Aggies

What Jimbo Fisher Means for Texas A&M

Jimbo Landing in Aggieland

A Change in Perception:

When Texas A&M made the hire of Jimbo Fisher official it sent a clear message.  Underestimate Texas A&M all you want but Texas A&M doesn’t hold the same belief.  Many national and regional “experts” believe Texas A&M is a second tier program in college football.  They don’t think A&M can compete with the “bluebloods” of college football.  They haven’t been to College Station in 10 years and they still hold their stock in IBM having never invested in Apple, Amazon, or Microsoft.  You know, because nothing ever changes.

7 years ago these “experts” that make a living talking college football said Texas A&M wouldn’t get an invite to the SEC.  Well, Texas A&M got the invite to the SEC and made the move in 2012.  They said it was a stupid move.  The first season in the SEC Texas A&M won 11 games and finished in the Top 5 while Johnny Manziel won a Heisman.  That was only six seasons ago where Texas A&M competed at the highest level.  Sure, it turned out to be a blip but the reality is Texas A&M competed at the highest level and built the most expensive stadium in college football over the last six seasons.  Texas A&M can compete at the highest level.

When chatter of Jimbo Fisher getting hired by A&M recently surfaced these “experts” said there was no way Jimbo Fisher would leave FSU.  They said it was a second tier program under Florida State.  They’re talking about the school that finished in the Top 5 only six seasons previously and had the most expensive college football stadium ever built.  No stadium even comes close to the amenities of modern day Kyle Field.  These “experts” couldn’t think past the last 12 months.  They were convinced Texas A&M despite the 2012 season, it’s location, it’s facilities, and it’s resources couldn’t attract a coach of Jimbo Fisher’s caliber because it was a second tier program.  On December 1, 2017, Jimbo Fisher made it official he was leaving Florida State for Texas A&M.

Sadly for these “experts” if they have any historical context their historical context is that of Dennis Franchione, Mike Sherman, and recently Kevin Sumlin.  They forget Texas is a hotbed of football recruits and economic development.  And I mean a hotbed of football recruits and money.  They forget the years from 1985 to 1995 when Texas A&M finished in the final Top 20 for 10 of those 11 seasons.  The overall record over those 11 seasons was 104-27-2.  That’s a winning percentage of 78 percent.  The record at Kyle Field was 63-5-1.  That’s a winning percentage of 91 percent.  That’s a flat out decade of dominance at home.  1985 was 32 years ago which seems like a long time but it’s not forever ago.  For whatever reason these “experts” assumed Texas A&M was just a second tier football program that didn’t belong in the discussions of the upper tier programs.

They believe despite the brand new $450 million stadium and facilities that rival anybody in the country along with a hotbed of recruiting Texas A&M can never compete at the highest level of college football.  These people get paid to be “experts” about college football.  The truth is these people are idiots and lazy.  They sit in their studios watching the games never visiting any campus.  Their sole basis for being an “expert” is the most recent decade of success.  They’re judging Texas A&M based solely on the jobs done by Mike Sherman and Kevin Sumlin.  Mike Sherman and Kevin Sumlin are outstanding people but they didn’t prove to be great college football coaches.  College football more than any other sport is about the head coach.  In college football the head coach has the highest input of 85 scholarship players including their recruiting, the walk-ons, and the largest staff of any college sport.  The sport requires 22 different starters with 11 of those having to work in perfect unison on every play.  No other sport comes close to the overall volume and detail the head coach must think about.  Because of that the head coach has to be something special.  The greats are few and far between.  A&M has simply failed on having a great head coach since R.C. Slocum around 1995 with a couple blips in 1998 and 2012.  We’ve been in a coach drought.  Simple as that.  It hasn’t been a resource problem.

The hire of Jimbo Fisher changes that perception.  At least it should.  The hire of Jimbo Fisher makes these “experts” wake up and pay attention.  They can deny it but they’re paying attention.  The hire of Jimbo Fisher changes the national perception of Texas A&M’s willingness and ability to compete at the highest level in college football.  The hire of Jimbo Fisher says A&M is capable of things people have forgotten about.  The hire of Jimbo Fisher tells the “experts” you can think what you want about Texas A&M but Texas A&M thinks differently about itself.

A lot of these “experts” will continue questioning if A&M is a better job than FSU when a man just staked his career to it.  Sure, Jimbo Fisher left for more money but he was already a Top 5 paid coach in college football.  The dude is as driven by anyone to win college football games.  It’s not like he’s coming to College Station for more money and ride out his career for a decade.  That makes no sense at all if you think about it logically.  A man who seemingly had it all at FSU left for another program.  Why would that be?  The only real logical explanation is the person himself who has more vested than anyone feels that Texas A&M offers a better chance to win a national championship than Florida State.  It really is as simple as that.  Sadly the “experts” will go on and on this is about money and Jimbo Fisher is an idiot.  I don’t think it’s about money as Jimbo already has plenty and FSU wasn’t firing him anytime soon.  Jimbo Fisher may be wrong in the end but the reason he made the move is he feels Texas A&M offers a better chance to win a national championship.  It’s the only reason an established coach at a proven Power 5 program would leave for another one.  It doesn’t happen very often.  I don’t think Jimbo left because of the FSU fans being critical over this season.  That seems awful petty.  Jimbo seems to have more confidence and pride to let a few fans piss him off and leave.  Jimbo left because he thinks Texas A&M offers more resources to win a national championship than Florida State.

