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2017 Aggie Football Season Prediction – Part 2

2017 Aggie Prediction Graphic

In last week’s post I talked about the team in general and how I think this year’s team is worse than last year’s team from a talent standpoint.  The loss of Trevor Knight, Myles Garrett, and Josh Reynolds will be a major factor in how this team does and I think it does worse than last year.  That won’t help Sumlin as I think Sumlin needs to win 9 games in the 2017 season to save his job.  There’s an outside chance he could win 8 games but he’ll need that 8th win to be against LSU and I’m not sure that’s possible.  At the end of last season I thought the 2017 season would be a colossal failure with 6 wins being a major question.

Looking at the schedule again I think it’s possible there’s more than 6 wins this season.  The schedule is not nearly as daunting as I originally thought.  There’s a lot of winnable games.  Now, that doesn’t mean there’s more wins than last season as we still have the same coaching staff that only won 8 games with a more talented team.  Still, this schedule is more manageable for wins that I originally thought.  The problem will be coaching.

For this exercise I’m looking at each game from a standpoint of if it’s winnable with the talent we have on the 2017 team and then if it’s winnable from the standpoint of the current coaching staff.  I’m calling these two assessments WWT for Winable With Talent and SOS for Same Ol’ Sumlin.  There is enough talent to win 9 games but I don’t think our coaching staff and most importantly the man who wears the #1 headset has the ability to win 9 games if the last 5 years are any indication.

Let’s get to the games.

UCLA:

This is an interesting game because UCLA was 4-8 last season and we beat them to open up the season.  We had them handily beat but a late 4th quarter come-back by UCLA sent this to overtime where the Aggies prevailed.  Their 4-8 record is deceiving because they lost Josh Rosen halfway through last season and Rosen makes this a totally different team.  Prior to Rosen going down in the Arizona State game they were 3-2 with wins over BYU and Arizona with losses to A&M and Stanford.  They only lost to Arizona State 23-20 so it’s reasonable to think they win that game if Rosen doesn’t go down.  He means a lot to this offense.

They lost quite a bit from last year’s team much like A&M but I think getting Rosen back will be the difference in the game.  Their defense is susceptible and they lost some talented receivers.  When I look at this matchup I feel that they have a good offensive line and outstanding QB so it’s really a fairly even matchup across the board as we have great defensive tackles.  Their defense is susceptible as will be our offense with a new quarterback taking his first ever snaps under center or a quarterback that’s never beat a P5 team in multiple starts.

This is a winnable game but I don’t think Mazzone runs an offense different than last year’s and like always he’s just randomly picking plays over having a real plan to attack their defensive weaknesses.  Rosen is going to put up points and we have to counter but I don’t think we do.  We’ll be on the road with a new quarterback playing in an almost full stadium.  It’ll be a beautiful sight everywhere except on the field for the Aggies.  Winnable With Talent is a Yes but Same Ol’ Sumlin is a No here.  Sumlin suffers his first loss of the season in game 1 although it’s a winnable game.  Not the way to start the season.

SOS: 0-1; WWT: 1-0

Nicholls State and ULaLa:

Two Louisiana schools roll into Kyle Field and get Sumlin back to and above .500 before heading to Jerry World to take on Arkansas.  I know ULaLa once beat us causing me to call R.C. Sloucm’s ex-wife to discuss the game but that was in Lafayette and Tupac had just been killed so the team wasn’t focused at all.  At least that’s a rumor of why we lost that game.  Rap seems to be in a peaceful place where any feuds are just words and not bullets so I think the Aggies are safe in both of these games.

SOS 2-1; WWT: 3-0

Arkansas:

This is the most fascinating series to me because after the Johnny Years when we went back to JerryWorld Arkansas has outplayed us for the most part.  The games 2 and 3 years ago we had to make amazing fourth quarter comebacks to send it to overtime where we won out.  Last year’s end result was a total ass kicking but had our defense not made some key stops, got some turnovers, and Trevor Knight not make two big runs we lose that game.  We really do.  While we’re 3-0 in the last three games of this series we could easily be 0-3 at the same time.  Sumlin has been lucky these games.

I think Arkansas is similar to us in that they’re not as good as last year.  I love their quarterback in Austin Allen as he’s as solid as they come but I think their offensive line is worse than last year and they don’t have the running game they had either.  Defensively they’re just okay and not great.  I think this is going to be a pretty ugly game but the Aggies win in the end.  It’s definitely a winnable game and I think A&M continues their run against Arkansas as Sumlin has Beliema’s number although Sumlin has no clue how or why he does.  Arkansas couldn’t definitely win this game though and it’s not a gimme.  Still, I think the Aggies win.

SOS 3-1; WWT: 4-0

South Carolina:

Our “rival” in the East comes to Kyle Field to open up SEC play at Kyle.  I think South Carolina is getting better under Muschamp but I think they have a long way to go to match A&M’s talent.  This is an interesting game to me because I feel A&M is much better from a talent standpoint but Will Muschamp could see this as a winnable SEC game for his squad and pull out all the stops beating Sumlin.  Not really a trap game but just South Carolina implementing some wrinkles A&M is not expecting at all.  Muschamp knows he needs some SEC wins and a win over A&M would be a big feather in his hat.  If Sumlin and the team take South Carolina lightly they’ll absolutely lose but for the first home SEC game of the season I think the Aggies win here.

SOS 4-1; WWT: 5-0

Alabama:

There isn’t ANY chance that A&M beats Alabama in 2017 even at Kyle Field.  Not a single chance.  I really think this could be a slaughter.  Something like 45-7 and this is where the wheels start coming off the Sumlin wagon.

