Month: October 2017

Thoughts from the Mississippi State Game

Sumlin MSU

Thanks to the Astros Game 5 and my going to Game 6 in Los Angeles, this week’s blog is going to be pretty short.  It’s been hard to focus on Aggie football since Saturday night.  Plus, there’s not really much to say about the game if you watched it.  It was a complete embarrassment.  The team had two weeks off and came out flat and with no real wrinkles.

October 28th isn’t technically November but for Aggie football it might as well be.  All of this talk in the offseason about making changes to avoid the November collapse looks like hogwash.  Mississippi State is a good football team but there’s no reason why we couldn’t have beat them on Saturday night.  No reason at all.  The Aggies got outcoached both in mental preparation, scheme, and in game coaching.  Dan Mullen owned Kevin Sumlin like he’s done much of his tenure at Mississippi State when Johnny Football wasn’t playing for the Aggies.  Kevin Sumlin is now 1-3 against Dan Mullen when Johnny Football isn’t involved.  Dan Mullen coaches Mississippi State and Kevin Sumlin coaches Texas A&M.  We’re not the maroon school with the better coach.  That much is clear.

Offense:

I don’t have a problem with the first two play calls with the deep routes.  Mond missed the first one and Ratley missed the second one.  The plays were there but the players didn’t execute.  That’s not on Mazzone at all as much as I bag on him.  If Ratley catches that ball it might honestly have been a completely different ball game giving the players and fans some life.  Then again probably not because 33 yards in the first half is REALLY bad.  I mean REALLY bad.  More than likely even if Ratley catches that second pass the offense still would have struggled.  We just would have had 7 points on the board making it look more competitive.

I’ll be direct and say the offensive line is hot garbage and our receiving corps is really bad too.  The receiving corps will flash some plays at times but for the most part they’re pretty bad.  The offensive line just looked like hot garbage the entire game.  They got owned all night.  I’m a fan of Jim Turner but it’s becoming evident he’s only a good offensive line coach when he’s coaching NFL players on the offensive line.  We’re 8 games into the season and our offensive line wasn’t even serviceable.  We couldn’t establish a running game at all because there were no holes.  A good but not great MSU defensive line was whipping our offensive line all night.  It was bad.

As for quarterback I have no idea if we have a quarterback controversy on our hand.  For it to be a controversy I think we’d need one of them to step up and make plays.  Neither have really done that even with Starkel’s limited snaps.  Mond looked as bad as he did in the UCLA game.  Maybe it was because he didn’t have time most of the night but he didn’t make throws when someone was open.  His worst pass all night was when he hit the MSU defender in the back who had Trayveon covered on the wheel route.  Why he let that ball go I have no idea but suffice to say it’s the mark of a player who didn’t have much confidence in himself or just confused the whole game.

What Starkel did was better than Mond but don’t forget he was doing it against MSU scrubs and they weren’t prepared for him at all.  What he did was basically practice work.  I wouldn’t put much stock in it.  Starkel was 8 of 15 for 133 yards with one play being 70 yards.  Take that play away and he’s 7 of 14 for 63 yards.  That’s still better than Mond but not a dominant performance by any stretch considering the game was over.  It’s crazy to think 2 weeks ago we were wondering if Starkel would ever see a meaningful snap at A&M ever again.  Funny how we forget November was looming on the schedule.

How we should handle the quarterbacks from here on out I don’t really know.  To me the play of the quarterback isn’t the main issue.  It’s the offensive line, play calling, and lack of separation by the receivers.  I think Johnny Football himself would struggle in this offense.  This offense has only really looked good in the first half against UCLA when we came out and established the run and against Arkansas because their defense is pretty bad.

I’ve been saying for a while if our defense struggled we’d be hosed because this offense just isn’t that great.  Saturday night proved that out in a big way.  I have a feeling we’ll see a repeat of Saturday night two more times this season if not three.

Defense:

It’s really hard to grade this defense on what happened on Saturday night.  They certainly didn’t play spectacular but they weren’t as bad as the stat sheet and score shows.  For most of the first half they were playing with passion.  Unfortunately they were out there for over 20 minutes in the first half.  Even on a cool night that’s going to wear down a defense at some point.  In the end time of possession was 36 minutes to 24 minutes so the second half was a little more balanced.  Still, the offense gave the defense no help all night.  It reminded me a lot of last year’s MSU game.  Mullen was just more prepared than Chavis.

What I saw was Chavis trying to use his four down linemen to apply pressure on their own.  The linebackers seemed to be doing a lot of reacting rather than anticipating.  I don’t know if that was because they were seeing stuff they hadn’t planned on but the linebackers definitely weren’t exerting their will all game like they’ve done in other games.  There was a lot of sitting back waiting for the play rather than applying pressure for most of the game.  There were certainly times when we brought linebacker pressure but it seemed to be less in this game.  Maybe I made that up but it seemed like less.

Overall this defense just didn’t play spectacular.  I think they played good enough to win if the offense had shown some form of life early on but even then I’m talking a 24-21 win so it wouldn’t have been a dominant defensive effort.  Why that is I can’t put my finger on.  Maybe it was a new scheme by MSU or maybe Chavis was scared to apply too much pressure with the offense sputtering the entire first half.  Either way this wasn’t the defense we’d seen the last few games.  I’m still with Chief for the most part but he needs to show up better.  What scares me most is Auburn’s offense is similar to MSU’s with a mobile quarterback they like to use to establish the run.  We’ll find out more about our defense against Auburn.

Special Teams:

Nothing spectacular out of our special teams unit other than I have to say they did a good job getting pressure to the punter even tipping the ball once.  I’ve said all season that since we’re not setting up returns well we’d be better off applying pressure in hopes of blocking one.  Jeff Banks must read this blog as we’ve doing that since the Bama game it seems.  Other than that though I didn’t notice anything we haven’t seen all season.

Looking Forward:

It is simply amazing how things have changed in two weeks.  After the Florida game it looked like Sumlin had saved his job.  It looked really possible he could pull off 9 wins or win 8 games and be competitive in the losses.  That’s changed.  Getting owned for four quarters by Mississippi State at Kyle Field was not part of the plan.  Basically he traded the Florida win for a Mississippi State drumming at home so he’s back on track for going 7-5.  Not good.

To win 9 games A&M has to win out and based on what we’ve seen that ain’t happening.  I think they’ll win 2 games against New Mexico and Ole Miss.  I wouldn’t say Ole Miss is a gimme but with Patterson being out it’s more possible.  That should still be a win.  He might win 1 out of Auburn and LSU but he’s not winning both.  No way.  So best case is 8-4 in which he’ll either not beat a West team at home yet again or close out the season with yet another loss to LSU.  I think that act will be old for many Aggie fans and the decision will be made to move on with a new coach.  Funny how things change in two weeks.

Who that new coach is I have no idea.  I like Matt Campbell at Iowa State a whole lot but his buyout is supposedly $8.5 million which means we’d start out paying $18.5 million in buyouts before even negotiating a contract with him.  The dude sure seems like a legit coach.  I also like Scott Frost and Justin Fuente.  My dream is still Chris Petersen but not sure that’s possible.  Either way I hope Woodard and whatever Aggie brain trust will be involved are starting to do their heavy due diligence.  I do mean heavy.  We can’t screw up this hire and to make it worse we’re going to have competition in Florida, Tennessee, and likely Arkansas.  We’re going to have to move swiftly and convincingly to get our guy.  Sumlin still has a chance to save himself but if I were a wagering person I’d say this season is going to be yet another signature Sumlin collapse down the stretch.  Welcome to November, Ags.

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About Nick Saban

Nick Saban

I recently finished a book on Nick Saban titled “4th and Goal Every Day.”  The title comes from an Alabama assistant coach that said coaching at Alabama is like knowing every day you have one play to score.  That’s a mantra that you have to believe in every day.  It was written by Phil Savage who is the Alabama radio color commentator.  He’s a lifelong football guy having served as GM of the Cleveland Browns prior to this role.  He was born and raised in Alabama and although he didn’t play football at Alabama is a definite Bama homer.  He’s also a worshipper of Nick Saban but let’s face it who isn’t that’s a Bama fan.  I say all of that because there’s an obvious bias in the book but it’s a pretty objective read.

He’s known Saban for a long term as his first job in professional football was with Cleveland before they moved to Baltimore.  He was the defensive “assistant” which is basically the same as a graduate assistant in college football that does the entire film breakdown and charting of plays.  Nick Saban was the defensive coordinator and the head coach was Bill Belichick.  Most folks don’t know but Saban was Belichick’s DC for three seasons before he went to Michigan State.  They’ve known each other for a long time.  There’s a reason they’re very much like each other.  They’re a little bit different which I’ll cover in a little bit.

