Game Review

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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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!

Thoughts from the Mizzou Game

I’ve held off writing my review of the Mizzou game because I wanted to get away from it emotionally and try to figure out where the blame existed.  After thinking about it, I think the blame can be placed equally at the feet of the coaching staff and the players.  Once again, we had a double digit point lead at half and once again we choked it away.  At least we had a chance with overtime but we choked that away even winning the coin toss in OT.

I think the coaching staff did a bad job making adjustments to what Mizzou was doing and the players didn’t quite execute as well as they should have.  The lack of execution resulted in dropped passes, turnovers, false starts, and allowing Mizzou to shred the defense due to the lack of wrapping up and bringing Mizzou guys down by the initial defender making contact.  Now, I’m not in the locker room at half, on the sidelines, or in the booth to know exactly what adjustments are made but it’s pretty clear Sherm and Co. don’t really anticipate adjustments and continue to run their game plan because it obviously worked in the first half.  It’s pretty clear the other team often makes adjustments and we fail to react because the first half went so well.  You’ll see those adjustments by the opponent and lack of adjustments by us in this piece.

I read somewhere this week that in Sherm’s almost four years of coaching he’s only come back in 2 games we were down at half and that was Colorado in 2008 and Baylor last year.  We all remember Baylor last year and I honestly don’t remember Colorado in 2008 but that was Sherm’s first year and we had CU at home and they were pretty bad.  I remember winning but I missed the game thanks to a sick dog and it not being on TV.  That means I relied on Dave South.  No wonder I don’t remember.  Whatever, but that’s a pretty interesting stat that he’s only ever had two comebacks after half considering he’s 2 games above .500 in his tenure at A&M.  That tells me he’s not a second half coach because in just this season alone he has lost more games where he’s lead at half than he’s come back from his entire career at A&M.  At barely above .500 I’d say he’s had just as many chances to come back as he’s had to blow I’d guess.  Without doing further research I’d wager there’s at least 2-3 if not more games he’s blown after half as I know we choked OSU last year and seem to remember blowing Colorado in 2009 in Boulder.  I think it’s safe to say Sherm is not a second half coach.  I’ll get to more Sherm later when I opine on what to do with him.

Before I get to the unit performances let me just say I do think our defense played well enough to win.  Mike Sherman is an offensive coach and he prides himself on having an offensive unit that can move the ball.  DeRuyter is a solid defensive mind but all of the playmakers are on the offensive side of the ball.  If you don’t believe me just look at the number of defensive linemen we’ve moved to the defensive side of the ball after they couldn’t crack the offensive two deep.  I firmly believe it’s the offense’s job to score more points than the defense gives up.  Basically the reverse of the R.C. years where it was the defense’s job to allow 1 less point than the offense scored.  There’s nothing wrong with it but when you have a coach that focuses on one side of the ball that’s what happens.  Perfectly fine but the unit you focus on must perform better than the other team or you’ll lose.  We ain’t the Wrecking Crew so it’s up to the Gulf Coast Offense to get it done.  Oh, it would also help if special teams helped out from time to time.

OFFENSE:

I’m not really sure where to begin on the offensive side of the ball.  We moved the ball but we shot ourselves in the foot too many times to win the game.  Turnovers and stalled drives simply killed us.  You look at this unit and it has all the talent in the world to be a VERY high powered offense to the tune of a Top 10 team.  However, it’s just not working week in and week out.  Some of it on playcalling and some of it on execution by players.

Before I talk about individual units there’s one thing I want to point out that I tracked to start the game and went back and reviewed the play chart to write this.  During the game I noted that in both initial series to start the game the play call was pass, run, pass.  In each of the series the initial pass was incomplete giving us second and 10.  On those two initial series we went three and out.  For the remaining series in the half each initial play was a run and we scored on each of these four other series.  Now, in the first half there were 1st and 10s within the series that we passed on first down but the point being that when we start a series running the ball we scored.  Not a coincidence because I think Sherm has shown if he stalls on the first play with an incomplete pass he’s running the ball which puts us in another 3rd down passing situation to which the DC is a better position to call a play to defend a pass.

Now here’s where it gets good.  In the second half we had two series go three and out without a first down.  Care to guess the first play?  That’s right!  A pass.  EVERY time against Mizzou when we started a series with a pass, we went three and out.  EVERY TIME!  Four times we started a series with a pass and we DID NOT move the chains.  Now, to defend Sherm somewhat, each of the series where we went three and out in the second half did have a false start so we needed 15 yards for a first down instead of 10 but I don’t think it’s pure coincidence that every series we started with a pass resulted in a three and out.  Ironically enough, EVERY series we started with a run at MINIMUM resulted in at least one first down to move the chains.  More time off the clock and more rest for your defense.

We had 5 other series in the second half where we started with a run.  The end result of those 5 respective series were a fumble by Swope, “pass out” where we passed on first down within the series and couldn’t get the first down on two more tries, interception (which I’ll get to later), field goal, and fumble by Tanny due to pass pressure.  Three of those stalled drives where on player execution in my mind, one field goal, and one set of play calling on first down that didn’t result in a first down.

Do you see a trend?  Our play calling in this game was WAY more effective when we ran the ball the first play of a series.  I’m perfectly fine with passing on first down within a series but I bet this turn of events is pretty similar in most of our games.  WHEN WE GET THE BALL FOR WHATEVER REASON RUN THE DAMN BALL ON THE FIRST PLAY!!!  To me, this gives our kick ass offensive line a chance to fire off on the defense let ting them take notice we can exert our will.  I think it also gives a DC a little more to think about because all of a sudden it’s not 2nd and 10.  Maybe it’s not this simple but the drive chart in this game REALLY bears it out.  Look, if your kids fail to execute then that’s on them to a certain degree but don’t let play calling put you in a deeper hole.

Another trend I noticed in looking at the play charts is that we only ran the ball on 3rd and 2 or shorter outside of goal line situations.  We had a 3rd and 2 on the goal line and that’s where we ran the play action where Tanny hit Lamothe.  Great play call but when we’re not in goal line we ran the ball 4 times on 3rd down only getting stopped once when Cyrus couldn’t convert a 3rd and 1.  Each of those situations was less than 2 yards to a first down.  Christine converted two and Tanny converted the other.  Anything longer than 3rd and 2 we passed each time.  Not necessarily bad but a trend.  And a trend that cost us because on the interception by Tannehill.  We had 3rd and 5 and Christine was in the game.  He had backside help with the tackle and went over and “brother-in-lawed” the defensive end as the tackle released him outside thinking Christine was there to help.  Christine was technically there to help but he didn’t put up much of a fight and the defensive end got to Tanny’s arm or hand resulting in an errant throw which got picked.  Christine has gotten better at pass blocking but he still needs help as he brain farts from time to time.

Something tells me that we have a trend of passing on 3rd and 3 or longer and especially on 3rd and 5 or longer.  If this is the case, either get Cyrus in there to pass block or release Christine to the flat or down the field so both the tackle and Tanny don’t rely on him on the backside.  Let him be an outlet but DO NOT rely on him to block in 3rd down passing situations.  Like I said, if I picked this up in this drive chart I bet it holds true throughout the season.  Christine being in the backfield is not fooling anyone it’s a run by any stretch.  If this trend is true then get your best personnel in there to handle it on 3rd down if you want the back to block.  There’s no more crucial down on any drive than a third down.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  I’m fine with Christine pass blocking on non-third downs because there should be an element of surprise that it could be a run but for the love of all things holy don’t let him in the backfield when we know we’re going to pass on 3rd down.   To me that interception is half on coaching and half on execution.  Sure, it’s possible Christine could have made the block but he’s shown to be iffy on pass protection so don’t put him in there on obvious third down passing situations.  It’s that simple.

As for units some looked good and some looked bad.  I thought Tanny had a decent game.  He was 35 of 53 passing so he completed about 2/3rds of his passes.  The incompletions  seemed to be equally split between drops and bad passes.  If I have one bad thing to say about Tanny it’s that he locks into Swope WAY too much.  Now, I don’t blame him to a certain degree because Swope is head and shoulders our best receiver right now but sometimes Swope is not open and other times he misses a guy running down the field wide open.  Playing QB is hard as hell.  If you don’t believe me go play QB in a flag football game with at least 7 guys on each side.  It’s hard as hell to read the entire field with 7 guys with no pressure so I have to imagine it’s infinitely harder with 4 more guys and people trying to knock the snot out of you.  With that though I think he’d really improve his game if he’d scan the field more.

In the second half I continually saw him lock into Swope on 3rd downs from the moment the ball was snapped.  On SEVEN of NINE third down passing situations in the second half he went Swopes way with a potential for a completed pass.  One of the others was a first down to Malcome Kennedy and the other was the interception but I’d wager money it was intended for Swope.  Four of those resulted in a first down including the fumble by Swope.  Two were incompletions and one was a completion on 3rd and 15 that was two yards short of the chain.  Look, I love Swope and converting 4 of 7 ain’t bad but defenses are going to start taking your binky away and you better be ready.  If I’m Bob Stoops and Brent Venables, Ryan Swope is getting pressed at the line of scrimmage on 3rd downs this Saturday.  Tanny’s binky might not be there.  Now, in Tanny’s defense the rest of this receiving corps is suspect so I don’t necessarily blame him but it’s something he and Sherm need to talk about and adjust.  All in all Tanny is doing as good of a job considering the play calling and suspect receiving corps.

The offensive line looked dominant as always save for the five false starts which I just don’t get.  How in the world can a line that’s been so solid brain lock so many times in one game at home?  I don’t get it.  I just don’t and make no mistake it hurt us on Saturday.  Four were by guards and one by Joeckel.  The thing I don’t get is that Brian Thomas had the first one and immediately got pulled for Ogbuehi.  I’m perfectly fine with that as you’ve got competition for the guard spots right now so you want incentive to not screw up.  When Thomas came off the field he was REALLY upset.  He ran off the field and stood by himself for a play where he was visibly upset.  Now, I don’t know if he was upset at himself for making the mistake or because the coaches pulled him but he was clearly upset.  What confuses me is that Jarvis had a false start and he didn’t get pulled and then Thomas’ replacement in Ogbuehi had two false starts himself but didn’t get pulled.  Now, I don’t pretend to know what goes on in practice so not sure if Thomas was on thin ice to begin with at the starting spot but just find it odd that his replacement made two of the same mistakes and didn’t get pulled.

I’m all for offensive line brain farts (false starts and holds) resulting in severe sanctions.  I played offensive line/tight end in high school and we had one rule – More than two penalties by anyone and the entire offensive line paid for it.  What we had to do was drive the blocking sleds backwards for 30 seconds and enough reps until our coach felt we learned our lesson.  You think those things suck driving them forward try doing a backward bear crawl driving it.  We had to do it after our first game and needless to say we never did it again all season long.  We did get close one time as the guy I split time with at tight end false started twice in the first quarter.  Our coach grabbed me and hollered, “Get your ass in there and don’t let the other guy back in there the rest of the game!”  After the series I went to other guy and told him coach didn’t want him in the rest of the game and his response was, “I don’t plan on going back in because we’re not doing back backs due to me.  It’s all on you, bro.”  Of course he was half joking but I sure as hell didn’t screw up the rest of the game and luckily no one else did either.  What sucked was on the post game high school TV show in my hometown of Victoria our coach went on air and talked about the game.  He talked about what great tight end play we had that night and mentioned the other guy’s name.  I always thought that coach was an asshole and that confirmed it.  Anyway, enough of my stories but I hope Sherm and Turner know what they’re doing punishing one guy for a mistake and not the others.  I’m perfectly fine not punishing Lewis , Matthews, and Joeckel because their backups aren’t on the same level but if there’s a competition at guard then be fair to everyone.

