defense is going to fall off big time next season with the loss of Garrett and Hall.

We finally get some depth and talent in our linebacking corps but there’s no Von Miller to bring pressure off the edge.  Speaking of Von Miller let’s think back to the season after we lost Von and what happened.  We went from 9-3 to 6-6 and Mike Sherman got fired.  Our defense couldn’t hold a lead at all partially because we lost our ability to bring a pass rush.  I just don’t know how a defense that’s not already loaded with talent gets better when you lose a guy that is the #1 or #2 pick in the draft.  I just don’t know how that’s possible.  I hope I’m wrong but the talent and depth of the defense isn’t there to be better than last year’s defense with the loss of a guy like Garrett as well as Hall.  A lot like in 2013 when the defense lost all its upperclassmen leaders.

We lost our two best players from last year’s team in Trevor Knight and Myles Garrett and we’re supposed to be better when their replacements appear to be significant drop offs?  Remember when people were saying Caleb Russell was going to be a fine replacement for Von Miller?  How did that turn out?  Kevin Sumlin is going to have to flat out pull a rabbit out of his hat to equal the 8 wins from last season.   I don’t know how 8 wins is possible much less 9 or more.  I really don’t.  I hope I’m wrong but I don’t know how we’re better.

Receiving Corps:

While it’s easy to point out the likely drop in production of our quarterback and defensive ends there’s another group that I think could suffer but hardly ever gets talked about.  That group is our wide receiving corps.  Most people seem to think we have the talent to re-load and go but I’m not totally sold on that.  I don’t think we fully understand what the loss of Josh Reynolds will mean to our passing game.  While he’s not exactly Mike Evans he’s not too far from him in terms of production.  Christian Kirk is an outstanding receiver but outside of Kirk I don’t see one guy on this roster that will come close to matching Josh Reynold’s production.  Jhamon Ausbon appears to have the talent and supposedly had an excellent spring but he’ll still be a true freshman and they tend to hit a wall.  I don’t think he’ll be good enough to replace Reynolds for 12 games this season.  Reynolds is kind of like Knight in that he’s CLEARLY the second best receiver as far as production in the Sumlin era.  Kirk is good but Reynolds got the job done better.  Now he’s gone and nobody is talking about his loss because there’s this weird assumption he’s easily replaced and I just don’t see it.

I know everyone seems to be glad RSJ moved on as he was wildly inconsistent and never lived up to his talent but he wasn’t terrible.  He was a defensive mis-match and along the way he made some solid catches.  He dropped some balls he should have caught and he’s replaceable but I’m not sure there’s anyone on the roster that’s a sure upgrade.  There’s talk of Damion Ratley starting at receiver.  If you think RSJ dropped passes, Ratley makes RSJ look like he’s got glue for hands.  If Damion Ratley starts for us it’s not a good sign for our receiving corps at all.  I can’t believe Ratley is even in the running to start at receiver but he is.  I’m not talking about Kirk Merritt until his “jock itch” situation gets taken care of because I’m not sure he should be practicing with the team right now.  It’s a little Baylor esque in my mind and I don’t like that at all.

There’s some talent and depth on the roster at the receiving position but it just seems odd everybody assumes the receiving corps won’t miss a beat with the loss of Reynolds for sure and even RSJ.  Christian Kirk while extremely talented has not shown he can carry a team and some of that might be on Noel Mazzone.  However, in the receiving game I think defenses will make sure to take away any threat from Christian Kirk and see if the other receivers can beat them.  In my mind this unit is going to be worse than last year.

Strength and Conditioning:

Now to my favorite move ever by Kevin Sumlin.  The firing of Larry Jackson aka Black Death.  I have no allegiance to Larry Jackson but I giggle every time I hear the late season collapses being blamed at the hands of our strength and conditioning coach.  Four flipping seasons in a row we failed to win games in November and Kevin Sumlin decides his strength and conditioning coach was to blame.  Get out of here.  I don’t mind a change to the staff to shake things up but to blame FOUR SEASONS of losing November games on the strength and conditioning coach is maddening.

Our guys weren’t gassed to the point they couldn’t get off the ground and they weren’t suffering from muscle atrophy where they were just weaker and got pushed around.  That wasn’t the case at all.  In fact I remember reading things last season of how Coach Jackson had changed things to be more “SEC Like”.  Coaching lost to Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and LSU last season.  It wasn’t ANYTHING related to strength and conditioning.  Blaming those losses on lack of strength and conditioning is some Coach Fran bullshit right there.

The reality of in season football is strength and conditioning isn’t all that important beyond a maintain level.  Any strength and conditioning coach can do that as it’s mainly just making sure guys are doing some running post practice and doing some lifting to maintain what they have.  You’re not building strength and conditioning during the season.  As long as Larry Jackson didn’t cut gassers and lifting during the season he ain’t to blame.  And if Larry Jackson did cut gassers and lifting then Kevin Sumlin should have fired him on the spot and told his squad to line up for gassers and get their ass in the weight room and do some lifting.  It really is that simple.

All of this talk of how different the players look this spring cracks me up.  Our new strength and conditioning coach hasn’t been on the job for even 4 months.  If he’s really having an effect where already elite level athletes look totally different then he needs to get an infomercial or a website because he’s found the secret to working out.  He could make a shit load more money selling his system to the general public than wasting it on 100 players at Texas A&M.  Seriously.  If it’s true this guy has changed the physique and lungs of our athletes in four months then Sumlin should be fired right now for keeping Larry Jackson around as long as he did.

It’s all a big ruse by Sumlin to deflect more blame from himself while he pretends to be an elite level coach by being condescending to anyone that questions the reality of where this program is.  At the end of the day it’s about football coaching and technique.  If you have superior coaching and athletes your strength and conditioning program could consist solely of gassers, running stands, swinging sledgehammers, and flipping tires.  I’m dead serious.  Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney didn’t get to the National Championship the last two years because they have superior strength and conditioning coaches.  In fact I bet Nick Saban would still beat Sumlin if Saban hired Larry Jackson as his strength and conditioning coach.  Just Sumlin re-arranging his staff and blaming someone else because he can’t re-arrange or blame himself thanks to his big contract.  Classic clueless management.

Units That Will Be Better:

Since I’m bagging on units that I think will be worse I do think there’s some units that will be better.  I think it starts with our offensive line.  We lose our tackles but I think we’ll be fine with their replacements.  Neither of those guys are getting drafted super high and doesn’t look like they’re going to play tackle at the next level so I think they’re replaceable.  It’s not like we‘re losing someone named Joeckel, Matthews, Ogbuehi, or even Ifedi.  There will be some shuffling of positions along the line it seems but I think we’ll settle on 5 guys that will be better than last year mainly because we had a lot of youth along the interior and those guys should be better this season.

I think we’ll be better at the running back position as well.  We were pretty good last year but I think Keith Ford and Tray Williams will be better just having a full season under their belt.  Hopefully we rely more on the run this year as boring as it might be.  This is where I wish we had our starting quarterback already named so we would have some idea of what kind of offense we’d be running.  With Starkel we’d have a more pro style/pocket offense and with Mond it would be more zone read.  At least that’s what I’d assume.  It would be nice to spend the entire off season knowing which way we should be working.  If Mazzone plans on running the same offense with either QB we’re hosed.  For our running backs I’d love for them to be able to spend the off season knowing if they’re going to be used in more direct hand offs or part of a zone read type offense.  It’s not that big of a deal but I think it would help.

I also think our linebacking corps will be better.  Dodson should be better and the addition of Hines and Marchiol add some needed talent and depth.  They’re likely too young to have a major impact this season but they’ll add some talent and depth that we haven’t had in a while which will be an improvement.  Assuming this unit stays healthy and improves with time it’ll be much better than last year’s unit.  We will desperately need an improved linebacking corps since we won’t have any pass rush to speak of.

I think our secondary will be about the same as last year.  Losing Justin Evans will hurt but as long as we have Armani and Donovan Wilson we still have major talent.  Hopefully cornerback will be better as it can’t get much worse even though there’s talk Nick Harvey might be out for the season.  Either way I don’t see a major drop off or improvement for our secondary as it’ll be much like last year I believe.

Bottom Line for 2017 and Sumlin:

With all of that being said I don’t see how Sumlin wins 8 games next year.  The schedule is less favorable than last season.  We lose our best offensive player in Trevor Knight and defensive player in Myles Garrett.  We won 8 games last year losing the last 4 against major conference opponents.  We got beat by Kansas State in a bowl game.  Kansas State in a bowl game in Houston.  Think about that.  Kevin Sumlin in his fifth year got beat by 115 year old Bill Snyder in a bowl game filled with Aggies everywhere when he had almost a month to prepare.  You think a new strength and conditioning coach is going to cure that and win at least 8 games again?  I hope Sumlin proves me wrong but his data set is way too big for me to think otherwise.  Plain and simple this team will be worse from a roster standpoint coupled with a tougher schedule than last year.  I don’t know how 8 wins is even possible looking at it objectively but we shall see.  Sumlin has 12 games to prove everyone wrong that he’s figured it out.

I’ll do a season preview in the next couple of months along with a list of potential new coaches after that.  I don’t see 2017 being a very good season for Aggie football and I hope the higher ups are already doing their due diligence for if/when a change at the top spot is needed.  Sadly I think this is the season where all of the shine for Kevin Sumlin comes off and the 2012 season seems like a distant memory.

I’ll be in the stands for every Aggie home game along with UCLA and Florida wearing my “Make Aggie Football Great Again” hat hoping for the moment it comes to fruition.

#MAFGA

What to do with Kevin Sumlin

November 30, 2016

coachcool

I hate saying this but I assumed we’d lose to LSU.  They were a major match up problem and Kevin Sumlin has shown he’s not likely to adapt to teams that are a match up problem for us.  He just runs the same thing out there in hopes there will be a different outcome.  No wrinkles or anything new.  We saw that in Tuscaloosa.  Just the same thing that won’t appear to work in hopes it will.  You know, the definition of insanity.  I didn’t expect the LSU game to play out like it did but in most ways it was worse than what I expected.  I thought both teams would score under 20 and LSU would win by fewer than 10 points.  I had no clue an offensive shootout would break out.  It only broke out because our defense got us behind so far that our offense had no choice but to finally go downfield and it worked for the most part.  Still not enough though as our issues on defense continued to rear their ugly head as our offense finally found some momentum.  The same defense that all but shut down Auburn and Arkansas for an entire game and Bama for almost 3 quarters just continued to leak like a sieve against a very suspect LSU offense.  It just makes no sense how it happened but the coaching staff is to blame.

Leading into the LSU game expecting a loss and especially after the loss with how the game played out I’ve kicked around if Kevin Sumlin should be fired or not.  The general consensus is that he’s going to get another season mainly because it would cost too much to let him and his staff go.  So basically we’re in a marriage that isn’t working and doesn’t hold much promise of working but it costs too much to get out.  We’re going to give the problem spouse one more year in hopes they can improve on the issues that have plagued them for 4 years.  Sounds like insanity again but it’s because of money.  Sure, we’re gonna be miserable for a year but it would cost a lot of money to have some kind of hope moving forward.  Which means we’re gonna stick out being miserable for a year because we can’t afford the attorneys and need a little more equity in the house before we sell it.  Sounds like a lovely 12 months in front of us.