Some of the “experts” will also say Dennis Franchione left Alabama for Texas A&M and look how that turned out.  They won’t look under the hood and realize Dennis Franchione was a fraud because he was built up by Gary Patterson much the same way Dan Hawkins was at Boise St.  Dennis Franchione jumped because of the pending scholarship restrictions coming Alabama’s way.  He too at the time believed Texas A&M offered a better chance to win a national championship than his current situation like any coach that decides to move.  Alabama was pretty bad after Fran left until Saban showed up.  The problem with Fran was he wasn’t actually a good football coach.  This is why he struggled at Texas State when he did get another job.  Winners win at any level they coach if given enough time.  Comparing Jimbo Fisher and Dennis Franchione is an exercise in being lazy.  Much different circumstances.  Still, those with the inability to have logical thoughts will use that as an argument because they sit in a studio having never been to the campus and regions around Texas A&M and Florida State football.  Just because the wins and losses over the last two decades are different doesn’t mean the resources and potential are different.

Ironically enough I’ve been saying for two decades if Florida State, Miami, and Florida can all be seen as equals on the football field why can’t Texas and Texas A&M?  Texas has access to great football talent just like Florida does.  How is Florida allowed/able to have three marquee programs in their state but Texas which is a bigger state than Florida can only have one?  Spare me the argument there’s more bigger schools in Texas because Florida has a boat load of schools as well.  Also spare me the argument Oklahoma steals recruits out of Texas.  There are PLENTY of great Texas high school football players to build a championship team at A&M.  The problem has been and always will be coaching.  Texas A&M since R.C. Slocum started declining in the late 90s has failed to hire a competent coach.  Dennis Franchione, Mike Sherman, and Kevin Sumlin were simply not great football coaches.  Texas A&M for two decades had the wrong person under the headset.

For most, the perception of Texas A&M football will change but some people will keep their head in the sand even though a man staked his career to the move.  He burned his legacy on the way out of Tallahassee so he obviously sees something beyond the money.  At least I think he does.  Most will understand and watch with curiosity if he’s right while the truly moronic people will continue to question why he’d make the move.  Those people need to shut up and save the world’s oxygen for something else.

The ultimate perception shift will only occur if Jimbo actually wins and competes with the team in Tuscaloosa.  If he mimics Sumlin’s regular 8-4 record and third to fourth place in the SEC West the “experts” will be proven right.  If at minimum Jimbo replaces LSU as the second best program in the SEC West while Saban is at Alabama then he’ll prove it was the right move.  If Jimbo actually wins a national championship at Texas A&M I’ll start a Go Fund Me page to send every person that questioned why Jimbo would leave FSU for A&M an actual plate of crow.  I’m dead serious.  Keep those Tweets.  I’ve got two from Mike Greenberg and Richard Justice even though Richard Justice deleted his.

Will Jimbo prove the critics right or wrong?  Nobody has any idea.  That includes Jimbo and the people that made the decision to bring him in.  Only time will tell but Texas A&M on December 1, 2017 put their proverbial nuts on the table.  Those in charge of hiring a football coach for Texas A&M believe completely different than the “experts” that say Jimbo Fisher is an idiot.  Jimbo Fisher has to win to fully change the perception.  If that happens those “experts” that questioned the move will be proven the idiots.  I can’t wait.

The Mechanics of the Hire and the Contract:

Kudos to Scott Woodward on this hire.  Much like when Dr. Loftin took us to the SEC he spoke very minimally and executed like an assassin.  With assassins you never know what’s going on but the results are crystal clear.  The hire of Jimbo Fisher is crystal clear.  Scott Woodward is an assassin and that’s a good thing.  While everyone else was out creating wasted noise Woodward was doing his work and when it mattered most pulled the trigger with clear results.  No fanfare and no hype.  Just the clear result for the main target all along.  You love an assassin when they’re on your side.

In the end it sort of seems like a simple hire because there was no fanfare.  It wasn’t.  LSU tried to do it the previous two seasons and failed.  There’s speculation of how long Woodward has been working on this but it doesn’t matter.  He got the best coach that would come to Texas A&M.  Texas A&M was not getting Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Dabo Swinney, or Jim Harbaugh.  I suppose there’s a possibility of getting Chris Petersen but I like the Jimbo Fisher hire more than Chris Petersen which I’ll get to in a little bit.  I don’t know the full mechanics of this hire but Woodward executed them perfectly.  He zeroed in on Fisher as the biggest attainable fish and reeled him in with flawless execution.

Despite what the “experts” say this wasn’t simply a money whip either.  Like I referenced above Jimbo didn’t leave just for money.  His situation at Florida State wasn’t bad at all.  It took Woodward convincing Jimbo he would be better served at Texas A&M.  That’s one hell of a sales job and Woodward should get more credit by the “experts” for pulling this off.  LSU has been perceived as the better program but yet Texas A&M is the one that could pull off the hire in one try.  Give credit where credit is due and that appears to be the work of Scott Woodward and those at Texas A&M that supported Woodward.  Thank goodness we’re not Tennessee.  Plus, we’re about to find out what’s going on at FSU as it seems Willie Taggart has turned them down.  Scott Frost is also going to Nebraska so he’s not a candidate.  This hire couldn’t have been cleaner.  Great job by Woodward.

As for the magnitude of the reported $75 million contract over 10 years let’s break it down a bit.  Had Sumlin stayed at A&M for 10 years we would have paid him $50 million.  That’s assuming he never got a raise.  That’s $2.5 million a year difference.  If Sumlin had more repeated success there’s no doubt we would have paid Sumlin more than $5 million a year through a raise.  On a per year basis it’s really not that much difference because in big time college football $2.5 million isn’t much.  We’ll make it up in Double Dave’s pizza rolls sales each season.  That is if Double Dave’s can get their act together and have enough on hand where there’s no line and they never run out.  Double Dave’s with better execution can make up the difference if they’ll execute like Woodward.  There’s always a line for pizza rolls and they always run out.  Talk about missed opportunity.  Although I’m more of a Gumby’s pizza roll guy because they add garlic or something giving it more flavor.  Never understood why Double Dave’s got all the pizza roll love when Gumby’s pizza rolls are better.  All marketing and not product in my mind but that’s a blog post for another day.