The one thing that did impress me about the line was other than the CMike brain fart, they made awesome pockets all day long.  My favorite was when Joeckel and Matthews ran their defender into each other behind Tannehill.  It was beautiful to watch our two tackles just create the perfect pocket and take their defender right where they wanted them to go which was into each other behind our QB who barely stepped up.  It doesn’t get better than that.  The other thing I love watching is seeing Matthews pull and get to the second level.  To see a guy that big move that well is just breathtaking if you love offensive line play and you should.  If this is not the best offensive line in the country next year I want to see who is.  Despite the brain farts this unit performed at a high level as always.

As for running backs they did what they usually do.  Christine got the lion’s share and would have likely gotten more had he not gotten hurt on the interception return but Cyrus didn’t look bad.  I really do wonder if Cyrus would have scored when he got horse collared but it’s hard to say.  Where Christine has two speeds which are fast and a little bit faster, Cyrus has about six gears he has to go through to get to top speed and he was going through most of them when he was horse collared.  It looked like he was about to hit his full stride and no one had an angle on him but they might have been able to cut him off.  Hard to say.  Had he scored, the game might have been a win for us but you just never know.  I do like that Sherm recognizes Christine brings a little more to the table even though Cyrus is a senior.  God just blessed Christine a little more for a between the tackle runner and there’s no shame in that for Cyrus.

Now the bad part – The Receiving Corps.  I have no idea what the hell is wrong with this unit other than Swope.  I don’t even know where to start but I think I’ll start with Fuller.  What the hell is wrong with this guy I have no idea.  I really don’t.  His routes are less than stellar and he dropped 4-5 passes he has to catch if he wants to be drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL draft.  Sherm says he’s hurt and he’s a rep guy but that’s complete BS.  Even if you can’t run routes due to an injury you can still work on catching the ball.  For great receivers, catching a pass becomes second nature.  It really does.  The ONLY reason for a great receiver to drop a well thrown ball is because you have self doubt in your mind when it comes your way.  THE ONLY REASON.  You can get reps catching a ball even if you can’t run.  I just don’t understand how he used to be so sure handed but is dropping balls left and right all season.  His route running is suspect and his 12 yard comeback route is no longer surprising anyone.  DBs are right on his hip even if the ball is there and he catches it.  Even catching it though seems like a 50/50 proposition right now.  He can’t go deep and he and Swope even got crossed up on a route in the second half.  Someone wasn’t disciplined on their route and I’d wager it was Fuller but it obviously could have been Swope.  I just don’t get it.  If he’s playing through pain then that’s great but is it hurting the team?  Is a 60% Fuller better than our other options?  I don’t know but something is not right.  It’s clear defenses aren’t respecting him as much as they used to as DBs aren’t afraid to stick on his hip.

EZ has looked decent but he’s not a playmaker.  There’s not one receiver on this team that can stretch a defense.  I don’t know if that’s by design because Tanny is weak with the deep ball or if the talent isn’t there.  I mean seriously, if you’re a defensive coach preparing for this receiving corps is there one receiver that you worry about other than Swope?  It’s why I don’t get the five wide receiver set.  Who stands out in that set other than Swope?  As a defensive coach do you really worry about scheming for multiple guys?  Hell no.  I just run my base coverage whether it be zone or man and let the chips fall where they may.  There’s no real receiving threat on this team to scare a safety deep or not do press coverage on the line.  We don’t run any draws to cheat LBs and safeties and we run play action very rarely and when we do it’s usually a quick pass to the tight end or someone within 10 yards.  The next time we run a play action on second and within 5 for a deep ball will be the first time since I think the SMU game.  I just don’t get why we go 5 wide with no back and utilize the element of surprise with our running backs since we don’t have 3 receivers that scare a secondary.  Why put 2 more out there and take the threat of your best part of the offense in your running game off the field?  Maybe I’m wrong but I’d love to see the completion percentage and average yards of gain on the five wide set.  It can’t be good.  I’ve only seen it effective against Baylor and it’s becoming more and more apparent that Baylor’s defense might be the worst in the Big 12.

The other thing I haven’t seen this receiving corps do well is block.  I think they’re the main reason why we haven’t continually busted long runs or plays this season.  Do these guys even block or just run around the field?  It seems the five wide set would be perfect for some down field blocking but I don’t think they even do that.  Just seems the whole receiving corps is lacking big time in all facets of the game including catching, route running, and downfield blocking.  Watch OU’s receivers this weekend.  If they’re not catching the ball you can bet your ass they’re engaging a defender until the whistle.  I’ve never seen better prepared receivers than OU’s.  They’re all talented but they do all facets of the receiving game really well and that’s not just because they’re talented.  It’s because they work at it.  I really do think this unit has dropped off big time since Cromwell left.

I did think the tight ends looked really good in the first half but we seemed to go away from them in the second half.  Why I don’t know but Hicks didn’t see a pass thrown his way in the second half after catching 2 passes for 47 yards with each pass going for more than 22 yards each in the first half.  Maybe it wasn’t there in the second half but if it wasn’t surely there was something else there because that means Mizzou adjusted to take that seam route away.  My point is that there should RARELY be a situation where we don’t have a running back in the backfield and a tight end lined up outside the tackle.  It just seems we’re more productive in that base set than anything else.  I get the numbers spreading the field with five guys but you have to trust your offensive line to be better than what this receiving corps is showing right now.

Something I’d like to see more out of this offense is straight runs up the middle.  It seems we really focus on the zone blocking looking to stretch out the defense and make the one cut and get up the field.  I get the zone blocking scheme but I would think this offensive line is good enough to handle straight drive blocking and zone blocking.  It seems the defense begins to anticipate the gaps in the second half and shoots defenders eliminating those gaps when we try and stretch those defenses out as wide as we can.

So what does all this mean?  I’m not really sure.  We can move the ball when we start with runs but we tend to stall out due to execution errors.  When evenly matched teams match up they’re usually won due to special teams and/or turnovers.  On Saturday we lost the game due to turnovers by our offense.  Some of that is on Sherm and some of that is on the players.  Ironically it was the passing game and not the running game that produced those 3 turnovers.  Sure, one was on a running back’s suspect blocking but it was a pass none the less.

This offense is good enough to score points on anyone including Bama and LSU (probably not good enough to beat but look better than most teams they play) but Sherm just needs to recognize the weaknesses and adjust accordingly going forward.  I also think he needs to save some wrinkles for the second half.  And I’m not talking about the pitch to Swope on 3rd down in overtime.  I actually LOVE that play on a 2nd and short as it could really bust loose but don’t get why Sherm called it at that time.  Just seems Sherm gets lost in his playsheet rather than realizing how the plays he calls effect the flow of the game.  Where was the reverses that we so effective against Baylor?  Start with a 3-5 yard run on first down and then run some play action, reverses, draws, and creative plays on second down.  Just doesn’t seem we do that and puts us into a predictable situation on third down.  Just too methodical and college football is not about that.  It’s about creativity and the element of surprise.

DEFENSE – I won’t go into too much depth on the defense like I did with the offense.  Plain and simple the defense played good enough to win.  We don’t have enough playmakers on the defensive side of the ball to truly be disruptive so our defense’s main focus is to limit points rather than shut down an offense.  That means limiting 3rd down conversions and converting drives into field goals instead of touchdowns.  If I’m DeRuyter I make sure my guys know they have to up their effort on third downs and in the red zone.  Sure, it seems like a defeatist attitude not giving 100% on every play but it’s the reality of the situation.  Teach those guys to dig deeper in those two scenarios and let them celebrate those achievements.

I will say one thing I was disappointed with DeRuyter was running the second string subs towards the end of the first quarter.  Mizzou got a first down on our 42 yard line and there was about a minute left in the quarter.  Mizzou had been pretty methodical for most of the 1st quarter so I don’t think they were going hurry up due to the end of the 1st quarter.  With a minute left DR made one of his wholesale substitutions putting about five to six of his second string DL and LB out there.  In all likelihood the defense had two more plays but DR decided to sub.  Why sub them when they’re two plays away from a long TV break between quarters.  What happened?  On the second play Mizzou scored on a 42 yard pass with :02 seconds left on the clock.  Now, would the first team have been scored on?  It’s very possible but if you’re not watching the clock to know the flow of the game or don’t believe your starters have two more plays in them before a long break there’s something wrong.  Shouldn’t someone on the defensive staff be aware of the clock and be in DR’s ear?  Did the Mizzou OC adjust knowing the pressure would be less with the second team DL in there?  Who knows but it seems suspect to me to make that move at that time.

In the first half, Mizzou passed a lot more than I thought they would.  They were doing more of a zone read pass keying on our OLB to the wide side.  What they did a lot is put two guys out wide in a bubble screen set with a single back.  The Mizzou QB would read our OLB.  If the OLB crashed the Mizzou QB would pull the ball back and throw to one of the guys lined up outside.  This was their bread and butter play for most of the first half and it worked decently but we did a decent job of defending it.  We had great pressure in the first half getting 3 sacks total with two on the first series and almost getting a 4th by Sean Porter but Franklin got rid of the ball right before his knee hit.  Caleb Russell did have his most productive play of the year when he got held pursuing Franklin which turned a touchdown into a 3rd and 20 at the 21 yard line.  The result of the series was 3 points instead of 7 which was a pretty big boost.  Way to go Caleb!

What I was surprised by in the first half was that Mizzou didn’t run the ball more and didn’t attack the middle seams like they did last year and like Arkansas exposed in our game earlier this year.  They threw down the middle seams but not as much as I thought they would.  Looked like 4 times in the first half and 4 times in the second half.  Enter the second half.  They didn’t attack the middle seams more with the pass but boy did they adjust on the ground.  Mizzou adjusted and never ran the same zone read where they keyed our OLB but instead ran a more horizontal read giving the Mizzou QB a little more time to read the defense before making the decision to keep or hand off.  This gave the play a little more time to develop since they weren’t passing outside giving both the running back and quarterback more time to see the hole develop.  Make no mistake that Franklin is a very good running quarterback and it’s like Mizzou purposefully held that back to spring it on the defense in the second half.  Just a simple adjustment.