We’re in this situation because of three things that we had in 2012:

  1. Johnny Manziel – Seems like so long ago. Do you remember him?
  2. An offensive line where all five starters took snaps in the NFL with three of the starters being first round draft picks.
  3. Senior leaders that were pissed they were getting no respect heading into the SEC. I think this element of that team is very underrated and these are the guys that really made Sumlin a lot of money with that big contract after the season.  Guys like Ryan Swope, Sean Porter, Jonathan Stewart, Spencer Nealy, Pat Lewis, and EZ Nwachukwu drove that team.  They hated all the collapses from the previous season and then the dissing by the media they wouldn’t be able to compete and it put a solid chip on their shoulders that drove that team.

Kevin Sumlin just happened to wear a headset with the best collection of talent and leaders on an A&M roster since 1998 if not longer.  We thought Sumlin had the secret sauce.  Outside of picking Manziel to start which he deserves major credit for Sumlin just has regular old ketchup, mustard, and mayo.  We gave him a contract though for those three things above because we thought he had the secret sauce.  Turns out his sauce is the same as we can get anywhere.

Do I think Sumlin should be fired?  I’ve thought about this since the Ole Miss game and yes I think he should be fired.  The ONLY reason he should stay is he appears to have a pretty good recruiting class enrolling at the mid-term so if he can hold Kellen Mond along with adding Jarret Stidham and Anthony Hines at the mid-term then maybe he deserves another year.  I say that because I don’t know who our leadership would get.  Our school president and athletic director hired Chris Petersen at Washington from Boise St. so we have the two people that should have intimate knowledge if Petersen would ever come to Texas A&M.  If he would you fire Sumlin tomorrow and bring in Petersen.  I’m assuming that’s not possible so Petersen is not an option.

Outside of Petersen I’m kind of clueless on realistic candidates.  I think there’s little doubt Chad Morris or Larry Fedora would take the job in a heartbeat.  When you look at their careers objectively I’m not sure they’re really better than Sumlin long term but they’re probably just as good.  Maybe 1-2 wins a season but I’m not sure they’re locks to be great coaches.  I think Morris holds some upside but I honestly don’t know what he would do at A&M.  He seems like the kind of recruiter that would have to sell winning above all else so if he doesn’t win he’s totally hosed.  And let’s face it the college game is mostly about recruiting so that’s kind of chicken and egg taking a guy that needs wins to sell recruits when next year’s talent and schedule has questions.

There’s P.J. Fleck who’s like the Johnny Manziel of college coaching right now looking to take that leap to the next level.  He’s pretty damn intense and seems to have a lot of motivational gimmicks but would it carry over to the SEC?  I don’t know.  Would I roll the dice on him?  Yeah he’s the kind of guy I would roll the dice on assuming he had some kind of plan to recruit Texas and hire a staff that had big school experience.  I just don’t know how that would work because of his intensity and gimmicks where he currently is.  I honestly think he holds more promise than Tom Herman but he could also be a flaming disaster.  With Nick Saban in the SEC West why not roll the dice on someone that’s so crazy it just might work.

I’m intrigued by Lane Kiffin mainly because he’s an outstanding offensive coach.  He wasn’t the disaster he’s been made out to be as a head coach.  He left Tennessee in a slightly bad way but he was offered the USC job after a year at Tennessee which happens in college football.  Coaches leave for a perceived better opportunity at weird times.  He wasn’t actually terrible at USC amongst a host of restrictions on scholarships and post season.  I think there’s a strong chance he goes to LSU as offensive coordinator for next season so let’s see what he does there.  If he has success beating Alabama next season then he’s going to be head coach of an SEC team if that’s what he wants.

I’m also intrigued by Dan Mullen at Miss. St. as I think he’s a really underrated coach.  He’s a pretty damn good coach and I think his personality would actually work well at A&M and in Texas recruiting.  Not sure he’d leave Miss St. for A&M but I think there’s a strong chance.  He’d be a definite upgrade over Kevin Sumlin.  I’d definitely put him on my radar.

Brent Venables comes to mind but then you look at the lack of success that Will Muschamp and Kirby Smart have had as head coaches you wonder if they’re too focused on defense.  Venables is a heck of a defensive coordinator but I have no clue how he’d do as a head coach.

There’s not an obvious choice to replace Sumlin like Texas had with Herman.  I do think we could hire someone as good as Sumlin pretty easily but how much better I’m not sure.  I just don’t know if our leadership is equipped to hire that person.

If I were hiring I’d look for the following:

  1. Extensive coordinating experience with a high level of success. I want to know they called plays on one side of the ball for an extended period and had a strong level of success.  Let’s not forget that best I can tell based on research Kevin Sumlin only ever called plays by himself for half a season and his one claim to fame was beating #1 ranked OU but lost the next week to Mizzou and then Texas that season.  He really doesn’t have the extensive coordinating experience he’s made out to be.  He just happened to be associated with great coordinators and quarterbacks.  I don’t think he actually knew what was going on with all those wins and players he’s associated with.
  2. Head coaching experience that gives you some insight into how they actually operate as a head coach. I wouldn’t be so concerned with their actual wins and losses but did their teams compete, did they adjust in game along with week to week based on opponent, and how did the head coach handle in game situations.  Where they a disaster with clock management, substitutions, recruiting, handling the media, and a lot of things coordinators don’t have to really deal with.  In this day and age you need someone that can be part CEO but not forget how to scheme a gameplan and adapt or adjust during the game and for different opponents.  I want someone that LOVES watching game film before and after games to dissect issues and opportunities.  I think Sumlin would rather watch a concert or big sports event.
  3. What is their recruiting plan for recruiting Texas players? Do they have relationships with Texas coaches?  Will they go out and meet with coaches?  Who will be their recruiting coordinator and what kind of staff is needed?  Texas recruiting is the life blood of Texas A&M and if they can’t succeed at recruiting Texas they won’t be successful coaching at A&M.
  4. Who will they target as their offensive and defensive coordinator along with the rest of their staff? Will they bring the majority of the coaches that have been with them or are they willing to leave most of their staff behind to hire a truly elite SEC level staff?  In this day and age you need a head coach that has the ability and willingness to hire the best and brightest coaching staff with real SEC experience. Cronies and chums who got you where you are might not be the best to bring with you.  You’re gonna be playing sold out arenas so your current fiddle player might not get the crowd cheering when they open up their case.  If you’re gonna coach in Texas you got have a bad ass fiddle in the band.  Your old fiddler may not do it so we’ll give you the money to get the best if you’re willing to get them.  If not, keep playing the smaller venues with your Ford van and packed cargo trailer full of gear.  I think this is the biggest thing that’s not really reviewed in the hiring process.  An experienced and talented staff like in any organization is what will make it great.  I want a coach that demands excellence and if someone won’t or isn’t cutting it then they need to hit the bricks.  Being friends is fine but you have to be objective in your analysis.
  5. Do you hate losing more or winning more? I want someone that really gets pissed off when they lose.  I think the great ones are driven more by a fear of losing than the pursuit of winning.  I think this is what drives the likes of Saban, Meyer, and Harbaugh.  You don’t want a jerk but I want someone that’s a little surly after a loss and not just in front of the media.  I want someone that tells their staff and players to go home because they want to be left alone to watch film.  I think Sumlin goes home after every loss and fixes a glass of scotch while he lights up a stogie to take some pressure off.  I think he copes with losing rather than letting it drive him.  I think that’s why we’ve seen the late season collapses.  He didn’t let losing drive him and his team to get better.  He’d just fire up a stogie and pour some scotch until the pain went away hoping his players and staff could figure it out.  He had no clue.  There is an unhealthy level of hating losing but I want someone that vows to actually do things differently and try to dissect why they weren’t successful.  I actually don’t think a lot of coaches do this.
  6. Do you care more about being a football coach that wins games or being a celebrity? In this day and age big time college head coaches are celebrities.  Some love the attention and some don’t care.  It’s great to be seen as someone cool but at the end of the day you’re a head football coach that’s paid to win games.  I want someone that is willing to embrace the celebrity but they really don’t like it and try to shy away from it because they’re more worried about wins and losses.  I think we all know Sumlin loves being a celebrity and being adored by everyone.  He cares more about his celebrity status than actual wins and losses.

So with all that would I still fire Kevin Sumlin?  Yeah I think I would but I would have done it on Friday after the game.  I kind of feel like we’re so far behind the eight ball because we’re focused on money and not winning I question who we’d get.  We might as well be miserable for another year and get things in order to really be ready to make a great hire.  I kind of feel like our administration is not equipped to make the move right now.  Much like when we fired Mike Sherman and Kevin Sumlin.  Those things kind of jumped up on us and we didn’t really know how to hire a big time coach for a big time program.  Maybe we are best giving Sumlin one more year but that’s not because we should.  It’s because our administration is not equipped to make the move when it needs to be done.  Hopefully they spend the next 12 months preparing for the move and can strike it when it becomes obvious because I have a big feeling there’s going to be an obvious moment next year.

So have fun being miserable for another year as I don’t see how this time next year we’re wondering if Sumlin should be fired or not.  It’ll be clear and he won’t be here.  Who controls the heat on Sumlin’s seat?  He does!  He does!

Thoughts from the Games

November 10, 2016
This was all on Coach Sumlin

This was all on Coach Sumlin

I didn’t get a chance to write up my thoughts on the Bama game due to traveling back from the game and then taking Spring Break the week after.  I had started on a write up for both the Bama and New Mexico St. game last week but the World Series got in the way and I never finished.  My apologies.  You get what you pay for…

As for the loss against MSU that starts at the top with Coach Sumlin.  This team was not prepared and focused at all.  They kicked off to us and we knocked the ball around on the ground before picking it up.  It was a 6 yard return to the 9 yard line.  Lack of focus by Keith Ford.  We then punted on our first offensive possession after only one first down with two incompletions.  Their first play was a 72 yard touchdown that mimicked what South Carolina did against us.  Lack of focus by the entire defense.  They kick off to us and we boot the ball around on the ground returning it 5 yards to the 13.  Lack of focus by Justin Evans.  We then go three and out with an incompletion on 3rd down.  Lack of focus.  If it hadn’t been for a GREAT play by Nick Harvey intercepting the ball in the end zone then MSU would have scored on their first three possessions while we would have punted on our first three possessions.  No offense to MSU but Texas A&M was the more talented team on the field and they simply whipped our ass on the first three possessions because they were focused and wanted it more.  Plain and simple.  That’s on our head coach.

Kevin Sumlin did not have this Aggie team ready.  While Clemson, Michigan, Washington, Ohio State, and Louisville beat their conference opponents by 40 points or more the Texas Aggies got beat by Mississippi State.  That’s right, 40 points or more.  Every other team in contention for the College Football Playoff not named Bama or Texas A&M flat out throttled their opponent making a statement they flat out belonged.  Kevin Sumlin took his team to Starkville like it was a family vacation with some football mixed in.  Nobody on that field wanted to be there and that starts at the top.  Basically what Kevin Sumlin did was walk up to every Aggie fan and took off their maroon colored glasses.  He then dropped them on the ground and stomped on them with his foot.  The $5 million dollar man thought his team and his staff were good enough to sleep walk through this game.  He was wrong.  Dead wrong.

