John Chavis

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.

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Chief vs. Gus

chief-vs-gus

For the upcoming matchup with Auburn I got to wondering how Chief and Gus have matched up over the years as DC vs OC/Head Coach.  Even as head coach there’s no doubt Gus has his hand on how Auburn runs their offense.  Make no mistake Gus likes to run.

I went and looked at their matchups between LSU/A&M and Auburn with Chief and Gus at the helm.  I didn’t go back and dig into statistics for each game.  I just wanted to see if there was a general pattern and if anyone got the better of the other for the most part.

Here’s the summary of the matchups:

chief-vs-gus-chart

Based on this I’m not sure what to think.  Early on it looked like Chief owned Gus with the exception of the year Gus had Cam Newton and even then Chief held that offense to 24 points and LSU only lost by 7.  It also appears the home team had an advantage until last season where Gus came in and ran over Chief’s first Aggie defense.  All I can really glean from that is Chief got the better of Gus the first four years including Gus’ national championship year as head coach but not the year Gus had Cam.  But, Gus has owned Chief their last two match-ups so they’re dead even at 3 to 3.

I like the results the first four times they matched up but man the last two times really make you scratch your head if Chief now struggles against Gus.  Is that what we should expect this Saturday?  I honestly don’t know.  I like to think based on this defense Chief can shut down Gus’ desire to run which you know Gus is going to want to do.

In looking at Auburn’s two games this year they struggled to run against Clemson only getting 87 total rush yards and then blew it open against Arkie St. rushing for 462 yards.  They threw for 244 passing yards against Arkie St for a total of 706 total yards with 1 fumble.  Surprisingly enough they passed for 178 yards against Clemson but 262 total yards is pretty anemic.

Looking at the Clemson game in more detail Clemson’s defense definitely shut down Auburn’s offense.   In addition to the anemic total yards Auburn also had 3 turnovers with one interception and fumble being on failed 4th down conversions.  Gus was swapping QBs in and out this game which he didn’t do against Arkie S.  That seemed to make the offense take off against Arkie St. so maybe their performance against the Clemson D isn’t an indicator of what a strong defense can do to this offense.

I just don’t know what to think of all that Chief vs Gus so let’s look at some other stuff.  Offensively Clemson rushed for 151 yards with 248 passing for a total of 399 total yards but turned the ball over twice.  Still, comparing yards and turnovers for that game I’m scratching my head how it was a 19-13 game with Auburn firing at the endzone at the end of the game to potentially win.  Clemson should have walked away with that game.

Making it even more head scratching Auburn was 3-17 on 3rd down conversions against Clemson.  That’s an EIGHTEEN percent conversion rate.  EIGHTEEN percent.  Now, they were 3-5 on 4th down conversions which is pretty impressive so basically that means they were 6-17 on those third down conversions but that’s still only 35% which is pretty bad.  Crazy enough if Gus had kicked field goals on the 4th downs they didn’t convert the game likely goes to overtime if they don’t win it in regulation.

In looking at the drive charts it looks like Auburn had field position for much of the game.  Gus was gambling on those 4th downs as I’m guessing he felt he needed a TD and couldn’t rely on field goals to win the game.  I guess he didn’t trust his defense.  Odd choices that ultimately cost him a chance at a Top 10 win to open the season.  Still, it’s a head scratching game because I don’t know if Auburn played smart considering their competition keeping it close or Clemson just couldn’t get it going.

With that, my thoughts are Kevin Sumlin needs to channel his inner RC Slocum and rely on the run and his defense.  I’m not sure if Sumlin has this in him to be honest.  Sumlin loves receiving the ball to open up the game but if I’m him I want Auburn to have the ball first.  I want to see what my defense can do against Auburn to dictate what I do offensively.  If the Aggie defense can hold Auburn to a punt and even better a straight three and out on the first series then I can go conservative on offense.  I tell Chief and the D to focus on stopping the run and let Auburn try to pass.  Don’t over pursue and hold your lanes and assignments.  Have seven guys holding the line of scrimmage and not worried about sacks or tackles for a loss.