As for the length of the contract these “experts” and “critics” are some of the same people that said we didn’t give Kevin Sumlin enough time with 6 years.  We’re committing to Fisher for a decade so that’s only 4 years more than what Sumlin got.  That should be a positive.  Fisher is only 52 which at the end of his contract he’ll be younger than Nick Saban is now.  Arizona State just hired a 62 year old to run their football program.  It’s not unexpected that Fisher can coach 10 more years.  Maybe he doesn’t win a national championship but his track record says A&M will be better off than the previous three coaches we hired.  Winners win and history indicates Jimbo Fisher is a winner.

Winners don’t come cheap so committing $75 million over 10 years for a coach with Jimbo’s track record seems reasonable to me.  It’s steep but it’s a cost of doing business.  Attempting to win a national championship requires money or luck.  We’ve run out of luck at Texas A&M so time to throw money at winning it all.  Mike Gundy was offered 6 years at $7 million by Tennessee and Gus Malzahn has apparently received a raise to $7 million by Auburn.  Jimbo at $7.5 million doesn’t seem out of line at all compared to the numbers that have come out this past week.

If in 10 years Jimbo Fisher has not won more than the coaches that came before him then Texas A&M needs to do a serious internal analysis.  Stop wasting money on football and turn Kyle Field into a bullfighting arena or something.  If Jimbo is worse than or even equal to Kevin Sumlin then we need to stop wasting money on football all together at Texas A&M.  This is an experiment at the highest level to see where Aggie Football can go.  It’s time to step up to find the ceiling.  Finding that ceiling costs money.

I’ve seen Mike Leach’s name get thrown out there for saving money and getting similar results.  Nobody loves Mike Leach more than me since he’s no longer at Tech clowning Franchione and Sherman.  I don’t really get it though.  Mike Leach is a fine coach but he’s never won a division.  Sure, he tied for it once at Tech but after beating Texas to have the inside track to win the division his team got clowned by OU.  He had the division in front of him and he couldn’t get it done.  Then he lost the Cotton Bowl to Ole Miss that season.  That’s the closest he’s ever come to winning a division and a major bowl.  Mike Leach will do more with less but he has a ceiling in my mind.  Mike Leach has won 10 games in ONE season of 16 seasons as head coach.  I know Texas Tech and Washington State aren’t perennial winners but you would think he’d have at least one more season where he won at least 10 games.  He’s only had one.

I don’t think rolling the dice and saving money would have been a good move with Leach.  I don’t see the “great” switch going off for Mike Leach at Texas A&M or any major program.  He’ll be a thorn to opponents but he’ll never win it all.  It’s not worth saving money to not have a chance to win it all.  That goes for any other similar unproven coach.  It wouldn’t have been worth it to save some money and “hope” that coach becomes great at Texas A&M.  We tried it with Franchione and Sumlin and it didn’t work.  Like I said earlier we’re out of time for “hope” so it’s time to spend money.

$75 million for ten years seems like a risky investment but let’s take a look at Jimbo the coach and see how risky it is.  Everybody said the Red Sox and Cubs couldn’t win it all until they finally hired someone competent enough to lead the team.  It’s always about leadership and that costs money.

Jimbo the Head Coach:

I believe a coach’s record matters more than anything else.  You can play ifs and buts all you want but over a period of time a coach’s record no matter where they coach will reflect their ability.  If he’s at a horrible program he’ll improve the record he took over if he’s a good coach.  Let’s look at Jimbo’s record and the four seasons at Florida State before he took over from Bowden.

The first four years are Bobby Bowden and the final eight years that are bolded are Jimbo Fisher.

Year Record Conference Bowl (W/L) Final Rank Title
Bowden – 2006 7-6 3-5 Emerald – W NR
2007 7-6 4-4 Music City – L NR
2008 9-4 5-3 Champs Sports – W 23 Division
2009 7-6 4-4 Gator – W NR
Jimbo- 2010 10-4 6-3 ChickFilA – W 16 Division
2011 9-4 5-3 Champs Sports – W 23
2012 12-2 7-1 Orange – W 8 Conference
2013 14-0 8-0 BCS NCG – W 1 National Champ
2014 13-1 8-0 Rose – L 6 Conference
2015 10-3 6-2 Peach – L 14
2016 10-3 5-3 Orange -W 8
2017 5-5 3-5

 

As you can see, the four seasons before Jimbo took over Florida State was not exactly a dominant program.  Florida State only finished once in the Top 25 those four seasons.  Their best record was 9-4 with an ACC division championship.  Other than that Florida State had a 7-6 record each season prior to Jimbo Fisher taking over.

The first season Jimbo took over he lead Florida State to a 9-3 regular season record winning the Atlantic Division.  They lost to Va. Tech in the ACC Title game but beat South Carolina in the ChickFilA Bowl.  That’s a pretty quick turnaround from the previous season at Florida State where they went 7-6.

Overall, including bowl games, Jimbo Fisher won 10 games or more in 6 of 8 seasons.  He was 6-2 in bowl games including 2 Orange Bowl wins and a national championship in the Rose Bowl.  That’s three marquee bowl game wins which is damn impressive in 8 seasons.  He went to 5 marquee bowl games from 2012 to 2016.