I didn’t think this would be a loss due to the proverbial “trap game” but I can’t say I was totally shocked as some signs have been there since the South Carolina game.  I truly thought this team and staff was different but in the end this is the same thing that’s plagued Sumlin the last 4 years.  Everything is too predictable and there’s no sense of urgency from the staff.  Sumlin just assumes what worked for the first half will work for the second half.  I really don’t think he truly watches film to see if teams are picking up tendencies on both sides of the ball.  It’s clear the opposing staffs are finding those tendencies and weaknesses.  Sumlin is pretty damn good at the first half but he’s TERRIBLE at the second half.  I mean flat out terrible.  He’s got two games to correct that as both Ole Miss and LSU can beat us if MSU can.

Offense:

This is what I wrote last week before the World Series got in the way:

Against New Mexico St. Mazzone ran some wrinkles with new formations and plays we haven’t seen but we weren’t crisp with them at all.  It seemed early on we were trying to work the ball to Speedy but it didn’t do much.  We had a nice deep post route by Reynolds but that play probably doesn’t work against a top defense like Bama or LSU. 

All in all I’m not sure what Mazzone is trying to do at this point.  He didn’t do wrinkles against Bama but then had his biggest bag of them all year against New Mexico St.  Did he realize after the Bama game the offense had become too predictable?  Did he not think he needed wrinkles against Bama and when he watched the film the light just came on?  I have no clue what’s in his head right now.  I’m a bit worried about him going forward.  I don’t think he’s Spav 2.0 but I do think he’s been too reliant on the zone read for most of the season and his play creation hasn’t impressed me so far.  We’ve struggled on offense against Tennessee, Bama, and for the most part New Mexico St.  Is the magic we had against Auburn and Arkansas in the second half of those games gone? 

I’ve also said it all season we haven’t been able to string drives together at all this season.  That’s the part that scares me the most for the rest of the season is our offense has become too predictable and reliant upon the zone read.  For us to go 11-1 and win our bowl game Mazzone needs to get a little creative and most importantly have the offense execute on that creativity.

I promise I wrote that last week and never published it.  I wouldn’t have expected a loss to MSU even writing that but to see our offense continue to struggle trying to run the same plays is not surprising at all.  It’s crystal clear defenses have figured out our tendencies and know how to attack them.  I know we lost Knight but even before he went out he was only 5 of 14 and all five of those completions came on one series.  The definition of inconsistent.  Knight had some decent runs but both Ford and Williams combined had 19 carries for 61 yards with neither guy having a carry over 9 yards.  No offense to MSU’s defense but you expect MUCH better from those two considering what they’ve been able to do against other defenses.  What’s interesting is most of those yards came on first downs as on 3rd and short we rarely converted as MSU stuffed us.  No doubt MSU figured out our running patterns on 3rd down and attacked.  Predictable offense is the only explanation.

The most frustrating thing to me in this game was the use Ford and Trayveon.  We started out with Ford which I was fine with but we kept trying to get him around the corner and he’s not designed like that.  It reminded me a lot of Spav trying to get Carson around the corner.  Ford is a North and South runner and we were running stretch plays with him.  We brought in Trayveon on the 4th series which I agreed with as I felt we needed more of him because he’s a big play threat but they basically shut him down.  It was clear it wasn’t a running back issue and it was all about MSU had figured out our running scheme and shut it down.  After the half I felt Trayveon should have been used between the 20s and then use Ford in the red zone.  Trayveon had a nice 9 yard run around the edge in the red zone but on 2nd and 1 at the 5 yard line he was stuffed.  At that point I would have subbed out Ford and told Mazzone he’s calling two running plays there.  Instead Mazzone calls a roll out for Hubenak and he got sacked for a four yard loss.  We then missed the field goal.  I know Sumlin doesn’t like butting in on his coordinators but in the red zone in situations like that I think the head coach needs to give some guidance on what he wants.  We were down 28-14 after our defense forced a three and out on MSU’s opening second half possession.  I absolutely would have run the ball twice to see if I could gain all of the momentum in that game.  Instead we go with an inexperienced QB rolling out and get a sack.  I wouldn’t have put my backup QB in that situation with a guy like Ford and 2 downs to get 1 yard on the 5 yard line.  Really reminded me of the Mizzou game 2 years ago when we left Brandon Williams in rather than put in Tra Carson on the goal line.  I just think in key situations like that a head coach has to step in and make some calls on his own.  Especially when a coordinated appears to need some guidance.

As for Mazzone the thing that scared me the most from this game is until he had to do something different he tried to call the exact same game as if Trevor was in there.  No offense to Hubes but he doesn’t have the athleticism of Knight to run the zone read.  Hubenak is a quick read vertical passer.  He’s the exact opposite of Knight in many regards.  But yet there was Mazzone calling running plays for Hubenak.  On Hubenak’s first series there was a 3rd and 7 and a QB draw was called.  Hubes got 6 yards as he doesn’t have the athleticism of Knight and the MSU defense crashed hard on him before he got the first down.  It was a great call for Knight as Knight would have scorched them  but a questionable call for Hubes.  Case in point Hubes had 7 runs for 2 yards and Knight had 5 runs for 54 yards.  That’s a huge difference.  Some of those might have been sacks or pressure runs but Hubenak did have a couple of zone reads I believe.  It wasn’t until we were forced to pass did Mazzone let Hubes throw vertical.  When we did that Hubes actually had some decent passes and got us back in the game.

As for receiver Kirk and Reynolds were tremendous.  In fact without those two being future NFL guys this teams has it’s doors blown off.  So basically two guys carried this offense to a “respectable” score if you eliminate it was between the supposed #4 team in the country who had only lost to Bama and a 2 win MSU team that didn’t have an SEC win to their name.  The worst showing by a receiver in my book was once again Speedy Noil who somehow caught a first down pass but inexplicably looked away and happened to look back right before the ball got to him past the stick.  The dude just doesn’t have focus.  Amazing talent but no focus.  What the hell he was doing looking away I haven’t a clue.  Speedy wound up with 3 catches for 36 yards which is decent but I still say Tabuyo should be in for Speedy at this point.  RSJ is someone Hubes should have been targeting but he caught zero balls all day.  It’s just kind of maddening how it appears Mazzone doesn’t understand his personnel against that week’s defense and just randomly calls plays based on his system.

Mazzone is not Spav but he’s not far off at this point.  Unless things change dramatically over the two final SEC games I’m not sure we’ll ever win big with Mazzone at the helm of our offense.  He’s a system guy based on the zone read with no creativity.  I hear Mazzone has a three year contract so there’s no way he doesn’t come back next season but Sumlin really needs to do an objective review of how things were handled this season.  Maybe Kiffin will have a play calling camp he can attend next summer.  At worst go hire Sarkisian away from Saban to be a consultant for Mazzone.  I just don’t have a great feeling about Mazzone right now.  This could be Sumlin’s Les Miles situation where Les could never objectively evaluate Cam Cameron’s offensive ability.

Defense:

While the defense gets the brunt of the complaints for this game for good reason I have to say one thing – outside of the drive where MSU scored to go up 35-21 the defense played well enough in the second half for this team to win.  The defense held MSU scoreless on their first 5 possessions of the second half.  Sure one was a missed field goal and there was an interception in the end zone but for 5 possessions the defense kept MSU off the board in the second half.  Our offense was playing with ZERO urgency or wrinkles in the second half and our defense had made some adjustments to shut down an MSU team that had scored 28 points on them in the first half.  It was a crappy performance as a whole but I have to give the defense credit for putting forth a valiant effort in the second half until the back breaking drive by MSU when they went up 35-21.  Even after we scored to take the game to 35-28 but missed the onside kick the defense held on a three and out to force MSU to punt.  Outside of that 74 yard drive the defense only gave up 122 yards on the other 6 possessions in the second half.  The overall performance was bad but I feel like the defense makes adjustments when they need to.  But the 14 play drive that gained 73 yards and burned 7:34 was a back breaker so the defense didn’t respond when it needed to most.  That was the drive after we had closed the score 28-21 and there was 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter.  At the end of that drive the score was 35-21 and there was only 3 minutes left.  Sorry defense but that’s the definition of not responding.  A great half was erased by that single drive.  Couple that with the 28 points in the first half and there’s really no positives.

The worst part about this defense was no doubt the failure by the defensive ends not named Hall or Myles failing to keep containment on the zone read and crashing inside only to see the QB pull the ball and run around the end.  It’s maddening how the backup ends can’t realize they’re being exposed to the zone read and shouldn’t crash down.  When you’re a defensive end and you’re not getting blocked something is up.  You’re being set up.  Hold your damn ground.  Time and time again our defensive ends crash down which means the QB pulls it and heads around the end.  This has been happening since South Carolina.  Terry Price needs to get that cleaned up THIS WEEK as there’s NO EXCUSE for that repeatedly happening.

In addition to our defensive ends blowing the zone read our linebackers are running themselves out of position.  This looks like last year but amazingly we haven’t had any injuries so there’s no excuse for the starters regressing.  There’s not one linebacker I feel good about right now.  I thought Washington was taking that step to be a really solid linebacker but that’s not the case right now.  None of these linebackers inspire any confidence and that’s on Chavis.  He needs to get that cleaned up.

Our defensive tackles seemed to be out of position as well.  They’re definitely not playing as well as they were early in the season.  It seems as if offensive coordinators have figured out how our defensive tackles like to attack and let them go that way while they scheme to that.  It’s a novel concept for an offensive coordinator to do that.  The defensive tackles were supposed to be a real strength of this defense and right now it’s not happening.

The secondary played decent.  Evans and Watts led the team in tackles which honestly I’m not too wild about considering how much teams are running on us.  I know they’re a strength but you don’t really want safeties leading the team in tackling.  Our corners came in 3rd and 4th with tackles which is even worse.  They were getting picked on and MSU’s QB had some really great passes but they only completed 18 passes which is the total tackles Harvey and Capers-Smith had so that means they were having to make tackles on running plays.  MSU rushed the ball 58 times and our starting corners and safeties lead the team in tackles.  That.  Ain’t.  Good.  Our linebackers and defensive ends should be leading the team in tackles when there’s 58 rushing attempts and 18 completions.  Speaking of tackling I don’t know what’s happened but this defense was REALLY good at tackling through the Arkansas game but that’s gone now.  I’d heard that for the Tennessee game there was a focus on getting turnovers as opposed to wrapping up and bringing down the ball carrier but that needs to change right now for sure.  This defense needs to get back to the basics of tackling as they’re gonna need it against LSU for sure.

As for pass defense as bad as Nick Harvey has been against the pass in the Arkansas game he’s really improved during the season.  He’s not a shutdown corner but he’s playing MUCH better.  Priest Willis was out for this game and they picked on Capers-Smith quite a bit.  I actually thought the pass coverage was pretty decent as a whole.  So as tackling has regressed I think our pass coverage has improved.  There’s a positive.  I’d rather have outstanding tackling though.

As a whole this defense needs to get back to the basics of tackling and I think that will fix a lot of the issues.  The backup defensive ends need to stay home and keep contain.  I know Chavis loves to blitz and fill the gaps with his linebackers but I’m thinking against some running teams he either needs to change up his blitz scheme or leave linebackers at home more.  I think offensive coordinators have picked up on his blitz scheme and running their guys where they know the defenders won’t be.  There’s no excuse for MSU rushing 58 times for 365 yards which is a 6.3 yard per carry.  Take away Fitzgerald’s 74 yard run to start the game and they still averaged over 5 yards per carry.  Considering outside of Myles Garrett being hurt there’s no excuse for the defensive line and linebackers to give up those yards.  Chief needs to get this corrected pronto as we’re about to face two teams in Ole Miss and LSU that are going to try and replicate what teams have done against us on the ground.  I have faith Chief can get it done but let’s see it first.

