Month: September 2016

Thoughts from the Arkansas Game

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.

Advertisements

Thoughts from the Auburn Game

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.

Chief vs. Gus

chief-vs-gus

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

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

Here’s the summary of the matchups:

chief-vs-gus-chart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts From the Prairie View Game

pvamu

Not a whole lot this week but wanted to hit on a few things so I’ll get right to it.  For those of you wondering I know I’m biased but I confidently feel the Nationally Famous Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band did in fact win halftime.  No doubt PVAMU entertained at half time but in the end their effort fell short of 360 Aggies marching in perfect precision.  I was truly worried though.

Offense:

I’m just really going to hit on a few negatives here as the positives are way too many so just look at the score and stats.  First off, Trevor Knight is a pretty good quarterback.  He’s easily in the top half of starting QBs in the SEC.  He might actually even be Top 3 as this season keeps going so I’m not saying he’s a total pile of dung.  He’s without a doubt the best guy to be starting for us considering what happened at the QB position at the end of last year.  I’m just looking at him and trying to be objective on expectations with the hope he can be really good if not great.  Based on his time at OU and two games here he’s still just inconsistent.  He sailed some balls that he had no reason sailing.  He was 57% this weekend and against Prairie View and you just have to be better.  He also threw an interception that was extremely stupid and a reminder he can’t spot balls like he thinks he can.

Now, to his credit he threw some REALLY good deep balls to Christian Kirk.  He also looked really good running the ball.  And all in all it looked like he was getting better as the game wore on so maybe he’s still just getting more comfortable as a starter and in Mazzone’s system.  He did look better this week than last week but that’s to be expected considering the opponent.  I was just hoping to see fewer mistakes.  There were mistakes though that just makes me keep the foot on the brake when it comes to getting really excited about Knight in that he’ll win us games by himself.  There’s definitely some hope he keeps developing and we’re going to find out a lot more this weekend against Auburn.  However, with the Knight I’ve seen in two games I currently feel we can lose any SEC game with him at the helm.  I’m not saying we lose every SEC game and far from that as I think we do win more SEC games than we lose but right now I think there’s a strong chance we lose an SEC game and it’s because Knight has a horrible day from a completion and turnover standpoint.  I really hope I’m wrong on that and very well could be.

Another negative from the game is I don’t think RSJ is really going to be a clutch receiver.  He’s amazingly talented but he’s just not consistent in catching balls.  He’s not the guy I want to be going to when we need a 3rd down or TD.  It would be nice with his size and speed but I just don’t fully trust his hands.  It’s been 3 years and his hands have always been his biggest question.  He’s still good and there’s no doubt he should be starting but like Knight throwing an interception I feel like RSJ is going to drop a ball when it’s needed most.

The final negative was our third down conversion was right at 50%.  Just like Knight needs to have a better completion percentage against PVAMU I feel the same about our third down conversion.  Due to Knight’s inconsistency and the fact we converted 33% and 50% of third downs in the first two games, I don’t have much faith in this offense extending the drive on anything longer than 3rd and 4.  That means Mazzone has to start sequencing plays to minimize 3rd down distances.  I know that sounds obvious but I feel there’s been some calls on first and second downs that we were trying to get a first down when we probably should be trying to gain 3-4 yards.

All in all though I’d give the offense a grade of 85 for the game.  A whole lot of positives as the backs, line, and Kirk/Reynolds are just solid.  It’s just there’s a few inconsistencies from key guys and the 3rd down conversion issue that still bother me.  We’ll find out what it all means on Saturday when we go on the road for a night game at Jordan-Hare.

Defense:

I actually heard some people complain about the defense because PVAMU moved the ball some and we had to block a field goal to keep them from scoring.  They gave up 205 yards in being on the field for 32 minutes.  That’s actually really remarkable.  I read a Tweet where 121 yards of that came on two possessions so basically other than TWO possessions the Aggie defense was flat out dominant.  PVAMU was 5 of 18 on third down conversions and a 1.1 yard per carry average.  As Russell Crowe said in The Gladiator said, “Are you not entertained?”  That was a solid 4 quarters of defense against a team that had some decent athletes.  Usually in games like these one of those guys wiggles free for a score but that didn’t happen.

 

Looking forward I’m still leaving us at 8-4.  We’re going to find out a lot more about this team the next two weeks against Auburn and Arkansas.  My original prediction was they were both wins but I don’t know about Auburn.  They played Clemson close but Clemson looks in question but Auburn also took care of business on Saturday night.  I’m not sure if that means Auburn is good or bad.  I think they’re definitely better than I expected them to be.  I still lean to us winning but it’s not going to be easy.  I do think we beat Arkansas still despite their win over TCU.  I don’t think TCU is a Top 10 team and Arkansas matches up with them well.  With Arkansas almost giving the game away at the end I feel like we keep our streak going but it won’t be easy.  There’s a good chance we’re 5-0 with Tennessee coming to town.

Speaking of Tennessee they looked like the team everyone expected but their QB is still dicey passing and Va Tech turned the ball over 5 times.  Let’s see what they do against Florida in two weeks.  LSU finally switched QBs so I’m interested to see what they do the rest of the season now that their biggest issue was been changed.  Fournette is still in question there though.  Ole Miss solidly beat a cupcake but I think Bama is going to stomp Ole Miss this Saturday like they slammed Georgia last season.  I mean Saban was ripping into Kiffin with a minute left of a 28 point win.  If you don’t think that was on purpose for Saban to set the tone to make up for 2 back to back losses against Ole Miss you’re a fool.  It doesn’t mean Ole Miss is a bad team but Bama is just going to abuse them this weekend so we won’t really know where they are other than not Bama’s level but no one else is this season.

With all that I’m leaving us at 8-4 until we see what happens the next two weeks as we’ll get a LOT of clarity on who we are as well as those teams left on our schedule.  We could still go anywhere from 6-6 to 11-1 but until we get through the next two weeks I haven’t a clue.  I honestly do think we could go 11-1 but if we don’t get by Auburn and Arkansas then we don’t stand a chance obviously.

Thoughts From the UCLA Game

myles-on-rosen

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

Offense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defense:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Teams:

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

 

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

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

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

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