Author: rcwouldhavegonefor2

Thoughts on the Ole Miss Game

2017 Ole Miss

This week’s thoughts are going to be pretty short because the Ole Miss game was more of the same as we’ve seen all season.  Even with Nick Starkel starting his first game of the year against a P5 team since UCLA it was much of the same.  I will say that had Kellen Mond started the game we likely lose.  Ole Miss committed to shut down the run and luckily Starkel was able to complete passes.  If we don’t have a passing game then we lose that game without a doubt.

Before I get to my analysis the craziest thing about the game was the first 7 possessions by each team were mirror images.  When Ole Miss scored A&M scored.  When Ole Miss punted A&M punted.  When Ole Miss turned the ball over A&M turned the ball over.  Pretty crazy first 14 possessions for the game.

Now to my quick analysis of the game.

Offense:

We scored 31 points but only 21 of those were by the offense.  All of those in the first half.  The defense was responsible for 7 of those points and LaCamera was responsible for the other 3.  Outside of responding to what Ole Miss was doing in the first half this offense didn’t do much at all.  Every chance we had to really respond and take the lead or even start pulling away we didn’t do anything.  It was completely frustrating seeing us get the ball with a chance to take the lead or pull away and couldn’t do anything.

I believe coming into this game Ole Miss was 125th against the run in the country.  That’s out of 129 teams.  That’s not good as they’ve given up around 5.5 yards every carry.  What did A&M do to exploit that?  Not a damn thing.  A&M running backs rushed 38 times for 133 yards.  That’s 3.5 yards per carry which isn’t terrible.  Take away Keith Ford’s 43 yard run and we rushed 37 times for 90 yards.  That’s 2.43 yards per carry.  Against the 125th ranked run defense in the country that’s terrible.  Three yards a carry less than their average.   That’s maddening we couldn’t exploit that.

Even worse is Trayveon Williams carried the ball 26 times for 75 yards.  That’s averaging 2.9 yards a carry but the worst part is his longest run was 6 yards.  Trayveon got the ball 26 times and the longest run he could muster was 6 yards.  26 chances and his longest run was 6 yards.  Trayveon’s longest run was what Ole Miss gives up on average every run coming into the game.  Let that sink in.  Trayveon is a home run hitting running back so that’s all on our offensive line.  On 26 carries not once could they open up a hole big enough for Traveon to bust off a run longer than 6 yards.  That’s terrible.  It seems it was just basic running schemes off the left guard or right guard.  It was great to see us commit to the run in the second half but it’s disconcerting that we couldn’t actually establish a running game against a TERRIBLE run defense.

I know our offensive line is terrible but it’s more frustrating that our offense can’t scheme any home run plays for two really good backs.  Especially against a team that’s struggled against the run.  We couldn’t really do anything in the running game other than what a high school team can do.  I don’t get it.  It appeared to be basic zone blocking and nothing more.  I’m fine with zone blocking but when you can’t establish it against a terrible run defense you better have something else in your back pocket to try.  We had nothing other than keep handing off and crossing the fingers hoping a big play happens.

We also still had issues with snaps.  I don’t know how many there were but I believe I counted around 5 during the game.  There was a crucial one being on the last drive where we were trying to punch it in to the end zone to put the game away.  It completely stalled out a potential goal line score.  Erik McCoy is our best offensive lineman by far but I have no clue why he can’t clean up his snaps.  I don’t get it at all.

Starkel was 19 of 32 for 272 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception.  That’s less than 50% so he wasn’t exactly lighting it up but it was a solid enough performance.  It was definitely good enough to win and I don’t think Mond would have done the same.  We might have had a better running game with Mond but it wouldn’t have been dominating at all.  Mond wouldn’t have been the difference in establishing a running game but just more likely he would have busted off a couple longer runs.  I still think we lose with Mond though.  Starkel helped us win that game but the defense in the second half was the reason we won the game.  Not the offense.

From a receiving standpoint Damion Ratley had probably the best game of his career.  He was outstanding catching 5 balls for 111 yards and a touchdown.  He had two big catches on our first two offensive possessions when we had to respond to Ole Miss scores.  He’s had his ups and downs this season but he’s been tremendous at times.  Kirk had his normal productive game catching 5 balls for 77 yards.  Jhamon Ausbon had probably his best game of the season catching 4 balls for 61 yards.  Outside of those three there wasn’t much else in the passing game.