Special Teams:

According to the athletic department website Jeff Banks is our special teams and tight ends coach.  Based on what I’ve seen of our special teams and tight ends I’m honestly not sure if he does anything.  If it wasn’t for Christian Kirk’s straight athleticism this special teams unit would be ATROCIOUS.  Outside of Kirk I can’t think of anything redeeming about our special teams.  Not a damn one.  Can you?  Our punter is WILDLY inconsistent and our place kicker isn’t much better.  Do these guys just work on their own and go out when the situation dictates?  Does Banks even know their name or does he just holler “PUNTER” and “KICKER” when the situation arises?

I’ve already talked about the booting the ball around on the first two kickoffs but there was another moment when our upback caught the ball out of bounds around the 20.  Thank goodness he was out of bounds but he was damn close to being in bounds.  I can’t think of a single reason he should have attempted to catch that ball.  I swear he caught that ball completely clueless of where he was and the ramifications of if he caught that ball in bounds.  I say that because against Tennessee I think we had one of our guys pick up a kick off that was about to go out of bounds and returned it.  There’s no excuse for that.

I had ZERO faith we would get the onside kick.  I mean none.  And sure enough it was an ordinary run of the mill onside kick.  Our kicker kicked it too deep and we had no shot of recovering it even with MSU muffing it and putting it on the ground.  I don’t think that was by design.  I think our special teams just suck that much and there’s ZERO focus on them.  None.  We’re just going through the motions on special teams because the rules of the game require it.

When MSU had to punt the ball after the onside kick failed it looked like we had a return set up.  They were kicking the ball from our 44 yard line.  There was 35 seconds left and we had no timeouts.  I love Kirk but there was virtually ZERO chance he returns the ball in that situation because of how sort the field was.  So there we are with 35 seconds left and being punted to on a short field with no time outs and we have a return set up.  A FREAKING return set up.  Fine if you want to leave Kirk back there but line up the other 10 guys and go for a freaking jail break in hopes of blocking it.  Does Sumlin even watch football games?  Did he not see the Michigan and Michigan State game last year where a jail break blocked punt was Michigan State’s saving grace for making the playoffs?  That boggled my mind we had a damn return on rather than an all-out jail break to block the punt.  How could he not see our only hope to win that game was a blocked punt and hopefully a return.  Do we even have an all-out jail break block attempt in the playbook?  I’m not totally familiar with all the college rules but I think that’s allowed.

I still don’t like Evans and Ford returning kicks.  Love the toughness those guys bring on the field in their regular positions but they don’t have the burst and top end speed to break one to the house.  It’s just not going to happen with either of those guys so why are they back there?  Does Banks think the kick return blocking is so bad he wants “bruisers” returning the kicks?  I haven’t the foggiest what Banks thinks but I know our special teams is horrible and WAY more likely to cost us a game than win one for us except for Christian Kirk’s natural talent.  And Banks only other job is to coach tight ends so it’s not like that’s a distraction for special teams.  I mean our tight ends don’t do anything either so what does Banks do all day?  Who knows but Sumlin needs to show him the bricks at the end of this season in my mind.  Based on what we’ve seen in his tenure he brings NOTHING to the table.  I mean nothing at all.  Hit the bricks kid.

 

As for what happens the rest of the season I don’t know.  With Kelly out for Ole Miss I’d like to think we win that game which will put as at 9-3 at worst.  Sumlin survives that without a doubt.  At this point I don’t see how this team beats LSU unless changes are made.  It’s the same feeling I had going into last year’s bowl game.  If Sumlin isn’t willing to make some pretty dramatic changes we’re going to get beat by LSU and wind up 9-3 and 3rd or 4th in the West.  I’d LOVE for us to go 10-2 and win our bowl game.  It’s entirely possible but I’m not sure Sumlin has that in him.  He had 11-1 in front of him and let Mississippi State derail that right away.  At worst we could have been 11-1 and playing the B12 Champ or their runner up in the Sugar Bowl.  Even better we could have been in the College Football Playoff.  I suppose at 10-2 we could still make the Sugar Bowl but it sure as hell won’t feel the same thanks to this loss.  However, with enough time an 11-2 record with a Sugar Bowl victory will make us forget all about this loss so that’s what I’m hoping for.

I’d love to know how Sumlin was after that game.  I’m sure he was his “cool” normal self but he should have been absolutely pissed off.  I would have pulled a Jimmy Johnson and said nobody talks on the plane home and if anyone did they’re running gasers.  I’m not kidding.  Okay, maybe I am because honestly Sumlin should have had these guys ready so he’s the one that shouldn’t have said a damn thing on the flight home.  Something has to change in Sumlin and quick.  Some say the loss is okay because Sumlin is ahead of schedule and this team is doing better than most predicted.  I’m sorry but how does a “schedule” apply to Sumlin in his fifth year and who are “most” of these people?  We were 7-1 and ranked 4th in the College Football Playoff.  We had a REALLY strong chance of winning out and likely would have stayed in the College Football Playoff as someone is likely going to lose had A&M won out cementing our spot.  That’s all that matters.  Kevin Sumlin had everything in front of him and he spit the bit.  He didn’t see this coming and let Dan Mullen clown him.  Credit to Mississippi State as they absolutely earned that win.  Kevin Sumlin should totally have avoided that though.  This is all on Kevin Sumlin.

We need the season to play out but if we go 8-4 losing to Ole Miss and LSU at home I’d strongly consider firing Sumlin.  That will be the 4th year in a row he collapsed as a coach down the stretch.  It would be a tough pill to fire him based on where we were at one point this season but it’s been that way the previous three seasons under his watch.  We just collapsed a little later than normal but the trend is obvious.  Eat the $15 million and go get someone else like Les Miles, Tom Herman, or Chad Morris.  8-4 in the style it happened yet again is just not acceptable.  The data points will be too many to truly indicate Sumlin is anything but that kind of coach.  Sure, he could catch lightening in the bottle one season but it’ll be pretty rare.  I’ve said all along next year is going to be worse than this year so this is the season we needed to make it happen.  If Sumlin spit the bit for the 4th time in 5 years I don’t really want to see it a 5th year in a row.  It’s a little too early to say that but I don’t think anyone is going to feel good closing out our season losing our last 4 SEC games and that what will happen if he can’t beat one of Ole Miss or LSU.  That’s gonna be a bitter taste just like Mike Sherman’s last year.

I really hope Sumlin wins on Saturday and keeps winning as I don’t really want to replace him.  He has his work cut out for him with Knight out for the regular season but he gets paid the big bucks to figure out how to win.  With Kelly out for Ole Miss we could and should absolutely beat them.  We’ll worry about anything beyond Saturday next week.

Thoughts from the Tennessee Game

October 10, 2016

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!

Thoughts on the South Carolina Game

October 4, 2016
Best Throwback unis I've seen

Best Throwback unis I’ve seen

This game was a real head scratcher as I have no idea what to make of it.  Coming off our biggest win of the year and 3 VERY good wins over good teams a letdown game was bound to happen.  It’s a bit concerning as you want to play perfect and mistake free football every game but outside of Alabama very few teams do.   South Carolina is not very good and I think more than anything we played to the level of our competition after beating two pretty good SEC West teams on the “road.”

I would like to have a lot more momentum going into Tennessee.  I still feel confident we beat Tennessee being back at Kyle and a lot of excitement but I’m just not sure.  Let’s just get to the breakdown on each side of the ball.  This will be lighter than normal mainly because I wasn’t at the game watching with the same focus I normally do as I had an eye on the Tenn/UGA game to get an idea of what to expect on Saturday.

Offense:

Inconsistent Trevor Knight showed his head again and I don’t think it’s a coincidence inconsistent Noel Mazzone showed himself again.  As much as I get on Knight I think he’s a product of his playcalling.  Maybe it’s Mazzone trying some different things against weaker competition to see if he can create a bigger playbook.  We didn’t appear to want to establish the run early like we did against Auburn and to an extent Arkansas.  We seemed to have run a lot more passes than runs early in the game.  The end result was very balanced with 40 passes and 39 runs but the first half seemed to be a want to establish the pass and not worry so much with the running game that worked so well against Auburn and Arkansas.

Specifically it seemed like we were hell bent on getting Christian Kirk the ball.  I have nothing against Kirk but we kept running those short passes to him over and over again.  He had 12 receptions for 61 yards which you expect better of him if he’s going to catch the ball 12 times.  I’m not saying Kirk should have done better this game but it seems he’s better served across the middle than quick passes to the outside.  Don’t get me wrong Kirk was pretty productive doing what he did on Saturday as he set up a lot of 2nd and “reasonable” downs but we didn’t seem to capitalize on it.  It’s like Mazzone knew Kirk could get 4-6 yards on those first downs but then really didn’t have a true answer for second down.  Just kind of sporadic in how he called plays never really setting anything up.

Josh Reynolds had 3 catches for 29 yards and long of 17.  I’m sorry but that’s terrible.  And that’s not on Josh.  I’ve said it all season but Josh Reynolds is the best receiver on our team.  While we were working the ball on purpose to Kirk I’m guessing Reynolds had man coverage.  I think we took a shot or two his way downfield but Reynolds really needs to be more than a deep threat.   Knight really needs to be getting comfortable with Reynolds on a regular basis.  I just don’t get why Mazzone doesn’t really use the best receiver on our team.  Jeremy Tabuyo had the best game of his Aggie career with an amazing one handed catch on a 3rd down and ending with 4 receptions for 89 yards.  He filled in great for RSJ to the point I’m wondering if he shouldn’t be splitting snaps with RSJ.  Either way not to discount Kirk but I hope Mazzone plans on utilizing all of his receivers going forward.  That was the biggest negative from the offensive performance.  If you’re going to be balanced between the run and pass then be balanced in who and how you’re passing the ball.

The offensive line did a fine job for the most part.  It seemed South Carolina was bringing a lot of pressure and trying to confuse the offensive line which worked at times but for the most part the offensive line held their own from a pass protection standpoint.  In the run game in the second half we started to exert our will.  For whatever reason Mazzone doesn’t want to establish the run game in the first half but when we’ve needed it in the second half against it’s been there against Auburn, Arkansas, and South Carolina.  Maybe it’s by design since it’s worked but I think this line can open up in the run game in the first half if Mazzone tried.  This is a really young line at center and guard but damn they look good considering their youth.  Definitely the best line in the last three years.  I didn’t see any high snaps so credit to Jim Turner for the work he’s done with this line all season.

As for running back what more is there to say about Trayveon Williams?  The dude is a true freshman and he’s easily our best running back.  The dude just has something.  He’s got great vision, moves, speed, and power.  He’s not necessarily in the upper echelon of SEC backs but damn he’s playing lights out right now so I’m not going to complain one bit about him.  Dude is a stud and I’m glad he’s on our team.  Keith Ford got hurt and James White came in and looked pretty good so that gives us three serviceable backs when they’re healthy.  I used to think Ford was the best back of the three but it’s clear Trayveon is the best back.  His vision is what sets him apart.  He knows when to be patient and he knows when to go.  That’s a very underrated in a back.