SOS 4-2; WWT: 5-1

Florida:

After getting pounded at home against Alabama the Aggies will have to turn around and head to The Swamp.  Believe it or not I think this is a winnable game for the Aggies.  I think Florida is a slightly better team but they’re not the Florida teams under Urban Meyer or even Muschamp’s first year.  This is a team that went 8-4 getting pounded by Arkansas, Florida State, and Alabama while blowing a sizeable lead to what wound up being a mediocre Tennessee team.  Their marque win was a 16-10 win against LSU in Baton Rouge in which they should have lost.  They also barely beat Vandy 13-6.  Still a really solid team but this is a winnable game with great coaching.  However, we don’t have great coaching.

I think we lose but don’t be surprised if this is an Aggie win as this Florida team is really beatable despite what people think.  McElwain is not an elite coach at all.  They’re going to get pounded by Michigan to start the season.  I just don’t think Sumlin can pull this one out after getting beat by Alabama but it’s entirely possible.

SOS: 4-3; WWT: 6-1

Mississippi State:

While MSU had our number last year I think we’ll take care of them this year at Kyle.  This will likely be an 11:00 am game so we’ll return the favor they did to us last year.  They have a great young quarterback but we’re still a more talented team and I think we’ll be looking for payback for what happened last year.  I honestly think Mullen might be the second best coach in the SEC because what he does with MSU is remarkable.  It really is.  He’s as good as any coach in the SEC not named Nick Saban.  He just doesn’t have the talent to compete with the other teams in conference.  Aggies win this one no doubt.

SOS: 5-3; WWT: 7-1

Auburn:

I’m really torn on this game because I can’t figure out Gus Malzahn.  At one point I thought he was a remarkable coach but I’m torn on him at the moment.  They were 8-4 in the regular season last year but got pounded by OU in the Sugar Bowl.  OU had a really good team but Auburn wasn’t even really competitive in that game.  They’re not consistent at all.  He didn’t have a quarterback last year but he had a pretty solid defense and they were kind of all over the place.

This year they have Jarrett Stidham under center which I think changes the dynamic of their team as Malzahn is at his best with an exceptional quarterback.  I think Stidham is the difference in this game and Auburn beats A&M.  This too is a winnable game for A&M with great coaching but I think the quarterback play will be the difference.  It’ll be ironic as Sumlin has passed on recruiting Stidham twice.  The first time he favored Kyler Murray over Sitdham and now there’s no Murray on the team.  This last year he favored Kellen Mond over Stidham and Stidham went to Auburn.  Might be kind of ironic if Stidham winds up being the reason Sumlin loses his job.  This is a winnable game for the Aggies but Sumlin will find a way to blow it.

SOS: 5-4; WWT: 8-1

New Mexico:

This will likely be an 11:00 am game and will be the least attended game at Kyle Field all year.  Maybe ever for the new Kyle.  Ironically enough it’ll be Sumlin’s last game at Kyle and nobody will be there to see it.  Sumlin will get the win but if there’s nobody there to watch it will it really matter?

SOS: 6-4; WWT: 9-1

Ole Miss:

I have no clue what to think on this one.  This is the 11th game of the year for Ole Miss and their season could go in two COMPLETELY different directions.  Obviously Hugh Freeze is a moron off the field but I’ve always thought he was a moron on the field as well.  Twice he let Johnny Football come back on him at home and then twice he won two games in which A&M completely vapor locked from a coaching standpoint.  At Ole Miss two years ago Jake Spavital made a fool of himself and his precious note cards.  The Aggie defense played well enough to win that game but Spav couldn’t get the offense to do anything.  Last season Ole Miss scored 23 unanswered points in the 4th quarter to beat A&M.  It’s not anything Freeze did but the A&M coaching staff collapsed in those games.

Enter Matt Luke who was the offensive line coach for Ole Miss.  I know nothing about this man but I do know he could be better than Hugh Freeze as a coach.  He has an outstanding young quarterback in Shea Patterson.  Luke is coaching for his life and has a decently talented team.  Can he rally an Ole Miss team by coaching better than Freeze?  I think it’s possible as Freeze’s bar wasn’t really high in my mind.  Or is Luke a failure of a coach and by this game the whole Ole Miss team has quit making this an easy for win for the Aggies?  I honestly have no clue because I don’t know anything about Luke as a head coach.  A&M could be falling apart at this point as well with the team knowing Sumlin is gone.

Right now I’ll give Sumlin the benefit of the doubt in this game because interim coaches tend to be worse than the previous coach.  At best I think Luke is Coach O at LSU last year but I think that’s a stretch.  It’s entirely possible A&M loses this game but at this point I’ll give Sumlin the win.

SOS: 7-4; WWT: 10-1

LSU:

I promise I went through the list of games above independently not looking at the season as a whole.  As it stands with my prediction Kevin Sumlin walks into Baton Rouge with his job on the line needing to get to 8 to have any chance of keeping his job.  I didn’t do that by design but it could absolutely play out like that.  If he goes 7-5 with a loss in Baton Rouge for his 6th straight loss to LSU then he’s done.  I don’t think there’s anything that will save him in the scenario.  However, if he can pull off win 8 against LSU and especially with Mond as his quarterback he has a puncher’s chance of holding his job.  I think he would hold it if that happens because his buyout is so much and he seems to be recruiting decently enough.

I’m not sure what to make of Coach O as head coach at LSU.  He’s working with one of the most talented teams in the country with two outstanding coordinators and a dynamic running back but they still don’t have a quarterback.  I was never a fan of Les Miles as he reminded me of Mack Brown.  He beat the teams he was supposed to be beat with the talent he had but he had problems against more capable coaches.