Tell the safeties play smart on play actions and movement as we’ll need them to help our corners this game.  Auburn will throw the ball at some point so don’t suck up too soon.  It goes against what our safeties are best at in supporting the run but we’ll need them to be real safeties against the pass.  They’ll still need to do their normal thing of bringing the wood if runners do get beyond the linebackers.  Evans and Watts are going to be a big key to what we do diagnosing run or pass correctly.  Basically our safeties better not be moving forward unless the ball is beyond the line of scrimmage or it’s a designed blitz obviously.  We need to see if our front 7 can slow down or even stop Auburn’s running attack as when the safeties start cheating forward to defend the run Auburn will pop a big pass and we can’t have that.  They have to stay disciplined to look to help our corners and not let anyone deep on a play action pass.

Now if Auburn wants to go pass over run and we need to get in a track meet then we’ll get in a track meet with our receivers but I’ll be damned if Auburn is going to run on us like they did last year.  Gus likes to run and we’re not going to let them.  I don’t trust his QBs against our secondary without establishing the run.  Give them some yards through the air but don’t let them rip off long runs against us because that’s what Gus lives for.  If Gus gets that you’re dead as he’ll punish you with play action for over compensating against the run.  Focus on shutting down the run by staying in lanes and not over pursuing and make Auburn pass in true passing situations.  They’re going to get yards but let’s keep them contained on the ground.

Offensively assuming our defense can do what I think they can against the run then I give Auburn a taste of their own medicine.  I want to establish the run between the tackles.  It’ll be pretty boring and unlike what Sumlin likes to do but it’s what I’d do.  It may take a while but I want to show Auburn we’re fully committed between the tackles.  Once that’s established then use a lot of play action in the second half to open it up assuming Auburn starts committing to the run.  With our interior line I think we can establish the same 3.4 yards per carry that Clemson got against Auburn if not better.  If we do that and Chief’s defense holds against Auburns desire to run then we’ll walk away with this game in the second half thanks to play action.

Keep the first half fairly ugly from an offensive and scoring standpoint letting the defenses slug it out.  There’s no need to get in a track meet this game unless Auburn dictates that.  Maybe Gus opens it up from the get go but I don’t see that happening.  He’s going to want to establish the run and pass off that.  If we need to adjust then we’ve shown we can apply pressure on the QB but we need to go in focused on shutting down the run through discipline and establishing the run ourselves.  Sumlin needs to be having breakfast with RC every morning this week getting advice.   Don’t let Knight make any mistakes in the first half and if the flow of the game allows it then let him make plays in the second half to see if we can pull away.

Basically this game is going to come down to head coaching.  Gus is going to do what Gus does trying to establish the run and hoping Sumlin wants a semi track meet.  Gus’ defense will get off the field if we’re continually looking at 3rd and 6s because we missed passes on 1st and 2nd down.  If that happens it works in Gus’ favor based on the Clemson game.

Sumlin needs to do what Mike Sherman didn’t do against Texas in 2011 by trusting his defense and not let his QB make mistakes by keeping the ball on the ground.  If Sumlin sees this whole game with his defense and offense working to complement each other then I think this is A&M’s game no doubt.  If Sumlin allows his offense and defense to work independently then Gus will own Sumlin this game.  It’ll come down to players making plays but it’s up to the head coach to decide the scheme and flow for the game.  The loser of this game will be coaching for his life for the rest of the season which makes it hard to predict to a degree.  One dog might be crazy enough to try something different and if the other coach is not expecting it then that other coach could be hosed.

Does Gus have tricks up his sleeve?  I don’t think so.  I think Gus plays Gus hoping Sumlin plays Sumlin  so it’s basically a repeat of the Clemson game but Gus doesn’t make the same mistakes on his side rotating QBs and gambling on 4th downs when a field goal can be had.  I hope Sumlin plays a little more RC like and gives Gus a taste of his own medicine on the ground believing his defense contains Auburn running game.  We’ll see what kind of coach Sumlin is this week as he walks in with the better overall team.  Coaching makes the difference here.

I like to think Chief is going to get the best of Gus and with that the Aggies are going to win a close 23-19 game.  That seems odd as Gus doesn’t like kicking field goals but if it’s a close game I think he doesn’t repeat his mistake against Clemson.  I expect to see something like a 10-6 Aggie lead at half time where A&M scores on a play action deep ball to Reynolds or Kirk and the other points are just field goals due to a defensive battle.  If that’s the score at half then the Aggies will prevail.  If a semi track meet has broken out and Auburn is grinding yards on the ground then I’m not so hopeful.

For now, I’m hoping those morning breakfasts with RC make Sumlin see the light for this game.  Speaking of, our hotel is next to a Waffle House this weekend.  It doesn’t get any more SEC than that!