As for Knight this was game 1 and 2 Trevor Knight.  He was inconsistent in the pocket responding to pressure and inconsistent in passing.  He made some damn good throws on the first couple of drives mainly the one rolling to his left where he dropped it into I forget which receiver.  It was an awesome throw.  But then as the game wore on he got worse.  Maybe he felt pressure in the pocket but he’s got to be confident and smart with the ball.  Running wise he looked great.  He’s REALLY an underrated runner in my book.  I really feel comfortable with him running and why I’d rather see him the tuck the ball and head upfield if he sees a seam or feels any kind of pressure that frazzles him.  The moment he feels pressure that’s bothering him while he’s looking for a receiver he just needs to tuck and run or get rid of the ball immediately.  He just tends to make bad decisions when he gets the least amount of pressure and still trying to pass.

Overall I’m okay with what this offense did during the game.  I’d rather have seen them dominate South Carolina more but the line was physical and held their own.  When push came to shove in the second half they did what they had to do to score.  I love the fact this offense seems to get better in the second half but would love a little more scoring in the first half.  We’ve basically been tied with UCLA, Arkansas, and South Carolina at half when we could have been leading all of those games.  Auburn we were only up by 6 points and could have been up by more.  At some point I would love to see this offense play 4 quarters of football.  It doesn’t even have to be 4 quarters of domination.  Just 4 quarters of mistake free, moving the ball, and scoring points on the majority of drives.  Maybe Tennessee is the week we do it.

The Wrecking Crew:

In typical Aggie fan fashion most want to focus on the negatives on this game but there was a TON of positives.  On the first play of the game South Carolina ripped off a 75 yard touchdown run.  No doubt that’s a negative but South Carolina wouldn’t score a touchdown the rest of the game.  And on that run realize they ran right where Myles Garrett would normally be.  Does that play work if Myles Garrett is starting?  I’m kind of thinking not.  Also on that play the defense looked a little lethargic so maybe that woke them up.  Let’s assume that play doesn’t happen and South Carolina goes three and out.  All of a sudden the end result is South Carolina has around 300 yards of offense and only 6 points with no touchdowns given up.  Would you nod in acknowledgment if Maximus asked if you were entertained with those results???  I think so.

A couple other key stats is South Carolina was 3 of 14 on third downs.  That’s a little better than 20%.  I’ll take that all day long against any opponent.  In addition we had 3 sacks, 10 tackle for losses, and 5 quarterback hurries.  Maximus once again asks if you’re not entertained.  Please tell me you’re nodding your head you were in fact entertained by the Wrecking Crew this weekend.  Yeah there’s still some things that need improving but 90% of this defense is better than any defense we’ve seen since the Silver Fox R.C. Slocum was wearing the number one headset.  Maximus is going to slaughter all of you if you don’t start showing some appreciation for what’s going on defensively this season.  It ain’t gonna look the same next year.

As for individual units I have to start with the defensive tackles.  These guys just do work all damn game long.  They don’t get a lot of the stats and press but all these guys do is consume the interior of the offensive line freeing up the linebackers and defensive ends to do their thing.  Seriously.  With our rotation of defensive tackles we basically have 2 guys consuming three offensive linemen on every play.  That’s making a HUGE difference for our linebackers in making plays.  That’s giving them gaps to go through to meet ball carriers or apply pressure to the quarterback.  In the past we had guards consuming our average linebackers and it was ugly for our defense.  So while our ends, linebackers, and safeties are making plays it’s all because of the work being done by our rotation of defensive tackles.  These guys are the unsung heroes of the Wrecking Crew.  As for the rest of the defensive line Dae Dae Hall got off to a slow start but he started showing he can survive without Myles.  The other DEs just did okay so next year we’re really going to miss Hall and Myles which is saying water is wet.  No doubt this game is different with the presence of Myles so don’t discount that when you’re bagging on the Crew this game as a key member was out.

As for linebackers Shaan Washington probably had his best game ever.  I never really tracked him but he was flat out making plays.  It was definitely the most productive day from a single Aggie linebacker I can recall this season.  Actually since 2012.  Alaka looked good as did Claude George.  Don’t recall a lot from Richard Moore like against Arkie or Tyrel Dodson at all.  Did Dodson even travel?  I don’t recall him at all.  Either way it was probably the best day by our main two linebackers in Washington and Alaka with a solid effort from George.  I like the depth that Moore and Dodson have provided all season but with the production Washington, Alaka, and George had this game I’ll take what they gave us and not worry about the others for now since they’ve provided depth in the past when needed.  Maybe Chavis is just seeing some separation with Washington and Alaka so they’re seeing the field more.

At safety I have to start with Watts again because of his interception.  The dude just has a nose for getting the ball.  The moment that ball was tipped in the air he had an idea where it was going and went for it and got it.  That can’t be coached.  That’s just a function of the game being slower for him than it is for others where he’s able to anticipate things happening and acting when he sees it.  Evans looked fine but I do have a knock on him on the first play for a TD.  His angles were all over the place and his effort didn’t look like normal Evans.  That’s a pretty high standard but I think like others on the defense they weren’t totally amped up and South Carolina snuck up on them for that play.  I think that woke everyone up and Watts and Evans did what they do the rest of the game.

As for cornerback, well, we ain’t so strong there.  Nick Harvey has shown he’s about to be picked on A LOT going into the meat of our schedule so get ready.  Our only hope is that he doesn’t give up the big play by keeping receivers in front of him at all times.  He also needs to learn that if he’s beyond 15 yards and burned that a pass interference penalty is only 15 yards.  If he doesn’t have position to make sure he grabs at least one arm and holds it down.  No jersey.  All arm and hold.  I’m not kidding here.  This defense has shown we can hold our own in the red zone so if you’re on an island and burned and feel the ball coming then grab the receivers arm at the wrist and pull it down.  Totally serious here.  Priest Willis doesn’t look much better but it’s clear Harvey is the weakest of our corners and he’s going to be picked on.  First step in having a problem is admitting you have a problem.  I hope Chief and Terry Joseph are very honest in how they handle our cornerback situation.

Overall though this defense isn’t perfect I can’t fault them at all.  They’ve been the most consistent unit on our team.  It’s not even close.  Sure they have some gafs here and there but show me a defense in college football that doesn’t with the teams we’ve played.  Seriously.  Show me.  Have you seen the Big 12 play defense?  </insert giggle>  Outside of Prairie View who scored ZERO points we’ve played some decent teams and our defense has played their asses off the entire game.  If this defense isn’t good enough there’s no pleasing you and I’m telling you next season is going to be worse.  This is a special unit and it’s the ONLY reason we’re looking at a 9 to 11 win season.  Last year’s defense wasn’t even close to being this good.  It’s not perfect and we’ll likely never see a perfect defense again.  This might be as good as it gets for a few seasons.  So enjoy this damn Wrecking Crew.  If I hear you bitching then I’m gonna unleash Maximus to sword your ass for not being entertained.  I won’t regret you having a sword stuck in you in the least.  You had it coming for being so damn hard to please.

Special Teams:

As for special teams I’m still no impressed with the units as a whole.  We don’t seem all that well coached.  The fake punt was nothing special and we totally fell for it.  I’ve always felt a team that falls for a fake punt like that is just lazy and going through the motions.  There’s no pride in the unit itself.  If I’m Sumlin I honestly tell Kirk to fair catch every ball and for the punt return team to just avoid a game changing moment.  We don’t really get any pressure on the punter so not sure if we have a game plan or we just go out through the motions because special teams are required.  It definitely doesn’t appear to be a focus for us as I’ve not seen anything that makes me feel we have something up our sleeve or really prepared.

Individually LaCamera was 1 of 2 missing a field goal he hit dead straight down the hash but since the hash is outside the post he missed it.  Tripuka did a fine job punting averaging almost 45 yards on 5 punts with a long of 50.  Evans had some decent kickoff returns but I’m still confused why he’s back there returning kicks.  I know Speedy wasn’t there but should Evans really be out there returning kicks?  Is there no one else?  Kirk returned two punts for 12 and 8 yards so nothing spectacular but he didn’t turn it over.  All in all our special teams are just meh and I see them as having the chance to be a negative every game over a positive.

 

As for going forward I’m still leaving this as a 9 win team.  I think we beat Tennessee this weekend but still not sure what to think of Ole Miss and LSU.  Ole Miss can play offense and I have no clue on their defense.  LSU seems to be fired up and Eddie O is coaching for his dream job so I don’t put anything past him at this point.  I think those are both winnable games but let’s get past Tennessee this weekend first and see what happens when Ole Miss plays their next three games against Arkansas, LSU, and Auburn.  One week at a time.

As for Tennessee this game is going to come down to one thing – TURNOVERS!!!  Tennessee has been the amazing beneficiary of turnovers this season.  Against Va Tech they got 5 and if UGA doesn’t fumble in the end zone late in the game those two hail marys never happen.  Sure, some can point to the fact Tennessee has confidence they can win any game and they’re a team of destiny but let’s face it Tennessee has been the benefactor of some real luck to be undefeated.  They’re creating their luck to a degree but they’re also living on borrowed time in my book.  If I’m Sumlin and Mazzone I stress BALL PROTECTION all week.  This means no forced passes, no high snaps, or anything else that could give Tennessee the ball for them to capitalize on as they will.  I’m not kidding.  If we don’t turn the ball over we win this game.  I want Mazzone to go back to what worked in the Auburn and Arkansas game.  Establish the damn run and work downfield and not outside.  I’m fine with the bubble screens to Kirk on occasion to make sure the defense respects that but let’s lean on our running backs and use Josh Reynolds more than just a deep threat.  We’re the better team but this game will come down to coaching and protecting the ball.  If Mazzone sticks with what works and we protect the ball we can win this game easily.  Maybe even a repeat of the Arkansas game.

Defensively we have to get pressure on Dobbs.  He’s not a very good passer so we need to duplicate what we did against UCLA and Arkansas.  I don’t think he’s as good of a passer as Rosen or Allen so we need to get to him early and often.  That’s what this defense is best at so let’s pin our ears back and go.  He won’t have the same results Rosen and Allen had against us if we get pressure on him.  They’re running game doesn’t really scare me so get after Dobbs and you can beat this team easily.  They’re living on borrowed time in my book and we need to be the team to end this team of destiny crap like they’re the next 2013 Auburn team.  We had the chance to prove 2013 Auburn wasn’t all that great at Kyle at missed the opportunity.  We don’t need to let that happen again with 2016 Tennessee.  We’ve got Gameday on campus and a national audience on CBS with the undertone we’re going to Bama next.  This is our game to win if Mazzone goes back to what has worked from a play calling standpoint, we protect the ball, and the Wrecking Crew brings pressure.  The blueprint is there and it’s not hard.  Just be smart and execute.

I’m not going to make a prediction other than to say if we don’t turn the ball over at all we win walking away.  If we win the turnover battle we likely win a close game and if we lose the turnover battle we lose the game.  It’s really that simple.  PROTECT.  THE.  FOOTBALL.

Thoughts from the Arkansas Game

September 27, 2016

armani-stop-solo

THE WRECKING CREW IS BACK!!!!  If you don’t believe that statement then please take your Gig thumb and shove it up your rear or retract it and never extend it for the rest of the season.  There’s just no pleasing you.  Yes, they gave up 24 points (7 off a turnover) and almost 500 yards of offense but that Wrecking Crew played their asses off on Saturday night.  Three goal line stands, pressure on Austin Allen all night, and Armani Watts’ strip as Arkansas was about to score.  While our offense struggled for the first half, the Wrecking Crew made sure Arkansas could never get in front too far that we couldn’t get back.  I’ll get in more detail on the defense later but if you watched that game and didn’t think the defense deserves the Wrecking Crew name then I don’t know what to tell you as the Southwest Conference style of football ain’t coming back.  Speaking of Austin Allen, major props to that guy.  He was a 66% passer on the night and threw no interceptions while getting pummeled by the Wrecking Crew.  I mean just pummeled.  He just kept coming back for more and I was impressed.