I don’t see any way A&M beats LSU in this game but I don’t know what Coach O looks like over the course of an entire season.  A part of me thinks he’s a super conservative coach that doesn’t want to make mistakes.  Those are the kinds of coaches you can beat with an aggressive game plan.  That’s not Sumlin but depending on how the season goes with Coach O along with what’s on the line for Sumlin this could be a winnable game if Sumlin has his back against the wall.  I think this LSU team is too talented for this A&M team so LSU wins even with great coaching but by game 12 you never know what could happen with a job on the line.

I’m chalking this up to a loss even if Sumlin’s job is on the line and A&M comes out with an aggressive game plan.  It’ll be too little too late and Sumlin will get his $10 million check and be on his way.

SOS: 7-5; WWT:10-2

 

Summary:

So there you have it.  Kevin Sumlin will go 7-5 and this will be his final season in Aggieland.  It’s possible with this schedule and the talent on the team to go 10-2 so Sumlin can save his job if he’s really focused.  I don’t think he cares though.  I think in the back of his mind he knows he’s getting $10 million no matter this year’s record.  He doesn’t have it in him to make the changes needed in how he handles game preparation and in game management.  I think that’s why there’s so much talk about the new strength and conditioning coach.  He’s deflecting his shortcomings.  As I’ve said time and time again it wasn’t strength and conditioning that lost those final 4 games to close out last season.  It was mostly lack of good decision making by the head coach.  He couldn’t see things before they happened and prepare the team.  Instead he just looked shell shocked at the result.

I hate saying this but I equate this year’s Aggie football season to last year’s Presidential election.  Don’t get stirred up by what happens prior to November.  None of it matters.  Don’t get worked up over what’s in the press or what happens in games.  I equate games to the debates as they won’t be pretty at times and you’ll wonder if this is the best we have to offer.  There will be a change in November and there’s nothing you can do about it.  I just hope those in the decision making process give us something better than Hillary or Trump.  If not, we might be wishing for Same Ol’ Sumlin…

Gig’ Em!

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2017 Aggie Football Season Prediction – Part 1

12th Man Flag

I have no clue how the 2017 Aggie Football season will go.  I don’t think Kevin Sumlin will be the Aggie head coach come December but I’m not sure of our final record.  I think Kevin Sumlin has to win 8 games to even have any consideration of keeping his job.  If he wins nine then he’s fine but I don’t know if he’ll get there.  Based on last season I think 7 wins is the ceiling for this team.  There’s no kool-aid to be drank here as far as the team goes but there is optimism in the schedule.  Coming into the season I thought the schedule worked against us and doomed Kevin Sumlin but I don’t think it’s as bad as we originally thought based on looking at it little more.

I’ll go through my game by game prediction with a record prediction next week but for now I want to talk about the team in general which is where I see the most concern.  This 2017 team has to start where the 2016 team ended and that’s not good.  For a brief re-cap the 2016 is the team that lost to Mississippi State, Ole Miss, LSU, and then lost to Kansas State in the bowl game for which they had a month to prepare.  That’s a pathetic ending to the season.  Simply pathetic.

Against Mississippi State the team was simply not mentally prepared riding their #4 ranking.  Sure, the loss of Trevor Knight during the game didn’t help along with Myles’ injury but there’s more talent on the A&M team than Mississippi State team and A&M should have won.  The team thought they could sleep walk to a win and was wrong.  That was on coaching.

The Ole Miss game was a complete choke job AT Kyle Field.  We blew a 21-6 halftime lead AT Kyle Field to lose 29-28 to a guy starting his first college game ever as a TRUE freshman.  That’s right, a Kevin Sumlin lead time let a TRUE freshman start his first game AT Kyle Field and overcome a 21-6 halftime deficit.  I’m not even sure that’s the worst loss of the season.  It should be but to me it’s not.  I don’t even want to get into the LSU game.  That game was a 54-39 shootout.  That still boggles my mind.  How did their inept offense score 54 points and then our pop gun offense score 39 points on them is beyond comprehension.  I would have to watch film of that game a dozen times to figure it out and I have don’t have the time or desire.

To me the worst loss of the season came in our bowl game against Kansas State.  In Houston in a stadium full of Aggies we let an inferior team beat us 33-28.  That’s an infuriating loss.  How does Kevin Sumlin let that happen?  The team was not prepared despite having a month to get ready for a Bill Snyder team that just doesn’t make mistakes.  They don’t do anything flashy but they just don’t make mistakes.  That was a crappy KSU team and they owned Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies.  Sumlin should have been fired for that loss.  He really should have.  Instead Sumlin blames his strength and conditioning coach for the collapse down the stretch and fires him as he’s the last coach Sumlin hasn’t fired other than himself.  Meanwhile nobody is wondering how with a month to get our legs and stamina back we lose to KSU in a home bowl game.  That is maddening.  It really is.  Larry Jackson was not the problem last year.  Kevin Sumlin was.  For the last half of the season he didn’t have his team prepared to beat a Power 5 conference team.  He lost all 5 of the final games against Power 5 conference teams.  That’s a major collapse beyond strength and conditioning.

Yet, all you’ve heard this off season is how amazing our new strength and conditioning coach is.  People are really buying into the fact that our team will be totally different because for 5 seasons we had a total sham of a strength and conditioning program.  I just don’t get how people are drinking so much maroon kool-aid because of a different strength and conditioning program.  I have no doubt Mark Hocke is an outstanding strength and conditioning coach but I also have no doubt the issues with this team extend beyond the team’s strength and conditioning.  It starts at the top with Sumlin.