Don’ believe me?  Check this out.  In the first half Mizzou ran 19 passing plays and 17 running plays.  About as balanced as you can get.  Second half?  Mizzou ran 27 running plays and 8 passing plays in the second half including overtime.  77% of their plays in the second half were runs while only 47% of their plays in the first half were runs.  Now you tell me if they made an adjustment at half.  Wondering what Mike Sherman did before and after the half?  Good thing you ask.  In the first half we ran 24 passing plays to 22 running plays.  Pretty much like Mizzou.  Second half?  30 pass plays to 28 running plays.  That’s right.  The team up by 11 at half made NO adjustments in play calling in the second half while the team down by 11 committed WAY more to the run in the second half and won the game.  Quite the head scratcher isn’t it?  Maybe we don’t have the personnel to defend the run but I think at the same time DeRuyter was clearly not ready for it and got exposed.

Personnel wise we’re about where we’ve always been.  No one stood out any differently in a positive or negative light in my mind.  They are who we think they are.  I think at this point DR should have a really good idea of what each player is capable of and can call games and adjust accordingly.  What I was most disappointed with was the lack of wrapping up in this game.  We looked really good early in the year wrapping up and gang tackling but against Mizzou there was very little gang tackling and most of that was due to not wrapping up.  Gang tackling is not the result of everyone being around the ball but a result of the first defender holding up the offensive player if he can’t take him down so help can arrive.  For some reason this defense wasn’t wrapping up on Saturday.  I don’t have the stat but I bet there were at least 20 tackles that weren’t made despite contact by the defender on the ball carrier.  Not sure if these guys were looking for highlight hits or just not wrapping up.  Whatever it was I hope DR gets that corrected this week.  Our defense improving begins with the technique of wrapping up.

The defense did have two VERY big stops on 4th and 1.  The first one was a flat out stop where they gave Franklin no room to run but the second stop on 4th and 1 was a slight gift because a Mizzou player held a defender after the running back had gotten the first down but it goes down in the books as a 4th down stop so credit to the defense.  Your offense HAS to reward those stops.  Has to.  Those 4th down stops are as good as turnovers in my book.  What did the offense do with both of those stops?  Gave the ball back to Mizzou on an interception and Tanny fumble.  Poor defense.  Just good enough to win but this vaunted offense gave it right back.  Still, it’s a team game but that’s just frustrating as a defender.

I will say that second 4th and 1 attempt by Mizzou was the best 4th and short play design I’ve ever seen.  The Mizzou QB snapped the ball and attempted to go forward.  The running back just hung out in the backfield.  When the Mizzou QB realized there was nothing there for him he did a quick pitch to the running back who had green grass to run to a first down.  It was an awesome play design.  Too bad Sherman doesn’t like attempting 4th and shorts but it’s something I’d look to implement assuming Swope is not in the backfield.

I hate saying one player makes a huge difference but this defense is missing a healthy Coryell Judie.  I don’t think he would have made a real difference in the second half because Mizzou ran so much but he could have altered the overtime results.  When Mizzou got the ball in OT they ran the ball 4 straight times setting up a 3rd and 8 from the 11.  Their play call on 3rd and 8 was beautiful.  They were on the right hash and had a one back set with a three bunch formation to the right which is the short side of the field.  That really doesn’t make much sense until you realize they put their best wide receiver in Marcus Lucas wide left.  We left Dustin Harris on an island with no safety or linebacker help inside or up top.  Harris lined up 5 yards off and inside of the receiver.  Franklin and the receiver read it perfectly knowing it was man on man with the defense giving the wide side.  Lucas runs a fade to the left side and Franklin immediately puts the ball up where only Lucas can see it because Harris has turned to run.  Lucas adjusts his route to the ball and poor Harris never had a chance to turn and adjust himself.  Just a perfectly executed play by t he Mizzou players and a perfect play call to exploit man coverage on 3rd and 8 where the receiver was not getting disrupted coming off the line.  Look, I like Dustin Harris but he’s clearly our 3rd best cover corner behind Judie and TFred.  Does Judie or TFred defend that play?  I don’t know but it was pretty clear to me the Mizzou OC exploited our weakness with a perfect playcall.

Hats off to the Mizzou offense as they made a half time adjustment that exploited us throughout the second half and when we clamped down in OT they called the perfect play to exploit us yet again.  I’d love to know if the plan all along was to be balanced in the first half and then exploit the run in the second half or if that adjustment to run more was made at half because the balanced attack wasn’t working.  Either way, it worked and Mizzou won the game.

Special Teams – I won’t harp on these guys too much but just mention a couple of things.  First off, Kyle Mangan had a gorgeous hit on a punt that was timed perfectly.  Sadly, that was the only real highlight of the special teams.  We didn’t get many punt returns as most of our punt returns were either fair caught or downed because we weren’t in position to catch the ball.  Now don’t get me wrong in that I’d rather have a fair catch or downed ball compared to a fumble but it just seems that’s as good as our special teams aspire to be.  Malcome Kennedy did have a catch interference on a punt which is just frustrating.  The funniest and disappoint thing was on a kickoff by Missouri.  We have two guys around the goal line and three guys around the 20 yard line.  Well, Mizzou sky kicked to the middle 20.  Our guy standing at the middle 20 was the great Spencer Nealy.  What does he do?  He runs away from the ball forcing the guys in the back to run up 20 yards and pick up the ball off the ground.  Now, I don’t expect Nealy to return the ball but I sure as hell don’t expect him to run away from a live ball.  One crazy bounce and that’s a Mizzou ball.  If the guys you have lined up on the 20 have ZERO confidence in catching the ball then they don’t need to be back there.  Worst case is they call for a fair catch and the other two guys on the 20 and the guys on the goal line run up to either protect him or be ready for a loose ball.  Whatever you do, don’t run from the ball because it’s live.  I just don’t get why Sherm doesn’t appear to really care about special teams execution.  I don’t expect him to be Frank Beamer but average is what our special teams execution aspires to be and we can’t even really get there. It’s just disheartening because special teams and turnovers often decide the game for evenly matched teams and we don’t even seem to care about gaining a special teams advantage.  The only exception is Randy Bullock who has become flat out nails.  Damn shame he didn’t get a shot to win the game at the end of the 4th quarter before we fumbled that chance away.

WHAT TO DO WITH MIKE SHERMAN – For anyone still reading, my thoughts on Mike Sherman are about what I thought when we hired him.  I said he’d stabilize the program to the point we wouldn’t get blown out but we’d go between 8-4 and 10-2 every year.  He’s a very solid coach but he’s not a great college coach.  He’s too methodical and gets caught up in his playsheet rather than watching what’s going on throughout the whole game.  It just doesn’t appear he has a solid grasp on the entire game.

He also doesn’t appear to have a great grasp of the college game.  If I hear him mention the NFL one more time I’m going to pull my hair out.  For some reason he doesn’t want people to forget that he has NFL experience.  I don’t get it.  Note to coach – The college game has NOTHING to do with the NFL.  It’s great you can put guys in the NFL but that doesn’t really matter if we’re not winning ball games.  Winning ball games comes first and putting guys in the NFL comes a VERY distant second if even there.  Don’t get the two confused.  What goes on in the NFL has NO bearing on what you do as a college coach.  You get ZERO credit for losing a game but called a really good NFL game.  It doesn’t matter that those bubble screens OSU destroyed us with in the second half won’t work in the NFL because we’re NOT in the NFL.  We’re in college.  The hashes are wider, the clock stops to set the chain, and the players aren’t motivated by a paycheck and are more motivated by getting lucky after a game.  Give them a chance to get lucky week in and week out by winning football games!  They’ll thank you for it on and off the field.

Outside of losing out there’s ZERO chance Sherman gets fired so get used to him.  I’m torn on the guy because the team is in a much better place than it’s been in the last 10 years but there’s no National Championship on the horizon for Mike Sherman.  Even conference or division championships in the SEC with Sherman at the helm will be hard to come by.  Greatness is just not him because he’s not a gambler.  He’s a VERY good coach but he’s too methodical to step out from his black and white world of Xs and Os and make something out of the ordinary happen.  Make fun of Les Miles all you want but he knows you have to have luck to win more than you lose and he continually gives his team a chance to get lucky.  I’m talking about on the field luck which coincidentally likely translates into off the field luck for the players.

I read this week that since 1975 only two national championship coaches did not win 10 games by year 4.  Those 2 coaches were Bobby Bowden who took over an abysmal FSU program and Lavell Edwards who caught lightening in a bottle with a BYU team in 1984.  EVERY other coach who has won a national championship has had a 10 win season by year 4.  Many of these guys did it back when 11 game seasons and no conference championships game were the norm.  Does that mean Sherman can never win a national championship?  Not at all but it’s a pretty clear indicator the great ones continually improve through year 4 and unless Sherm wins out he’s going to at absolute best  equal to last year which will be questionable because he’ll either be 8-4 in conference play with a lesser bowl win or 9-3 in conference play with another Cotton Bowl loss at best.  Certainly not incremental improvement with what is as a whole a better prepared team for an improved season.  Sure, we lost some guys on defense but this whole team should be better than last year especially with our schedule this year.  Make no mistake that it appears Mike Sherman spit the bit this season when he had a chance to be better.

If you want more research on what works against Mike Sherman winning a national championship here’s the analysis I did after year 1.

https://rcwouldhavegonefor2.wordpress.com/2008/10/14/a-look-at-the-first-year-of-coaches-that-have-won-a-bcs-championship/

The compelling data in that analysis is those national championship coaches didn’t lose the first game at home against an inferior opponent, they won more than they lost at home, and didn’t get blown out by more than 7 points in most of their games.  Sadly, none of that works in Mike Sherman’s favor and as the sample set gets bigger.  His 4-8 first season with multiple blowouts including big losses at home is standing out as par for the course of where he’s ascending to.

So do we fire Sherman?  All depends on who we’re going to go get.  My personal belief is Sherm will follow the Fran plan of being gone after year 5.  This season will be seen as a disappointment and we’ll walk into the SEC with no excitement hurting ticket sales.  We’ll go 8-4 in our first year in the SEC at best creating a lethargic fan base and we’ll have a new coach going into the 2013 season.  It sucks, but it’s pretty clear who we were getting when we hired him and it’s playing out like many predicted.  If we fire him we better be damn certain on who his replacement is before we pull the trigger.  No firing him and figuring it out.  Someone better be in the bag and we better have done our homework.

The one wild card in all of this is Dr. Loftin.  I spoke with Dr. Loftin after the Kansas game last year and he was surprisingly candid.  That was my fist interaction with him but since then I’ve found him to be very candid which is refreshing.  Even after the Kansas beat down last year he told me he had concerns for the football team.  He said his biggest concern was Sherman calling all the plays and not having an OC.  He feels it’s too much for a head coach to prepare an entire team in general while preparing the offense in such great detail that he’s creating and calling the plays.  Loftin told me he actually sat Sherm down before the 2010 season and expressed his concern but Sherm told him he could handle it.  Now, will a move to the SEC force Loftin to make the move sooner than later?  I don’t know but always thought it was an interesting nugget Loftin was critical of Sherm for trying to be the head coach and the offensive coordinator at the same time.  This is the same guy that forcefully pushed us into the SEC so maybe he doesn’t sit on his hands depending on how this thing plays out.  I don’t see it happening though.  I watched a special on Arkansas this week and even the great Bobby Petrino has an offensive coordinator that prepares the offense during the week despite Petrino being all over the play calling on game day.  It can be done.  Fortunately for us our foundation should be MUCH more solid for the next coach assuming it’s done in the next two years.  At least we’ve got that…

Thoughts From the Baylor Game

This week’s edition is going to be much shorter than normal.  A couple reasons for that.  First, the 11:00 a.m. game didn’t work in my favor.  I stayed up drinking until 4:00 a.m. and was woken at 8:00 a.m. by dog’s banging tail to go out.  Not enough sleep to work that night off.  Just so you know, part of the evening included a trip to the Dry Bean.  You do the math.  I drank 100 oz. of water during the game to help alleviate the headache and hydrate enough to tailgate the rest of the day.  Secondly, there’s just not a lot to gripe about this game.  This was by far the most complete game A&M has played all season and you just hope we can keep it up.