As for the game itself we haven’t had a game that enjoyable since Johnny and Mike Evans.  We had a slug fest for three quarters and then right towards the end of the third quarter we had an amazing goal line stand on the 6 inch line.   On the second play of getting the ball back we hit Reynolds for a 92 yard TD pass and then we start walking away at that point.  For three quarters you’re on the edge of your seat as it goes back and forth and then your team starts walking away in the 4th quarter so you can take it all in and just enjoy it.  It was a real fight for most of the game but your team kept responding and then walked away with it comfortably when it was all said and done.  Mix in some awesome defense and big plays on offense and I don’t think it gets any more enjoyable than that in my book.  I mixed in some chocolate cake and Shiner Bocks always within reach and Fightin’ Texas Aggie Football just doesn’t get any better than it did on Saturday night in my book.

Offense:

I’m starting this offensive analysis off with someone else other than our quarterback.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again but Josh Reynolds is the most underrated receiver in the country.  He doesn’t have the flash or size of other receivers but he produces more than anyone else.  We all know about the 92 yard touchdown catch but the guy had three other clutch catches on the night and I really think it was his involvement in the passing game that got our offense going.  The most notable was Knight scrambling hard to his right and Reynolds went back for the ball and made a hard catch right on the sideline to get a first down.  He’s not just a deep threat but he works all over the field and is really the most sure handed guy we have.  Nobody nationally talks about him and even most Aggies focus on RSJ and Kirk but Josh Reynolds is a damn stud and we’re going to miss him next year.

The next guy I want to talk about is Trayveon Williams.  This time last year he was playing high school football and right now he’s gashing SEC defenses.  The way he’s doing it is impressive.  He’s doing it with a mix of moves, power, and speed.  He’s really a complete back right now and he’s a true freshman.  Keith Ford is not chopped liver and also had nice runs on Saturday night but Williams is the guy with momentum right now.  He’s been the better of the two backs in the second half the last two games so credit to Mazzone for riding the hotter hand and putting teams away.  I know a certain offensive coordinator that would stick with a regular rotation rather than riding the hot hand late in the game.  Also love that Trayveon and Trevor give the double Gigs when they score.  It’s the little things that make me smile.

As for Knight he once again played a REALLY solid game.  A lot of Aggies thought he was struggling really badly in the first half but I thought he did fine all things considered.  He didn’t look his best but if Christian Kirk catches the balls that hit in him in the hands that first half looks totally different as does Knight.  Knight was once again a slightly better than 50% passer but what I like is he’s getting better as the game wears on.  Sure, I’d like for him to start out stronger but I like the fact that he and Mazzone seem to work together to get on the same page as the game wears on.  Knight is still not a great QB from a passing standpoint but he didn’t turn the ball over and made his best passes in the second half.  If we can get him to start out stronger he could honestly be the best quarterback we’ve had in two decades not named Johnny Manziel.

Where Knight is really excelling is the running game.  This includes his actual runs but most importantly his decision making on the zone read.  I’m not a huge fan of the zone read but when you have a guy like Knight that’s reading it well and making the right decision then I’m all for it.  Knight was making great reads on it all night.  On his second touchdown right at the end of the first half he made an outstanding read.  Arkansas didn’t have a true middle linebacker and had two guys inside but off the center.  Nobody on the Arkansas defense was over the center at the second level.  At the snap the inside backers broke outside to cover leaving the middle wide open.  Knight immediately saw it, tucked the ball, found the seam at the line and off he went.  Just outstanding recognition by him and one of the big plays of the game as it brought us back to even at 17 going into half with us getting the ball in the second half.  That was a real momentum boost knowing the game was back to zero at half.  He’s got some improvement to make as a passer but I’m not gonna get on him because he made some great decisions on Saturday night and we ran away from Arkansas when it was all said and done.

High snaps.  I forgot to write about the high snaps at Auburn last week.  It was REALLY common against Auburn that I thought they would be gone against Arkansas.  Not the case.  Once again we had lots of high snaps and Knight was doing his best to come down with the ball.  I thought McCoy would have gotten that cleaned up but he didn’t and it cost us.  On our first possession of the second half we have our best drive all night long and it fell apart at the goal line thanks to a high snap.  I don’t know what’s going on and why it’s consistently happening but snaps for a center have to be second nature.  Something is going on with McCoy and Jim Turner has to get that fixed pronto or we could see it hurt us again.

As for the rest of the offensive line there’s not much more you can ask for.  We rushed for 366 yards and 37 carries averaging 9.9 yards per carry.  We only gave up one sack to go along with those yards so Knight had time to make decisions all night.  Outside of the snaps there’s not really anything to fault this offensive line for on Saturday night.  It took a little bit to get things going but I’m fine with an offensive line that gets better as the game wears on.  What’s probably the most impressive thing about Saturday night is this Arkansas defensive line is different than Auburn’s in that Arkansas’ defensive line is smaller and quicker.  In back to back weeks our line has handled two different styles of defensive lines.  We obviously did better against Arkansas but it’s good to see our offensive line can make adjustments against different styles.

As for the other receivers not named Reynolds I was glad to see Christian Kirk finally respond in the second half as his first half was just terrible.  He botched a punt and then dropped two balls that he normally catches.  RSJ had a nice catch for 47 yards that helped establish some offensive momentum.  Would like to see him more involved as he’s just a size mis-match but glad he had some involvement.  Hopefully his injury isn’t too bad as even if he’s not producing as much as he can he’s a mis-match issue that defenses have to account for.  It would be nice to get Speedy involved but he doesn’t seem to be doing anything to warrant it from a receiving standpoint.  We went deep to him a couple of times in the first half but he just doesn’t seem to get any separation.  They all did a tremendous job blocking which helped our running game.  Love receivers that understand the importance of blocking when the ball isn’t going through the air.

As a whole we were outstanding on third downs compared to previous games at 8 of 12.  I’ll take 67% third down conversions in any game.  On Red Zone trips we were 1 of 3 with one failure resulting from a missed field goal and the other was the fumble from the high snap.  Time of Possession was pretty bad only having the ball for 20 of 60 minutes but I’m torn on who’s fault that is.  In the first half we didn’t sustain drives but in the second half we did.  The defense did a nice job of getting off the field on third downs in the first half but in the second half they let Arkansas convert a lot of third downs so some of that time of possession is on the defense for not getting off the field on third downs.  We’ll place equal blame on the offense and defense for time of possession this game.  Most importantly though we scored 45 points to their 24 and that’s what matters.

The only negative of this offense from this game other than the high snaps and turnovers is it would be nice to see this offense get going much sooner in the game.  Maybe it’s just a case of wearing the defense down along with Mazzone and Knight figuring out what works best.  However, it would be nice to get a bigger cushion early on to see what the defense can really do knowing a team has to be more aggressive.  Then again, based on our defense’s performance which I’ll touch on next maybe we’re better off sand bagging making an offense think they can keep focusing on the run which is our greatest strength as a defense.  I doubt that’s the reason for the early struggles but it might have worked in our favor so far.

The Wrecking Crew:

That’s right, the Wrecking Crew.  I wish we didn’t give up almost 500 yards and 24 points but if you watched that game you know that defense played their asses off when they were out on the field.  7 of those points came off of Kirk’s muffed punt so what does that game look like if that didn’t happen?  Arkansas ripped off a 50ish yard TD run and a couple other long runs and that’s what they’re built for.  That was bound to happen.  So the Wrecking Crew wasn’t perfect but I’ll take that effort and end results any day.  There are some areas of improvement that I think Chief will focus on going forward.

You can’t ask more of the defensive line from what you saw on Saturday night.  Arkansas is big and built to run.  They want to lean on a defense until they break.  Our defensive line never even cracked much less broke.  The interesting thing about their performance is nobody truly stood out the entire game.  It was a complete effort by everyone on that defensive line.  Myles Garrett didn’t wreck shop like he has the other three games but it was clear Arkansas wasn’t going to let him.  They didn’t let the left tackle live on an island against him keeping someone else to help and rolled to the right most of the game.  Garrett never got a chance to tee off.  He got loose a couple of times but the QB wasn’t sitting there in the pocket like with other teams.  Credit to Arkansas for not letting Myles Garrett but Myles did make plays getting a fumble recovery and having a couple tackles for a loss including the goal line on runs to his side.

The best play by Myles Garrett was the 4th and goal in the second half.  Arkansas ran a sweep to his side which was the wide side and they were so worried about Myles they didn’t account for Armani Watts at all.  This allowed Watts a clean shot at the ball carrier and he made a great tackle for a loss.  Arkansas foolishly thought they could reach block Garrett with the left tackle but he couldn’t get there in time so the upback had to engage Garrett instead of Watts.  Just by Myles being Myles and the fact that the interior of our defensive line wasn’t budging made Arkansas run a play they couldn’t execute.

I encourage you to watch the play here.  https://youtu.be/9ALhb5Ivrsc?t=625

Go ahead and maximize the screen for the full effect.  The best is the Arkansas girl giving the Arkie coaching staff the business for being so stupid calling that play against the Wrecking Crew.  She knew EXACTLY what we were gonna do them Ags!

The most amazing thing about this play is Nick Harvey.  He had some bad plays on the night but he played this one perfectly.  Follow the ball carrier but watch the Aggie defender in the end zone tailing him.  If Watts doesn’t make the play then Harvey is actually in position to make a play as well but he never got the chance because Watts just made the play dead.  That’s just outstanding recognition by the ENTIRE defense to diagnose the play and let playmakers make plays.  If Watts somehow misses then Harvey gets a shot and if Harvey doesn’t get him Myles had freed himself from his normal hold so he was about to make a play as well.  Hell, even Zaycoven from the nose tackle position was in pursuit and had angled off to the goal line rather than pursue from behind so outstanding job by him to take an angle.  There was absolutely no way Arkansas was scoring on that play.  No way.  Not to discount the efforts on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd down as those were more impressive from a physical standpoint but the play diagnosis by our defense on that 4th down was amazing.  Arkansas thought they could surprise us but in watching that replay I’m convinced there is NO way Arkansas scores there even if Watts misses his tackle.  Harvey or Myles would have got him.  Amazing work by the Wrecking Crew as that stand saved the game and when Knight hit Reynolds two players we were like Usain Bolt at the 60 meter mark and Arkansas wasn’t catching us.

The defensive tackles didn’t have a lot of stats but they were doing work all night consuming double teams by Arkansas’ big linemen.  What they did on the goal line stands was phenomenal.  The tackles were the key in Arkansas not being able to establish their normal inside runs and forcing outside runs where we had support from Myles, our linebackers, and safeties.  They ripped off some long inside runs but thanks to the work of the defensive tackles they were stalemated all night preventing them from ever establishing the inside run.  Daeshon Hall had a massive hit on Austin Allen that created a big fumble in the 4th quarter.  I’ve said it before and as every game passes it’s proven there’s no doubt this defensive front is one of if not the best in the country.  Enjoy these guys because it doesn’t get much better than this.  This is a special group.