The 2017 season will go beyond the issues at head coach as this team just isn’t as talented as last year’s.  There might be more depth and experience at needed positions like linebacker and offensive line so that’s good but I’m not convinced that’s actually the case.  Either way, this team lost the three most important players from last year.  Those players in order of importance are Trevor Knight, Myles Garrett, and Josh Reynolds.  Yes, I put Trevor before Myles.

There is no doubt the most productive quarterback in the Kevin Sumlin era is Johnny Manziel.  Believe it or not there is also no doubt that Trevor Knight is the second most productive quarterback of the Sumlin era when it comes to wins and losses.  It sure as hell isn’t Kenny Hill, Kyler Murray, or Jake Hubenak.  A case could be made for Kyle Allen but Trevor Knight was 7-3 in games he started including the Mississippi State game which I think we win if he plays the full game.  Trevor Knight is the second best quarterback in the Sumlin regime and now he’s gone and people are expecting this team to be better.  I think we’re a 6-6 team at best last year without Trevor Knight.  That’s why he’s the most important guy from last year.  We certainly lose to Arkansas without him and likely lose one of UCLA, Auburn, and Tennessee without him if not all three.  We might have had a losing season without Trevor Knight last year.

We’re going to start a quarterback at UCLA that has either never taken a snap at the college level or never won a game against a Power 5 team.  Nick Starkel is not Johnny Manziel.  Kellen Mond is not Jalen Hurts.  Jake Hubenak is Jake Hubenak.  This is our quarterback situation for the 2017 team.  Trevor Knight was a fifth year senior and even though he lost his job to Baker Mayfield he did win a Sugar Bowl against Alabama.  With all of that Trevor was still 7-3 as a starter.  He was a little erratic as a passer but he was perfect for Mazzone’s zone read offense.  I’m just not sure we’re going to have someone as good as Trevor under center this season.  Mond could get be all world but I don’t think it’s going to happen as a true freshman.  We shall see.

The loss of Myles is obvious.  He was the #1 pick in the NFL draft and he was a one man Wrecking Crew even while injured.  Teams looked to double team him (aka hold) and rolled plays away from his side.  He was the focus for opposing offenses and now he’s gone.  I don’t see how the defense is better without him because he was that big of a factor for our defense.  Our defense will still be loaded at defensive tackle, should have more depth at linebacker, and will have great safety play with Watts and Wilson but the loss of Myles is going to be like the 2013 defensive line losing Demontre Moore and Spencer Nealy rolled up in one person but even worse.

I know everybody loves Christian Kirk but all Josh Reynolds did last season was have 111 more receiving yards and 3 more touchdowns despite 22 fewer catches than Cristian.  That’s not a knock on Christian at all as he’s an amazing talent but the coaching staff always wants to talk about Kirk while Reynolds was more productive and under-utilized in my mind.  He was way more Mike Evans than we realize and he’s going to be missed.  I know we get Kirk back and Ausborn looks legit but we lost our most productive receiver from last year and nobody is talking about this headed into the season.  The drop off from Reynolds and Kirk to the other receivers last season is dramatic.  There’s nobody close on the 2017 roster than can match what Reynolds did besides Christian.  Nobody.  Ausborn will be a true freshman so I don’t see how he replicates the production of a senior that got drafted in the NFL.  Maybe he gets to 75% of Reynolds production but even that’s a decline.  I just don’t see how the loss of Josh Reynolds isn’t a factor for the 2017 receiving corps being worse.  I’m confused why everyone thinks our receiving corps is going to be so strong when Ricky Seals Jones and Speedy Noil did nothing from a production standpoint despite their natural talent.  Josh Reynolds is easily a Top 10 all-time A&M receiver and nobody is talking about his departure like we’ll miss him.  We’ll miss him in a bigger way than most people would imagine.

While we’re talking about receivers, after this season Kevin Sumlin will have had 4 receivers drafted into the NFL in Ryan Swope, Mike Evans, Josh Reynolds, and Christian Kirk.  Outside of those 4 guys I can’t think of a serviceable wide receiver in the Kevin Sumlin era besides Malcome Kennedy.  Kennedy was a solid college player but he wasn’t great.  Basically, if you don’t have NFL talent then Sumlin isn’t going to develop you to be a productive collegiate receiver.

With those three guys gone from last season I don’t know how this team is better.  I just don’t.  There’s still plenty of talent on this team so it won’t be terrible but the more I think about it, I think the 2016 Aggie Football team was a damn solid football team.  The best since 2012 by far.  That team still only got 8 wins and it wasn’t from lack of conditioning.  It just got outcoached and that hasn’t changed for 2017 as the coaching staff remained in-tact except a couple of position coaches.

Let’s look at this team from unit standpoint:

OFFENSE

Coaching – Noel Mazzone is back calling plays for another year.  While he’s not horrible he didn’t show in year 1 that he’s an exceptional play caller.  He relied a lot on zone read and didn’t adjust for when Jake Hubenak took the reins when Trevor went down.  That’s a concern he’s not adapting to his talent.  He’s better than Spavital but I’m not sure by how much.  He’s what I call a play picker and not a play caller.  He’s okay at designing plays but from what I’ve seen he doesn’t really call plays in any kind of succession that sets plays up or calls them in some rhythm for what the defense is doing.  He just looks at his play sheet and randomly calls plays based on theoretical execution.  I don’t have a lot of faith in Mazzone but hopefully I’m wrong.

Quarterback – I covered this above but we’re going to start someone that’s never taken a collegiate snap or never won a game they started against a Power 5 conference team.  Trevor Knight was a 5th year senior that had played in some big games at OU.  We don’t have that under center.  You hear great things about Starkel and Mond but they have to produce in a game.  Allen and Murray supposedly had all of the talent in the world and we saw how that turned out.  I’m just real cautious at QB as this could be our worst season yet under center.

