Month: September 2009

Thoughts from UAB


Before I hit the UAB game, let me quickly touch on the Utah St. game since I never wrote anything about it:

  • We were gutted up the middle on defensive.  There is little doubt our weakness on defense is up the gut.  When we face running teams it’s going to be a looooong night.  Just get used to giving up yards on the ground.
  • Jerrod Johnson didn’t look good at all.  He was getting pressured but he was missing guys left and right.
  • We played GREAT defensively in the 2nd and 3rd quarters.  My personal belief is that Utah St. was ready for us and we were a bit sluggish in the 1st quarter being off for two weeks.  I think the 4th quarter was just us getting lax up by a decent margin coming off the previous throttling of New Mexico.
  • All in all it was a nice win but obviously showing areas of concern.

On to the Blazers of Bama Birmingham:

Special Teams:

  • We actually had a decent special teams showing as a whole but we had two BIG snafus early on.  The first one was the idiotic move by our kick return team of retreating without knowing where the ball was going.  The upback should have called a fair catch and been done with it.  As it happened the guy let the ball hit the ground and then UAB recovered.  They would drive to get 3 points on us on their opening drive thanks to that gift.
  • The other snafu was Dustin Harris’ fumbled punt in the same quarter in which they turned into 3 more points.  Dustin is a true freshman and had a decent return later on so you hope it was just a freshman fluke.
  • That’s pretty much it for special teams other than Ken Wood looking decent as a punter.  Definitely not on the level of Brantley but he’s looking decent.

Offense:

  • Jerrod likely had the game of his career so far.  Dude did everything right and looked outstanding.  I don’t know what else to say about the kid as he was EXTREMLY accurate hitting short and long balls.  I think I saw one play where he didn’t see a wide open guy and forced a ball into traffic but the best QB is going to have that happen to him.
  • JJ also looked extremely good running the ball.  He obviously scored 3 running TDs but one of those was a QB sneak.  One involved a run to the corner and the other involved a draw up the middle.  I don’t know if it was a draw by design but it was a great decision and great run by JJ.
  • Howard Morrow came out of nowhere and had a great night.  I’ve always liked this kid and I hope he has more games like he did Saturday night.  He looked really good catching the ball.  The only thing missing was that sleeve he wore last year.  I kind of liked that look.  Seriously.  I miss his sleeve.  He could prove to be a very solid #2 or #3 wide receiver this year.  I hope he does.  And I hope he reconsiders the sleeve.
  • Other receivers that looked good in general were Jamie McCoy and Brandal Jackson.  Jackson still has some work to do but he looks like a straight up possession guy.  With this offense Jamie McCoy just seems like one of those guys that’s going to get lost by the defense which will result in a great safety valve for JJ and moving the chains.  Need guys like Jamie on your team.
  • Ryan Tannehill just looked tremendous on Saturday night.  Kid is a football player plain and simple.  He finds the open spot but most importantly positions himself to block the defender and keep positioning where only he can catch the ball.  I don’t want to say he’s like Larry Fitzgerald but he has that same ability where he can just adjust and position himself where the defender has to go through more of himself to get the ball.  It makes it easier to catch the ball when you know how to shield the defender.  It’s one of those underrated skills like a pitcher that is able to hide the ball longer from the hitter.
  • 9 total people caught the ball which just tells you how well JJ did finding the open guy.
  • The offensive line looked pretty decent.  Not great but maybe the best I’ve seen them in the three games.  I think a lot of it has to do with Shumard at guard.  He’s by far the best lineman on the team as long as he’s playing guard.  That can be stated enough.  He’s a natural guard and a damn good one.  When he’s not there the line is weaker.  Let’s just leave him there.
  • Barrera looked pretty good at LT and I dare say has looked better than any other LT in our short season.  Not saying he looked great but he did do a decent job.  Long ways to go and he’s going to have his hands full when he goes up against the better DEs in the Big XII but if one game is an example then it’s better than anything else.
  • Danny Baker looked to do okay as well at the RT but I did see him get blown up once resulting in the RB getting pegged in the backfield.  It’s probably best he’s not at LT anymore.
  • Didn’t really see much out of Matthews or Allen which is fine.  It’s sometimes best not to notice an offensive lineman.
  • I did watch Pat Lewis quite a bit as he got quite a bit of PT at guard and looked damn good.  Didn’t get a real good look at him on running plays but he’s a solid pass blocker.  He’s just got a low center of gravity and uses great technique.  If he doesn’t start at center this year then I think he just plugs in next year and goes.  He might still Matt Allen’s spot this year which I’m fine with if that’s what it comes down to.  It’s good to know that it appears that Lewis can push both Matthews and Allen.
  • All in all this line looked decent on Saturday night.  Don’t take it as things are hunky dory as there are still issues but if they played like they did on Saturday night all season we can easily get to a bowl game and a half decent one.  They didn’t dominate but they did a nice job of engaging their man on run plays and creating some semblance of a pocket on pass plays.
  • I hate saying this next thing but Cyrus Gray is no Christine Michael.  I don’t mean that as slight to Cyrus as he seems like such a great guy and team player.  I think we’ve gotten spoiled with the explosiveness in guys like Goodson and saw it early on in Michael.  Without CM suited up it became painfully obvious what Cyrus is missing.  He’s not a horrible back by any stretch as I think he’d start on several other Big XII games but he just lacks the explosiveness of a featured back.  What Cyrus does well is make cuts and shift.  Think of him like a healthy Courtney Lewis but without the acceleration.  Against good teams he’s never going to break one off out of nothing and I don’t see him ever really carrying a team.
  • I was actually really impressed with Bradley Stephens.  He’s more explosive than Cyrus and looks to be somewhere between Cyrus and Christine.  I know he’s had issues holding onto the ball but I would actually feel decent about a Cyrus/Bradley tandem if we had a better OLine.  We don’t have that so let’s just feature CMike from here on out.
  • There’s not much else to say about the offense as they put up 56 points.  And that was without their two best playmakers in Christine Michael and Jeff Fuller.  Let’s hope they keep this.

