Aggie Defense

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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Analyzing the Chief

At the end of last season I was utterly confused on what to think about John Chavis.  I’m the Chief’s biggest fan but I was questioning if I was fan because he fits the mold of defensive coordinator from Central Casting or if it was because he was an effective defensive coordinator.  During the 2015 season I felt I saw a defense that was the best since 2012 and likely back to Von Miller’s senior season with Cody Hodges.  I felt in the early part of the 2016 season we were seeing the return of the Wrecking Crew after great defensive efforts against Auburn and Arkansas.  Tennessee was questionable with the 4th quarter collapse but at the end of the season it was clear this defense was different than 2015 and the first half of 2016.  This defense appeared to be a shell of what it had been since Chief started.

To help figure out what was real and wasn’t I went back and looked at every loss with Chavis as our DC.  There were lots of games I felt our defense played well enough to win but our offense let us down.  We’ve lost 10 games in the two years Chief has been handling our defense.  I went and made a chart that showed the score of the game, how many points the defense gave up, second half points, total yards, and rushing yards.  I then came up with a purely arbitrary grade called GETW which stands for Good Enough to Win.  I wanted a feel for if the defense played well enough for us to win the game.

Here’s the chart and I’ll go down game by game analyzing each one.

Bama – 2015:

This is one of the most maddening games of the Sumlin era that nobody talks about.  The final score wound up being 41-23 so it looks like a blowout but everyone forgets our offense threw THREE pick sixes in this game.  That’s right, the offense gave up almost as many points as our defense.  It’s not a  simple exercise to remove 21 points and say the Aggies win 23-20 as it doesn’t work that way.  It is a simple exercise though to think the defense did everything they could that day for the Aggies to win.

Derrick Henry gashed the Aggie defense in the first quarter and a half but after that the Aggie defense really did shut him down along with the Bama offense.  So much so that Bama only scored 2 field goals in the second half outside of the interception returns for touchdowns.  I don’t care if Bama was in lead protection mode as to still hold Bama’s offense to only field goals in the second half is impressive.  The most impressive statistic of that day was that Bama was only 4 of 16 on third down conversions.  25 percent.  That is DAMN impressive to have that Bama offense only convert 25% of their third down conversions.  The defense was getting off the field when they had to.  The defense definitely played good enough to win this game and the offense just pissed it away.

Ole Miss – 2015:

This game makes me want to pull out my hair because it was the most inept offensive performance I’ve ever seen.  It was maddening being in the stands watching an offense just spit and sputter.  The statistics make it look like the defense didn’t play well enough but they absolutely did.  They gave up 23 overall but just 7 in the second half which shows John Chavis has the ability to make in game adjustments.  In addition the defense got 4 turnovers while the offense had 3.  The defense responded EVERY time the offense turned the ball and yet the offense did NOTHING with those gifts from the defense.

Statistically this game looks bad for the defense and it’s not great but they played their hearts out that night.  Meanwhile Jake Spavital struggled just to keep his note cards in some order so he could get plays signaled in that wouldn’t amount to anything.  I don’t even want to write anymore on this game because I want to go find Jake Spavital and choke him.  He really should have been relieved of his duties after this game.  He absolutely should have.

Auburn – 2015:

This is a very confusing game for me to analyze from a defensive standpoint.  First off, our stupid offense only scored 10 points against a suspect Auburn defense.  That 10 points was the lowest Auburn held an opponent to all season where the next lowest was 17 and every other game their opponent scored at least 20 points.  Boy Wonder Spavital mustered 10 points against this defense at Kyle Field.  Unreal.

Defensively we got gashed this game.  Auburn ripped off 311 yards on the ground and just gashed us all night.  We couldn’t slow them down at all on the ground.  Malzahn is a run game genius but they were just running willy nilly against us.  They were pretty balanced scoring 14 points in the first half and 12 points in the second half.  This is a game that on the surface the defense didn’t play well enough to win but our offense was so anemic I think they could have played well enough to win with some kind of support from our offense.  I don’t put this one solely on our defense.

LSU – 2015:

Another maddening game thanks to our offense.  Even though this game was in Tiger Stadium and they scored 19 points there’s no doubt in my mind the defense played well enough to win this game.  They gave up 14 points in the second half but our offense was doing nothing yet again as they only scored 7 total points.  I know LSU has a damn good defense but there were holes the offense could have exploited to score 20 points but they didn’t.

Statistically the Aggie defense held the LSU offense to 327 yards which his amazing.  They held the LSU offense in total yards to basically what Auburn did on the ground against us a few weeks before.  I don’t like the 19 points but our offense turned the ball over 3 times to LSU’s once so once again our offense did nothing to help our defense.  It’s a little questionable but I’d say our defense definitely played well enough to win this game as our offense was once again just putrid with Spav wearing the headset.

Louisville – 2015:

I’m torn on this game as well.  My main issue here is we gave up too much too early to Lamar Jackson.  This was his coming out party and we weren’t prepared.  We gave up 537 total yards and 307 on the ground as Jackson just ran silly in the first half.  In the second half our defense tightened up holding them to 7 points but once again our offense couldn’t muster anything at all this game.  Despite scoring 21 points most of it was in the second half and it was too little too late.