Running Back – Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford are back.  Both of these guys are outstanding backs averaging over 5 yards a carry last year but they’re not exceptional.  They wouldn’t start at Bama or LSU which are two teams we play every year.  That’s not a knock on those guys but just more of a reality of the situation we’re in.  Until you get guys that can start at LSU or Bama you’re always going to be looking up at them.

Wide Receiver – Covered this above as well but the loss of Reynolds is going to be huge in my mind.  Ausborn sounds legit but he’s still a true freshman.  Think back to Trayveon Williams and how he faded down the stretch.  A 12 game SEC schedule is not a high school schedule.  There’s going to be an adjustment period.  I know there are some other talented freshmen but they’re still freshmen in the SEC and that’s tough.  Some people are making this out to be a strength of the team because of talent and depth but we’ve had that before as Ricky Seals Jones and Speedy Noil were supposed to have NFL talent and we know how that turned out from a production standpoint.  We’ll see but I think our passing attack takes a step back with the loss of Reynolds.

Offensive Line – The offensive line should be better this year as the interior of the line has one more year under its belt.  Our tackles seem serviceable with Sutherland and Martin but let’s not kid ourselves this is not our usual offensive line where there’s NFL caliber talent anywhere on the line.  It will be a decent offensive line but it won’t be anywhere near as dominant as we’ve seen in the past under Sumlin.  Once again strength and conditioning are being blamed but maybe it’s just lack of talent that’s been recruited.  Only so much a strength and conditioning coach can do if there’s no talent.  I love Jim Turner and think he’ll get the most out of them but this isn’t a dominant offensive line that can overcome a bad game plan, play calls, or errors by the skill position.

DEFENSE

Coaching – It’s no secret I love John Chavis as a defensive coordinator.  The dude looks and talks the part.  Prior to the last half of last season he executed the part too.  However, the last half of the season made me wonder if he’s like a pitcher that lost his fastball.  Our defense got torched starting in the Mississippi State game.  I was ready to crown this defense the Wrecking Crew again after the Auburn and Arkansas games but I think the Tennessee game took a toll on the defense.  In that game they started holding guys up and trying to strip the ball which helped as we got 7 turnovers that game.  However, I think the team lost the fundamental ability to tackle which I thought was Chavis’ real calling card as a DC.  Up until that game it was the best tackling unit I’ve seen since way back when RC was head coach.  Hopefully the second half was just a blip and Chief gets his defense back to fundamentals of assignment football and tackling.  The jury is currently out on him though based on the second half of last season.

Defensive Tackle – We’re loaded here.  We really are.  This is definitely the strength of the defense which is good because you have to be loaded at defensive tackle if you want to compete in the SEC.  I just hope Daylon Mack finally takes that next step as he seems to have first round NFL talent but hasn’t played up to it.  This unit is the anchor of our defense and I feel good about them.

Defensive End – As talked about above the loss of Garrett is going to be massive as well as Hall although it seems he might have underachieved last season.  His talent was still real.  There’s actually some decent talent here but it hasn’t produced up until this point.  Not the talent of Garrett and Hall but it’s not terrible talent.  We just don’t have much depth here either.  I think the defensive ends can be serviceable but serviceable defensive ends aren’t usually enough in the SEC.

Linebackers – I’m torn on the linebackers.  It seems we finally have some depth here but I’m not sure as not sure if the true freshmen will be able to provide that depth.  I like Anthony Hines and Marchiol but they’re still true freshmen entering the SEC.  We heard all about how Tyrell Dodson was ready to crush heads in the SEC but the dude had problems executing his assignments last season.  I think Dodson will be better this season but while we now apparently have depth at linebacker staying healthy and executing assignments are the next step.  Neither of those have been a strength of our linebackers under Sumlin so not sure this is the season it becomes different.

Safety – We’re totally fine here with Watts and Wilson and Larry Pryor looks like he can fill some of the void left by Justin Evans.  Much like defensive tackle this is a strength of our team.  Watts is like a little Honey Badger as he just has a nose for getting the football when we need it most.

Cornerback – This is an area of concern for me.  Nick Harvey was spotty as a coverage guy last season and he’s out for this season.  Looks like Willis and Oliver will be the starters who are decent but I don’t think outstanding.  My main concern at the corner back position is with no pass rush these guys are going to get exposed.  Chavis likes to play aggressive with his corners and if there’s no pass rush these guys could get exposed big time.  I think we could see some big passes against us this year if Chavis doesn’t back these guys off a tad unless we develop a pass rush.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Outside of Christian Kirk returning kicks I’ve never seen anything from the special teams under Kevin Sumlin and Jeff Banks.  I mean nothing.  We’ve had some decent punters but even then they weren’t Shane Lechler.  Most elite teams have really good punters so it’s just more of the norm in college football these days.  That should be our expectations.

Last year we had Justin Evans and Keith Ford returning kicks which still boggles my mind.  Those guys are great athletes at their positions but they’re nowhere near the explosive return man you need for big returns.  Evans was a freaking strong safety and he’s returning kickoffs.  I never understood that.  We couldn’t find a single receiver that was fast than Evans and Ford with hands we trust?

Other than Christian Kirk I’d love to know the number of touchdowns we’ve scored on kickoff or punt returns against Power 5 conference teams.  I bet it’s not more than 5 during Sumlin’s 5 years here.  Other than Myles Garrett how many field goals or punts have we blocked against Power 5 conference teams?  I bet it’s not more than 5.  I don’t know how 2017 will be any different for our special teams other than Kirk returning a couple punts for TDs.  This unit has just been a non-factor under Sumlin unless there’s an extremely talented player.  It’s certainly not well schemed and coached in my mind.  It’s not even average.