He lost the Rose Bowl in 2014 in the first year of the College Football Playoff to Oregon and Marcus Mariota.  In 2015 FSU lost to UH in the ChickFilA Peach Bowl.  I believe FSU was on their third string quarterback that game.  That can be considered a bad loss but that UH team was hitting on all cylinders and Tom Herman at UH was 5-0 against Top 25 teams at UH.  I’m not going to completely ding Jimbo for that loss even though it looks pretty bad.  In 2016 Jimbo beat Jim Harbaugh’s vaunted Michigan team in the Orange Bowl.  He’s played in big bowl games and done pretty well.

A lot of people like to point out Jimbo’s greatest success came with Jameis Winston under center.  That can be considered true but the fact of the matter is Florida State went 27-1 those two seasons.  Say what you want to about Jameis but Jimbo harnessed his talent to only lose 1 game in 2 seasons. That’s remarkable.  Jameis was a great college quarterback but Jimbo deserves credit for going 27-1 in those two seasons.  How many coaches have gone 27-1 over two seasons?  Not many at all.  It still takes coaching to win like that even if you have talent.  Ask Mack Brown, Les Miles, and Ron Zook.

Outside of Jameis, Jimbo has lead Florida State to a 56-21 record which is a 73 percent winning rate.  That includes the 5-5 record this season which has brought it down some.  Even without Jameis Winston and a .500 season he’s basically winning every 3 of 4 games.  Add in the Jameis Winston years and Jimbo has an overall record of 83-22 which is an almost 80 percent winning rate.  That’s winning every 4 of 5 games over 8 years as the head man at Florida State.  That’s damn good no matter how you want to spin his time there.  I firmly believe winners win and there’s no denying Jimbo Fisher won a lot of football games at FSU.

Based on the last 12 years of Florida State football there’s no reason to think Jimbo Fisher won’t improve the number of wins the Aggies have going forward.  His 8 seasons of football at Florida State speak for themselves compared to the previous 4 seasons.  He wins football games plain and simple.  There’s plenty of talent on the A&M football roster to win more games in 2018 than in 2017.  His biggest issue is going to be improving the A&M offensive line along with deciding pretty early if he wants to have a dual threat attack with Kellen Mond or a straight passing attack with Nick Starkel.  He may also bring in another quarterback but my guess is he’ll roll with either Mond or Starkel.

The schedule is pretty tough playing Clemson and Alabama in 2 of the first 4 games so we’ll find out pretty quickly if Jimbo can make improvements to Aggie football.  I don’t expect A&M to win those games but I do expect them to be competitive in those games.  The rest of the schedule should be pretty manageable with Auburn and LSU posing the toughest tests for the remaining 8 games.  I don’t think it’s out of the question for A&M to go 8-4 next season at minimum but if Jimbo is worth his $7.5 million a year we should win at least 9 games and potentially 10.  I do expect to see immediate improvement when it comes to wins and losses next season.  We didn’t hire Jimbo to “build” a program.  We hired him to come in and start winning more games right away.  He’s got a 10 year contract but he’s being paid to win more in Year 1.  No excuses.  There’s no “building” with his pedigree and what he’s being paid.

In addition to his coaching record Jimbo is known as an elite recruiter.  He had a head start on Kevin Sumlin’s time in Aggieland having already been at Florida State for 2 seasons but Florida State out-recruited Texas A&M in each of Sumlin’s six seasons.  Sumlin was seen as a strong recruiter but Jimbo proved better.  In 8 seasons of signing recruits Florida State was ranked in the Top 10 every season except for one where they came in at number 11 so almost in the Top 10.  In those 8 seasons Florida State was ranked in the Top 5 for 5 of those signing classes.  That’s an elite level of recruiting for sure.  There’s no reason to think Jimbo Fisher can’t do the same at Texas A&M.  He’ll be leading the only SEC team in the state of Texas and the other flagship school struggling right now so he shouldn’t have issues recruiting.  He’s an offensive coach but Jimbo recruited elite talent on both sides of the ball at Florida State.

Jimbo and his staff appear to do a pretty good job developing that talent.  Florida State has had 35 players drafted in the last 5 years.  That’s averaging 7 players each year of the last 5 NFL drafts.  There’s been 35 rounds in the last 5 NFL drafts so Florida State basically had a player for every round.  It didn’t break down that way but you get the point.  It certainly appears that Jimbo can not only recruit elite level talent but he and his staff can also develop it.  There are lots of coaches that can recruit but can’t develop talent and Jimbo seems to develop talent.

The data basically speak for itself in Jimbo’s time at Florida State.  If you look at record, recruiting, and drafting Jimbo Fisher is a Top 5 coach in the country.  That’s pretty hard to argue.  There’s no guarantee those things will carry over at Texas A&M but at least he’s proven he can do it.  I don’t think he would have taken the job if he didn’t feel he can replicate his success.  Maybe he just cashed a huge lottery check but I really think he believes he can do at Texas A&M what he did at Florida State.  He wouldn’t have made the move if he didn’t because his situation at Florida State was really damn good.  I mean the “experts” say that Florida State is the better job.  Jimbo Fisher made a calculated decision he can do at Texas A&M what he did at Florida State.  I’ll trust the man with the skins on the wall over the “experts” that sit in a studio or behind a keyboard.  One man has done it.  The others haven’t.

Make no mistake Jimbo Fisher was hired to Make Aggie Football Great Again.  Only time will tell if he actually can.  Based on his time at Florida State there’s no reason think in 5 years he won’t change the phrase Make Aggie Football Great Again to Made Aggie Football Great Again.  For $7.5 million a year he better change the “k” in Make to a “d” for Made.  When that happens it will prove every single dollar we signed Jimbo for was worth it and the “experts” are idiots.  We’ll be shipping plates of crow all over the country.