I’ll summarize various parts of the book in no particular order.  The book is a great read if you get a chance to read it.  It’s not an eye opening book by any stretch but there are some great stories which I’ll cover some.  More than anything the book confirms what you probably already believe about Nick Saban.  That’s assuming you believe the man is wired to be a great college football coach in every move he makes in life.  Nick Saban currently wants to do one thing every moment of every day and that’s to work to win a college football national championship.  That’s it and nothing more.

I do believe what Nick Saban does is replicable but it obviously takes a special person.  What Nick Saban does is works smarter and harder than everyone else.  They key here is working smarter but he also works hard.  He doesn’t rest on his laurels and he understands he has to adapt to a changing game.  He’s involved in every step of the program and no detail is too small.  He’s not a dictator by any stretch but he is the final decision maker on all things Alabama and everyone knows it.  If you strive to be great you’ll appreciate any time you spend with him.  If you strive to be mediocre or worse you’ll probably think he’s kind of an asshole.  He’s not and he doesn’t care.  He wants to win championships and that’s what he does with every move he makes.  There’s no wasted effort with him.

Talent Evaluation:

Probably the most eye opening thing to me is that Saban runs his recruiting like an NFL team.  He always has a top class and I just assumed he just cherry picked the top rated recruits because Bama can.  There’s no cherry picking at all.  Saban actually recruits off the scouting system created by Tom Landry and Gil Brandt in the 70s with the help of analytics people at Stanford University.  This system creates a matrix of sorts on various factors such as height, weight, speed, and other factors.  Every potential recruit is analyzed and scored on this matrix.

In addition to this matrix of physical and football factors Saban wants to personally see and work out every recruit through various camps.  Saban looks at things like body type, flexibility, agility, and coachability.  At camps Saban is actually working out the players and not just sitting on a golf cart or giving rah rah speeches at the beginning and end of the camp.  The dude has an eye for talent and he wants to see it in person before making an offer to play at Bama.  He wants to personally work players through drills.  He takes his eyeballs and the matrix and decides who to offer.

The most interesting thing about the matrix is he’s looking for certain physical parameters at each position.  He wants a certain height and weight at specific positions and this matrix helps identify the right players.  It’s all very scientific in how he builds his roster.  There’s no doubt that Bama is able to be very picky in who they select to give an offer but if you think about it Saban RARELY misses on players.  He’s never missed on a class like some guys.  In the years Saban has been at Bama you’ve never heard they’re going to be a young team or lost too much talent.  They might be young at a position or have to replace an All American but they just re-load.  No other team in the country does the same thing because Saban is so good at evaluating talent they can develop.

Saban obviously studies a recruit’s film but this matrix and in person evaluation is the most crucial in deciding who to offer.  Not only is he an outstanding game coach he’s an outstanding talent evaluator which most people probably don’t realize.  The Alabama team looks like they do because Nick Saban is very deliberate about who Bama offers.  It’s not really a shotgun approach.  Sure, it’s easy to sell winning but he’s deliberate about who he offers because he’s really good at projecting them 2-4 years down the road.  A lot of Bama’s analysis is done comparing recruits to previous players they’ve had come through the program.  It’s a VERY methodical approach and not just names on a marker board with their ratings and stars.  Saban is thinking about all 85 scholarships when he offers a single one.  Very few are wasted or missed thanks to analytics and the eyes of him and his staff.

Fundamentals and Practice:

In addition to being very specific in who they offer they also assume each player has never been coached fundamentals.  At every player’s first practice they’re going to be taught stance, hand placement, and every other technical thing a player needs to learn from the ground up at their positon.  From then on fundamentals are drilled every day.  There’s no being lazy from a technique standpoint.  They might be better athletes but if they’re not willing to work on their technique and fundamentals they won’t see the field at Bama.  That’s part of Saban having a loaded roster so guys push each other and know if they don’t put forth the work in practice they won’t play.  The coaches are committed to making the players better every day.  They expect the players to do the same.

In addition to coaching fundamentals every day practice is all about preparation for a game.  It’s not going through the motions as it’s matching up #1s on #1s at times as well as getting a good look at what’s expected for the upcoming opponent.  Thanks to meticulous film study by the coaching staff the team spends practicing preparing for exactly what they’ll see on Saturdays.  It seems obvious but I don’t think many teams do as much scouting and have a practice as indicative of what will be seen on Saturdays.  Alabama actually has former starting quarterbacks come back and run the scout team so the Bama defense gets as real of a look as they can.  It’s not uncommon for a Bama player during a game to say they’ve already seen what the opponent has done in practice that week.

In the middle of it all is Nick Saban.  He’s not just on the sidelines barking at people.  He’s in the middle of drills and plays coaching.  By Saturday he’s pretty aware of what to expect based on how that week’s practice went.  Saban immerses himself in practice and he expects his players to do the same.  It all starts at the top but there’s not a day when Nick Saban isn’t preaching fundamentals or using a practice for anything but laser focus on the upcoming opponent.  He’s running a well-oiled machine that never forgets the basics and using every minute of practice as preparation for the opponent.  No minute is wasted.

Part of what helps this is every assistant coach has a student assistant that helps them prepare.  They might be working on film, recruiting information, practice set up, or whatever is needed.  Alabama assistant coaches don’t worry about administrative stuff.  They focus on coaching their players or getting the best players on campus.  There’s no wasted effort on something someone with little experience can do and doesn’t help Alabama win football games.  Every day is about tasks that help win football games and not waste time.  Hence the term 4th and Goal Every Day.

Full Toolbox:

An interesting thing in the book is the author makes a comparison between Belichick and Saban.  They’re very similar in their approach to coaching and the game but there is one difference.  Nick Saban believes in having a full toolbox of things available to him in a game.  Belichick is the exact opposite in that Belichick only wants a couple of tools but he’s going to master those tools and use them in multiple ways.  Think of adapting a hammer and screwdriver to more than what they’re intended for.  On the other hand Saban wants a full toolbox and that’s how he prepares and practices.

He does this across all three units of offense, defense, and special teams.  For special teams an example is the National Championship they won against Clemson two seasons ago.  The on-side kick they did early in the 4th quarter was something they had worked on leading up to the game.  The staff noticed certain spacing in Clemson’s return team responding to the kick team.  During the game Alabama tightened up their spacing on one side which Clemson responded with tightening up theirs.  This left an open area they felt they could kick to and have one of their speedsters get to the ball before Clemson could.  The Special Teams coach told Saban during the game it was there if they wanted it.  Before calling it Saban confirmed with his Special Teams coach who confirmed it was there.  Saban made the call and they executed it perfectly.  Ironically enough when they practiced it during the week the kicker never executed it properly but he got it perfect when it mattered most.  It wasn’t pure luck but film and practice that allowed it to be executed.  Saban knew he had that in his toolbox and used it.

Defensively Alabama has a very complex defense that is prepared for almost anything they’ll see from an offense.  Every player has some kind of call if they see something.  Their linebackers and safeties are usually the most prepared looking for different things but all 11 defenders have things their looking for.  They’re looking for things they’ve seen on film and in practice along with things they haven’t seen from the opponent just in case they pop up.  The entire defense has a complex set of hand signals including the coaches.  If someone sees something that’s not expected as an offense lines up they’ll immediately make a signal to alert the rest of the defense.

Offensively they have every set imaginable to expose a defense to.  They can run their “Elephant” package which is nothing but guys pushing 300 lbs or more to block for 2 guys that are well under 300 pounds.  They can run an empty backfield or double tight ends and do all of it well.  Part of this is how Nick Saban recruits.  Above everything else he’s looking for certain parameters for his normal starting offense and defense but he also adds in different sized guys so he can give a defense multiple looks or attack a weakness if he has personnel they can’t match up with.

At this point in his tenure Nick Saban can load up and play line of scrimmage football or he can play to cover the whole field.  He’d prefer to line up and pay line of scrimmage football but he’s adapted to the game and has a roster of players that can do lots of different things from week to week.  Nobody else in college football can out match Alabama and that’s because Saban has built his team to cover pretty much anything that can be thrown at it.

Defense Evolution:

Along with the previous section about wanting a full toolbox he’s evolved his base defense along the way.  Saban originally ran a 3-4 with a mammoth nose tackle and big guys up front to focus on stopping the run.  As offenses everywhere have evolved to cover more of the field he has adapted his defense to become more athletic across the board.  This allows him to handle the more complex offenses of today.  He runs mostly a 4-3 now with four defensive linemen that are in the 280 range.  They’re not even really classified as defensive tackles or ends as he likes to adapt them to the opponent they’re playing.  Think of Jonathan Allen last year who played between the positions of tackle and end.  He has defensive lineman that he can move around.