The linebackers were outstanding all night as well.  Not one really sticks out which is okay because that means they’re all interchangeable and doing their job.  Alaka, Washington, Moore, George, Dodson, and even 12th Man Gillaspia are contributing which is a FAR cry from last year where we couldn’t even find one linebacker to really contribute.  They were out of position a couple of times but the majority of the time they’re in the right spot and making plays.  Really impressed with this group as they don’t have a dominating guy in the rotation but they’re all contributing and not making mistakes very often.  I’ll take what these guys are continuing to do.  This is like the 2012 linebacking group but we actually have depth and a little more athleticism.  George and Washington are seniors so there’s hope beyond this season unlike 2012 when we lost all three and had a significant dropoff in 2013.  Yes, I’m looking ahead at this group as we’ve not had linebacking depth in some time.

I won’t spend long on our safeties as they’re just flat out studs.  Seriously.  Best group in the country.  Watts had probably the two biggest plays on defense with the goal line 4th down stop in the 3rd quarter but his most amazing play was stripping the ball at the goal line in the 2nd quarter.  Arkansas would have gone up 17-7 at that point.  We then took the ball and kicked a field goal to tie it at 10.  If Armani doesn’t strip that ball who knows how that game would have turned out.  We would have had to really crawl back.  He did the same thing at Ole Miss last year when we turned the ball over in our own territory.  A couple plays later Watts strips the ball keeping Ole Miss from scoring which would have put the game further out of reach.  Of course we had Spav last year and couldn’t respond so we lost that game but glad this year we took advantage of Watts being a flat out baller.  Evans didn’t do anything that stood out like Watts but he was his usual self as was Donovan Wilson.

Now to the weak link of the defense and why Arkansas had so many yards.  Arkansas was able to throw for 371 yards with Austin Allen completing 67% of his passes.  Most of those yards came against our corners Nick Harvey and Priest Wilis.  They weren’t exactly terrible but they weren’t good by any stretch.  The Arkansas receivers were getting enough separation and Allen was flat out hitting the mark.  Our corners were at least in the area code so they weren’t totally burned.  They just let the Arkie receivers get position and they made the catches.  We also had some pass interference penalties that led to our goal line stands.  Since the Wrecking Crew held their ground those penalties ultimately didn’t burn us.  Now, I will say some of the pass interference calls were questionable as our corners weren’t exactly mauling the receivers on the calls.  They just looked worse than they actually were.  Chavis has some work to do with these guys as I’m afraid Arkansas just showed a blueprint how to beat A&M.   Now in our defense we were so focused on shutting down Arkansas’ run that we left our passing defense susceptible to a degree.  We won’t see an offensive line with the blocking scheme like Arkansas the rest of the year so I think we’ll be able to get to the quarterback where we just couldn’t do it against Arkansas.   I also think Donovan Wilson will play a bigger part in our pass defense against certain offenses that aren’t so run oriented.

Overall the most frustrating part of our defense was the inability to get off the field on third downs in the second half.  Arkansas was 9 of 16 but many of those were on 3rd and 6 are longer.  Getting off the field on 3rd and 6 or longer had been the calling card of this defense but I can think of at least 5 conversions of 3rd and 6 or longer where Arkansas passed for a first down.  We were getting pressure on Allen so he was getting hammered but the dude was delivering the ball right before getting hit and delivering the ball on the mark.  Maybe this was just an anomaly so we’ll see as we progress through the year but the lack of coverage is no doubt the most alarming thing from this game.

One last thing on people questioning the Wrecking Crew is this defense was on the field for 40 minutes this game and played 23 more snaps than our offense.  Everyone seems to think it was Arkansas’ defense that tired late in the game as we started pounding on them but that’s not really the case.  Arkansas’ defense played 20 less minutes and 23 less snaps than the Wrecking Crew.  It should have been our defense that was tired and not theirs based on that data.  However, what really happened is the Wrecking Crew never gave up and our offense finally got going and mentally beat an Arkansas defense that had no answers at times.  The Arkansas defense flat out quit despite playing half the time as The Wrecking Crew.  They weren’t tired.  Look at the points and yards if you want but don’t underestimate the effort and heart the Wrecking Crew played with on Saturday night.  Time and time again they made plays to keep Arkansas from getting up too big and once our offense finally got on track in the second half it was domination time.  The Wrecking Crew is the reason we’re sitting at 4-0 while our offense still figures it out a tad.  Don’t call them the Wrecking Crew if you want but just remember what I said you can do with your Gig thumb the rest of the season.

Special Teams:

Not a whole lot here other than LaCamera missed a 36 yarder that he has to hit.  Kirk bobbled the first punt return which set Arkansas up for a score inside our red zone.  Speedy had a great kickoff return of 42 yards but just kind of stepped out of bounds for no real reason.  Moorehead needs to work with him as I’d love to see the kid throw a juke or something but he appears uninterested in contact as he did the same thing last week in Auburn just stepping out of bounds for no real reason.  Speedy has the ability so I’d just love to see the kid tap into it.  We punted twice for an average of 47.5 yards so nothing really special there.

 

Going forward I really feel we’re a 6-0 team headed to Alabama.  Tennessee scares me a little more as Saturday’s second half Tennessee flat out stomped Florida.  If they finally found the right gear then our game against them is back to a toss-up they can win.  We’ll see what they do against Georgia this weekend before making a final determination.  I still don’t think we beat Alabama but it’s certainly possible if our offense comes out and plays 4 quarters of football to match the Wrecking Crew’s effort.

Ole Miss I still have as a toss-up after their game with Georgia and I have no idea what to expect with LSU now that Eddie O is running the show.  Don’t forget Eddie O took USC to 6-2 as the interim coach so I see this as a very similar situation.  Head coach at LSU is his dream job so he’s not going to throw in the towel by any stretch.  Eddie did lose to UCLA in his year at USC so that makes me feel better but he did beat #5 ranked Stanford that season.  I’m going to leave us at 9-3 for now.  There’s a very real chance we go 11-1 if we get past Tennessee, Ole Miss proves vulnerable again because let’s face it we don’t know what Georgia really is as they don’t look good right now, and Eddie O shows he’s still the same head coach that Ole Miss fired.  I feel very good about this team being on par with the 2012 team but just want a couple more weeks to see how we do along with those on our schedule before predicting too many wins.

This week we’ll likely be “resting” a couple key guys like RSJ, Myles, and Avery Gennessy so catching a really bad South Carolina after an Arkansas battle is nice.  Thank goodness this is a 3:00 game as that’s perfect for us.  We can fly in, wake up at a normal time, take care of business, and get back home at a decent hour as well.  I really assume we’ll take care of business this weekend so there’s not much to predict and just see how it plays out.  I’d love to see an Auburn type game from 2012 where after beating Mississippi State to put people on notice we just ran Auburn out of their own stadium to truly make the statement we were better than anyone expected.  If this team is truly as mature as they say they are we start off stronger than any game on offense and walk away with this thing by half.  We shall see.

Thoughts from the Auburn Game

September 21, 2016

myles-at-auburn

 

Before I get into the game I have to comment about everything Auburn.  Their fans were amazing all weekend.  From being out on Friday night at their version of Northgate, to some tailgating before the game, to during the game, and then at the bars after the game on Saturday night.  Just tremendous and welcoming all weekend.  I didn’t run into one jackass.  I put them as the nicest fan base I’ve visited above Nebraska and Alabama.  I hope we’re just as nice when visiting fans come to Aggieland.  The scene in the stadium was tremendous.  There’s no doubt we made the right choice going to the SEC.  If you haven’t been to Auburn put it on your list as you won’t be disappointed.

As for the game that’s a damn nice win.  We went on the road against a damn talented football team and controlled the game for most of it and put them away when we had to.  There are lots of areas to work on and we didn’t even come close to playing flawless but we held control and momentum for most of the game.  While you can question the coaching of Auburn that’s still a really talented team so we had to work for it.  In the end I’d say we out coached and out played them and that’s something we couldn’t say last year and even two years ago.  As a whole this team has improved for the third straight week and that’s not something I’ve felt we’ve done in the past two years and even in 2013.  This kind of feels like the 2012 season which I’ll touch on later.

Before I get into each unit I have to say this game felt like the Vanderbilt game last season.  We were playing a really tough defense and had trouble in the red zone all night but converted 5 field goals and scored a long touchdown.  Auburn has a much better offense than Vandy but it just had that feel where we were in control the entire game but just couldn’t quite walk away until late in the game.  That’s not a bad thing but we could have really blown that game away with better play calling and execution in the red zone.  As it was though we didn’t take any chances and didn’t make any mistakes.  We held control and walked out of our first SEC road game against a really talented team with a solid win.  You take that all day long.

Offense:

I have to say Trevor Knight played a really good football game.  He wasn’t flawless as he was only a 50% passer on the night but his receivers had some drops they shouldn’t have had.  Most importantly Knight did not turn the ball over.  For the most part he played within himself and played his best game against the best defense he’s faced without a doubt.  At least as an Aggie.  Knight missed some passes on his own but I’ll take the Trevor Knight we saw on Saturday night all season long.  Even better if he improves some which I think he will.  I thought his decision making in the pocket was pretty decent.  He’s still not perfect but he did a good job of just tucking and running or throwing the ball away and not trying to do too much.  The kid is a really good runner and I have no issues that if he feels pressure and sees a lane to tuck and head up field.  I’m going to do a little piece on Knight later this week if I get time but I was impressed with Knight on Saturday night considering he appears to be improving and not regressing.  Regressing is what we’ve seen out of our QBs the last two seasons.  If this is Knight’s baseline for the rest of the season I’ll take it.  Would love to see him keep improving which is what I think will happen.

The most impressive part of our offense on Saturday night was our offensive line.  Not because they dominated but because the adjusted in game.  On the first two series despite us getting positive yards at times the Auburn defensive line was blowing up our offensive line for the most part.  I really thought we were in for a long night.  Auburn scored on their second possession and we had two punts on our first two offensive possessions with Auburn’s defensive line over matching our offensive line.  I was seeing 2015 all over again down 7 to 0.  Not sure what Jim Turner did but he got our line in tune and they handled Auburn’s defense for the rest of the night.  Not dominant by any stretch but all of a sudden our offensive line was holding their own.  The interior part of the line was especially taking the fight to a really good Auburn defensive line.  Never saw that in game adjustment last season with our offensive line so it’s great to see.   Later in the game the work our offensive line did all night finally showed in Trayveon Williams long run which was the official dagger in Auburn.  Their defense was fully cooked at that point.  Our offensive line has lots of improvement but I like what I’m seeing.  Great game by them and let’s hope they keep improving with Knight.  I have no reason to think they won’t at this point.

Outside of Williams big run our backs didn’t dominate by any stretch but they worked and ran tough all night against a really good defense.  I have no complaints with what they did and assume as our offensive line improves so will their yards.  We don’t have the talent of LSU or Bama in our backfield but the guys we have are really serviceable and an improvement over last year which is not a knock on Tra Carson at all.  That dude had major heart but Ford and Williams are just better equipped for what we need right now.