Going bullets this week due to the challenges I faced during the game.

Overall/Coaching:

  • First off, this was the most animated I’ve seen Mike Sherman ever in a game.  By animated I mean celebrating great plays.  Usually he’s face deep in his play sheet but for some reason he was displaying a ton of excitement and emotion all throughout the game.  I think a coach being emotional is a little overrated but it was interesting to see Sherm so fired up.  I wonder if he was concerned about the last 11:00 a.m. game at Kyle Field when we got dog stomped by Missouri and decided that he was going to set the tone for emotion.  We’ll see if he does the same against Mizzou in two weeks as we have another 11:00 a.m. kick at Kyle.  No, I don’t plan on drinking until 4:00 a.m. the night before.
  • I was mildly surprised Sherman decided to pass so much.  I know we’ve railed on him for not running enough but he passed a lot more than I thought he would.  I thought he would play ball control offense to keep his defense and the Baylor offense off the field as much as possible.  Coming into the game people talked about how bad our defense was but the reality is that Baylor’s defense is much worse than ours.  They’re really lacking in talent on that side of the ball.  I wonder if Sherm saw in film he could exploit the Baylor secondary or if he just wanted to keep the pedal to the metal to show Art Briles that if Briles wanted a track meet his Aggie offense was certainly up to the challenge and then some.  Don’t forget the TCU offense carved up this defense in the first game.  Whatever it was it was a great game plan.
  • I got real worried when our 3rd or 4th play on offense had a no back set but it worked out just fine.  Good job, Sherm.  Your offense fired in all facets.
  • Think about this – in 11 possessions we didn’t punt once.  We scored 9 times in those 11 possessions.  The last possession was due to us just running out the clock for the last 4:00 of the clock.  The only hiccup was a bad shovel pass on our first drive after we drove 58 yards in 9 plays on our first drive but we were driving the field with no problems.  Simply put, our offense was about as dominating as it could get and that’s great to see.

Offense:

  • The stats bear it out but Tannehill had a game like he had against Tech in his first start.  He missed a few throws here and there but by and large he was making passes left and right.  He also had some really solid runs.
  • LOVED the reverses.  LOVED THEM.  I don’t know if Sherm was sandbagging them but he broke them out at the perfect time to keep the backside contain honest and at home.  What’s kind of ironic is I was watching Green Bay and Atlanta on Sunday Night Football last week and Atlanta ran a reverse out of the same bunch formation we use to Julio Jones.  When I saw the play that night I was hoping Sherm was watching and took notes.  He probably wasn’t watching but I was wondering if we were going to see it on Saturday and I’ll be damned if we did.
  • Welcome back, Ryan Swope; welcome to the receiver rotation, Malcome Kennedy; keep it up, EZ.
  • Jeff Fuller didn’t have a bad day at all making some good possession receptions but I think I saw him drop at least 2-3 balls that he should have caught.  Some weren’t the best passes but Fuller should have caught them regardless.  Let’s hope he picks it up in the second half as he’s really the linchpin to this offense really clicking I believe.
  • Offensive line cut holes all day long and gave Tanny all the time he needed.  There’s just not much to say about this line as they dominated from start to finish.  Not every run resulted in a huge run but most had positive yards and our Oline just wore them down through the game.  That Baylor defense was GASSED about halfway through the third quarter and our boys just leaned on them and kept them at bay.  You know the defense was gassed when Tannehill juked them all out of their jocks on a 20 something yard zone read in the 4th quarter.
  • CMike got the brunt of the carries.  He showed decent patience at times but he also showed that he can still be impatient sometimes waiting on the hole to develop running into the back of the line where no hole existed.  He’s just an amazing physical runner.  Was really kind of surprised he didn’t bust one off but he looked like a beast.  I think he fed off his line as in the second half he was loading up and pounding the Baylor defenders as they started to show they were physically whipped.
  • Cyrus looked like Cyrus and that’s not a negative.   He averaged 3.5 yards a carry and just waited on holes to develop.  Sometimes those holes didn’t develop because Baylor was selling out to the run which hurts Cyrus because he’s not a really physical runner and he was getting stopped at the line of scrimmage.
  • Just as solid of an effort as you’ll ever see.

Defense:

  • First off, let’s all admit Robert Griffin is a fantastic quarterback.  Hate Baylor all you want but Griffin has turned into a tremendous passer and runs Briles offense really well.  He makes really smart decisions and made some outstanding passes through 3 quarters.  Just a tremendous quarterback and I’ll be the first to admit I’m shocked how consistent he’s been this season.  I think that win over TCU woke him up and instilled some confidence that’s been lacking.
  • We were finally able to get to Griffin in the 4th quarter because they were playing so far from behind that we knew he was looking for bigger plays.  That gave us more time to get blitzes through and play deeper zone coverage to confuse Griffin a little more.
  • I thought we played the zone read as well as we could with someone of Griffin’s talent.  We stayed home on the backside and Griffin mainly let the running back keep the ball.  There were 2-3 times that I thought Griffin should have kept the ball as he could have got to the outside on our guys but he didn’t.  Griffin has shown he doesn’t like getting hit so I wonder if Briles told him not to run unless it’s wide open or if Griffin is the one preferring not to run.  Either way we did a nice job of keeping Griffin and the run game contained.  Baylor is actually a much better running team than most people think.
  • I thought our defensive line did really well.  They got solid push all day long against a decent Baylor offensive line.  We rotated out a ton of guys as always so it’s always hard following who is doing what other than TJE because he stays in most of the game.  It was a good effort no doubt.
  • We might have some ILBs we can rely on in Jonathan Stewart and Steven Jenkins.  Don’t know what was going on but Stewart was making calls left and right and lining folks up.  I hadn’t seen him take on that role until this Saturday.  Stewart and Jenkins both looked better than they have all season.  Not saying they’re going to start dominating but it’s the best any two ILBs have looked together all season.  JStew had a really good couple of blitzes.  DeRuyter may have finally figured out who works best in the middle for us.  Don’t want to bag on Garrick Williams as he did okay but he just still looks timid and confused at times.
  • The OLB rotation was really interesting because it was mainly a mix of Moore, Russell, Porter and not many others that I remember.  DMoore finally played his best game of the year as he was in the backfield most of the game harassing the running back or Griffin.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again that Moore needs to go forward and never backwards.  He’s questionable in coverage but he’s the most disruptive guy we have to get into the backfield on a regular basis.
  • Sean Porter got his sack and had his normal good game.  He and TJE are our most consistent and disruptive defensive players by far.
  • Caleb Russell finally got him a sack but it’s the only thing I saw out of him.  My favorite was when he didn’t see or didn’t know to cover the slot receiver who was completely uncovered but luckily Steven Campbell got him straightened out before the snap.  I’m sure he’s a great Aggie but man he just looks lost out there most of the time.  He’s not horrible as he’s not getting destroyed but he’s certainly not disrupting anything.
  • Looked like Judie got pulled after Baylor’s 77 yard touchdown pass in the 2nd quarter.  Judie got toasted and that’s just not like him.  He struggled covering most of the time he was in the game and I’m guessing he’s not 100% which was kind of confirmed in Sherman’s presser today.  Sounds like he’s on the shelf for this week which is probably for the best.
  • The rest of the secondary looked just okay.  No one really stood out.  We finally got an interception but that was due way more to pressure on Griffin than anything we did.  Griffin threw up a prayer into double coverage and we simply can down with it.  Howard Matthews looks like a real player and I think he just needs to get more time.
  • Overall this was about as good of a performance as you could expect out of this defense against this opponent.  I fully expected Baylor to score 35 points and we held them to one less score.  We did get some solid stops when we needed them so kudos to the defense for holding them at key moments.  Luckily our offense never sputtered so that was HUGE assistance to our defense because I think it allowed them to relax and play a little more aggressively.

 

I’d like to see a similar type performance against ISU this weekend with a little less scoring on their end obviously.  I’d like to think DeRuyter is working his second half magic again where he’s getting enough opponent film to coach tendencies while just having the defensive guys be more comfortable in his systems and calls.

It’s just frustrating to think that had this offense not sputtered in the second half of two games we’d be looking at a Top 5 ranking and a showdown in Norman for a shot at the National Championship.  Oh well, welcome to Aggie football.  Let’s just hope this Baylor win is a launching pad for a nice run down the stretch.  What we saw on Saturday is what we expected all year.

Thoughts from the OSU Game

Respect is something you have to earn and is never given.  Like what seems to be the normal operating procedure for Aggie Football for the past 15 years, we had respect sitting right in front of us and failed to take it.  For you older Aggies, this feels like traveling to Boulder in 1995.  Everything was sitting right in front of us and we let it slip away.  Outside of the B12 Championship in 1998 there hasn’t been a defining a moment for Aggie football.  Sure, there’s been some big wins but never something that was strung along to gain some respect.  Hell, even that B12 Championship game was sandwiched between 2 losses so it kind of feels hollow to a certain degree.  For whatever reason the Aggie football program seems to take one step forward and then takes two steps back never stringing together enough games to prove to people we’re more than a fringe national program.

Two steps back is CLEARLY what happened on Saturday and is the most frustrating part.  The loss stung no doubt but the nation and most importantly the national talking heads that question us at every turn were watching.  This was our chance to show everyone Texas A&M football can compete at the highest level.  We let a halftime lead of 17 points slip away.  And with that, respect slipped away.  I don’t like losing but I hate the questionable nature of how non-Aggies perceive our football program.  They have every right to their opinion because for 15+ years we have yet to string together a consistently good string of convincing wins.  No doubt what we did in November last year was nothing short of amazing but the three losses earlier in the year still left a question mark over the Aggie football program.  The Cotton Bowl loss certainly didn’t remove it.  Unfortunately, Saturday’s loss left that question mark squarely in place.

Respect.  It stared us in the face on Saturday and we didn’t grab it.  There’s lots of blame to go around but I’m going to focus on the coaching.  Good coaching does not let a 17 lead at home slip away.  They just don’t.  It really is that simple.  Coach Sherman and staff got their pants pulled down by Mike Gundy and staff.  Mike Gundy is the same coach that got his pants pulled down by Coach Fran and Darnell when OSU had a 17 point lead at halftime in 2007 at Kyle Field.  That’s right, Coach Franell figured out how to overcome a 17 point deficit by a Mike Gundy lead team while Coach ShermRuyter figured out how to lose a 17 point halftime lead to a Mike Gundy lead team.  It’s unreal.  Simply unreal.