At linebacker his guys are much more athletic as well and cover handle the pass and run where they used to be about just defending the run.  The corners are still mostly the same but the safeties are much more about coverage thanks to spread offenses and a lot of Bama’s safeties have some experience playing corner and covering people.

In addition to adapting his personnel from just focusing on the run to handling multiple offenses the defense has also taken on a much more aggressive role on takeaways.  In practice they work on not only stripping the ball but scooping the ball by getting their hands underneath the ball rather than trying to pick it up from the top.  They also work on blocking techniques to spring the guy who recovers the ball.  If a ball comes out the call is “MONEY” so every defender is looking for the ball.  Those that aren’t near it know to set up their blocking scheme which is basically walling off to one side.  The defender that gets the ball knows to look for that wall and run to it.  It’s the same thing for an interception.  It’s not luck the Bama defense has become so good at scoring points on turnovers.  It’s all practice and preparation.

No Divas:

While they’re not perfect Bama has no real divas on their team.  Think of their receiver or running back position which is normal to have diva type personalities.  Bama has had stud receivers like Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, and now Calvin Ridley but you don’t see those guys flash anything.  They just go out and do their jobs.  At running back they’ve had Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy, Derrick Henry, and a few others.  Those guys never made the spoon to mouth hand gesture to feed them.  They just go out and execute their job for what the offense needs.  Other than A.J. McCarron’s tattoo none of them have shown a desperate need for attention.  They just play football.

Defense is the same.  You never see them talking trash.  If they do the other defenders take care of their own real quick and shut it down.  The reality is they’re too busy trying to read the offense and make calls to worry about talking trash.  They’re too disciplined to worry about trash talking partially because they’ve got too much to focus on in doing their jobs.  Think of the Alabama players as obedient dogs.  Obedient dogs tend to not tear up the house or anything because they’re focused on following commands and don’t act out because they get their needed attention every day.

Saban has a team full off players that have too much to worry about on every play so they don’t have time to be knuckleheads.  Plus, Saban just doesn’t deal with that stuff because he knows it takes focus away from what they should be doing.  He’ll give some idiots rope but they don’t get very much.

They also generally don’t screw up off the field.  Sure, there’s been some arrests here and there but depending on the circumstances they don’t tend to stay on the team.  Saban will give a second chance but he never gives a third and if the issues is too severe they won’t get a second chance.  Their on the field discipline carries over to off the field because they know if they screw up off the field they won’t get to play on the field more than likely.  Saban doesn’t have time for that.

A Roster of Alabama Guys:

Something else Saban does that I think is not noticed is he makes sure to keep a reasonable amount of guys that are from Alabama.  In a quick glance of the roster it looks like a little under 50% so it’s not even a majority as he gets a lot of kids out of Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana along with kids across the country because he can.  A lot more Texas kids than I realized as well.

The reason he makes sure to have a reasonable number of true Alabama guys is to keep the pride and passion for Alabama football intact.  There is no pride in a state for a football program like Alabama.  It’s a different culture there and having those guys on the roster make the guys not from Alabama realize what it means to play for Alabama.  Saban could have a roster full of guys from across the country with no ties to the state but he understands there’s an element of pride from the Alabama guys.  Those guys work without question for the program and Saban knows that will rub off on other guys from out of state.  It’s a small factor but it’s a factor going back to Saban thinks of damn near everything to push the program to its limits.

The Lane Kiffin Western Kentucky Game Ass Chewing:

For those of you that remember when Saban chewed on Kiffin’s ass late in a 38-10 blowout last year the book tells why.  They were running second and third stringers and Kiffin called a pretty complex play.  They wound up turning the ball over.  This was with under 2 minutes left and the game was all but over.  Kiffin announced on the headset, “Dumb players make dumb plays.”  A few seconds later Saban comes across the headset and says, “No, dumb coordinators call dumb plays.”

At that point Saban proceeded to walk over to Kiffin and chewed on his ass for blaming the players and calling them dumb.  Saban’s point was that everything begins and ends with the coaching staff.  The players are never to blame because it’s completely on the coaching staff to prepare the players and know what they’re capable of in every situation and every game.

I don’t know of any coach in the country that in a game like that would have done what Saban did.  Most coaches would have been checked out in a game like that and let it go.  Not Saban.  The dude was pissed one of his coaches took a lackadaisical approach at any point in the game and even worse blamed his players.  Saban is coaching to a certain level at every point in every game no matter the score, time, and opponent.

Assistants:

Saban only has one original coach from the time he arrived at Alabama in 2007.  That’s 11 seasons but Saban’s assistants come and go for various reasons.  Some move on and take promotions but some move on at Saban’s urging.

The best example is after the 2013 season Saban urged is second year offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier he should find another job.  That team went 11-2 and averaged 38 points a game never scoring less than 20.  Yes, you read that right.  After an 11-2 season averaging 38 points Saban told his second year coordinator to go find another job.  What other coach in America would do that?  I can’t think of a single one.

After he urged Nussmeier to find another job he went out and hired Lane Kiffin.  Kiffin was a toxic coach but Saban knew he could coach offense and develop quarterbacks.  At the time Saban knew Kiffin would likely be a 2-3 year hire but he didn’t care.  They hadn’t worked together before but Saban simply wanted the best offensive coordinator he could find.  So Saban fired a guy that ran an offense that averaged 38 points to hire a guy that he’d never worked with that was toxic at the time.

Saban just won’t sit back and get complacent.  He’s always looking to have the best staff he can have.  He doesn’t always hire his buddies.  Sure there’s time he hires people he’s familiar with but he hires the absolute best coaches he can hire.  It’s a purely objective approach to Saban.  He expects the best so he hires the best assistants and gives them the resources to be successful as coaches.  Like mentioned earlier each assistant coach has a student assistant so they don’t have to worry about administrative tasks.  He wants his assistant coaches focused on game preparation and recruiting so he gives them a specific resource to make their jobs easier.

In addition to giving them the resources they need to be successful he also values the input of his assistants.  He doesn’t run a dictatorship at all as he listens to their input but he does have final say and everyone knows it.  His assistants know their input is valuable so they’re never reluctant to speak up.

My Closing:

I obviously enjoyed reading the book.  I’d recommend it if you want some insight to how Saban thinks and operates.  It’s not eye opening by any stretch but it is a lot of confirmation of what you would think along with a few nuggets here and there that are specific to how he handles things.  There’s no doubt in my mind Saban is on a different level than everyone else simply because he can cover everything in the program from talent evaluation, game planning, in game coaching, and all the other details needed to run a big time football program.

Something else that’s important is that Saban is left alone by everyone at Alabama.  No one meddles into the football operation at all.  It’s Saban’s program and nobody else’s.  Just get out of his way and let him do his thing or he’ll up and leave.  No big money donor or administrator tries to claim any success with the program.  They know better.  It’s easy to do when you have 4 national championships in 10 seasons along with having been in the hunt for 2 more.  However, people in Alabama know to let Saban do his thing and just enjoy the ride.  They don’t mess with success.  And Saban knows how to find success.

Thoughts From the Florida Game

Keke at Florida

Before I get into the write up of the game I have a couple of housekeeping items.  First, The Swamp reminded me of a blue and orange Kyle Field before renovations.  It’s a big stadium but kind of piecemealed together with lots of concrete.  Sure, one of their end zones is what we copied ours from but the rest of the stadium reminded me of old Kyle.  Cramped concourses and limited bathroom facilities for 90,000 people with no frills at all.  While there are some things I wish they’d done differently at New Kyle the more I visit other stadiums the more thankful I am for New Kyle.  In addition to the physical structure it reminded me of Old Kyle in their fans knew when to get loud on defense.  A lot of other places can be loud but it’s this constant roar most of the game.  At The Swamp there were definite moments when the fans knew when to get loud when our offense was on the field.  Definitely a good football experience.

As for their fans other than the jerkwad that ripped the rea r wiper off my rent car they were very hospitable.  All very pleasant and I never heard anything bad said to us.  They were all very polite.  As for the ripped off wiper, the guy at the rent car return was REALLY confused when I explained what happened.  I handed him all the parts that were still there including the spring to hold it all in place that was screwed up.  He didn’t even say anything about The Association sticker on the window he was so confused by what happened.  He charged me 18 bucks and some change and off I went.

My other personal favorite moment from the game was coming back from the bathroom at halftime I had an Aggie fan ask me what my MAFGA hat and shirt meant.  I looked at her confused like someone had ripped a wiper off my rent car and said, “It’s mostly a joke.”  She looked at me and said, “Okay, but what does it mean?”  I said, “It means we suck and need to get better” and walked off.  I wasn’t sure what else to say because it’s five simple words that couldn’t be clearer – Make Aggie Football Great Again.  I don’t know how to say it any clearer.