#MAFGA

Gig ‘Em Aggies!

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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!

Chad Morris is Better than Kevin Sumlin

Morris Greater Than Sumlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Thoughts from the Tennessee Game

trayveon-vs-tenn

First off, something VERY major happened with that Tennessee win.  Kevin Sumlin confirmed his spot as Aggie head coach for one more season.  It was trending he was off the hot seat but if the Aggies collapsed like the last two seasons and he lost to Tenn, Bama, Ole Miss, and LSU there’s a slight chance Sumlin could have lost his job.  With this win we’re a 9-3 regular season team and will play in a damn good bowl game.  Kevin is gonna win at least nine so with that Tennessee victory on Saturday night he guaranteed he’s fine for 2017.  Congrats Coach.

Secondly, I’m TIRED of all the hand wringing about the Wrecking Crew.  Yes it’s frustrating and statistically it doesn’t look good at times but the reality is this Wrecking Crew while not dominant responds and makes plays when it has to.  The offense is still a work in progress but for 90% of the game our defense is playing their assess off and making plays.  I get the frustration of the 10% when they’re not dominant but don’t ever forget what those guys are doing for almost the entire game.  Tennessee is a damn good football team and dialed up some great plays and made some second half adjustments we were late to adjust to.  Still, that defense played their ass off on Saturday night and they’re the reason we won.  While our offense was sputtering our defense was holding their own for most of the game.

If Trayveon Williams doesn’t fumble out of the back of the end zone there’s a good chance we win that game 42-28.  I’m not sure Tennessee would have scored knowing they had to come back two scores down with under 2 minutes.  If he’s tackled it’s a 35-28 game that we kneel out.  That changes the perception of things big time.  I’m not putting this on Trayveon directly but the odds of that play happening are miniscule and yet totally changed the perception of the game from a defensive standpoint.  In overtime the Wrecking Crew showed up and held Tennessee to only 5 plays including the field goal.  When they had to, the Wrecking Crew has shown up twice in overtime games.  I don’t like the stats either but the point is this defense has shown they can show up and make plays when it’s needed most.  We haven’t had this trait in a LONG time.  Like I’ve been saying this defense won’t be this good next year so quit with the hand wringing on this defense and enjoy it because you’re going to be doing lots of hand wringing next season.

Before I get into the analysis can we PLEASE stop assuming when a defensive player goes down he’s faking it?  Every time a Tennessee player went down someone in my section was yelling they were faking.  Even before they carted their guy off people were yelling he was faking.  Uh, he went off on a stretcher.  That’s one hell of a fake.  We’re not even running a true up tempo offense right now so Tennessee had ZERO incentive to fake injuries because they were already missing three starters on defense.  When you’re injured you have to sit out a play.  They weren’t faking.  The rules allow a defense time to make substitutions based on offensive substitutions so you don’t see the amount of faking you used to see.  The worst was I heard an impromptu yell while a Tennessee player was on the ground.  That’s completely classless.  I would love to think Aggie fans are better than that but maybe not.  The MOST important thing that should come out of every game is every player leaves without any kind of injury.  Please have some respect when people are down on the field.  If we’re running true up tempo and an opponent’s player goes down repeatedly then it can be questioned.  But please don’t boo or yell at a player down on the field just because you think they’re faking it.  I don’t want Kyle Field turning into a place that’s not respectful of the opposing players when they’re injured and it sure got close on Saturday.  We’re not the idiots in Austin.  At least I hope not.

The Wrecking Crew:

I’m starting with the defense this time mainly to drive home the work these guys did.  Statistically at the end of the game they look liked crap.  I mean utter crap.  Evidently we witnessed the defense that gave up the most yards ever in an Aggie football game.  That’s insane because for the 3 quarters and then in 2 overtimes I saw a damn dominant defense.  At the end of the first half we were up 21-7 and at the end of the 3rd quarter the score was 28-14.  I mean that’s REALLY respectable.  Damn respectable.  That’s where I wrestle with Tennessee played better than A&M and we got lucky to get a win.  For 3 quarters we soundly beat Tennessee mainly thanks to our defense.   We really did.

Tennessee was 0-7 on third down conversions to start the game.  They didn’t convert one third down the entire first half.  Say what you want but that’s DAMN impressive.  They wound being 6-17 for the game which means they were 6-10 in the second half which isn’t so impressive.  I don’t know the exact stats but I’m assuming at least 4 of those came in the 4th quarter.

We clearly melted down in the 4th quarter giving up 21 points and everybody forgets what this defense did for 3 quarters.  We won 3 quarters and OT and Tennessee won the 4th quarter.  So did Tennessee really play better than us?  I don’t think so.  I think Tennessee just got really hot in the 4th with some REALLY great play calls and our defense was too slow to adjust.  Most of those play calls were screens that took advantage of aggressiveness and pressure along with crossing routes that took advantage of the pressure our linebackers and safeties were applying. We were leaving the middle of the field wide open for crossing routes.  It was some really great play calls by Tennessee.  We probably should have gone to a much more conservative defense but that’s not how Chavis rolls.  He likes to bring pressure.  I don’t like what happened in the 4th at all but it’s hard to fault these guys for how they played for 3 quarters and the overtime.  They were truly dominant for 45 minutes of the game and then the same thing in overtime.  I can’t fully explain the 4th quarter melt down other than solid play calling by Tennessee and execution by a pretty talented team.