If I were Sumlin I’d put a poster of Frank Beamer in my Special Teams coach’s office and limit his internet browser to YouTube and videos of Virginia Tech special teams under Frank Beamer.  I’m not kidding.  For some reason some people think Jeff Banks is a good special teams coach and I can’t think of why as there hasn’t been big plays out of our special teams since Sumlin has been here.

Summary

This team isn’t horrible by any stretch but I don’t see how it’s better than the 2016 team.  This really reminds me of the 2013 season where everyone thought we’d be fine but no one truly analyzed the losses because we had Johnny Football back.  That 2013 team lost a lot on defense and a few key spots on the offense like Luke Joeckel and Ryan Swope.  That 2013 team lost two more games in the regular season than the 2012 but that 2012 team won 10 games so 8 wins wound up being respectable.  Last year’s team only won 8 games so if the 2013 and 2017 teams parallel the previous season’s team we’re looking at 6 wins in 2017.

Next week I’ll take a game by game look at the schedule and make predictions.  I honestly think there’s anywhere between 5 to 9 wins on the schedule.  I think 9 wins is VERY extreme but I don’t think the schedule is quite as tough as we originally imagined so 9 wins is possible.  It’s still daunting but there’s some factors about each game I’ll cover next week.

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.

When Aggie Football Was Great

As the Founder, President, and main client of the Make Aggie Football Great Again Movement I often get asked when Aggie Football was ever great.  Obviously it was great in 1939 when the Aggies won their only official National Championship.  In addition there was the 1956 team that went 9-0-1 and finished 5th in the AP poll, the 1976 team that went 10-2 and finished 7th in the AP poll, and of course in recent memory the 2012 team that went 11-2 finishing 5th in the AP poll.  Those are four isolated seasons where one was definitely great and three others that were really good bordering on great.

For me there was a decade of Aggie Football in recent memory that was borderline great that I think Aggie Football can get back to with the right head coach.  College football is cyclical but there’s a decade of Aggie Football that should the standard by which Aggie Football is judged.  That decade is from 1985 to 1995.  20-30 years ago seems like a distant memory now but it should be a reminder of what’s possible.

In those 11 seasons Aggie Football finished outside of the Top 20 only once.  They finished in the Top 10 in five of those seasons.  They finished with 10 wins in six of those seasons in a period when only 11 games where the norm as opposed to the 12 games that are played now.  There were some 12 game seasons back then but the majority of those seasons were 11 game seasons so 10 wins is a big milestone.  There were three 9 win seasons and only one season of 8 wins and one season of 7 wins.  That’s pretty damn impressive from a win standpoint.  That’s a combined record of 104-27-2 for those 11 seasons for a winning percentage of .782.  That is an outstanding winning percentage over a decade.

Here’s a chart that summarizes each season:

There’s a lot to digest but there’s no doubt that’s a decade of REALLY good football bordering on great.  Win one national championship in there and that’s absolutely a great decade of football.  There were legitimate chances to win it all in 1985, 1992, and 1994.

1985 was a lot like the 2012 season where they opened up with a tough loss to a ranked Alabama team on the road, lost to a ranked Baylor team in the middle of the season, and then got hot and just rolled everyone they played absolutely thrashing their final three opponents in TCU, Texas, and Auburn that included Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson in the Cotton Bowl.  Had they not lost one of those early season losses they might have had an outside chance to get Penn St to the Cotton Bowl instead of OU getting them in the Orange Bowl which is how OU won the national championship that year.  Early season losses set this team back just like in 2012.  There’s no doubt though at the end of the season this was one of the best teams in the country.

1992 was an undefeated regular season but like the modern day Big 12, Texas A&M was playing in a wretched Southwest Conference.  So wretched there wasn’t one team in the Southwest Conference that was ranked when they played.  A&M’s only win over a ranked opponent was to open the season against Stanford who was ranked 20th at the time.  At the same time both Alabama and Miami went undefeated beating more ranked opponents than A&M so Miami went to the Sugar Bowl instead of the Cotton Bowl.  Had Bama lost a game that season there’s an outside chance Miami and A&M would have matched up in the Cotton Bowl for the national championship but that’s still a stretch as Miami might have played Florida State in a re-match.  The Southwest Conference did A&M no favors that season because the teams were crap much like what top Big 12 teams face today.  Of course A&M losing to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl makes talk of a national championship that season moot but that was a damn good Notre Dame team.  However, A&M didn’t help itself for that game having to suspend Greg Hill for receiving improper benefits.  As it was A&M belonged in the conversation of Alabama, Miami, Florida State, and Notre Dame teams that were just loaded with talent.  That was a great team.  Probably the greatest of that decade for Aggie Football.

The 1994 team technically went undefeated but thanks to Greg Hill not going to his cush job for Warren Gilbert at a Dallas apartment complex they were on NCAA probation.  A&M was banned both from the post season and television that year.  A&M had no chance to win a national championship that season but if Greg Hill goes to his job or doesn’t take the money this potentially could have been a championship team.  The reality is this team wasn’t really all that close as even if they weren’t on probation and hadn’t tied SMU in one of the worst games I’ve ever witnessed as an Aggie fan, an undefeated Texas A&M likely wouldn’t have climbed over undefeated Nebraska and Penn St who had better regular season opponents and impressive bowl victories to remain undefeated.  Playing in the Southwest Conference was just not going to position a team for a National Championship unless a bunch of other teams lost in their better conferences.  That didn’t happen in 1994 but if A&M goes undefeated in 1992 and isn’t on probation it’s not a total stretch to think this team is playing for a national championship assuming they beat SMU that season.