As for the game it was a definite tale of two halves.  We looked like crap in the first half.  The defense looked somewhat respectable but the offense was wretched.  In the second half the defense cranked it up to another level and the offense finally moved the ball enough to let Mond score a touchdown in addition to three clutch kicks by LaCamera.  The way things are looking Kevin Sumlin is going to owe John Chavis and LaCamera new cars for Christmas.  Those two guys are single handedly saving his job.  Kellen Mond might deserve a big fruit basket which I’ll get to in a little bit.

Normally I start with the offense first on my team analysis but not this week.  That’s for a reason.

Defense:

Dear Chief – I’m sorry.  I’m so very sorry.  I’m back on the Chief Train and I’m sorry for ever getting off.  I’m not going to say you’re perfect but these last three weeks reminded me of how much you mean to me.  I missed that snot slinging defense but it looks like you have them back.  I’m fully buckled in so let’s take this Chief Train to wherever it is you want to go assuming the snot keeps getting slung.  I’m on board for the rest of the season.

In all seriousness another valiant effort by the defense on Saturday night.  While it’s not without fault as they gave up over 200 yards to a suspect Florida offense in the first half.  The defense took The Swamp singing Tom Petty’s Won’t Back Down to start the 4th quarter to heart.  If you were there you know what I’m talking about.  The offense was struggling to keep the ball moving which left the defense on the field way more than they should have but the defense never quit fighting.  The best example was on Franks’ long “scramble” in the 3rd quarter.  While plenty of Aggie defenders missed tacking him Kingsley Keke stayed focused on made the tackle 79 yards down the field.  Keke is our defensive tackle which means he ran over 79 yards to make sure Franks stayed out of the endzone.  That’s pure heart.  Lots of guys would have quit.

As for the entire unit I have to start with the “Front 6” which is whoever is playing the four down linemen along with Alaka/Dodson.  We rotate the down linemen so much it’s an unheralded effort for everyone doing their job for the rest of the defense to make plays.  As it should be in a game like this Alaka and Dodson lead tackles with 12 and 11 respectively.  Keke came in at third with 8.  Alaka had a solo sack and Dodson was in on one himself.  Right now these 6 “guys” are the MVP of the entire team.  You can’t say enough about how these guys are playing and have been playing since after the Arkansas game.  Crazy to think this is the same defense that gave up 43 points to Arkansas.  Not sure it stays like this but with the effort they’re giving it sure looks like this defense can stay at this level.

Looking at the rest of the stat sheet it’s pretty clear it was a team defensive effort.  After Keke’s 8 tackles we had 10 defenders credited with each individual having between 3 and 6 tackles.  That’s a nice spread and to me tells me we had lots of guys on defense making plays at times.  Outside of the long run by Franks I can’t recall too many mis-plays by the defense.  Seems like assignment football where everyone is doing what they should be doing.  In addition to having 13 guys with at least 3 tackles the defense had 5 sacks and Florida only converted 4 of 15 third downs.  Those are outstanding stats even if Florida is not a potent offense.  The defense stepped up and did what they needed to do when they needed to do it.

Had the offense been able to sustain more drives or even put more points on the board in the first half this might have been an even more impressive performance.  I believe at half Florida had around 100 more yards of total offense and 8-10 more minutes of offensive possession.  The Aggie offense certainly didn’t do the defense any favors in the first half.  Even with that the defense came out in the second half and simply applied more pressure and basically shut the Florida offense down except for one play.  I don’t care how bad the Florida offense is as the Aggie defense was on the road in a tight game and didn’t back down as Tom Petty would say.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens as this defense won’t see any true high powered offenses the rest of the way.  Auburn might be the toughest but LSU may have cracked their offensive code this weekend.  The way this defense has played since the second half of South Carolina there’s no doubt in my mind they’re playing well enough for A&M to win every game if the offense can produce points.

Offense:

As good as the defense was the offense was the opposite.  They looked like crap in the first half.  They only mustered 3 points against a pretty good Florida defense but they had no identity and no clue of what they wanted to do.  It was just random ass plays that never got anything going and no plan of where to attack anything on the Florida defense.  Even in the second half they didn’t look much better other than Mond finally making some plays with his legs.

It’s no secret I’m no fan of Noel Mazzone as an offensive coordinator.  He continues to prove to me he’s just a play picker and never has a plan to attack.  He never seems to attack any part of the defense, string plays together with some plan, or use plays to set up other plays.  It’s just some random ass plays in hopes they work.  Against good defenses like Florida they rarely work and it showed all night.

The offensive line was playing with a couple of backups but the unit was pretty wretched all night.  There’s no doubt this is the weakest link of the team right now.  I’m a big fan of Jim Turner but what I’m seeing right now is making me question his worth.  I know there’s some youth on the line as we were missing a couple of guys so I guess you could say it’s partially on Sumlin and not totally on Turner.  Either way this line is not working as a unit at all.  Koda Martin and Erik McCoy are far and away the best two guys on the line and then everyone else doesn’t do much.

If you want proof look at the running game against Florida.  They’re a good defense but we ran Trayveon and Ford 19 times for a total of 40 yards.  That’s a little over 2 yards per carry.  Their longest runs were 6 and 4 yards.  That’s terrible.  Absolutely terrible as we all know Trayveon and Ford are MUCH more talented than that.  So who’s to blame?  Our offensive line is the key to how many games we win the rest of the way.  There will be some defenses we can run on but these guys are going to have to step up and work as a unit if we’re to win out.  If not we stand a strong chance of losing to Auburn and LSU as they’ve got defenses that can challenge this offensive line.

At receiver it was more of the same and actually had an oddity.  Kirk had by far his worst game of maybe his career dropping I believe 3 easy passes.  He had one catch for 40 yards and then another for 4 yards.  That’s it.  2 catches for 44 yards.  He dropped some sure passes for much bigger gains.  Damion Ratley had a better game catching 2 passes for 72 yards.  Props to Ratley as he keeps showing up as the clear Number 2 receiver behind Kirk.  The worst part about this receiving corps and Mazzone is the continual call for fade routes in the red zone.  It’s maddening because there’s no separation from the defender at all but yet Mazzone keeps calling for the route even though it’s not likely a high probability of completion.  I don’t even think Mazzone is using it to set something else up or keep a defense honest.  I think he really feels it’s a play with a high percentage of scoring a touchdown even though nothing we’ve shown in games say it is.  It’s like he thinks we still have Josh Reynolds on the team.

Then there’s Kellen Mond.  I can’t decide how I feel about him.  He’s a true freshman that’s poised for the most part but his passing this game left a LOT to be desired.  Some of it is receivers dropping the ball or not getting separation but he threw some bad passes.  He was 8 of 24 for 180 yards.  I’ll take the 180 yards against the Florida defense if we had established the run better but we didn’t.  We needed the pass against Florida and Mond was not completing passes.  Our longest pass was 42 yards and we averaged 22.5 yards per completion.  Based on those numbers and what I saw if a receiver wasn’t wide open due to busted coverage we didn’t complete many passes.  It’s great taking advantage of busted coverage but at some point you have to dictate your passing game no matter the coverage.  I wouldn’t say Mond is truly not developing as a passer but it’s not just on him.  The line and receivers aren’t helping him.  Still, he could certainly be developing better.

What Mond has been nails at is making plays when it matters most with his legs.  His ability to escape and run is part of the difference in wins against Arkansas and Florida.  Likely against South Carolina too.  I honestly think if Starkel hadn’t gotten hurt we’d be 3-4 right now and Sumlin CLEARLY fired.  It’s hard for me to determine that because there’s so many variables but what Mond has done late in games with his legs and poise is impressive.  It’s like Tim Tebow with the Broncos when they went to the playoffs.  Tebow would look like crap for 3 quarter but his defense would keep him in the games and he’d make some plays in the 4th quarter to win it.  What matters is how you finish and if you win.  Right now Mond is making plays when it matters most late in the game.  I’ll take that over someone that fades when it matters most.  Mond has a LONG ways to go as a quarterback but his moxie is clear.  Kid loves to play and doesn’t back down at any point.  He actually gets better when it matters most.  There’s a long ways to go in Mond’s development but his intangibles are really solid right now.  There’s a good chance we’re 3-4

without his legs so Sumlin owes him a fruit basket.

Based on our offensive line I tend to believe this is going to be the state of our offense the rest of the way.  We won’t dominate anyone and we won’t continually sustain drives.  With our defense though I think we’ll hang around and continue to make plays in the 4th and win more than we lose the rest of the way.  If I’m a defense I only rush four guys the rest of the way and spy Mond so his legs don’t beat me.  We’ll see what happens but outside of Mond’s legs and Kirk’s ability when he’s not dropping balls there’s not a whole lot of positives from this offense.  If it weren’t for Chief’s defense in the last three games we dogging this offense really bad and calling for Sumlin’s head.  As it is we focus on the positives of this offense.  Funny how winning changes perspective.