There are two things I can fault this defense for and the first time I’ve seen it all season.  The tackling was TERRIBLE.  I mean just terrible.  I don’t know if it was because Tennessee is the best team we’ve played athletically all year or something else but this defense was not bringing Tennessee players down like we’ve done with other teams.  It was really noticeable.  The other terrible thing by this defense was the defensive ends playing in place of Myles Garrett were biting on the zone read really bad.  So much so Dobbs got some pretty nice runs when there shouldn’t have been anything there.  On the zone read the defensive end is left alone and the QB makes the decision to leave the ball with the running back or pull it and run outside if the defensive end is crashing.  Usually there’s not much help out there so if the QB sees the defensive end crash and pulls the ball he’ll get a decent gain.  Dobbs was doing that repeatedly so I don’t know why our defensive ends kept crashing as they need to stay home and be disciplined.  I think it was just a case of those back-up defensive ends being excited to make plays and forgetting what should have been disciplined football.

Speaking of defensive ends I have no clue what was going on with Myles Garrett. Early in the game he was playing on passing downs but then he kind of went away for the most part and then showed up in the 4th quarter and played basically the rest of the game.  He was even in on a punt return in the 4th quarter.  If he was hurt why was he in a punt return?  I don’t get why we’d even expose him to special teams.  Either way I’m not sure why they handled him like they did.  Maybe they realized they finally needed him in there later in the game but it’s kind of head scratching how he was handled.  I will say when he finally did go full time in the 4th quarter he looked solid.  He wasn’t his normal dominant self but Tennessee was focused on him and Myles was  pushing their tackle around.  In VERY limited action he still got 1 sack and a tackle for a loss.  I hope he’s fully healthy going into the Bama game as he’s a flat out game changer.  Even injured he helped stabilize a defense late in the game.

As for the rest of the defense the guy who stood out the most was Armani Watts.  Watts is such a baller.  I mean flat out baller.  The dude took the ball away from a guy that was about to walk into the end zone again.  He just clean stripped it from the guy and held it.  He just does that time and time again.  It’s amazing.  Obviously he got the game saving interception which looks like a bad throw by Dobbs but if you watch Watts on that play he had great anticipation knowing where it was going.  He was playing the ball and not the receiver because he knew where it was going.  His instincts are uncanny.  I questioned if he was going pro after this season but there’s no doubt in my mind he’s gone.  I think he’s a first round draft pick.  He should be an All-American based on how he plays.  I once thought Evans was better but Watts is the better all-around safety and it’s not even close at this point.  That’s not a knock on Evans at all but Watts is just better.

The other guy that stood out the most was Shaan Washington.  That dude seems to be coming into his own right now.  I really feel like he’s gotten better each week where he’s now a legit SEC linebacker.  Alaka looked decent but Washington is clearly our best linebacker right now and I don’t think it’s close.  I’m not sure how many plays Tyrel Dodson got but he had some really solid plays.  He’s a true freshman but I think he’s going to be a really solid contributor the next 2-3 seasons.  I doubt he goes pro early but the kid looks like a baller as a true freshman.  Nobody really stood out from the linebacker position as the lack of tackling was really bad.

The defensive line didn’t get as much pressure as it usually does but it wasn’t bad at all.  Dobbs wasn’t holding on to the ball very long but we still wound up with 4 sacks and 5 QB hurries on 47 pass attempts.  Keke, Henderson, Walker, Mack, and even Chevis did they usual thing of just consuming blocks for a big part of the game.  Henderson and Mack each got ½ a sack each.  Hall had a pretty solid game bringing pressure from his side as he wound up with ½ sack but most importantly he had 4 QB hurries.  Even though I griped about the other defensive ends biting on the zone read when they shouldn’t have, Dobbs only wound up with 57 yards of rushing with a long run of 33 so he wasn’t gashing us on the zone read.  As usual the defensive line was the strongest part of our defensive effort.

Not much more to say about Watts and Evans as they wound up being the leading tacklers on the team along with each having an interception.  I don’t know what more you could want out of these two.  Donovan Wilson was tied for 4th on the team in tackles so all our safeties do is produce.   At corner I actually thought Harvey and Willis played really well.  Probably their best game yet.  Dobbs threw for 400 yards but 160 of them were to their running back so I can’t fault our corners for those yards.  I mean that’s 40% of their passing yards right there.  They didn’t get burned deep as the longest pass was for 43 yards and the rest were under 27.  All of the passing yards just seemed to be screen plays to the running back and then crossing routes late in the game.  As much as I love Chief that’s really on him for not adjusting to a Tennessee OC that was clearly calling great plays against an overly aggressive defense that wasn’t watching for certain plays.

I know people want to rail on the Wrecking Crew for the total yards and the defense at the end but I just can’t.  For three quarters they played stellar football and I contend had our offense taken better advantage of the turnovers the defense got then everyone is talking about what an amazing game the Wrecking Crew played.  I’m not totally putting it on the offense but the offense did need to do more in the second half when the defense was giving them the ball.  I know Tennessee had 7 turnovers but a lot of those were caused by us and most importantly we got to the ball.  There was one fumble late in the game where the running back fumbled it and Dobbs tried to pick it up rather than run with it to which he bobbled it and we jumped on it.  We have to give credit to our defense for being around the ball and jumping on it rather than trying to be a hero.  Just jump on the ball.  Fundamentals.  The Wrecking Crew just makes plays when they have to.  It doesn’t look like the Wrecking Crew of old but like I’ve said time and time again this ain’t the Southwest Conference.  We need to clean up our tackling but these guys play their asses off and make plays when they have to.  We now have two 2 OT wins where the defense held the offense to a field goal in the first OT and then didn’t let the other team score a TD when they had to in the second overtime.  That’s pretty damn solid.