The biggest negative of our offense against Auburn was our receivers no doubt.  Everybody had some drops they shouldn’t have and RSJ is just still inconsistent with catching balls.  He shouldn’t be this bad at this point in his Aggie career but he’s just not a reliable pass catcher.  Reynolds had his usual nice long catch along with a TD catch but he also missed another TD catch.  Kirk didn’t have any long catches but had a couple key receptions.  He also got his bell rung in the third quarter but came back in.  He had a nice 20 yard run so he’s just a weapon I’m glad to see Mazzone utilize in many different ways.  Kirk does a lot of work as a receiver he doesn’t get credit for.  Speedy had a nice catch and run for 40 yards but I thought he made a mistake going out of bounds when he could have given an inside cut to the defender and potentially broke into the end zone with his speed.  I’m really not impressed with Moorehead as a receivers coach with these drops and then seeing Speedy step out of bounds when he could have made a move for a potential TD.  It just seems Moorehead is an average coach and that’s it.  He doesn’t appear to be a nails recruiter so he’s a guy I’d like to see replaced assuming Sumlin is here next year which I’ll touch on later as well.  Now, I will credit this receiving corps in that they doing a pretty damn good job blocking and take that seriously.  That’s a really solid thing and hope it doesn’t change.

Outside of the individual units the biggest negatives of this offense remain the same.  It’s third down conversions, red zone conversions, and time of possession.  On third down we were 2 of 15.  TWO of FIFTEEN.  That’s 13%.  THIRTEEN FREAKING PERCENT.  How in the world did we even win this game with that conversion rate and actually scored 29 points?  It’s really mind boggling.  We actually had 19 first downs which is pretty impressive but that means we had 16 first down conversions on 1st and 2nd downs as we converted a 4th down but man we’ve got to get better at converting third downs.  That would go a long ways to winning time of possession and giving our defense a huge lift.  I still contend Mazzone is just picking plays and not really sequencing or scripting plays which would help our offense control a game better if he could get us in shorter third down situations.

As for the red zone we were inside the red zone 5 times and kicked 4 times.  We also made a trip inside the 30 yard line that turned into a field goal and not a touchdown.  Outside of that we had one big play that got a touchdown.  We’re going to need bigger plays or a much better conversion rate in the red zone against teams like Bama and Ole Miss if we want to beat them.  I’d prefer red zone conversion to hoping for big plays to score touchdowns.  Hopefully Mazzone works on some red zone plays that show the defense a different look and catches them by surprise.  We’ve also got to get better converting third downs.  We get better in the red zone and converting third downs then our time of possession gets better and our defense gets better.  Mazzone still has lots of improvement as a play caller in that regard.  He’s not terrible by any stretch but he’s nowhere near the play caller that Petrino and Kiffin are and that’s what I hope he aspires to be.

Defense:

I have to start off with Mr. Myles Garrett because the dude is just amazing to watch in person.  We’ve got at least 10 more games with him and maybe a couple more but enjoy the 10 games because he’s special.  For 3 games now from start to finish he’s just wrecking shop and altering the plans of the offense.  I can’t believe Gus thought a backside guard could get to him before Myles wrecked their backfield.  You would think when it didn’t work on the first play of the game he wouldn’t try it again but Gus stupidly tried it again to similar results.  I think it only happened twice.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again but Myles is just dominating the left side of the offensive line by himself.  If you don’t give the left tackle help Myles is going to destroy him.  It’s really creating so much else for our defense.  Myles may not be the #1 pick next year but if you’re an NFL scout and watch him in person it’ll be hard to walk away and not think he’s the best defender in the country and be someone at the next level like a JJ Watt.  His stats aren’t showing it but his play flat out is.  Myles just does everything he can to help his defense from start to finish.  There are no taking plays off waiting to get an easy sack as Myles knows there’s not any.  He’s just a special special guy.  I don’t know how he comes across on TV but I can’t take my eyes off him when the ball is snapped because he’s just that amazing.  I think against Arkansas he could flat out dominate their Undertaker looking left tackle.  Arkansas will probably put him on an island early on and once Myles gets his third sack they’ll start looking to help Undertaker, Jr.

As for the rest of the defense they did what they had to do.  If you thought Auburn wasn’t going to get some rushing yards you haven’t been paying attention to what they do.  They run the ball and run the ball really well.  They got 236 yards of rushing which is more than you want to give up but most importantly their longest run was 33 yards.  That’s a damn fine job by our defense that got gashed for long run after long run last year in this game.  The longest runs by their two backs were 33 and 20 yards which is okay by me.  Auburn is just built to run.

In all honesty no one else on the defense really stood out to me other than Myles.  That’s not a bad thing at all as against Auburn you have to play disciplined defense.  Everyone seemed to step up and make a play at times which was great to see.  The defensive tackles were on a solid rotation which kept them fresh against Auburn’s big offensive line.  I’m sure the Auburn offensive line was wondering why our defensive line wasn’t wearing down.  We run a solid 5-6 guys out there at defensive tackle so they’re always battling someone fresh.  Hall had a decent game and made a couple of really nice stops but seems he was just out there holding his position and playing responsibilities.  That’s not a bad thing.  I did see him get burned crashing on a zone read but he didn’t do it all night so I’m fine with a mistake here and there assuming it’s not repetitive.

The linebackers seemed to be really solid and they also rotated a lot.  Last year’s linebackers seemed to be one step too slow and out of place which lead to some really big Auburn runs last year.  Not this time.  The linebackers were filling the gaps they were supposed to and not being out of position.  This linebacking group really reminds me of the 2012 in that they’re not dominant but they’re playing really smart football.  This is a younger group with more depth than the guys in 2012 so that’s a really good sign.

The group that looked the best behind Myles was no doubt our safeties.  Justin Evans is just a flat out baller.  Watts and Wilson are no slouches and they looked really solid as well.  There’s no doubt in my mind Evans and Watts are playing on Sundays and I actually think Wilson will play on Sundays as well in his nickel role he does for us.  This group like Myles just keeps holding their own and getting better which helps mask our inexperience at the corner position.  As far as the corners go they did okay.  Auburn had 163 yards of receiving which isn’t amazing but they averaged 7.4 yards a pass which is pretty good.  They just don’t pass a lot but they do it regularly enough you can’t forget to defend it or totally sell out to the run.

Kind of like defending the running game, Auburn’s longest pass was 18 yards so we didn’t give up a big pass.  There’s a lot of factors for that including the pressure we could get on the QB if they tried to set up for a long pass but it’s nice to know Auburn didn’t get any long passes by surprise.    Our defense was ready.  The other impressive thing this defense did was playing the first down marker on 3rd and longs.  What I saw a lot of the night was on anything 3rd and 10 or longer we’d give them an open zone about 6 yards downfield which baited the QB to throw there and then immediately crashed for little to no gain.  Auburn was 6-17 on third down conversions and 0-2 on fourth down conversions.  I’m too lazy to look but I bet they didn’t convert more than one third down that was longer than 6 yards.  If we tackled them for a loss on a first down I don’t think they converted the second or third down.  That’s pretty impressive when you don’t give up that momentum as a defense when you get a tackle for a loss on 1st down.  That’s the way it should be but defenses don’t always execute it that way and there’s nothing more demoralizing than have an offense convert 3rd and 12 on you.  That wasn’t happening with our defense on long 3rd downs against Auburn.

As a whole I’ve mentioned this defense reminds me of the 2012 defense.  It does in many regards but it’s just flat out better.  We really need to enjoy this defense this year as it’s going to drop off next year.  We’ll lose Myles, Hall, Evans, and Watts.  Maybe Watts stays another year but I think there’s a chance he goes.  Myles and Evans are getting drafted in the first round.  Hall and Watts will go in the second to third rounds.  I don’t think we’ll see the drop off in talent like we had from 2012 to 2013 on defense but I’m telling you now to cherish this 2016 defense because it’s the best we’ve had since back to RC Slocum and the legit Wrecking Crew of old.  I’m not quite ready to call these guys the Wrecking Crew as they’re missing some dominant linebacker play.  But at any given time there’s 11 guys out there playing their asses off and most importantly playing their role against their opponent.  It’s been a long time since I’ve since this in an Aggie defense and I’m loving every minute of it.

Special Teams:

Have to start off with LaCamera going 5 for 5 and none of them were really gimme kicks.  LaCamera had kicks of 46, 35, 31, 37 and 26 yards.  The 26 yarder was sort of a gimme but the others were legit kicks on the road in a pretty tight game that he nailed.  Much like the Vandy game.  Tripucka averaged 42 yards and had a long of 59 which he flat out booted.  We didn’t have a single return this game.  Not one on punts and not on kickoffs.  I’m actually okay with that as in a game like that just take the ball on the 25 if it’s kicked in the end zone and on punts just call the fair catch and hold the ball.  No need to take a chance giving the other team a turnover on the road in a pretty tough environment.  Special teams just executed all night long and that’s what you want.

Going Forward:

After seeing Tennessee’s third performance I’m ready to move this to a 9-3 team.  Kevin is gonna win nine and be fine.  I have a good feeling we’ll be 6-0 rolling into Tuscaloosa.  I’m also really thinking this could be a 10 win team as I want to see what LSU does against Auburn this weekend.  I think LSU wins that game so I won’t be able to move us to a 10 win team yet but if Auburn beats LSU then Les is a dead man walking and that team will have quit come Thanksgiving night.  I also think there’s a strong chance we beat Ole Miss as they’re reminding me of 2011 Texas A&M.  I mean they’ve blown two 21 point leads.  That’s Mike Sherman style right there.  Ole Miss is still a really talented football team but they’re obviously struggling to put 4 quarters together and if that trend keeps up there’s no doubt we can beat them at Kyle in November if this A&M team keeps  getting better each week.  I honestly didn’t feel that the last two years at this point.  This could honestly be an 11 win team playing in a major bowl game.  With the right breaks we could even play for the SEC Championship but any discussion of that begins or ends in Tuscaloosa so let’s cool our jets on that talk until after that game.  Nick Saban controls the gate to the SEC Championship for SEC West teams.  That’s just the way it is.

We have to get past Arkansas first but they really don’t scare me.  Auburn scared me like Arkansas scared me the last two years.  We got by Auburn.  This Arkansas team is not as good as their last two seasons’ teams.  Maybe I should be scared but what I saw in their TCU game and what I saw in our UCLA and Auburn games I feel really confident we’ll win this game and there’s a good chance we walk away with it.  Assuming we don’t make mistakes with the ball.  That TCU defense is not that good and Arkansas had to come back on them and get them in double overtime.  Arkansas also played La Tech close and I don’t think La Tech is good at all.  Just based on three games for both teams I think we handle Arkansas really well.

I know a lot of people are afraid of Arkansas because of the last two years but our offense really struggled those years under Spavital.  Mazzone while not spectacular has shown to be a marked improvement over Boy Wonder.  With the way our defense and offensive line is playing I just feel really confident going into this game that we could really make a big showing against Arkansas.  This could be that statement game we didn’t have the last two years where we had to come back and basically steal a victory.  I don’t see that happening this year.  I really think we walk out of Jerry World with a statement win that this is a different A&M team that’s not going to collapse down the stretch like we’ve done in the past.  Maybe I’m wrong but with 25% of our schedule done I’m feeling a statement game.  I don’t think it’ll be a 2012 Mississippi State game where we announced we’re kicking ass from here on out but I think it’s going to be pretty convincing.  We’ll need a wide margin as a lot of people won’t see the second half as they’ll be asleep .  They’ll just see the final score on Sunday morning.  I’m all for this team making a statement they’re a Top 10 and deserve to be there.

My prediction – Aggies 33, Arkie 16.