One more thing from the game that was COMPLETELY frustrating was the “TD pass” to the tight end.  We FINALLY use the tight end in the red zone and he scores a touchdown.  We executed it perfectly but Kirk was lined up incorrectly.  That’s inexcusable.  As a receiver you have to know the play and if you’re supposed to be lined up on the line or off the line.  That was a poor mistake by Kirk.  Even worse though Mazzone totally went away from that play even though we executed it perfectly.  He got gun shy thinking it was a pure surprise play and never called it again from best I can tell.  I would have called the same play with a different option for Mond if the tight end was covered.  Make them stop a play that works.  That’s what the great offensive coordinators do.  They figure out a play that works and call it until the defense stops it.  They don’t get scared to call it again like Mazzone does.  I don’t get why we’ve just seen it once this season.  It’s a great play assuming Kirk lines up right.

Special Teams:

Daniel LaCamera is the man.  Dude was 4 for 4 on the road with every kick being crucial.  His first two field goals were 46 and 43 yards.  In The Swamp those are tough kicks.  His third kick was for 25 yards in the 4th quarter and his final kick with the game on the line was 32 yards which is no gimmie in college football.  LaCamera has been perfect this year for field goals under 50 yards.  He’s one hell of a weapon and a key reason we’re 5-2 and not 3-4 as well.  He’s been big this year.

As for the rest of the special teams they were pretty solid.  Tripucka averaged almost 50 yards per punt with half his punts being over 50 yards.  He didn’t have any stinkers from what I remember and in a defensive battle that’s huge.

We didn’t return any kickoffs and Kirk returned 3 punts.  On his first two he got around 10 yards each so not terrible but he saved his best for last.  He got 43 yards on his final punt return which was HUGE setting up LaCamera’s final field goal.  I’m not sure if we’re sand bagging or we got lucky but Kirk has had some big returns in special teams when it was needed most.  It’s just kind of frustrating we can’t do anything during the game.

Maybe Jeff Banks knows what he’s doing but the final punt to Kirk was more returnable than execution in my mind.  Florida’s punter didn’t kick it very high or far and Kirk was able to get to it with space.  To Kirk and the special team’s credit there was a wall set up and Kirk knew to run to it.  It was well executed on everyone’s part but that’s 1 out of 8 punts.  I don’t think it’s sand bagging and more luck than anything.

I say this because if you watch the blocking by the punt return team it’s pretty bad.  They don’t hold the punt team at the line at all and the opponent’s punt team will release on the snap.  They’ll have 3-4 guys heading straight down the field which is why Kirk fair catches so much.  It’s not just the punt gunners getting down the field.  It’s 2 other guys heading straight up the field.

We’ve got some great individual talent on special teams but as far as all 11 guys executing as a unit I think it can be much improved.  Our goal really should be to have Frank Beamer or Alabama like special teams play.  It’s a crucial component of every game and especially when you have a great defense and mediocre offense.  If it wasn’t for Kirk’s raw talent returning kicks we likely lose to Arkansas and Florida and be 3-4.  Glad we have the talent because for much of the game the units aren’t doing much.

Going Forward:

Unless Sumlin just falls apart like he’s done in the past this is EASILY an 8-4 team.  We’ll beat New Mexico and the Mississippi schools.  At least we should with the effort we’ve given the last three games.  That leaves Auburn and LSU which I think we can split if not win both.  I just don’t know if we’ll get enough consistency to run the table the rest of the way beating both of those teams.  I think the defense will be there because they’re truly playing as a unit and not relying on individual stars like we might have done last year.  This defense is playing like they have something to prove.  All 11 guys on the field are playing smash mouth defense.

If Sumlin wins 9 he’s clearly safe.  I’m not sure he’s still the long term answer to win a national championship but you can’t fire a guy that wins 9 games with this team.  It’s a remarkable effort.  If he goes 8-4 with losses to Auburn and LSU you have some serious thinking to do because we’ll be fourth in the West yet again.  Despite the effort and youth of this team wins still matter more than anything.  I don’t know the appetite for those making the decisions but at 8-4 with losses to Auburn and LSU there will be some serious debate.

You never know what the final 4 SEC games can bring.  While we could have easily beaten UCLA we could have easily lost to Arkansas and Florida if not for a late special teams return by Kirk and key kicks by LaCamera to win those games late.  The point is there’s no givens for this team over their last 4 SEC teams game.  Anything can happen in those 4 games just like last season.

If Sumlin does survive I think he has to get rid of Mazzone even if we go 10-2.  Defense and individual efforts on special teams will be the main reason why we have that record.  I know a lot of people are concerned about replacing another offensive coordinator but think about this – great teams lose their coordinators ALL the time.

Nick Saban is now on his 6th coordinator in his 11th season at Alabama.  That’s less than 2 years per each.  Yes, Steve Sarkisian counts only serving one game but its proof offensive coordinators change.  Saban had Major Applewhite for one season and then had Jim McElwain for four season which was his longest tenured guy.  Doug Nussmeier then took over and only had the job for two seasons.  Saban ran him off after the second season after they lost the last two games of the season to Auburn and Oklahoma.  Yes, Nick Saban ran off his second year coordinator after an 11-2 season.  Dead serious.  The great ones are always striving to be great over being content.

He then brought in a guy that NOBODY would have thought about hiring in Lane Kiffin.  At the time he hired Kiffin he knew he would be a 2-3 year hire but still hired him anyway because he’s an outstanding offensive coordinator.  He hired Steve Sarkisian last season knowing he’d likely be the replacement for Kiffin.  Sarkisian was the OC for one game but then took the OC job with the Atlanta Falcons.  Saban went and hired a guy from New England who’s proven to be pretty strong so far this season.

The point is great coordinators move on for the most part.  You want someone coming after your coordinators or something is wrong.  Someone like Chief is an anomaly for the most part.  Content and complacent with your staff is not a good place to be as a head coach if you truly strive for greatness.  If Sumlin gets to 8 wins I’m fine keeping him provided he’ll go get a great offensive coordinator.  He has to go get someone great.  Hell, I’d go hire Mike Sherman as my offensive coordinator.  I wasn’t a fan of him as a head coach but his offensive design and play calling is just fine.  Sumlin will need to do something out of the box in my mind to take a leap from where we are.  It starts with getting a really solid offensive coordinator because Mazzone is not the answer.  He’s just not.

I’m fine with Sumlin staying with 8 wins as he will have earned it as this season was on the verge of collapse after UCLA.  However, there are still major holes in this team and he really needs to fix them going forward or it’ll just be more of the same.  If there are no changes we’ll just be wondering if he can get to enough wins to keep his job every season.  I want out of that cycle and I hope he would too.  At some point there has to be a clear direction to Make Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

The Greatest Game in Astros History

2005 NLCS Champs

It’s no secret the Astros don’t have a storied baseball past.  They’ve been a good team at times and have seen a reasonable amount of post season action.  This season marks the 11th time in team history the Astros have seen the post season.  11 times in 55 seasons is not great but it’s not terrible either.  There are a lot worse franchises to be a fan of but there’s a lot better.  That’s assuming you’re an actual baseball fan and didn’t just buy a t-shirt for a winning team in the last 10 years.

Through those 55 seasons there’s one clear great game in Astros history but most fans can’t name it.  They really can’t.  Baseball is a team sport where the main focus should be on winning a World Series.  Because of that there’s one clear greatest game in Astros history but everyone has forgotten about it.  Astros fan’s memories tend to focus on the negatives.

Ask them the memory of their worst Astros game and they’ll immediately bring up Albert Pujols or if they’ve been a fan long enough they’ll tell you about Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS against the Mets.  That game truly hurt if you’ve been an Astros fan long enough.  It was 16 innings of back and forth baseball with a trip to the World Series on the line.  Mike Scott was waiting to dominate Game 7.  Every fan watching knew Game 6 was basically the final game.  Mike Scott wouldn’t have lost Game 7.  No way.  Some fans may even mention the Braves in the late 90s who were a playoff nemesis.

Ask an Astros fans the greatest game in team history and I bet they give pause.  If they’re old enough they’ll probably mention Mike Scott’s no hitter to clinch the 1986 West division title.  While an amazing moment in Astros history it’s not the greatest game ever.  The greatest game ever is obvious but everyone has forgotten because they can’t shake the game before it.  The greatest game in Astros history came 48 hours after Albert Pujols put that indelible mark in Astros fan’s brains.  The greatest game in Astros history is Game 6 of the 2005 NLCS.