Let’s get to the game analysis.

OFFENSE  – I said it last year but Jerrod Johnson shouldn’t have been the goat in last year’s OSU loss.  I thought Sherman took too risky of playcalls in the second half when he should have been more conservative.  It’s amazing to me how much of a free pass Sherm got in that gam but he’s obviously not getting that free pass now.  There’s some blame to be put on the players as we turned the ball over three realistic times and four in total.  I say three realistic because that last interception on the two minute drive was simply a result of the previous three turnovers and play calling.  It shouldn’t have ever happened so I’m not counting it although it looks really bad on the stat sheet.  If we’re ahead that fourth pick never happens.

From a player standpoint I thought we looked really good in the first half.  We moved the ball on the ground, Tanny found his men, and the receivers caught the balls.  We had five possessions only stalling on one of them while amassing 20 points and 300 yards.  I can’t fault ANYTHING about the first half other than settling for field goals twice when we should have had one more touchdown.  Still, that was an impressive effort.  Surprisingly, from a time of possession standpoint we only had the ball for one more minute than OSU but we clearly dominated them in points and yardage.  OSU only had 3 points and 140 yards in the first half.  Time of possession is not always as big of a indicator as you think.

In the second half we lost our way and it can only be blamed on one thing – COACHING.  Say what you want about the turnovers but good coaching doesn’t let those things salt away a 17 point lead at home.  Based on the write-ups of the post game this is the one game where Sherman doesn’t admit to abandoning the run too early.  He said, “In the third quarter we only had the ball 11 plays. We had a couple of penalties that put us in a precarious position. I put two backs in the field I believe at one point. We did try and run the ball.”  Uh, Sherm, you had ONE penalty on an illegal chop block by your line.  That’s it.  On a play that got 3 yards on a first down.  You had 12 plays in the 3rd quarter and had 5 running plays.   11 plays and 4 rushes if you don’t count the penalty play.  That actually makes the odds worse from a percentage of running plays.  Say what you want, Mike Sherman, but you abandoned the run at a time when you should have been fully committed to it.

Wanna know how I know you abandoned the run?  The WORST play call of the entire game happened after Blackmon fumbled the ball through the endzone.  We just had two turnovers to go down by 4 points in addition to our first series of the half which resulted in a punt after 5 plays and a single first down.  Our offense was struggling with only one first down and two turnovers in three series.  We were handed a break where we got the ball back to stay down by 4 rather than down by 11.  Aggies in my section said, “We never get breaks like this!”  That was a gift from the football gods and what does Mike Sherman respond with?  What play call does he make after getting a gift like that on first down?  A DEEP BALL TO JEFF FULLER!!!!!  A DEEP BALL TO JEFF FULLER!!!!  You can’t tell me you didn’t abandon the run when you catch a break after two costly turnovers and a penalty and go deep on the very first play you get the ball back only down by 4.  The football gods gave you a serious break and you got cute with it.  If I’ve said anything this entire season it’s that Tanny hooking up with Jeff Fuller deep is a VERY low percentage play.  So far this season there’s been no indication in a game that Tanny can go deep to Fuller but yet you call it after catching the biggest break you can get in a game.  Ironically enough on the next play he gives it to Christine who got 5 yards.  Next pass got picked.  DON’T TELL ME YOU DIDN’T ABANDON THE RUN MR. HEAD COACH MIKE SHERMAN BECAUSE YOU SURE AS HELL DID AND WE ALL KNOW IT!!!!!  (sorry to yell but just needed to get that off my chest.)  You CAN NOT call a deep ball after getting that gift and expect to win.  You should have been thankful for the break and got back to what worked in the first half but you didn’t.  WORST.  PLAYCALL.  EVER.  Go back to the run.

The other thing that Sherman did differently in the first half was he quit using Cedric Ogbuehi as a blocking tight end.  Most people probably didn’t realize it but Ced was wearing #46 and was lining up as a blocking tight end.  He’s a redshirt freshman tackle/guard that is a complete stud.  If you saw him out there he was a huge asset.  You essentially had 6 VERY talented blocking linemen and it showed in the stats.  We had over 120 yards rushing in the first half and less than 40 in the second half.  Blame possessions all you want but plain and simply we went away from what worked in the first half.  Why he didn’t put #46 out there more is beyond me.  I think sometimes Sherm gets too caught up in his laminated play sheet and doesn’t have a feel for what’s really going on.

In the 4th quarter OSU really started pressuring us but that’s what happens when it’s obvious passing plays because you’re running 5 wide sets and showing you’re playing from behind.  You’re still down by 7 with plenty of time left but you come out and show you’re passing and Tanny gets pressured.  1st offensive play for us in the 4th resulted in a hurry and an incompletion and the 2nd play resulted in a sack.  Tanny did complete a great pass to Swope on 3rd and 15 but we shouldn’t have been in that position.  We just came off a quarter where we only had the ball for 4 minutes forcing an obviously tired defense to play 11 minutes that quarter and you’re still ignoring the run.  Yes, you’re down by 7 but your defense is gassed and there’s PLENTY of time left to drive down and make a statement while giving the defense a MUCH needed rest while leaning on their defense.  DON’T TELL ME YOU DIDN’T ABANDON THE RUN MR. HEAD COACH MIKE SHERMAN BECAUSE YOU SURE AS HELL DID AND WE ALL KNOW IT!!!!!  It’s amazing to me even a few minutes into the 4th we still could have gone back to the run but we didn’t.   Tulsa got 354 yards of rushing against this same defense and we get 160 with less than 40 yards in the second half.  Unreal.

Offensive Summary – MR. HEAD COACH MIKE SHERMAN ABANDONED THE RUN NO MATTER WHAT HE SAYS AND THAT’S WHY THE FIGHTIN’ TEXAS AGGIES LOST THE GRIDIRON BATTLE!!!!!

DEFENSE – Ironically enough the defense suffered from the same coaching brainfart that the offensive side of the ball suffered from.  From a player standpoint I thought we looked pretty good when we were lined up and ready to play.  I thought Sean Porter played an amazing game.  He was sick during the week but came out and played inspired football.  He got gassed in the second half but so did everyone else.  I thought our inside linebacking play was actually pretty good.  JStew looked decent as did Charlie Thomas when he wasn’t hurt.  We held Joseph Randle to 87 yards on 21 carries.  That’s actually REALLY impressive.  Our secondary didn’t look so good in the second half but we’ll get to why in a second.  In the first half the Aggie defense gave up only 170 yards of offense and 3 points.  Folks, that’s about as good as it gets for this defense against an offense like OSU.

While the defense got gassed in the 3rd quarter because they played 11 minutes of football, they did have two solid stands in the 4th quarter where they stopped OSU on 1st and goal TWICE and converted them to field goals.  Say what you want about the defense but that’s a lot of heart to nut up when you’re gassed and on your heels.  They held an offense that had their way with them to field goals TWICE to keep their offense in it.  To make matters worse Sherm leaned on this defense one more time electing to kick off rather than onside kick with 2:20 left.  What does this defense do?  They get a 3 and out to give the offense the ball back with 1:47 left and a timeout.  What’s even more amazing is thanks to a Mike Gundy brainfart, TFred could have gotten a Pick 6 to win the game but Brandon Weeden threw the ball too high and missed Blackmon.  Yes, it’s entirely possible this defense could have won the game had Weeden been on target.  Blame the defense all you want but don’t blame any of the players as they played until the end and gave their offense a chance to win it or tie it while even having an outside chance to win it themselves.

It seems really odd having to write this but the defensive struggles are at the hands of one Tim DeRuyter.  He was trying to dial up the perfect scheme on each play in the second half while OSU realized they could press the issue and were running bubble screens to the receivers while our defense was either looking for the playcall or trying to figure out where to go.  OSU sped up the tempo and DeRuyter never adjusted.  The other thing that OSU did well was pick up our blitzes giving their receivers time to find the soft spots in the zone.  I really think when we were lined up we were running blitzes about 50% of the time and not getting through on any of them.  We were sending 6 guys getting ZERO pressure leaving 5-6 receivers on 5 DBs.  Not a good recipe for success.  All in all, Timmy D had no answer for anything OSU did in the second half.  No answer.

I’ve never quite understood the theory of giving guys rest by asking them to sprint off the field for a play or two.  I get they might get a breather from a couple of explosive plays but asking big DLinemen to run back and forth from the sideline just seems to make it worse.  I don’t know that we gained a single advantage by running our defenders in and out.  If a guy is calling for a sub then get him one but don’t force a guy to run to the sidelines just to keep him “fresh.”  Our inability to get lined up and in position is what cost us this game defensively.  I don’t know how those two things can’t be deemed as the contributing factor.  When we were lined up and knew the playcall we did really well.  I don’t have the time or ability but I’d LOVE for someone to break down how many yards OSU got on plays where we ran in more than 4 guys and weren’t lined up correctly at the snap.  I wouldn’t be shocked to see it as 25%-33% of their total yards.  We held them to under 130 yards of rushing by their running backs and held Blackmon to 121 yards and one score.  That’s actually really solid based on what they’d done coming into the game.  Now, Weeden was 47-60 for 438 yards so it wasn’t all good but I can’t help but think most of those completions were because someone was wide open due to not being set or a blitz that didn’t work.  I remember thinking Weeden was really off at times but didn’t realize he only missed 13 passes.  Maybe it was just more shocking when he missed.

All in all, the defense did a pretty admirable job.  If I had asked you before the game that OSU would get 30 points I bet you would have taken it thinking our offense could have outscored them.  Yes, it was frustrating watching OSU come back from 17 down and take the lead but don’t lay the blame too much at the feet of the players on the defense.  They responded when they had to and I’d wager dollars to donuts that if Sherm had committed to a running game and DeRuyter responded better to OSU’s hurry up offense in the second half we win this game.  This defense played three REALLY good quarters of defense against a REALLY good offense with no help from their offense when they needed it most in the third quarter.  Yes, they spit the bit in the third quarter but they weren’t getting any help from their offense or defensive coach.  The players deserve some of the blame but not the brunt of it.

There is one weakness that I was made aware of after the game.  I spoke with a former defensive player that stands on the sidelines during the game.  He said there’s no vocal leader on defense right now either on the field or off the field.  Interestingly enough he told me the same thing after the Missouri game last year.  At that point Von hadn’t quite taken the reigns of the defense.  TJE is probably not the guy as he’s a pretty quiet guy that just wants to go about his business.  Although he’s only a junior I hope Sean Porter does it as he’s earned it starting all three seasons and has been far and away our most consistent linebacker this season.  I think Hunter and Frederick also have the ability but it sounds like someone needs to step up and keep everyone focused.  Hopefully it happens.

SPECIAL TEAMS – Not much to say here other than we’ve got to clean up being offsides on a kickoff.  Like a receiver jumping offsides there’s NO excuse for it.  You’re either behind the kicker or you’re not.  Assuming the kicker doesn’t mis-step it’s easy to stay behind him.  That offsides almost cost us DEARLY but we got away with it thanks to an OSU penalty on the next kick.