While the Southwest Conference was pretty bad for the most part the statistic that stands out to me during that decade is the record at Kyle Field.  63-5-1 is just flat out amazing.  That’s partially where the mystique of Kyle Field came from in recent memory.  In 11 seasons Texas A&M only lost FIVE games at Kyle Field.  FIVE games in 11 seasons.  That’s unreal.  In 7 seasons Texas A&M never lost a game at home.  There was one tie which is kind of losing but it’s not a loss so we won’t count it that way.  Only one season did A&M lose 2 games and that was easily the worst team of that decade.  A&M never lost more than 1 game at Kyle in any other season and had a five year run where a fan at Kyle Field never saw a loss with just one tie.  That is flat out amazing at defending Kyle Field.  That my friends is absolutely great Aggie Football at home.  I don’t care how bad the Southwest Conference was as there were some big wins over non conference opponents and some solid Southwest Conference teams along the way.  Five losses in 11 seasons.  That’s amazing.

I won’t classify that entire decade as truly great because of the struggle in bowl games and key road losses but it’s not far from it and it’s what Aggie Football expectations should be.  With A&M’s resources there’s no reason why we can’t return to a decade of Aggie football like this and make it even better.  Make the right hire and we can get back there.

The most interesting part of this decade is a conversation I had with Dr. Loftin in 2010 after Nebraska and Colorado announced they were leaving for the Pac 12 and we had flirted with the SEC but didn’t pull the trigger.  This was prior to the Longhorn Network being announced.  Dr. Loftin told me the support for going to the SEC wasn’t as large as it seemed.  He said it was actually divided more to staying as there was a silent majority that was fearful of the SEC.  He told me he had basically divided support for the SEC between two major groups.  One was the recent graduates who were enamored with the SEC because of all the publicity it was getting at the time and the other was those Aggies that had graduated during this decade of Aggie Football and more specifically those that had been in school when Jackie was coach.  Those Aggies didn’t fear the SEC like those that didn’t attend school during that decade.

Dr. Loftin didn’t say this but there’s no doubt those Aggies during that period remember dominating football teams and most importantly dominating Kyle Field.  They weren’t scared at all of the SEC as they know Aggie football can compete at the highest level with the right coach.  This decade of Aggie Football should be the minimum standard of expectations going forward.  If those results aren’t being achieved then we need to be doing a serious study of what’s going wrong and what change is needed.  Shift the mindset that this decade is what Aggie Football should be.  We’re not there from a mental standpoint.  We really aren’t.

If you didn’t experience that decade as a student or fan you don’t know what you’re missing out on.  Kyle Field rocked every game and the biggest reason was the Wrecking Crew.  Defense was the staple of that decade and a coach needs to focus on bringing the Wrecking Crew mentality back.  It won’t be easy in this new era of high powered offenses but A&M needs a head coach that makes recruiting and preparing defensive players to thrash opponents a top priority.  Easier said than done but offense just wins games and the Wrecking Crew can win championships.  If a coach doesn’t understand the importance of bringing the Wrecking Crew back then we stand no chance of ever being great again.

There is no doubt with the right mindset a head coach can absolutely Make Aggie Football Great Again.  There’s a decade that says it’s possible.

#MAFGA

The Curious Case of Lane Kiffin

I actually planned on writing this blog entry for a while and decided last week to write it.  In researching this blog I learned the day I’d post the link would be Lane Kiffin’s 42nd birthday.  Happy birthday, Coach Kiffin.  I hope you’re on a Florida beach with a beer bottle in hand soaking in your 42 years.  I’d be disappointed if you weren’t.

Everything about Lane Kiffin intrigues me.  The dude has a genius football mind but he can’t seem to keep focus or have any kind of drive to want to be great.  Something I talk about all the time in what I think drives people to be great is channeling losing to get better but losing doesn’t seem to bother him.  He just seems like a frat guy that doesn’t take anything too serious.  He’s extremely gifted for his profession but he doesn’t seem to really care.  He was definitely too young to be named head coach of the Raiders at 31 but in a decade of having major responsibilities as a coach he hasn’t appeared to have grown up or developed any kind of drive to be great.  He’s just living life.

On his 42nd birthday Lane Kiffin will have had the following titles:

  • Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders
  • Head Coach of the Tennessee Volunteers
  • Head Coach of the USC Trojans
  • Offensive Coordinator at Alabama with three straight berths in the College Football Playoffs winning one national championship.
  • Head Coach of Florida Atlantic University

There are coaches in their 60s that would die to have just one of those titles.  Lane Kiffin has done this by his 42nd birthday.  It’s remarkable.  And he hasn’t been terrible at each stop other than Oakland but who hasn’t been terrible in Oakland.  His main issue is he never lived up to the expectations put on him at USC but he was working with a stacked deck against him with postseason bans and scholarship restrictions.

I really didn’t watch much of Lane Kiffin while he was at Tennessee or USC to know what kind of coach he truly was when it came to games.  I remember the remarks he made at Tennessee that pissed off Urban Meyer and some of the shenanigans he had at USC like claiming he didn’t know the ball boy was deflating footballs or whatever it was.  There was some other stuff at USC that I remember thinking he wasn’t taking things seriously as a head coach.