Defense:

  • Overall this was a VERY good defensive performance.  Joe Webb (UAB QB) is no slouch and the special teams turned the ball over at some key points to really shorten the field and put the defense in a bind which the defense worked out of.  It was not a dominating performance but it was a VERY good performance.
  • It’s hard to really point out any one person as it was a true team effort.  Seriously.  11 guys playing their assignments, getting to the ball, and making the tackle.  UAB scored points but let’s just realize that we don’t have the experienced talent it takes to shut teams out for four quarters.  Maybe in two years but not right now.
  • We do have a severe weakness in that we’re weak up the middle.  I think some of this is by design as Kines has consistently given some slack up the middle.  I think it’s just him trying to eliminate the big play over the top and keep his defense playing side line to side line.
  • As always, Von Miller looked good but I think his days of getting sack after sack are over as he’s getting more double teams and the competition will only get better.  Don’t get me wrong as he still got 2 Saturday night but I think more and more teams will commit more resources to him and he won’t be as disruptive as he’s been in these first three games.  That’s actually a good thing as two people on Von means we have better coverage or opportunity elsewhere.  Let’s hope some others can step up.  You’ll still see Von applying pressure but it’s going to get harder and harder on him.
  • Outside of giving up yardage in the middle the DLine looked decent.  I thought Matt Moss did a great job opposite Von and I think the guys inside actually do a pretty good job considering I rail on this defense for giving up yards up the middle.
  • All of the linebackers looked solid but not yet spectacular.  This group is leaps and bounds of where they were last year but they still have a ways to go to being one of the top LB corps in the country which is where we ultimately want get back to.  Each one will have a great play each game but they’re not disruptive by any stretch all game and that’s where I think we have to get back to.  I think Kines is not attempting to try and make them disruptive as he doesn’t want to give up the big play.
  • Same thing with the secondary.  Very solid but not yet spectacular.  Don’t get me wrong in that this group played a very solid game but they’re not quite disruptive of where the Wrecking Crew used to be.  I would have to go back and look at the stats but I’m not sure this secondary has an interception yet.  They have some fumble recoveries but I’m racking my brain trying to remember an interception by the secondary and can’t think of one right now.  You don’t need interceptions to be good but I do feel you need interceptions out of your secondary to be great.  At the same time, you never want to trade interceptions for touchdowns as TDs burn you much more.
  • Tackling – This can’t be talked about enough in that this crew tackles 100X better than last year.  It’s not even close.  This defense is fundamentally sound and they can bring down the guy with the ball.  A lot of this has to do with being in better position and having speed to get to the ball carrier but it’s good to see these guys bringing ball carriers down with initial contact.
  • 3rd Downs – I need to go look at the stats to see exactly how good they were but this defense did a damn good job getting off the field on 3rd downs.  This is probably the best stat for a defense (outside of points obviously) as I don’t care how many yards you give up if you’re getting off the field on third downs.  Not only does it give you the ball back but it keeps your defense fresh.  This was a huge problem last year and what ultimately led to our second half collapses.  So far they’ve been really good in getting off the field on third downs and that’s great to see.
  • Don’t worry about yards given up by this defense.  It’s going to happen. Focus on the score given up and 3rd down holds.  I’m convinced that’s all Joe Kines cares about.  He’ll give you yards on 1st and 2nd down but he’s going to do everything he can to get his defense off the field on 3rd down.  Same thing with points.  He’s going to try and keep you outside of the red zone but if you get there he’s going to do everything he can to keep you to a field goal.