The other special teams blunder I thought was stupid was declining the delay of game penalty in the 4th quarter when our defense had stopped the OSU offense at the 6 inch line.  Yes, the kicker has a slightly tougher kick closer in, but if he’s going to miss a 17 yarder he’s going to likely miss the 22 yarder.  A real coach would have put their jumbo set back in and gone for the touchdown all but putting the game away.  Maybe the Aggie defense would have stopped them like they did against OU last year but that defense was gassed and we should have not let any question go back into OSU’s mind if they should kick it.  I thought we got a little too cute there out thinking the situation when we should have been thankful for the stop and field goal attempt.

Arkansas Game – I haven’t watched a single down of Arkansas football this year so I really have no idea what to expect.  I was very high on Arkansas coming into the season but they did get beat down by Alabama on Saturday in a bad way.  They started out putting up 50 points on Missouri State and New Mexico but then only beat Troy 38-28.  Those first two teams suck really bad.  So bad that New Mexico just fired their coach and they don’t expect a whole lot.  This team looks beatable but they’re still a very solid team.  One of their starting defensive ends is out for the season and their other stud defensive end might still be out as well.  That can only help if Sherman wants to run the ball.  Maybe it’s my maroon colored glasses but I think this Aggie team wins on Saturday.  We lost the game on Saturday mainly due to coaching.  The players had some brain farts so those are pretty easy to clean up for the most part.  Paint me a homer but I’m going Fightin’ Texas Aggies 24, Razorbacks 17.

BTHO Arkansas!

Thoughts from the Idaho Game

Although the score wasn’t as wide as we all would have hoped, there are a lot of positives to take from Saturday’s game.  Well, that’s assuming you didn’t wager too much on the Aggies covering.  I tend to say I don’t care about statistics and only care about the score.  That’s generally true but we dominated Idaho more than the score indicates.  The offense moved up and down the field for the most part but stalled out a couple of times resulting in field goals instead of touchdowns.  Defensively we held them scoreless until late in the game.  Score doesn’t show it but we were really solid.  Still, you wish the offense didn’t stall out but it happens.

Just so you know I left early in the 4th quarter to head to the tailgate and catch the OU/FSU game since our game was in hand and Tanny was out.  Call me a two percenter but I’d tend to blame the shakes of no cold beer than not being a true Aggie.  As fate would have it I watched the FSN replay at lunch today while I took down a queso covered steak burrito at Chuy’s.  I was able to fill in what I didn’t see in person for the most part but you have no idea how much I’m fighting through a nap right now.  Really fighting it.

OFFENSE – Had we not stalled out a few times this would have been as dominant as a performance as SMU.  There was at least 8 points left on the field due to offense stalls if not more.  As it stands I didn’t see any new wrinkles and Idaho was certainly selling out the run which factored into quite a few plays.  They tended to fill the holes that are normally there and forced us to stretch our runs out further down the line of scrimmage giving their guys more time to flow and stop the run.  We still looked really good running the ball but Idaho got lots of guys to the line of scrimmage most of the game to slow us down.  I kept waiting for us to break one with so many guys selling out but we never hit it.  Despite the selling out we still gained yards on the ground but smartly Sherman went to the air a little more often than I bet he thought he would.  Now, should we be worried we couldn’t line up and smash Idaho in the mouth?  A little bit but I have to imagine Sherm will have more wrinkles later in the season for teams that want to try this approach.

I don’t remember a lot of play action which is what you normally do when a team is run blitzing like crazy.  You also fake a reverse or even try it.  I think Sherm was committed to the run to get some more film for assignment teaching.  There were four times in the 1st half (maybe one early in the 3rd quarter) where we lined up in a tight bunch formation to the wide side.  Of those four times, we ran a sweep to the wide side.  It was pretty obvious it was coming and we got a few yards but never busted it.  Idaho recognized it and sold out stretching it out for a minimal gain.  What I noticed the times we did was that our pulling tackle and tight end/fullback weren’t clean on who they were blocking.  There were a lot of white jerseys and our guys looked a little hesitant on who to block because there were so many.   Hopefully Sherm just wanted some film to teach more assignments and recognition.  I wonder what it would look like if Idaho hadn’t sold out but at the same time you use that tendency to set something up later on in a real game.  I’m fine just trying to maul Idaho throughout even if we weren’t successful due to numbers.

Tanny looked really solid.  Not as good as SMU but he looked really solid none the less.  He missed some passes early in the second half but for most of the first half he made quick reads and let the ball fly.  His pocket presence is still very strong but there were a couple of times he held the ball a bit too long in the pocket and almost got sacked.  If anything that’s a good thing to remind him to not get too comfortable standing around.  It’s only natural to push it against a team like Idaho after getting comfortable against SMU.

Something else I saw Tanny do which made me smile was out throwing his receiver on deep balls.  He threw two deep balls to Fuller and one Fuller jumped out to catch and the second time it was too far.  On a deep ball you want to throw it too deep rather than too short so only your receiver can go get it.  If you’re going to go deep and underthrow it you might as well punt as the DB is usually in position to catch an underthrown ball.  Now, the second one appeared to re-aggravate Fuller’s hamstring so maybe that wasn’t a good thing but still, I’ve wondered if Tanny could out throw Fuller and he finally showed it on Saturday.  It’s great to have that on film as it’s a reminder to defensive coordinators that you leave Fuller on an island and Tanny can find him and get it out there.  Tanny came out late in the third quarter so I’m guessing Sherm thought there was nothing more for Tanny to gain by taking snaps but he looked fine in the time he was in there.

Our receivers looked fine for the most part.  There was one egregious drop that I remember but most of the missed passes were on Tanny not putting it where it needs to be.  There’s not much more to say about the receivers as it was just another normal day at the office.  The tight ends looked pretty good and have turned into a very good safety valve for when Tanny rolls out.  Tanny does a real nice job of looking downfield to use the tight end as a secondary receiver when there’s nothing else downfield.

Same thing with the offensive line.  They had a lot of numbers to deal with as Idaho constantly brought people attacking the line of scrimmage and they handled it well.  They did fine on pass protection with only one breakdown where Tanny avoided a sure sack and there might have been another breakdown as well.  Only one holding call that I remember and no false starts that I remember so that’s always a positive.

All in all you would like to have seen drives not stall out and see Tanny be a little better on completions.  67% is certainly not bad but the way this offense is built and considering the opponent you would like to see a percentage closer to what Tanny had against SMU where he was 80%.  You’ll take 67% against B12 opponents but it was Idaho so there was certainly room for improvement.  Let’s hope Sherm starts adding more wrinkles as we get into the meat of the schedule so this offense looks a little more complex and confuses defenses.

DEFENSE – Trying to analyze the defense is really tough.  We looked really solid but the stats outside of total yards don’t really bear it out.  We had no turnovers and only 3 sacks with two by corners on corner blitzes.  Time of possession is almost equal which is strange considering how dominant our offense was and how many 3 and outs our defense got in the first half.  I know they cranked up some TOP in the 4th quarter but at half it was split.  I remember seeing that stat at half and thinking it was weird because we moved the ball with no big plays.  So, in the interest of evaluating our defense I’m throwing out the stats and the 4th quarter as a whole.  Sometimes you just have to go with what your eyeballs saw and not worry about the numbers backing it up.  Also, it looked like we actually would have stopped Idaho from scoring had it not been for a penalty on a 3rd down where we stopped them near the goal line.  I was in a queso induced haze so I’m not positive that’s what I saw.

I thought our defensive line looked REALLY good again.  Not dominant but they created push all night long.  Sure, they were going against a lesser opponent but it’s still good to see our 3 man front occupying and moving the blockers of the other team.   I thought we had more sacks but my guess the QB was scrambling for a 1-2 yard gain which isn’t technically a sack but might as well be.  All in all this unit did what I expect them to do much of the season which is engage and push around the offensive line being disruptive but not dominant.  One person I’d like to make note of is Ben “Straight Outta” Compton.  This was his first game at NT as a true freshman and he looked pretty good.  Not dominant but he held his own.  Really reminded me of a bigger Lucas Patterson in that he’s not the biggest guy out there but you can tell his he has solid technique so with more time he only gets better.  Let’s hope so as having 3 fresh NTs will prove very beneficial to this defense since it’s a focal point.

Now, our linebackers.  Go get a cup of coffee as this might take a while.  First off, I’m just going to say the person I called out last week failed to impress again.  I thought Damontre Moore would have gotten more snaps but Russell got the majority of the snaps and just failed to do anything.  Not sure if Moore is still in the doghouse, not in shape, or what is going on but from what Russell has shown this season and what Moore showed last year it’s time for Moore to get the majority of the snaps.  I don’t get why he didn’t play more in this game unless it was a matter of giving Russell every chance to maintain the starting position since he hasn’t played there as much as Moore.  If Moore is not starting this Saturday I’m going to be VERY concerned.  Russell is a great story but he can be taken care of by a single man.  You don’t need to chip him, you don’t need to line a tight end up to help on him, and you don’t need to keep a back in the backfield to look for him.  I don’t expect anyone to fully replace Von but would like to see someone that the offense has to at least think about or our guy can dominate the single person assigned to them.  Russell just doesn’t have that so let Damontre go.  This is just really looking to shape up to be a Mike Goodson situation where it’s CLEAR who the better player is but Sherm wants to reward the guy who practices better or goes to every class or something else other than the performance when there’s a real live game being played.  I can’t help but think something is at play when watching Russell not really do anything and know the potential Moore has.  Maybe lack of PT is the only thing Moore responds to but whatever it is it needs to get straightened out pretty quick.  Maybe Von needs to call Moore.  I don’t know but after two games it’s clear Moore should be starting and seeing the majority of the snaps at the Joker position.  I think we would even be better served getting Brandon Alexander more snaps as he looked good at times on Saturday night.  On the other side Porter looks really good so need to waste a lot of words on him as he is who he is.  He just needs to be TJE’s little buddy on the outside cleaning up what TJE disrupts. Symbiosis at its finest.  Not a knock on Porter at all because he’s really solid but no doubt he benefits due to the attention TJE is going to get.

Inside linebacker.  Still unsure what we have here.  We did look better against Idaho but no one is standing out and a multitude of guys are coming in and out so it’s hard to really judge.  At Monday’s presser, Coach Sherman and DeRuyter mentioned Shaun Ward would move inside.  Based on his size I think this is a fine move but it also confirms what I’m seeing where there’s lots of room for improvement.  Now, to be fair we’re not blowing assignments left and right like we did before DeRuyter got here but no one is making plays left and right.  However, in a 3-4 your ILBs have to make plays inside.  You basically sacrifice your 3 defensive linemen to free up your 2 ILBs to make plays.  We’re clearly not doing that.  Garrick is the most consistent in my mind but it’s clear he’s missing Hodges.   I think Garrick should be getting the majority of the snaps and looking to figure out who to complement him with.