I think this was a winnable game but the defense game up too many yards and points to Lamar Jackson in the first half while the offense spit and sputtered yet again so by the time things got working for both the offense and defense in the second half it was too little, too late.  This wasn’t a terrible showing by the defense as it was definitely a winnable game based on their effort but they’re not without faults this game.

Bama – 2016:

This is a semi-tough game to analyze because the defense played well enough to win for the first half and first series of the second half until Shaan Washington shoved Jalen Hurts to the ground on a 3rd down Bama was not converting.  The offense had opened up the second half scoring on it’s first drive to make it a 14-13 lead.  The defense had held on a 3rd down but a stupid penalty gave Bama the first down to which they then went on to score putting Bama back in a lead situation they would never relinquish.  The defense would give up another score in the second half and the offense would also give up a score like the previous year.

Maybe if Shaan Washington doesn’t push Hurts the outcome of the game is different but in my mind this is equal parts offense and defense and the reality is the defense didn’t play well enough in the second half to win this game so I can’t give them a great grade here.

Mississippi St – 2016:

This is the ultimate tale of two halves for the Aggie defense.  In the first half they gave up 28 points to a suspect Mississippi State offense and in the second half they only gave up 7 points but did get some key turnovers when it looked like Mississippi State would score in the second half.  The defense held until Mississippi State’s final possession where they scored a touchdown to go up 35-21 and put the game out of reach.  Credit to the defense for holding as long as they could to let the offense get back into it but they broke giving up that TD late in the 4th quarter that put the game out of reach.

The most frustrating part about this game is Mississippi State had 574 yards of total offense and 365 rushing yards.  I mean no dis-respect to the Bulldogs but that’s TERRIBLE for an Aggie defense to give up to a team like Mississippi State.  I still don’t know how that happened.  Still, the Aggie defense held for the second half except that final possession so I do have to give credit for trying to make up for an atrocious first half but they just couldn’t hold MSU out of the end zone in the second half and that caused the loss.

Ole Miss – 2016:

This game is a total head scratcher from a defensive standpoint because in this game our defense COMPLETELY fell apart in the fourth quarter.  This defense gave up 23 points to a true freshman starting his first game ever.  Now, he looks like a pretty special quarterback but you can’t give up 23 points at Kyle Field in the 4th quarter.

Even if the offense had put up more points the Aggie defense giving up 23 points in the fourth quarter is unacceptable and not like a Chavis lead defense at all.  So despite this being a 1 point game and the defense held Ole Miss to 6 points through 3 quarters you can’t collapse like that and expect anything positive.  It’s like never cheating for 15 years of your marriage and then the last 5 you start cheating and when you get caught thinking you get some credit for the first 15.  The first 15 years were wiped up by your failure in the last 5.  Ironically enough does anybody know Hugh Freeze’s marriage stats?  It might be similar.

LSU – 2016:

The worst game of Chavis’ time at A&M.  There is not one redeeming quality of this game from a defensive standpoint.  Not a single one.  LSU was led by Danny Etlinger who hadn’t done much all season for LSU.  Well, he walked into Kyle Field and lit us up.  Our defense gave up 54 points and 622 total yards of offense with 298 on the ground so they basically equally shredded us on the ground and through the air.

This is the game that got me questioning everything I believed about Chief.  I don’t even want to talk about it because it was so bad defensively.

KSU – 2016:

We “only” gave up 413 yards but we gave up 33 points to a VERY pedestrian KSU offense.  This is another head scratcher.  We gave up a 79 yard touchdown pass and a 52 yard touchdown run in the first half which is 131 yards and almost 33% of their total offense on two plays.  If you take away those two plays this is a very respectable defensive effort and we likely win but in reality the defense gave up those two plays so they don’t get any credit.

This game is just the perfect capper for a defense that flat out fell apart in the second half of the season.  They didn’t play well enough to win.  No way should KSU have scored 33 points on us.  I think most Aggie fans were numb for this loss because it’s part of yet another season collapse for a Sumlin lead team but this really is an EMBARASSING loss for the Aggie defense.

Summary:

In analyzing this I have no clue what to think.  In 2015 our defense was EXTREMELY consistent in every game all season except maybe the Auburn and Louisville games but our offense did it no favors in those games.  Despite losing, the defense played well enough to beat Bama, Ole Miss, and LSU so that’s damn impressive.  The effort and results of the 2015 defense is very respectable.

However, 2016 was a total Jekyll and Hyde performance.  Against UCLA and Tennessee the defense played damn good except for 5 minutes in the fourth quarter where they gave up 15 points both times but we still won in OT.  Against Auburn and Arkansas they were flat out dominant.

For a half against Bama they played well enough to win but the wheels came off in the second half and Chavis never got them put back on or left them in Tuscaloosa.  I can’t explain it.  I really can’t.  His first year he had a damn solid and consistent defense that was honestly good enough to win 10 games with a decent offense.  The next year in 2016 the performances accurately reflect the scores.  The defense didn’t play well enough to win any games that were lost.  It’s odd.  Two seasons and two totally different results.

I hate saying it because I love everything about the man from a coaching standpoint but Chief is in the same boat as Sumlin.  Chief needs to prove he still knows how to coach a defense because the second half of 2016 puts it in major question.  Sure, Sumlin’s fate will ultimately decide Chief’s fate but Chief has a lot of questions to answer himself.  I like to think he’s an elite level defensive coordinator but the results from the second half of the 2016 season say that’s in question.

Only the 2017 season will tell.