That game sent the Astros to their first ever World Series.  The only time the Astros have ever been to the World Series.  The game that launched the Astros to their one and only World Series has to be the greatest game ever.  Most fans forget Roy Oswalt put the entire franchise on his back for 7 innings.  After Pujols hit that mammoth shot to win Game 5 the majority of Astros fans assumed they’d lose both games in St. Louis.  For 2 days everyone talked with a defeated attitude because every Astros fan assumed the Astros stood no chance in St. Louis after the Pujols blast.

Everyone forgot Roy O was taking the mound in Game 6 and everyone forgets about him now.  Roy O didn’t care about the Pujols home run in Game 5.  It meant nothing to him.  He simply took the ball and dominated the Cardinals for 7 innings.  He gave up 3 hits and 1 run over 7 innings.  He struck out 6 and only walked 1 over those 7 innings.  Sure, it wasn’t a no-hitter or even a complete game shutout but if you watched the game you saw Roy O dominating from the start.  When the Astros got 2 runs in the top of the 3rd inning you had an easy feeling.  It felt different.  It really felt like the Astros were going to do it.  Roy O was a bulldog that game working both sides of the plate.  He even came inside on Pujols causing him to dance in the box.  Roy O wasn’t backing down from anyone.  That was his game.  For 7 innings he put the entire Astros franchise on his back.

He handed the ball off to Chad Qualls and Dan Wheeler to close the last 2 innings with no runs.  When Jason Lane caught the final out in right field the Astros had finally won their first National League pennant in 44 years of existence.  44 years is a long damn time.  Game 6 of the 2005 NLCS ended that drought.  The World Series finally came to Texas.  Roy O put an entire franchise on his back and made it happen after one of the worst moments in franchise history.

The next time you think about the Pujols homerun think about the game 48 hours later instead.  Think about how for 7 innings Roy O wasn’t going to let the Astros lose.  He just wasn’t.  In the grand scheme the Pujols homerun actually meant nothing.  Roy O made sure of that.  He took the mound and put on one of the greatest pitching performances in Astros history.  Not the greatest pitching performance but considering what was on the line it was the gutsiest.  Most fans didn’t believe it would happen going in but Roy O made sure of it coming out.

There’s no doubt the greatest game in Astros history is that game.  Let’s all hope that game is replaced this season with a World Series title.  Let’s hope this year’s team channels their inner Roy Oswalt.  This franchise is due to win it all and it’s time for someone to be the Roy O in a World Series clinching game.  Let’s earn it.

If you need a reminder to smile just watch this and remember where you were:

Thoughts from the Bama Game

Saban at Kyle

While I’m not really into moral victories what we saw on Saturday night at Kyle Field was not at all what I expected going in.  Alabama was coming in having trucked their previous two SEC opponents 49-0 and 66-3.  I didn’t expect the Aggies to even cover the 26.5 spread but they did more than that.  While they came out flat at times they continued to get off the mat and trade punches with Bama.  So much so that towards the end of the game it was the Aggies delivering the blows but it was too little and too late.  It was a Moral Victory Saturday but moral victories only go so far in the SEC.  The question remains how do the Aggies respond from this?  Do they carry it over to Florida next Saturday or do they forget all about it?

Before I go any further I have to say my moment of the game was seeing Gene Stallings on the field with the 1967 team.  The man is 82 years old and had a heart attack last weekend and was on a ventilator last week.  I’m sure at some point last week someone asked him if he wanted to make the game and his response was, “Yeah, I’m going to be there.  Why are you asking?”  A Junction Boy at his finest.

Overall I thought the defense was TREMENDOUS but the offense still has a LONG ways to go.  You know Alabama is going to score points and our defense held them to 27 points while our offense turned the ball over 3 times.  The defense gave up a couple big plays that lead to touchdowns.  Most notably was the 75 yard touchdown run after we went up 3-0.  The other was to open the second half when we had Bama at 3rd and 4 on their opening drive and they completed a 30 yard pass to Calvin Ridley.  Had we done a 3 and out on their opening drive to the second half then Kyle Field might have erupted.  They weren’t perfect but they were pretty damn good against a damn good team.

Because of the defensive effort against Bama I think this is a 9-3 team right now IF they build on Saturday’s game.  If that was a one-time effort then I still think it’s a 7-5 ball team.  Part of why I think this is a 9-3 team is because the teams left on the schedule outside of Auburn don’t look good at all.  If this defense shows up the rest of the way and our offense makes some improvement then Kevin Sumlin is going to be our coach again next season as he shouldn’t be fired if he wins 9 games.  Insane to think we’re sitting here after the Bama game thinking this could be a 9 win football team.  UCLA seems so far away right now.

Offense:

Dissecting the offense is really strange because of the emotional component of the moral victory.  It seems like the offense did pretty good but in reality it was pretty pedestrian.  Sure, it was against Bama but we turned the ball over 3 times.  308 total yards of offense is pretty good but it seemed to come in spurts through the air.  Mond passed for 237 yards but 127 of those came on 4 passes.  He was pretty accurate at 19 of 29 and had some great scrambles so he kept drives alive but I still question the consistency of this offense to maintain drives and really contribute to winning games.

The kid is developing but my issue is with the coaching.  I still contend Mazzone is simply a play picker.  He doesn’t know how to call a series of plays or set anything up.  Our best plays seem to be when the athleticism of our talent is able to make something happen.  It’s not necessarily a consistent offensive scheme or game plan based on attacking the weakness of a defense.  Mazzone isn’t terrible but I still think this is a haphazard scheme that is going to have a few stinkers in the second half of the season.  I like Mond and how he’s developing but I don’t think Mazzone is a superior offensive playcaller.  This offense can and should be better.

The other thing about coaching is our wide receivers.  Christian Kirk we all know about but to me the clear number 2 receiver is Damion Ratley.  I have to give Ratley mad props because he’s really developed this year but he’s not Josh Reynolds.  Outside of Kirk and Ratley nobody is really doing anything throughout the game.  I know the other guys are young but outside of raw physical talent I’ve not seen much out of the receivers as far as superior routes and getting separation.  If we could get more consistent play from our receivers this offense could go.  This goes back to what we saw out of Ricky Seals Jones and Speedy Noil.  We don’t have consistency at receiver across the board when it’s supposedly a strength.  It’s a lot of talk and much less action.

At running back this game I felt we should have used a lot of Keith Ford coming into this game.  After the game I thought Trayveon had a lot more carries but he had 15 carries where Ford had 11 so they were pretty equal.  Trayveon got 38 yards and Ford got 20 so Trayveon was definitely the better running back this game but not by much.  Trayveon had some nice catches out of the backfield so looks like he was the right choice.  I still prefer the idea of trying to establish the run with Ford between the tackles and then use Trayveon as the homerun threat but let’s face it against Bama there was no homeruns to be had.

As for the offensive line they’re doing okay but they’re not dominant by any stretch.  If it wasn’t for Mond’s athleticism there would have been a lot more than the 4 sacks.  We definitely couldn’t establish the run either.  I know it’s Alabama but still would like to see our offensive line establish a bigger presence at the line of scrimmage.  This is just a decent but not great offensive line.  I was hoping more out of Jim Turner at this point but we’ll see what happens the rest of the season.  There’s a LOT of improving to be done here.

One key play that didn’t matter in the grand scheme now but proves this offensive staff isn’t thinking 2-3 plays out is when we got the late pass to Buckley to the 1 yard line.  We had no timeouts and there was about 40 seconds left on the clock.  We’re done two scores.  We call a run play that wasn’t successful and there’s another 20 seconds that ran off the clock.  We scored on a Mond run the next play but it was down to 19 seconds.  We should have ABSOLUTELY called a pass play with 40 seconds left if we’re thinking about what would be needed to win the game.  At worst a roll out by Mond so he can throw the ball away to save clock.  We were out of timeouts partially because we couldn’t get a play in on time in the THIRD quarter.  There is NO reason where a timeout should ever be used because you’re late to get in a play in third quarter.  But yet we’re not using the clock with any consideration for what’s going on in the game.  It’s minor but it shouldn’t be.  Thinking small is going to cost us in a game that we can actually win.  It already did with UCLA.

Defense:

Remember when I got off the Chavis train after Arkansas?  Well, um, I’m checking departure times and locations because I’m SERIOUSLY thinking of getting back on.  Outside of maybe 3-4 plays, that was an AWESOME defensive effort for 4 quarters against a great offense.  I mean it was outstanding.  Now, Bama did play into our strength of stopping the run as Bama ran twice as many times as they attempted to pass.  Bama was hell bent on running the ball and we didn’t back down at all.  We traded punches all night with Bama so kudos to the Chief and company.