Looking at Arkansas:

This is not a big game by any stretch but I think it’s safe to say that this is the biggest game since Miami in 2007.  We’re playing a name team on national television so we can get some good pub if we do well.  We’ll be opposite of OU/Miami so we won’t get that much national pub but it’s better than nothing.  We win this game and we’re clearly on the road to a bowl game and maybe even something on the level of the Alamo Bowl.

I’ve watched the highlights of Akry in their first two games and then the first half against Bama.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

1)      Their OLine is not that great.

2)      Their defense is not that great.

3)      Ryan Mallett can throw like a mother.

4)      They don’t have a dominant running back.

If we play like we’ve played then this is a VERY winnable game.  The talent is very equal so it’s all going to come down to preparation and scheme.  In my mind this is clearly a game that will be won by the coaching staff unless one of the QBs can’t hit the broad side of a barn then it will be on the QB.  Make no mistake as this game will be won by the coaching staffs and the QB play.

It’s going to be a shoot out for the most part and we won’t be able to win if JJ isn’t hitting his guys.  If JJ plays like he did against Utah St. then we lose.  If he plays like he’s played against New Mexico and UAB then we win.

I do think Sherm and Co. have to come up with a slightly different scheme offensively for this game.  Not a drastic one but they need to introduce a new set besides the bunch formation.  It’s served them well but I think they need something to surprise and give Arkansas something to think about.

My prediction – Aggies 45, Arky 35

I don’t feel good about it as neither team has had enough games to truly see what’s going on but I think we win based on what I’ve seen in the first three games.  And just so you know I didn’t think there was a chance in hell we could win this game coming into the season based on how both teams closed out last year.

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Thoughts on New Mexico

First off, let me say that 41-6 is 41-6.  Offense scored a ton of points and the defense pitched a shutout related to touchdowns.  Not much more can you ask for coming off a 4-8 season and with as much as youth as the Aggies ran out there on Saturday night.  Great win, great feeling knowing you whipped the opponent who came into Kyle.  It’s still New Mexico (I bet Fran was confused on who to root for) but we didn’t see anything near this last year.  Kudos to Sherman and the players.

I’m just going to hit random bullets for each phase of the game.

Offense:

  • Statistically JJ had an AMAZING game and he did.  The only thing I would fault him for is he’s not real good in the short game.  He had 3-4 passes where he had a guy wide open less than 15-20 yards away from him and he either floated it or put in the dirt.  He’s got to complete those if he wants to be great.  Regardless, he had a great game.  The other amazing thing that JJ can do is roll to his left and get off a great pass.  That’s a pretty special trait.
  • Jeff Fuller is a flat out stud.  What’s amazing about him last night is that I think he caught 11 balls but it was so workman like.  No big plays.  He just went out and played ball.  That’s honestly what we need out of him.  Chewing up 4-15 yards a catch will do this offense more good than last year where it seemed like he and JJ just wanted to play the long ball.  He needs to draw the double teams but still be able to keep the ball moving.  He didn’t really draw many double teams last night but he kept the ball moving.  Great game for him.  His TD was a thing of beauty.  For whatever reason UNM decided to run zone coverage on that play.  JJ realized it and simply hit Jeff on his cut for a TD.  You can’t run zone on JJ in the red zone.  Great game for Fuller.
  • Tanneyhill (sic) is unreal.  He probably saw 10 snaps but 3 of those were converting 3rd downs of longer than 7 yards.  His knack for finding the defenses weak spot is unreal.  He might just be better reading the defense on the sideline and then coming in to exploit them.  I think it was obvious by Saturday night that he wants to be on the field.  I think there’s an outside chance that he could be our starting QB at some point this season (not due to injury – I just worry about JJ against the better defenses like you saw down the stretch last year) but the kid is a flat out baller.  I’ve NEVER seen anyone come off the bench on a 3rd and long and convert it like him.  It’s unreal.  He comes off the bench, gets a first, and heads back to the sidelines.  Unreal.
  • All of the freshman receivers looked solid.  EZ looked the best but that’s mainly because he got the most PT.  Brandal looked good and Kenric had a nice TD reception.  Kudos to Sherman and his staff for getting these kids and getting them coached up.
  • Evidently Bradley Stephens had a solid run in the 4th quarter.  Don’t know as I elected to hit the tailgate and the end of the OU/BYU game about mid-way through the 4th quarter.  Blame Bill Byrne as not ONCE during the game did I get an update on the Baylor or Tech game and only got first half reports of the OU game.  For some reason they were running the scores of the other Big XII opponents but not the South.  That’s why I left early as I like to be a well rounded college football fan.  Plus, there was beer at the tailgate.  I’m probably more of a fan of beer than college football but they’re neck and neck.  Either way I’m mad at Bill for keeping those Big XII scores from me.
  • Running game took a while to get on track which I’ll hit on later but Cyrus Gray looked decent.
  • Christine Michael – BOY HOWDY!!!  If you follow recruiting you’ll know that it’s uncertain if we got him because we recruited him the hardest or because tu and LSU really never showed him the love.  If it’s the latter then Les and Mack are IDIOTS!  Most of you know my man love for Mike Goodson (Did you know he once outran the Miami MFen’ Defense) and Christine is on that level.  He’s different than Mike in Christine has this acceleration that Mike didn’t have and a spin move that’s out of control.  In addition, his pad height is low which I hear gives Big Sherm a Big Wood.  I feel bad for Cyrus and Bradley as you can’t keep this kid off the field.  I truly feel like we’re looking at a first round pick in a few years like Knowshown Moreno.  I don’t think there’s a freshman (true or RS) in the Big XII on CMike’s level.  Sometimes you’re good and get kids like this and sometimes you’re lucky.  I don’t care how we got him as I’m just glad he’s in maroon.
  • Now is where we get to the negatives and it’s called the offense line.  Despite the 41 points the greatest thing that bothered me was the play in the first half.  We came out in the no huddle and obviously had UNM on the heels not expecting it as we easily scored on the first drive.  After that drive we kept trying to establish the run and UNM wouldn’t let us.  Not good, folks.  Our Oline could not establish the run game against a decent UNM DLine.  That’s a serious concern.  We really struggled offensively after that first drive but luckily we were able to open it up with the pass and off we went.
  • Individually the best performer might be Mike Shumard as I didn’t see him make any mistakes.  Of course, he might have simply been helping all night which doesn’t hurt as you don’t get exposed.
  • Matt Allen is apparently in the running for the Aldo DeLaGarza Transfer Achievement Award.  This award is for an OL transfer that came from a major program that never lived up to the hype.  It was his first game as an Aggie so he deserves a break but if he doesn’t clean up his act then he’s going to be on that level with Aldo.  I think he was responsible for 4 calls resulting in 40 yards of penalties.  That ain’t good folks.  In addition there were a few time I saw him either whiff on a blitz pick up or whiff on a defender when pulling.  That’s not what you want with a guard.
  • Grimey played most of the game except for one play where he got hurt on the previous play on the sidelines.  It still confuses me on how Sherman thinks he can shirt Scales and Barrera with the classes he has coming in.  Grimey actually played a decent game but I don’t think he’s going to be able to hold up all season.  Let’s realize that and get ready for it.
  • Danny Baker actually did pretty decent.  A former player told me he’s the meanest guy on the OLine and that’s good enough for me.  He won’t be all Big XII but if he can hold the fort for a season until Scales or Matthews is ready then that’s okay with me.  He didn’t look great but he did look better than any LT we had last season so it’s all relative.
  • I hate saying this because his brother is such a great recruit but I’d be shocked if Patrick Lewis isn’t our starting center by the middle of the season.  Kevin Matthews is decent enough but he just doesn’t have the physical strength even though he does have great technique.  UNM shaded him the entire game and did a number on him for the most part.  Kevin did well enough but he was definitely on the receiving end most of the night.  I worry what other Big XII teams are going to do to him.  Kevin would be fine under most circumstances but I think Pat Lewis is just that big of a stud at the C position.  I’m just saying don’t be shocked to see Lewis starting at some point this season.
  • We all know this but it was painfully obvious on Saturday night that this OL still has a ways to go.  The coaches did do a nice job utilizing the power sweep to the short side after a big gain using the no huddle and I really think that helped open up the running game.  Not sure we can simply establish a between the tackles type game with this crew.  Against lesser teams yes, but most of the Big XII opponents are going to be pretty tough to get it going.  If Sherman is going to be bull headed about establishing it like he was last year then he’s going to lose 2 games he shouldn’t.  For this team, the pass has to set up the run.
  • Did I tell you I went for beer in the 4th quarter so I can’t really write about the second teamers?