Of those left, Jonathan Stewart looks to be the most consistent but he’s not disruptive by any stretch.  He’s around the ball and helping with tackles so he’s not horrible but you’d like to see someone ready to crack heads inside.  Donnie Baggs is very hesitant but he’s a true freshman.  He has decent measurables but he’s just young.  Steven Jenkins passes the eyeball test and when he’s not hesitant you can see he could be the answer.  However, he still plays hesitant.  So, Stewart is our most consistent followed by Jenkins and then Baggs in my mind.  I’m almost of the mindset of getting Jenkins more snaps to see if he can learn the system on the fly because I think he offers the most potential right now.  Maybe you just keep rotating these guys hoping one finally clicks like Hodges last year.  It’ll be interesting to see what they do with Ward at ILB but it’s clear that there’s concern inside if they’re moving Ward.  To be fair though the ILBs aren’t terrible by any stretch but you just hope to improve and solidify the guys that you have.  We’ve had ILBs in the past that would make the guys we have now look all conference.  So, these guys should get credit for being better than we’ve had in the past but we still have a ways to go to be dominant.

I would hope at some point we have a starting four of Moore, Williams, Jenkins, and Porter for our four linebacking spots.  Based on what I’ve seen they offer the most promise right now.  Hopefully with increased snaps they all just kind of gel together but in the little time we’ve been looking for Von and Hodges replacements they offer the most promise.  We’ll still be susceptible to runs up the middle but should defend them better if Jenkins can develop.

In the secondary it’s similar to the DLine.  The Idaho QB didn’t make any long passes and tended to dump off quite a bit.  He didn’t get many of his yards until 4th quarter garbage time.  We didn’t look to have any busted coverage so it seems like some things were cleaned up from the SMU game but its clear Idaho isn’t even close to being the passing team that SMU was.  Howard Matthews did look pretty good in the brief snaps he got.  Campbell and Hunter are clearly our starting safeties but it’s nice to see there could be some talent waiting in the wings.  All in all the secondary was pretty solid but not dominant and I’ll take pretty solid all day long.  They just didn’t have a lot of opportunity to be dominant.

The one wrinkle I saw our defense do this game I haven’t seen in quite some time is make pre-snap shifts along the defensive line and have our ILBs show blitz in the gaps and then back off at the snap.  They did this a lot in the 1st quarter and then tapered it off for the rest of the game.  Some of it had to do with Idaho making an audible after our shift so maybe that factored into it more than anything.  I’m hoping this is a pre-cursor to messing with OkSU’s offense as they like to make their playcall based on what the defense shows.  I don’t know why more defenses don’t adjust and show fake looks but would like to see it tried against OkSU.  Surely with enough film study you can identify what types of plays OSU tends to run based on pre-snap looks. We shall see.

SPECIAL TEAMS – Bullock got a few more tries than I would have liked but he hit on all but one so that’s good to see.  He was 3-4 on tries and 2-3 in the 40 yard range.  That’s an improvement on being 1-10 from 20 yards which seems like we used to be.  Return game was fine as Judie had a nice kick-off return and no one dropped a punt from what I remember.  Punting was a head scratcher as Epperson hit a 40 yarder which is about as good as it gets with him.  Kaser shanked one for 23 yards on his first attempt and then boomed one 68 yards for a touchback according to the stats as I was tailgating by the time he booted that one.  I have to think Kaser gets the majority of snaps at punter if he can in fact boom them 68 yards even if it was slightly wind aided.

 

Oklahoma State Look Ahead – Up until watching OSU play Arizona and watching us play Idaho I felt REALLY good about our chances against OSU.  I still feel confident but not nearly as much as I did coming into the season.  This is gonna sound cliché but I think the team that wins either has the ball last or turns it over the least.  This just looks like two evenly matched teams that can move the ball with suspect defenses.  I will say I think our defense appears better just because we have DeRuyter who has proven to make chicken salad out of chicken sheet.

OSU is going to get points and I wouldn’t be shocked to see a 45-38 game going either way.  The other factor will be the defense that trades touchdowns for field goals.  If I’m Sherman I tell DeRuyter to keep it basic and to keep OSU in front unless he knows for sure he can get a blitz to work.  I also tell him I don’t give a damn about any stat other than the score where he has to keep A&M within 7 points for most of the game unless the A&M offense is just clicking and he can dial up the pressure to see if he can put a foot on the throat of the OSU offense.

My main reason for feeling different about this game is that OSU has a legit ground game.  I really thought they’d be one dimensional with the loss of Kendall Hunter but they’ve shown they really have the ability to run the ball and are very balanced.  This brings our weakness at ILB into play and I think OSU looks to exploit it and will likely be able to because they have a VERY good offensive line and solid backs.  If I hadn’t seen the running game against Arizona and Tulsa I’d feel much better about this game.  Sure, our defense should be better than those two defenses but we’re still a borderline Top 50 defense at best.

Offensively coming into the season I expected Sherm to lean on the OSU defense with the run but after the first two games I’m not sure that’s the answer.  After seeing Idaho sell out to the run I think we need to keep a balanced 50/50 approach with lots of play actions and roll outs to keep OSU from firing LBs and DBs straight up the field.  We need OSU to worry about defending a 20 yard box rather than just the line of scrimmage.  I know Sherm likes to be wrinkle free but I’d be fine seeing Cyrus attempt a tailback pass on one of those bunch formation sweeps.  Not get too cute but let the OSU DC know it’s there.  Also set up a reverse out of the formation with the power sweep if you see OSU selling out like Idaho did.

It’s going to be a close game but it’s at Kyle and we’ve played OSU close in the last two years so I think this is the year Sherm finally gets over on Mike Gundy.  However, make no mistake this is about as evenly matched teams as you get.  Two head coaches with heavy influence on their offense and two DCs with proven track records.  Star players at the skill positions on offense with solid offensive lines and just enough playmakers on defense to make them competitive.  Might as well be mirrors on the field instead of players.  Kyle Field will be rocking and I think that makes the difference.  Aggies 41, Cowboys 35.

BTHOOSU!

Thoughts from SMU

Before I get into what I saw on Sunday between SMU and A&M, a quick note on how I do this for the first timers.  I’m no expert but I watch enough football to know the general feel of the game along with strength and weaknesses.  I don’t take notes during the game and I dont watch DVRd or replays of the game. I might see highlights but that’s about it. I go completely from memory so that’s why I say I’m not an expert by any stretch. Also, my BAC fluctuates between games and affects my memory so some games I remember more and some games I remember less. It all depends on the pre-game tailgate!

Overall, the further I get away from the game, I feel MUCH better. During the game I kept trying to figure out how good SMU was. They looked like a La. Tech or SFA during the game but they’re MUCH better than that. This is a very good C-USA team and a C-USA in Houston beat UCLA on Saturday.  Maybe SMU misses a bowl game this year but there’s a strong chance they make one and maybe even win the C-USA so this is a very good team.  SMU’s offensive line has the most starts of any OLine in the country and their John Riggins look alike ran for over 1,000 yards last year. He’s actually a really good college RB because he’s strong and has really agile and quick feet.

Defensively they’re not as strong as their offense but they’re not terrible.  We’ll definitely be tested more on defense but this was a decent test.  They had some decent size on their line so it wasn’t like we just had a raw size advantage up front and just mauled them with no technique or ability.  They also did a decent job of tackling and flowing to the ball so they put in a solid defensive effort in my mind.  Overall this was a very good win and very good effort by the Aggies. I was concerned this was going to be a trap game because June Jones is a good coach and SMU has some talent and wouldn’t roll over like a typical road patsy.  46-14 is a great showing in your first game against a decent opponent.  This could be a very good Aggie football team.  It already is but they have to actually continue to do it on the field.  That’s the only thing that really matters.

 

 

OFFENSE – The offense was the hardest thing for me to analyze.  The reason I say that is because we were about as perfect as you get for a college offense.  No, we didn’t put up 60 points and break big play after big play but this offense is not built that way.  What we saw on Sunday night is EXACTLY how this is offense is built.  No huge runs or passes but plays that chew up positive yards on every down and sustain drives.  Looking at it during the game it’s kind of ho hum but looking back it was DAMN devastating.  Now, SMU is not a dominate defense by any stretch but they’re a decent test in the first game and the Aggie offense scored a 98 out of 100 in my mind.

QB – Ryan Tannehill didn’t pitch a perfect game but he did throw at minimum a complete game shutout if not a no hitter.  I’d have to watch film to see if it was a no hitter.  He ran the offense to perfection.  He made all the right decisions and trusted his receivers and OLine.  He wasn’t perfect passing but at the same time he made some pretty damn good passes and was almost perfect. No QB ever is perfect.  He threw Swope a couple balls across the middle that only Swope could catch.  His TD pass to Priloeau was one of the prettiest balls you can make it.  He hit Priloeau in stride while having to clear a couple underneath defenders while dropping it perfectly into Priloeau’s hands.  Just a perfect pass.  He looked great rolling out and finding the open guys as well.  I still contend in college there’s nothing more dangerous than a roll out QB that can make solid throws.  Tanny looks great doing this.

The two things that stood out to me most were his decision making.  He either made a quick decision or showed some patience waiting for guys to get open.  The thing that impressed me the most was his trust of the pocket.  He stood in there fearlessly and showed very good awareness of when it was breaking down to get rid of the ball.  He didn’t tuck too early or hold the ball too long.  Most of that is on the OLine for giving him time but it’s awesome to see Tanny has a solid pocket presence.  The reason Tanny didn’t pitch a perfect game is because he missed EZ on a quick post route where he was wide screaming open for a sure TD but Tanny went outside and short to Swope who was also open.  That’s just Tanny though.  He’s gonna lay up for the sure thing rather than go for broke.  Good news is he’ll let it fly rather than tuck and run which is important for a QB because unless you’re Vince Young, tucking and running isn’t the best option.

RB – From a running back standpoint all I can say is enjoy it while we can. If we don’t have the best 1-2 punch of RBs in the country I’d like to see that team.  Outside of Gray’s fumble that Fuller caught and Michael’s substitution error you couldn’t ask for much more. The other mistake was on the goal line in the 3rd quarter when Cyrus waited on the D lineman rather than go out to chop him and the Dlineman batted the ball down on 3rd down so we had to settle for a field goal.  That’s nit picky though as that’s tough on a RB to go out and meet a guy he’s giving up 100 pounds to.

While the RBs didn’t bust off any long TD runs what they did is get positive yards on virtually every carry.   What you notice about our RBs is patience on the hole and every step they take is forward once it develops.  There were only a couple of runs where they were forced to go down the line but even then stayed parallel to the line and always looking to cut up field rather than try and burn the corner which is tough to do.  Cyrus picked up right where he left off and most importantly Christine looked to have learned from Cyrus’ playing time when he got hurt.  Christine appeared more patient looking for the hole.  At times in the past he’s looked like a dog that just got let off the leash running into the back of the line as fast as possible.  Sunday night he looked like a guy that fully understands how to run behind our zone blocking scheme.  The other thing that looked different in Christine is that he used fewer spin moves and when he did he was spinning forward and not to the side.  Once again, always looking for positive yards with every step.  Let’s just hope I get to write a ho hum report of our backs every game because these guys are that good.