Offense:

Not sure where to begin here.  Do I start with Knight or Williams?  I’ll start with Williams.  Except for ONE play this guy was amazing.  I mean flat out amazing.  217 yards on 28 carries averaging almost 8 yards a carry.  That’s unreal for a true freshman that wasn’t touted like an Adrian Peterson, Fournette, or any of those Georgia running backs.  This dude has essentially been carrying this offense since the Auburn game.  He really has.  He’s the biggest difference maker on this offense and it’s not even close.  He’s come so far since his first game when I honestly thought Keith Ford was the better back.  Williams’ vision is his secret.  The dude is so good at anticipating things and adjusting before it happens.  He knows when to cut and when to be patient.  This was his 4th SEC game and he hasn’t been denied the end zone in any of them.  When he gets to the second level he’s really dangerous but watching him he’s so good at getting beyond the line.  He sees the whole develop and knows to accelerate or do a jump cut and go.  Then when he’s on the second level he doesn’t go down with contact and constantly adjusting while going forward.  I don’t know who he looks like to be honest.  It’s a rare combination I haven’t seen in a long time.  Maybe more like Ladanian Tomlinson more than anyone but I think Williams is bigger.  He’s just amazingly fluid in doing it that it looks effortless.  He obviously had the fumble at the end of the game.  If he scores or gets tackled that game is over and never goes to overtime.  It’s hard to fault him for what happened because of his effort the entire game but hopefully he learned a lesson you don’t ever give up until you cross the goal line including protect the ball.  Still, this guy has carried this offense to 4 straight SEC victories so I’m not going to get on him about anything.  He’s going to be a BIG reason why we win 10 or 11 games in the regular season as opposed to just 9 if we wound up with 10 or 11.

Good ol’ Trevie Knight.  At this point he is who he is.  He was a dead flat 50% passer with 2 TDs and 2 INTs.  That’s about as half good and half bad as it gets.  But the damn kid can flat out run.  I mean flat out run like you wouldn’t expect.  If he didn’t have his legs I think we’d be miserable with him as our quarterback but if he gets a seam up the middle on the zone read and into the secondary the kid has amazing top end speed.  It’s actually really amazing to watch as he’ll frustrate you with his passing and decision making through the air but then the next thing you know he found a seam up the middle and he’s prancing untouched into the end zone because no one could catch him.  He sucked everyone into being frustrated and then next thing you know he’s in open field showing off his wheels no one expects him to have.  All you can do is smile as he crosses the goal line and gives everybody the double gigs.  Kid doesn’t get down and just keeps grinding waiting on opportunity to strike.  That’s actually a very admirable trait as a quarterback has got to have confidence and persistence.

Watching him pass is just really remarkable because he’s so inconsistent.  He’ll have some flat out amazing passes and then have some head scratchers on how the same guy can be so inconsistent.  The pass I do like the most although I don’t always agree when it’s called is the deep sideline ball.  He’s obviously inconsistent but he hits it enough it’s worth trying and with our receivers it’s likely to not be intercepted.  I love that it keeps the defense honest because if they don’t account for it and Knight hits it then it’s a big play.  Mazzone tends to do it on second downs where I’m wanting to string along a more consistent drive but it’s worked enough I’m okay with it.  Mazzone is trying to hide it between 1st and 3rd downs to keep defenses on their toes and to give us another down if it doesn’t hit.  It’s worked enough that I can’t really complain but there’s been a drive or two where I just wanted to keep the ball on the ground and move the chain that way.  The biggest problem with Knight passing is that his bad passes are so frustrating they outshine the good passes.  After every game I can remember a lot more bad passes than I can his good passes but that’s just the way it goes.  I’ve also gotten so used to his passes being bad I thought the pass to Kirk in the second overtime was actually picked off the way people dove for it.  I was shocked when it was actually caught by Kirk.  Sorry for ever doubting you Trevor as I don’t know if it went where it was supposed to but it was between two defenders where only Kirk could catch it.  Keep doing what you’re doing as you have more confidence in yourself than any fan does.  More often than not it’s worked in everyone’s favor so just be you and we’ll enjoy this ride with you.

I thought the offensive line did fine as usual.  Tennessee slowed down our running game it seemed in the late 3rd and early 4th quarters but when it mattered most they made holes for Williams to run through and gave Knight time in the pocket late in the game.  They weren’t really dominant at all but they only gave up one sack and we had almost 600 yards of total offense so we clearly had time and holes most of the game.  I don’t remember any WTF moments like we tended to have 2-3 times last year in a game which is a big positive.  There were a couple of penalties that need to get cleaned up and only one high snap on a play I thought we were going to fumble but Knight was able to get into Williams hands for a touchdown.  I’d obviously like to see this line keep getting better and better but the end results are about as much as you can ask for considering we had no clue what to expect coming into the seasons.  Jim Turner has just done a tremendous job with this group considering this was a major question coming into the season.

As far as receiver goes I still stand by the fact Josh Reynolds is the best receiver on this team and the most underrated receiver in the country.  I’m not sure if he plays at the next level but he’s got the speed with decent size that some NFL scout and GM has to watch some film and be giddy at the fact they could take a flier on this guy late in the draft at this point because no one talks about him.  He had a tremendous one handed catch that went for over 30 yards.  It was just an amazing catch with a defender draped all over him.  He had a 15ish yard catch that would have been a clutch 3rd down conversion but we had a lineman downfield so it came back.  That would have pushed him to over 100 yards on the day.  He’s not Mike Evans so you can’t just lean on him like we did with Evans but I firmly believe we should use him more often.