Let’s get to some nitpicking.  There was an extremely frustrating moment in the first half.  It looked like we were setting up a trick play or some kind of play to our tight end.  We wind up false starting as the tight end streaked down the field before the snap.  That’s completely a high school team move.  We’re about to call a play with a wrinkle and our offense got ancy completely screwing it up.  Similar to what happened in the Florida game.  It just reeks of being unprepared and not disciplined.

From a coaching standpoint on offense Kevin Sumlin showed what appears to be continued complete unawareness of urgency.  Ole Miss is lining up to kick a 28 yard field goal tied 21-21 with 28 seconds left in the half.  The clock isn’t rolling because there was an incomplete pass so there’s no need to call a timeout by A&M.  We call a timeout so I guess Sumlin thought he was icing the kicker.  Um, you can’t ice a kicker on a 28 yard field goal.  That’s 8 yards longer than an extra point.  There’s no icing a 28 yard attempt.  I’m not sure what Sumlin was thinking with that timeout.  I really don’t.  By the time the kick went through the uprights there was 24 seconds left in the half.  That’s not a lot of time but you can move the ball with 24 seconds and two timeouts to set up a field goal and try to tie the game going in at half time.  Those two timeouts would allow you to attack the middle of the field rather than just the sidelines.

What happens when Ole Miss kicks off?  They kick the ball short to Trayveon and he bobbles it before taking off.  Seems like a lack of focus or urgency by him but he actually got to the 32 yard line with 17 seconds left.  Not a lot of time but decent position and you have one timeout.  Go for the middle of the field, call the timeout, and go for a hail mary.  What do we do?  We run the ball.  Trayveon runs to the sideline for a 2 yard gain stopping the clock.  We then rush it up the middle for 6 yards and let time expire.  I don’t get it.  If you have no intention of calling the timeout you have why not kneel it?

If you don’t want to take a chance on a pass why not call the timeout and run the ball again on a draw or screen in case you happen to break a long run?  It’s not likely but if you’re going to try and run twice why not try a third time?  It’s just mind boggling what Sumlin is thinking in those situations.  He doesn’t have ANY sense of urgency or awareness.  I’d been fine if he just kneeled it.  Why expose your running back to two additional hits along with your other players if you have no interest in scoring?  I just don’t get Sumlin’s end of the half play and clock management.  I don’t think he honestly knows either.

Another situation was at the end of the game we’re up by 4 with 2 minutes left on the 1 yard line.  It’s 4th down and Sumlin decides to kick the field goal.  It’s a chip shot which would put us up by 7 but we now have to kick off to Ole Miss with a little less than 2 minutes left.  Ole Miss has no timeouts left and would have to score a touchdown.  Sumlin decided rather than attempt a 4th and goal from the 1 yard line he’d rather go up by 7 and kick off to Ole Miss.  If we score the game is over.  No way Ole Miss can score 11 points with less than 2 minutes and no timeouts.  If we don’t make it then Ole Miss has to drive 99 yards for a touchdown with 2 minutes and no timeouts because a field goal won’t be enough.  I would think a head coach would know the probabilities of a team scoring from a kickoff in under 2 minutes or driving 99 yards in 2 minutes.  I can’t help but think driving the 99 yards with 2 minutes and no timeouts to be much less likely.

To make matters worse I think our kickoff specialist who can kick it out of the back of the end zone was hurt as LaCamera was handling kick offs.  LaCamera is a great field goal kicker but doesn’t have Braden Mann’s leg on kick offs.  We don’t even have our best kick off guy which would seems more reason to go for the touchdown to put it away or set up a 99 yard drive.

LaCamera kicks off to their 15 and they return it to their 34 yard line so they’re set up pretty well.  Ole Miss has three incompletes which ended their series before it could ever get going so we wound up just fine.  Sumlin’s decision there just reeks of a coach not confident in his offense and not knowing the likely percentages of a team scoring with 2 minutes and no timeouts either having to go 99 yards or receiving a kickoff that’s returnable.  It turned out fine but I would love to know if Sumlin knows the related probabilities in those two scenarios.  I would think a coach would have some clue.  Maybe Sumlin knows the probabilities and that was the basis for his decision but I highly doubt it.