WR – Not many big pass plays other than the TD pass to Priloeau.  LOTS of possession routes and most importantly lots of catches.  It was really only Swope and Fuller that got any action.  Saw Fuller go down the field maybe twice and Swope worked outside and underneath all night.  Fuller ran a lot of stop routes in the 6-12 yard range along with catching a couple of quick outside passes.  We averaged 11 yards per reception with the longest being 32 yards on the Priloeau catch.  Not a lot to say about these guys as they weren’t necessarily game breakers but they appeared to be on the same page with Tanny all night long.  Its clear Swope and Fuller are the main targets which is just fine.  Don’t expect big yards out of these guys all season as that’s not how Sherm rolls with Tanny at QB but we should continue to see more possession routes and catches to sustain drives.  Fuller and Swope look perfect for what Sherman wants to do.

OL – In my pre-season piece I talked about the quality of the offensive line and these guys did not disappoint.  I’m sure there was once or twice when someone got through to apply pressure too soon but there were ZERO sacks and that’s all you can ask for from an offensive line.  Sure, some is on Tanny but the OLine worked well with their QB all night so that’s solid.  Most importantly I only remember one holding call on Pat Lewis I believe.  I don’t remember any false starts on the OLine either which is VERY impressive in the first game.  I think there was one false start on one of the receivers but not the line.  That’s pretty damn good for their first game.  Let’s hope it holds.  From a blocking standpoint they created seams for the RBs to squeeze through all night long and created solid pockets for Tanny to throw out of all night long.  Easier said than done but they did it well.

Now, I’m not sure how good the SMU defense is but I think their defense is pretty decent but not great so it was a really good effort.  The other thing that impressed me is the athleticism of our tackles.  A couple of times we ran Joeckel and Matthews on the same side and these guys move REALLY well for their size.  Simply amazing what two likely NFL first rounders will do for an offense.  Pat Lewis looks perfect at center and Shep Klinke is a big ol’ boy.  This is a real beefy line with some real athleticism so it’s going to be fun to watch this crew.  I can’t help but think this offensive line is just going to get better all season and we’re in for a real treat.  It all starts with the big uglies in the trenches and we look like we have some solid guys for us.

 

 

DEFENSE – Point wise we did tremendous.  This is a pretty damn good offense and we gave up 14 points through mainly 4 quarters of football.  We got one gifted interception and another off a tip on a great play by TFred.  Remember, their OLine has more starts than any other OLine in the country.  Sure, they might not be the most talented but they’ve got some talent and have worked together for a long time.  That’s usually the sign of a decent OLine.  Their running back is also pretty sneaky good.  He’s not nearly as plodding as he looks as he adjusts really well to a hole and didn’t just run straight ahead.  Oh, let’s compare him to another big white running back with the recent Toby Gerhardt.  Very similar as his feet were just outstanding.

Something I noticed that our best defensive plays were from our base defense.  DeRuyter channeled his inner Carl Torbush and got exotic from time to time.  That long run for SMU in the first quarter that almost resulted in a TD (turned over by replay) was done against a two man front.  It was 3rd and 8 but we ran a two man front.  When I saw the front I immediately turned to the guy next to me and said we’ve only got a two man front.  I’m assuming SMU noticed it to and likely audibled into that running play that was easy to execute because they pulled a couple OLineman and just clobbered our LBs and DBs.  I don’t recall seeing that front again the rest of the game.  We had some zone breakdowns but SMU ran a lot of crossing routes which are designed to confuse zones or lose man coverage because people get picked and confused.  I would put some of that on our defense but give some credit to SMU because they executed those crossing routes REALLY well at times.  At times though we were able to keep coverage which is what you want in your first game.  There are a couple areas of weakness on this defense which I’ll get to in a bit but they did their job in only giving up 14 points.  I’ll take that.

D LINE – I thought these guys did a tremendous job all night long.  They tied up a decent offensive line all night long and applied pressure at key points in the game.  Out of 8 sacks the DLine got credit for 6.5.  That’s impressive for a 3 man front but not necessarily good for our defense which I’ll get to in a bit.  TJE was about as dominant as we’ve seen from a 3-4 lineman in quite some time.  Dude was just a destructive force all night long.  I have no reason to think it won’t last all season.  Jonathan Mathis didn’t do much but he looked to be getting double teamed most of the night.  Eddie Brown got decent push and even the subs on the DLine looked really solid.  In a 3 man front you don’t expect a lot of domination but based on Sunday night this group looks really solid with a real playmaker in TJE.

LINEBACKER – All off season we questioned what the loss of Von Miller and Mike Hodges would do to the linebacking corps.  Well, if Sunday night is any indicator the initial prognosis is not good at all.  We were without Domantrae Moore so I’m hoping his return greatly helps us.  I’m also wondering if it’s time to break in more of these freshmen to immediate playing time.  I just didn’t see anything great out of the LB crew on Sunday night but they ran pretty much everyone out there.  I’m guessing to get film so maybe they settle on a couple guys on the inside after this game and get them experience and more coaching.

I really don’t like calling individuals out but I’ll do it if it’s warranted.  Cayleb Russell had a less than stellar game based on all the off season reports.  Dude might be one of the best athletes on the defense but if you’re lost assignment wise or have no technique it does you no good.  This guy seemed lost all night long.  He was handled single handedly all night long on the edge.  He has two moves of getting around the edge or power rush.  Problem is he doesn’t have Von’s explosiveness or his ability to cut back inside to fool the blocker.  He also doesn’t have Moore’s football strength and technique to overpower a blocker.  Plus, there were a couple of times where he was running free on the backside and just missed the RB because he didn’t know how to close.  I watched him quite a bit because the off season reports had him as a suitable replacement for Von.  You don’t expect anyone to be Von but even 70% wouldn’t be bad.  I hate calling him out but what I saw on Sunday night wasn’t even maybe 50%.  He’s still learning to play defense I know but it’s his senior year and if he’s going to start he needs to learn some things quickly.  I honestly think Moore comes back with a clear head and assumes that spot very quickly.  I think Sherm was just trying to teach Moore a lesson and give Russell a chance.  Lessons learned so let’s move on.

Sean Porter is probably our best linebacker right now and while he’s very solid he’s not spectacular.  His problem is we got spoiled by Von on the outside last year so everyone has to measure up to Von.  It’s not fair but if we’re going to be great these guys have to get near Von level.  I do like the combo of TJE and Porter on the same side as it’s clear it’ll be the most disruptive side of the line.  That will be a huge boost to DeRuyter to know that side of the line can handle more and offenses might run away from it.

I have no idea what to think on the inside.  No one stood out at all.  They ran guys out there all night so maybe no one got comfortable with calls and keys but no one separated themselves in the middle.  I think it’s clear Garrick is one of the best two so he might as well start getting reps and find out quickly who is going to stand next to him manning the middle.  ILB is clear to me the weakest part of the defense and it’s going to allow teams to gash runs much like what SMU did on Sunday night.  Good news is that we’re in a pass happy league but if someone will commit to running up the middle on us they can find success.  Someone needs to tell Dalton Santos we’re going to the SEC and show him this film as he might be able to start as a true freshman next year if he’ll change his commitment from Tennessee to the Aggies.  Let’s just hope Dat and DeRuyter find their Michael Hodges quickly.  I know I just bagged on him but I wouldn’t be hesitant to move Russell inside if he can follow ILB assignments that are willing to attack the line and free Williams to make tackles based on reads.  It wouldn’t hurt based on what I saw our ILBs do on Sunday night.  Russell is athletic but there’s a lot more read and reacting on the outside than just being a down field ILB taking on OLineman all night long and it might suit Russell better.

DBs – While there were a few brain farts in zone coverage due to crossing routes I thought this unit did a pretty decent job as a whole.  Coryell Judie is by far our best cover corner.  SMU didn’t allow it very much because they didn’t run many routes straight up the field but when they did Judie stuck with them very well.  He should come in handy against some of the better WRs in the B12.  Terrance Frederick also had a solid game basically as the slot corner.  He did blitz a lot and did decent but SMU was also really responsive to his blitz hitting the quick outside passes because our safeties and LBs were late to cover his man.  I would have to look at the film but it seemed like a lot of their big pass plays came off a TFred blitz so that might be a big factor as to why they got yards due to our LBs and safeties being slow/confused on who to cover.  If so, let’s hope DeRuyter can get that cleaned up.  Dustin Harris looked solid at corner but they didn’t really test him deep that much and kept everything short for the most part.  Each of our safeties got an interception with one being a gift and the other being a tipped ball but you’ll take them because at least they were paying attention to the ball.  I thought both safeties did pretty well but not spectacular.  I still worry about Trent Hunter as a cover guy but Campbell is a physical beast that if he can stay healthy will help Hunter out.  Hunter is just so heady that we probably don’t have a better safety than him right now so I’m fine with him being out there.

Overall, looking back this was about the effort we can expect week to week.  Great DLine play although there’s only three of them, solid DB play, and questionable LB play.  I would say along the DLine we’re much better than last season and DB wise a little better.  If Moore can be 60% of Von and DeRuyter can find someone to be 80% of Hodges then this could be a really solid defense.  Not a lights out Wrecking Crew defense but easily Top 40 and maybe even Top 30.  Finding Hodges replacement worries me more than any other position on the field and it’s going to be our Achilles heel for good teams if we don’t find it.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS – This is really hard to judge as we had two extra points blocked due to terrible blocking.  I heard recently that guy has blocked 16 kicks in his career so he sounds like he’s got some good technique but a good special teams coach identifies that strength and prepares for it.  We obviously weren’t.  You hope that can get cleaned up and it should.  Bullock did make his two field goal attempts which is good to see and looked fine kicking off.  I think we had two punts which looked better than last year so you’ll take that.  Kick return was decent but we only had three chances which is what you like to see.  There was nothing impressive on punt return other than a muffed fair catch that we luckily were able to jump on.  Punt return for this team just makes me nervous as hell.  I don’t know if our guys get nervous but put someone back there that will catch the ball above everything else.

 

SUMMARY  – Very good first game by the Aggies.  They have a few things they need to clean up coverage wise and need to find someone to play opposite Garrick Williams inside but we’ve had much worse opening games.  As evident by some team’s first game against a “lesser” opponent, a win is not always a given but we took it to SMU.  Defensively as fans we have to pay attention to the score and not plays given up or yards amassed against us.  The other thing about our defense that I didn’t mention is we seemed to adjust in the second half.  That’s just a sign of good coaching and DeRuyter has proven he can distill the first half pretty quickly and make second half adjustments.  Offensively you can’t ask for much better but we’ll definitely play better defenses.  Based on this game there’s a lot of good things to look forward to for the 2011Fightin’ Texas Aggie football season.   Let’s just hope this is not a blip and a solid indicator.

As for the next game against the Vandals of Idaho I fully expect a bigger pounding with Cyrus and Christine busting off some long runs along with Fuller getting him a long TD.  I’m going to call 56-10.

And Baylor and their lawsuit threat can pound sand for all I care.