If I have to give an MVP for this game it’s to the Front 6 of our defensive line and Otara Alaka and Tyrel Dodson.  Those guys took shots from Bama all night and never backed down and traded punches for all 4 quarters.  I mean that looked like real slobber knocker football and A&M stood their ground the whole damn game.  We sacked Hurts 3 times which is pretty remarkable as it takes more than one guy to sack Hurts because of his scrambling ability.  It takes linemen and linebackers keeping containment and basically corralling Hurts.  Hurts still ran for 76 yards but the dude is an underrated runner so he’s going to get his.  You take away Damien Harris’ 75 yard run and Harris and Scarbrough got about 100 yards on 28 carries.  That’s freaking remarkable.  Our defensive line and linebackers were just outstanding all game long.

As for everyone else it was pretty much Armani Watts and nobody else.  Bama was attacking our front so the defensive backs and other linebackers didn’t get many opportunities but Watts was his usual self being all over the field making stops.  He had 7 solo tackles which is pretty impressive.  That is his specialty though of playing forward but he still showed up.

As for what else to say about this defense you saw it.  Alabama walked into Kyle Field wanting to establish the run and we shut them down for the most part.  Coming into the season outside of the defensive tackles I didn’t think we had the talent at defensive end to do what we did against Bama.  Durham and Johnson at defensive end deserve major props for filling in for Garrett and Hall.  These guys have really been the difference in this defense.  Bama only converted 4 of 14 third downs which is also remarkable.  That’s less than 30% which you can’t ask for much more.

If we can keep up what happened against Bama for four quarters there’s no doubt we can win 9 games.  The Chief will basically save Sumlin’s job.  I think at this point Chief just keeps the defense’s ears pinned back and utilize the strength of this defense which is the defensive line and the linebackers.  I won’t call them the front 7 as outside Alaka and Dodson there’s not a clear third linebacker to me. Whatever you want to call it those 6 guys are pretty damn good.  Not many teams can trade punches with Alabama for four quarters and keep delivering blows until the end of the game.  Our defense did that on Saturday night and that’s pretty remarkable.

Special Teams:

Special Teams had two big key moments.  The first was LaCamera’s 52 yard field goal to get the first points on the board.  That was nice shot to show Bama we came to play.  The second was the punt block by the 12th Man.  It was a short punt so it wasn’t difficult but glad we were able to get back there.  We actually might have been better off letting them punt it out but if you can block the punt you block it.  I just wish we tried more punt blocks since we’re not returning any.  Our punt return team remains horrible.

Other than those things special teams was it’s usual not special self.  Nothing of great memory.

Looking Forward:

Coming into the season I thought the Florida game would be a loss but was winnable.  At this point I think we beat Florida.  I really do.  I think our defense brings the pressure and shuts the Florida offense down.  I think our offense does enough big plays to score the needed points to walk out of The Swamp with a win.  I’m not sure 20 points are scored in that game but I think A&M can win.  Hell, I think A&M might actually blow Florida out so don’t be surprised by that.  If I had to pick a score I’d say 23-9 Aggies.

That will put us at 6-2 because we’ll beat New Mexico and we’ll have games remaining against Miss St, Auburn, Ole Miss, and LSU.  I think at worst we’ll split those which will put us at 8-4 on the season at minimum.  Based on what I’ve seen I think there’s a strong chance we can beat every team but Auburn.  Auburn is absolutely beatable at Kyle even though Sumlin has never done it.  This could actually be a 10-2 team and be the second best team in the West.  Crazy to think but based on what I saw on Saturday night it’s possible because I think the Aggie defense might have just figured things out.

Now, if we lose to Florida everything I just wrote is off the table as I think we’ll do our usual late season swoon.  We’ll have a good idea of where things are headed with Sumlin by the end of the Florida game.  It could be post Bama or post UCLA.  I have no clue but I do think we win the game this weekend.  Maybe we swoon after that but I don’t think so.  This team fought too hard on Saturday to make me think they swoon one final time for Sumlin.

Thoughts from the South Carolina Game

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Before I get to anything on Saturday’s game I have to commend the 12th Man.  They were OUTSTANDING on Saturday night.  I wouldn’t call it the greatest performance ever but it was as solid as it comes considering the opponent.  Kyle Field was rocking and especially after the targeting call.  Kyle was buzzing most of the game but that targeting call turned Kyle into an all-out roar and one I think factored into the win.  If Fran was around every person in attendance would be receiving an MTXE t-shirt in the mail.  That’s Mental Toughness, Xtra (sic) Effort for those of you that have forgotten some of Fran’s greatest “motivation” tactics.  I still miss Fridays with Fran and Kim’s Corner.  Always nice to know what was going on with the coach and his wife since we weren’t winning.

This week’s write up is going to be shorter than normal because what happened on Saturday was what we’ve seen the last three games.  A8M came out lethargic and with no real plan or purpose.  Why that is I have no idea.  The 4th quarter has a lot of people excited for the rest of the season but let’s pump the brakes a tad.  We were down at half in a home game against a pretty pedestrian South Carolina team.  A South Carolina team that I’d say has a MUCH worse offense than Arkansas and slightly better defense.  There was NO reason to go into half down 10-7 but yet we did.

Coming out of half it was the same thing.  No sense of urgency and no real plan.  We punted on our first two possessions of the second half while SoCar scored on their first possession of the second half to go up by 10.  A&M kicked a field goal towards the end of the third quarter to make it a 7 point game but there was still no sense of urgency.  Kyle still had a decent buzz but there was no urgency or apparent desire to impose our will.

That seemed to all change early in the 4th quarter when Camron Buckley was ejected for targeting.  Per the letter of the rule the refs made the right call.  Buckley wasn’t intentionally targeting I don’t think but when you’re leading with your head towards higher up on a person and you make contact with their helmet you’re more than likely going to get called.  It’s a gray area for player safety but it’s the rule.  Ironically I think his ejection was the difference in the game as Kyle Field turned into an all-out roar and the A&M team all of a sudden had a sense of urgency and purpose.  Sad that it took that to get the team a sense of urgency but I really think that changed the game.  We scored two plays later to tie it up and then dominated the rest of the game but still only won by 7 so the final emotion everyone felt hides the reality of the game in my mind.

Offense:

For three quarters this offense looked really ho hum.  No real plan and no sense of urgency.  After three quarters at Kyle Field against a decent but not great SoCar defense we had 10 points.  TEN POINTS.  Against a decent team we’re not down just 7 in the 4th quarter and we don’t score 14 in the 4th quarter to win the game.  At least I don’t think.  The offense seems to respond to the defense’s effort and that needs to change at some point.  The offense needs to have its own urgency and plan.  The end result was fine with 24 points and a 7 point win but the complete game picture still creates cause for concern from an offensive standpoint.

Kellen Mond from a passing standpoint was fairly accurate completing 19 of 27 passes but he only passed for 159 yards so he wasn’t exactly lighting it up with deep balls.  A lot of smart passes from him which was good to see but despite the 70% completion rate I wouldn’t paint this as a dominant passing effort.  It almost seems SoCar played a solid defense to keep him contained through the air knowing where he would go but maybe I’m wrong.  Will Muschamp isn’t a great head coach but he’s still a pretty defensive guy so that SoCar defense kept Mond contained for the most part since we only scored 10 points through 3 quarters and no big passing plays through the whole game.  Our longest passes were for 26 and 21 yards with no other pass over 20 yards.

Mond did have an outstanding day running the ball rushing 15 times for 106 yards if you take away the sack.  That’s about 7 yards per rush and even more impressive was his longest run was only 19 yards so he was pretty consistent running the ball.  You’d like to see him break one for a long run like Johnny or Trevor but he doesn’t have their breakaway speed and was taking what the defense was giving it seemed.  Mond was pretty consistent running and only getting sacked once so it says he was making decent reads.  Not dominating but he’s still a true freshman playing behind an offensive line that isn’t exactly dominating either.

Keith Ford was our best back for the game rushing 12 times for 71 yards and two touchdowns.  He was great in the red zone scoring our final two touchdowns to put us up.  Trayveon seemed a little hesitant at times as I think he kept waiting for bigger holes to develop that never did.  He and Ford are different backs where Ford hits the hole immediately like a singles hitter just wanting to get on base.  Trayveon waits a little longer to see if something bigger develops as he likes to hit for extra bases and especially home runs.  They’re great complements to each other assuming Mazzone or Sumlin is using them based on how the game is being played.