He just seems to have ZERO sense of urgency or awareness for what’s going on for all facets of the game when it comes to making decisions.  It appears he just decides in a vacuum of actual football probabilities and awareness for his team.

Defense:

We’ll talk about the first half briefly.  We all saw what happened.  It’s confusing how we gave up over 300 yards in the first half but only 66 in the second half.  It’s tremendous we did it because it saved the game for A&M but the difference in the halves is amazing.  From my standpoint there was no sense of urgency coming out to play the first half.  There were TONS of missed tackles it seemed.  There was no swarming to the ball and the defense just seemed to be going through the motions.  Ole Miss wasn’t known as a running team coming into the game but they ran all over us in the first half.  Defending the run with our front 6 has been a strength of this team for most of the season.  It was terrible for a half against a team not known for running the ball.  I didn’t understand it as it was happening and still don’t for the most part.

The second half was completely different as our defense shut down the Ole Miss offense.  They held Ole Miss scoreless and only allowed 66 yards in the second half for their 8 possessions.  That’s domination.  Amazing adjustments by Chavis at half so the defense deserves major credit for the win.  Without them stepping up in the second half we lose that game.  I don’t even really know what else to write because it’s so dysfunctional where the same players can get rolled in the first half and then dominate the second.  You got me but credit to the Aggie defense for stepping up when it mattered most.

And of course the key play of the second half was the pick six by Derrick Tucker.  That was the only time the Aggies saw the end zone in the second half because our offense stunk it up in the second half.  Just an uncanny game with two completely different halves of football.  You got me.

Special Teams:

More of the same here where lots of inconsistency from various units but there was one star and that was Shane Tripucka.  He punted 8 times for 368 yards which is a 46 yard average.  Most importantly he pinned 5 of those kicks inside the 20 yard line.  I thought he was outstanding all night.

Other than Tripucka nobody really stood out to me from a special teams standpoint.

Going Forward:

I don’t think this game changes anything with Sumlin.  Even if he beats LSU I think he’s gone.  I don’t think he’ll beat LSU though as if Ole Miss can shut down our offense for a half then LSU can shut us down the whole game.  I think LSU has enough talent on offense to score more points than our offense will score.  At 7-5 Sumlin will be done with no question.

Even with a win over LSU I don’t think Sumlin survives 8-4 because I think the relationship of Sumlin and A&M is done.  I think both parties will agree to move on.  With UCLA opening up I wouldn’t be shocked to see Sumlin take that job.  It seems to suit him a lot more.  Bright lights and not the same sense of urgency A&M has to win it all.  Sumlin can survive a LONG time winning 8 and 9 wins a season at UCLA.  I think he’ll go there and we’ll be off the hook for a good portion of his buyout.

As for Sumlin’s replacement I’m now all in on Jimbo Fisher.  He’s kind of a jerk but he can flat out coach.  It won’t be cheap but he’ll do better than Sumlin and there’s a good chance he’ll make A&M the second best team in the SEC West.  Plus, it’s a major shot that Texas A&M is serious about winning big time college football.  Attracting Jimbo Fisher IMMEDIATELY changes the perception of Texas A&M from a national standpoint.  It’ll prove that A&M is interested in being more than the sleepy college football program that perpetually underachieves relative to its resources.  It’s a hire that says Texas A&M is now a Top 10 job in the country like it should be.  Maybe Fisher won’t be successful but his track record says otherwise.

If we don’t get Fisher then I say give Chad Morris a chance assuming he keeps John Chavis and his defensive staff.  Either way we have to act quickly with an early signing period this year.

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

Jimbo Fisher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts from the Auburn Game

Auburn v Texas A&M

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offense:

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

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

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

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

Defense:

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

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

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

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

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

Special Teams:

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

Going Forward:

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

Chad Morris is Better than Kevin Sumlin

Morris Greater Than Sumlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thoughts from the 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.

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