Defense:

For those of you that subscribed to my service last year (okay, didn’t tell me to quit wasting your time) you’ll know I ALWAYS claimed Joe Kines got a bad rap.  I always talked about how Kines essentially pitched to contact and essentially got clowned because the offensive side of the equation couldn’t get a first down exposing his defense to too much time on the field and feeling beaten before it was over.

Well Joe Kines pitched a beauty Saturday night thanks to the offense staying on the field and giving his defense some rest and motivation to dominate.  When your defense doesn’t give up a TD no matter who the opponent is you’ve done something good.  All in all this is a different defense than last year.  Joe Kines found some speed and used it to his advantage.  Say what you want but I think Joe Kines is the best coach on our staff including Sherman.  I’m not kidding.

  • Let’s get this out of the way – Von Miller is a pass rushing freak.  We all heard the stories in the off season but I was always interested to see how it would play out on the field since our OL is so suspect.  Well, Von had 3 sacks and they were legit sacks.  What impressed me about Von on Saturday night was that he played smart and wasn’t always looking to fly around the left tackle.  There were times he stopped his rush and cut up inside to take a line to the QB.  He’s also very good about not rounding off his rush and can cut in after blowing by the OT.  He’s not going to get 3 sacks every game which is fine because defenses will now have to scheme against him.  What was interesting is that he really only played on passing downs as Featherston actually started and played on 1st and 2nd downs.  The other thing to get ready for on Von is late hits on the QB.  The kid is such a freak that he can’t shut it down when he gets the line and it’s going to cause him to hit the QB late.  It’s not cheap but it’s going to happen.  If it’s a 3 to 1 ratio like it was on Friday night then I’ll probably take it.
  • All in all this defense played MUCH faster on Saturday night.  Lots of youth on the field but they all looked good.  They’re not big but they’re fast and that’s what we need right now for all of these spread offenses in the Big XII.
  • TACKLING – Holy cow this crew actually tackled on Saturday night.  Probably the greatest thing I saw in the game on either side of the ball.  They were hitting and wrapping up and they looked damn good doing it.  They were swarming to the ball and actually bringing down the guy with the ball.  It was refreshing to see.
  • Linebackers – As a whole this crew looked LIGHT YEARS ahead of last season.  Mangan looked pretty good but the rest of the guys looked really good.  Garrick Williams probably looked the best.  He was just all over the field and making tackles.  Looked really confident out there.  Jonathan Stewart looks the part and played the part as well when he was in there.  The other guy I was impressed with was Sean Porter.  I thought this kid would be too small to play LB but he moves well which helps him a ton and will help us a ton against pass teams.  Ricky Cavanaugh didn’t really stand out to me but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a good game.  Lots of youth out there on Saturday night as Williams and Cavanaugh were your graybeards out there and they’re only Sophomores.  This crew should just get better and better which is something we haven’t been able to say about our LBs in a LONG time.
  • The defensive line as a whole looked pretty good but this wasn’t the type of offense to let those guys shine or get exposed.  UNM ran a lot of spread trying to play catch up so they didn’t run much up the middle and the QB didn’t hold the ball too long.  I though the DTs with the Eddies and Lucas looked pretty solid.  Matt Moss was solid on the outside.  Spencer Nealy looked GREAT.  This kid looks like a recruiting steal.  He looks like the kind of player you have to get in a program to be really great.  He’s not a dominant guy but he’s the kind of guy to come off the bench and really just give the OL a few plays of just having to go full blast which helps wear them down.
  • There weren’t too many deep balls and I really didn’t watch the coverage too much as I watched the line and backers most of the time.  It did bother me one time where UNM had 3rd and 3 and TFred was playing off the ball about 8 yards which UNM then exploited for a 4 yard pass and a first down.
  • The stats show it but before we get too excited about this defense lets not forget that they got a TON of help from the Aggie offense moving the chains and getting time of possession while forcing UNM to play catch up.  They got screwed last year statistically so it’s nice to see them have a great statistical game.  All in all though this is a much better defense and they deserve GREAT credit for a well played game.

Special Teams:

  • Not much to report on here as it looked they were working on different things throughout the game.  Bullock hit a couple field goals.

I still say a great coach gets us to 6 wins this season and we look on our way.  We should have 5 wins in UNM, Utah St., UAB, ISU, and KSU.  That hasn’t changed.  CU looked like HELL the other night and Baylor looked solid in the first half.  I still think we can win one of those.  I still think there’s an outside chance we can beat Arky or Tech and don’t stand a chance against OU, tu, or OSU.  If Sherman is a great coach he’ll get us to 6 wins and in a bowl game.