In the 4th quarter for whatever reason we finally decided to pound the ball.  We ran 20 plays in the 4th quarter with 15 being runs and 5 being passes.  The passes were solid completions but I don’t think it’s a surprise we scored 14 points on back to back possessions down 7 because we decided to commit to the running game.  I get having balance so the defense doesn’t focus on stopping one aspect but at some point its okay to go with what seems to be the strength of this team which is running the ball.  We run the ball much better than we can pass and I still haven’t figured out why we’re so afraid to use the run game to set up the pass.  Had we committed to running against Arkansas and SoCar in the 1st quarter and all game I don’t think those are close games in the 4th quarter that we win by 7.  We beat UCLA as well if we keeping running the ball in the second half.

Receiver and offensive line was more of the same from the ULaLa and Arkansas games.  Pretty consistent play but not dominant.  The worse move was they once again went with a true freshman offensive line early in the 2nd quarter I believe.  They accounted for 2 incompletions and a sack.  I hope that grouping of offensive linemen never sees the field together again as they have accounted for three and outs the last three times they’ve seen the field.  We’d be better off kneeling three times and punting to let the clock run and minimize contact on our offensive players.  I don’t understand it at all.  We hear it’s for conditioning but if 1-2 series a game is supposed to pay off in November we’re in bigger trouble than we think.  We’re bringing them in when the game is in question and continually wasting a series with that grouping.  It’s maddening and at this point its insanity doing the same thing expecting different results.

I’m still not sure this offense takes a leap from what we’ve seen the last three games.  There’s promise but there’s still just so much inconsistency in the play calling and execution.  I’m not sure we see a dominant game from start to finish unless we commit to the run much earlier and stick with it.  I have a feeling against Bama we’re going to have to go away from the run as they shut it down and get ahead so we have to play catch up through the air.  Not sticking to the run against Bama won’t help us against Florida which I’ll get to in a little bit.

Defense:

Other than a few plays this was an outstanding defensive performance.  Without a doubt our best effort all season but make no mistake South Carolina might be the worst SEC offense we see all season.  I’m dead serious.  That was a REALLY bad South Carolina offense.  Every SEC team we play from here on out will be better than this one.  South Carolina was missing their starting right tackle and starting right guard.  In addition they were missing their best offensive player in wide receiver Deebo Samuel.  Jake Bentley is a decent quarterback but he’s no world beater for sure.  Ettlinger at LSU might be worse but he has a MUCH better supporting cast.

With that, the defense still deserves credit for playing 4 quarters of really good football.  We held SoCar to 256 yards and they had four plays that accounted for 131 yards.  That’s over 50% of their yards in four plays out of roughly 56 offensive plays.  So for 52 plays they averaged less than 2.5 yards per play.  That’s DAMN good.  Even if the SoCar offense isn’t all that great that’s a defense that stepped up and dominated when opportunity presented itself.  That’s way better than the Sex Panther defense I thought this group was.  93% of the time our defense worked every time.  Kudos to the unit as if they don’t step up and dominate those 52 plays there’s a good chance we lose this game.

As for individuals our defensive tackles took care of business like always.  They were excellent.  Their play allowed Alaka and Dodson to have outstanding games.  Alaka had the game of his life with 7 solo tackles and 2 assisted tackles including 2 sacks.  Dodson was our second leading tackler with 4 solos and 1 assisted.  That’s awesome when our linebackers are our leading tacklers as opposed to our defensive backs like last week.  Landis Durham continues to show up giving a presence at defensive end I didn’t think we’d have coming into the season.  He got two sacks which so he continues to bring pressure to the quarterback.  In total we had 7 sacks so even if that was the worst SEC offense we’ll see all season we took advantage and brought big time pressure.

No defensive back really stood out.  Kind of surprised we didn’t pick a pass off but that’s okay.  Bentley completed a little better than 50% which isn’t bad but pretty obvious we had decent coverage all game.  Other than the 45 yard touchdown which was a broken play we had solid coverage all night.  This wasn’t really a game for the defensive backs to stand out considering SoCar ran the ball 26 times and passed 30 times so they were balanced and got nothing on the ground.  I would have liked to have seen a lower yards per completion but this is an era of college football where teams are going to get yards through the air.  This was a game for the front seven to shine and they definitely did that.

I’m not back on the Chief Train yet but I am at the station wondering if he’s gonna get the thing chugging along again.  I know this goes against what I said earlier but at this point in seeing the defense I think he just needs to channel his inner Wade Phillips and dial up pressure after pressure.  If we give up big plays so be it.  I think this defense plays best with its ears pinned back.  Might as well pin them back and see what happens.  With Durham, Alaka, Dodson, Pryor, and even Jarret Johnson stepping up we might as well see what we can do.  It won’t matter against Bama but we don’t need to get dejected if Bama trucks us and get back to bringing the pressure when we roll into Gainesville.  We should pin our ears back against Bama but if we aren’t successful we shouldn’t change the approach.  Just know it’ll get easier against teams not named Bama.

Special Teams:

Once again nothing special here.  Kirk had a botched punt but other than that he never attempted a return.  He never had a chance to make a return so we’re not getting any return blocking at all.  I still contend we need to attempt a block just to keep their punt coverage team honest in staying home.  It looks like they’re releasing multiple guys down the field and we’re having problems blocking them.  For the last 14 punts we’ve had ZERO attempts at a return.

South Carolina had a couple decent kick returns against us so we didn’t execute on those two kickoffs.  We had one return were Christian Kirk took it out from the end zone and only got 10 yards so we started an offensive drive at the 10 yard line.  That’s not good.  Night and day from Arkansas.

I thought Tripucka had his worst game this season as he had a chance to pin SoCar inside their 20 yard line but instead kicked it into the end zone.  He did get the 3 punts inside the 20 but his specialty has always been his ability to pin an offense inside the 20.  He failed twice this game which isn’t terrible but we should really be perfect never kicking a punt into the end zone.  He was 60% pinning teams inside the 20.  Know what is also effective 60% of the time?  Sex Panther.  We don’t need our punter turning into a Ron Burgundy bit.  Just pin the opponent inside the 20.

Going Forward:

Despite what happened in the 4th quarter I expect Bama to truck us.  They’re flat out rolling right now.  They beat Florida State 24-7 to open up the season and then in their last two SEC games have won 59-0 and 66-3.  I know that’s Vandy and Ole Miss but let’s not kid ourselves we’re light years better than those teams.  We’re definitely better but those are ass kickings.  Bama is firing on all cylinders while we’re playing inconsistent football.  Nick Saban doesn’t have let down games and I expect them to throttle us 44-10.

They’ll get a least one defensive touchdown and one special teams touchdown I think.  Our defense will do an admirable job for a portion of the game but Bama will just wear us down.  Our offense will completely sputter other than a couple of drives.  I know anything can happen but this is Bama up against a lesser talented and less consistent A&M offense from last year.  We didn’t do so well last year when it was all said and done.  Our only chance is having a plan to give Keith Ford the ball at least 20 times this game.  If we don’t do that that tells me Sumlin and Mazzone can’t make honest assessments of our offense and opponents from film.  Normally I’d say you have to take to the air against Bama and play tempo but I don’t think we have the quarterback and receivers to do that.  Just pound Ford and see what happens.  Maybe our defense can hold and Ford can wear down the Bama defense.  Even if he doesn’t it’ll be good practice to practice a focused runing for the remaining games on the schedule.  Yes, I’m serious about using a Bama loss to benefit the rest of the season.  Challenge our offensive line against the best defensive front in college football.

After Bama the only other sure loss I see on the schedule right now is Auburn.  Malzahn appears to have that team rolling as well.  Anything can happen but that’s a talented Auburn team that seems to be playing up to its potential.  That puts our ceiling at 9-3 in my mind needing to get wins over Florida, Miss St, Ole Miss, and LSU.  Those all look like winnable games right now but I still feel we split those or at best go 3-1 which will put as at 8-4.

We’ll just have to see how we respond in Gainesville after Bama.  If we can squeeze a win in Florida which is entirely possible then 9-3 is a lot more possible.  Even though Florida doesn’t look like a great team that won’t be an easy game going on the road the week after Bama.  Both Mississippi schools look very beatable so I’d say 7-5 is our floor right now.

The wild card is obviously LSU because they look terrible right now.  I mean they just look terrible.  They still have plenty of time to get focused and that’s a talented team.  I FULLY expect Ed Orgeron to coach every practice shirtless from here on out threatening to whip every Tiger player’s ass that doesn’t give max effort.  I really do.  No more mumbling and eating gumbo during practice.  It’s Shirtless Ed threatening to whip the ass of every Tiger player that’s not focused on getting better.  I’m kind of hoping he might even coach shirtless but I don’t think the NCAA will allow that happen.  I’d love to see Ed Orgeron shirtless on the sidelines in a game.  I think the NCAA needs to rethink that rule about coaching attire.  College football needs Shirtless Ed.