Kirk had a nice day as well catching 7 balls for 80 yards and a score.  I’m not sure what to think about Kirk at this point.  I love the guy and we all know he’s amazingly talented but I’m not sure Mazzone is using him the best way he can.  He seems to be using him mainly on the edges on the bubble screens.  Kirk is an amazing talent so it seems like we should be using him more in space.  I know defenses are keying on him but it just seems we’re not exploiting him as best we can.  We love to run him in all kinds of motion but we don’t ever use him in the motion.  I keep waiting for us to flip the ball to Kirk as a diversion but we haven’t done it these last few games.  Maybe it’s being done to keep defenses honest and read coverage but we’ve never used him of all the times we’ve run Kirk in motion and snapped the ball with him in the backfield.  We did do it against UCLA I think but nothing in SEC games.  I’d love to see him and Reynolds lined up in a stack and run routes downfield off each other.  It just seems he could be much more productive.  I’m not down on Kirk at all as he’s producing but I’m just not sure Mazzone is really using him like he should be.

As for the rest of the receivers they didn’t do too much which is pretty disappointing considering Tennessee’s secondary isn’t one of the best we’ll face all year.  I know RSJ was out but with the way Tabuyo played last week I was hoping he might be a factor and wasn’t.  Speedy had a 27 yard catch but he also dropped a 3rd down conversion that hit his hands so that was a little disappointing.  I know Trevor is an inconsistent passer but this whole squad of receivers except for Reynolds and Kirk just seems to be inconsistent as well.  There’s plenty of talent there but they just seem to underachieve.  I don’t know if that’s on the receivers themselves or Moorehead as their coach.  If he wasn’t our receivers coach next season I wouldn’t be too disappointed as I haven’t see anything come out of that guy in the time he’s been here other than late night Twitter battles.

As for the play calling I’m still not sure what I think of Mazzone.  I still believe he’s a play picker and not a true play caller.  To me a true play caller is someone that is always setting plays up or sequencing plays to keep drives alive.  We were 5-16 on third downs which isn’t great by any stretch and how we’ve been all season.  We have to get better at that.  I mean it’s actually really terrible as we could be sniffing 50%.  The offense is a little too sporadic for me to think he’s always thinking 2-3 plays ahead or knows the perfect time to call a play based on what he anticipates the defense is going to do.  He’s not horrible by any stretch as we saw horrible the last two years but we just seem to stall out for periods at a time and can’t sustain drives.  We’re a big play offense more than anything else and at some point we’re going to run into a defense that doesn’t allow big plays.  I’m looking mainly at LSU and Bama in that regard.  It’s why I don’t think this is a playoff caliber team.  I do think it’s a borderline Top 10 team because we can hit the big plays but we need more consistency from our offense to sustain drives to truly be an elite level team.   This is a really good football team but it’s not elite mainly because our offense can’t sustain consistent drives.  That’s on Mazzone.

Special Teams:

Man what a cluster this whole day was.  My theory on special teams is unless you truly practice it or are fully dedicated to it like Frank Beamer used to be then it just shouldn’t be noticeable.  That wasn’t the case for us on Saturday.  We all know about the missed potential game winning kick but there was PLENTY of other issues during the game.  Tripucka shanked 3 punts and all in the second half I think.  He had some nice points but midway through the game he just seemed to hit a funk where he didn’t connect cleanly on 3 or maybe even 4 punts.  He did pin 6 punts inside the 20 so he’s actually really good at that but he can’t be shanking balls.  Braden Mann who is our kickoff specialist kicked a ball out of bounds in the 4th quarter.  It wound up not hurting us as I don’t think Tennessee scored on that possession but he can’t be kicking the balls out of bounds.  He just can’t.  Boom it out of the back of the end zone and be done.  The 12th Man did make an awesome hit on a kickoff to cause a fumble we recovered so that was solid.  According to the stat sheet on 12th Man.com we didn’t return one punt or kickoff which I guess is right but Tennessee punted 6 times so I guess we just fair caught each one that didn’t get downed or go in the end zone.

My take on our special teams right now is we’re not going to win any games with special teams so we need to make sure we don’t lose any games because of special teams.  No shanked punts, no kickoffs out of bounds, or mis-handling of the ball.  I do have to give LaCamera credit as he was perfect with extra points and after missing the 38 yarder to win the game he hit the 34 yarder to tie the game and send it to the second overtime.  It’s good to see a kid put a major miss behind him and come back with confidence.  Still, hit the field goals in regulation and let’s avoid overtime all together!

 

Make no mistake that was a damn fine win on Saturday.  Any of the Aggie teams in the last 3 years would have lost that game.  There’s no doubt in my mind.  That win puts as at 9 wins minimum and I think we actually win 10 games splitting one of the Ole Miss or LSU game.  It’s possible we win both of those but I still need to see more of each of those teams to figure out who they are.  It’s possible we go into Bama and win that game but we’re going to need lots of help or Trevor to channel the Trevor that beat Bama in the Sugar Bowl.  In fact now that I think about it I’d love for Sumlin to tell Mazzone to roll the dice and create some plays we haven’t ran all season.  We have two weeks to prepare and nothing would excite me more than to see us come out with stuff Bama hasn’t seen all season.  It’s what I wanted Spav to do last year which he clearly didn’t.

I might do a more in depth analysis of us vs Bama next week after watching Bama and Tennessee this weekend.  It really couldn’t set up any better for us to have a common opponent take on Bama while we take the week off.  Ole Miss put up 43 on Bama and Arkansas put up 30 on them so they’re not invincible.    Bama scored 48 and 49 points in those games but our defense is clearly better than those teams.  I’m not saying we beat Bama but if Sumlin, Mazzone, and Knight realize we’re essentially playing with house money we stand a real chance.

As it is let’s just enjoy this victory over Tennessee and being 6-0 for the first time since 1994.  We’ll worry about Bama next week.  Oh and if there was a Gameday curse we finally got the sucker off our back!  Good job Ags!