Where I really started paying attention to Lane Kiffin was as OC at Bama.  With A&M playing Bama every year and Bama being the bell cow of college football I started watching a lot of their games.  To me Kiffin has hands down been the best play caller in the country over the last three years.  Sure, he’s working with a ton of talent but the reality is he jump started a Bama offensive that was pretty bland and vanilla before he got there.  Bama started putting a lot more points on the board.  I don’t think Kiffin gets enough credit for it because everyone just points to Bama’s talent and thinks anyone could have done it.

For people that make that argument let me make a counter argument in that Kiffin won the SEC three years in a row with Blake Sims, Jake Coker, and true freshman Jalen Hurts as his QB.  Look at that list again.  I don’t think there’s another OC in the country that even with Bama’s other offensive talent would have won the SEC and been to the College Football Playoff three years in a row with that string of quarterbacks.  The only consistent in Bama’s offensive output in those three seasons is Lane Kiffin.  The dude has been a magnificent play caller in his three seasons as Bama’s OC.

The only game I can recall where I thought Kiffin was questionable was the 2014 CFP Semi Final against Ohio State.  Ohio State took the lead in the third quarter and then Sims threw a pick six which put Ohio State up by two scores.  Bama was able to score and get the game within six and then both teams punted back and forth a little.  On one particular punt the Bama defense pushed Ohio St back to the goal line and Ohio St botched the punt giving it to Bama at the 23 yard line.  That is opportunity pounding on the door if I ever saw it.

Considering Sims had thrown the pick six three series ago I felt Bama should have pounded it down Ohio State’s throat with Derrick Henry.  Lean on their defense and at worst get three points out of the deal while giving the defense some rest.  What does Kiffin do?  On the very first play of getting the ball on the Ohio State 23 he calls a pass play to the goal line.  Ohio State picks it off at the one yard line and returns it to the 8.  Bama had a chance to gain all the momentum back but Kiffin gave it right back to Ohio State.  He trusted his play calling over Sims ability.  Kiffin got greedy instead of being smart and it cost Bama the national championship with that playcall because to me Bama never recovered from that call.  There’s little doubt in my mind they would have beaten Oregon just like Ohio State did had they beat Ohio State that game.  Had Kiffin made a different set of play calls there and then coached the national championship game this year there’s a good chance Nick Saban has three national championships in a row.  I’m dead serious.  If that’s Kiffin’s only blemish that’s still REALLY damn good for his three years at Bama.

Midway through last season Kiffin started getting mentioned as a head coaching candidate again.  Had we fired Sumlin last season I thought the combination of Kiffin running the offense and John Chavis running the defense would be a pretty salty staff.  Kiffin’s actions at the end of the season have given me major pause that he’s matured and is driven to be a great head coach.

Kiffin wasn’t in line for any major coaching jobs it seemed.  I think the best opportunity he had was for the UH job and the rumor is he turned that down because of the restrictions and buyout they wanted to prevent him from leaving after a year or two.  I get him not wanting the restrictions but UH is a good program where he could have spent 3-4 years and then stepped up.  They were going to pay pretty well but instead he took the Florida Atlantic coaching job for less money than he was making as OC at Bama.

There’s no doubt his time at Bama had run its course and he had to move on.  I just don’t understand why he took the FAU job for less money than he made at Bama and much less money than he would have made at UH.  FAU is a crappy job.  They haven’t won a damn thing and as great as I think Kiffin is as an OC he’s not going to turn FAU around overnight.  He’ll need to spend 4-5 years there I believe.  He would have been better off going to UH for more money even with the restrictions.  If he won at UH like Briles, Sumlin, and Herman before him there’s no doubt he’d be set up for a solid head coaching gig in a Power 5 conference.  I don’t know that there’s anything more he could accomplish at FAU over UH and he’s taking probably 1/3 of the money to do it with more risk.  It makes no sense if he’s matured and truly driven to be a national championship winning head coach.  The FAU job is a real head scratcher from a coaching standpoint.

In addition to the UH job there’s another clear better option than FAU.  Kiffin could have gone to LSU to be OC for his buddy Ed Ogeron.   LSU would have likely paid Kiffin $2 million a year to run their offense and there’s enough talent at LSU to beat Bama and win a national championship.  If Kiffin had at minimum beaten Bama just once in two years then SEC schools would have backed up dump truck piles of cash to give him their head coaching job.  There’s no doubt in my mind about that.  I actually think taking the LSU OC job would have been his best move as he would have made twice the money he’s making at FAU and he could have beaten Bama with LSU’s talent.  LSU has every bit of talent as Bama but just doesn’t have the coaching.  With a Bama win under his belt at LSU he could have the pick of SEC jobs.  SEC schools would have fired their coach not named Saban or Coach O to hire Kiffin.  Hell, LSU might have fired or demoted Coach O if Kiffin actually beat Saban.  I’m dead serious.

What I really think happened is he took the FAU gig solely to chase women.  He got divorced a year or two ago and outside of coeds on the Bama campus I can’t imagine there were any single women in Tuscaloosa up to his standards.  He knew Bama coeds were off limits or Saban would actually castrate him.  He thought with the wrong head and headed to Boca Raton where the women for his standards are plentiful and nobody cares about the social life of Lane Kiffin because he’s basically a nobody in South Florida.  I really think that was the main factor for his taking the FAU job.

At USC he made $3.4 million in his last year which was 2013 and he had two years left on his deal so he also made $3.4 million in 2014 and 2015 between USC and Bama.  In 2016 he made $1.4 million which is $2 million less a year from his previous salary.  Then he took a gig for $1 million a year while turning down better opportunities for at least twice the money.  Plus, he’s paying child support and alimony to his ex wife so it’s not like that money is going directly to him so he’s taking a SIGNIFICANT pay cut to coach at FAU.  I really think he just moved to Boca Rotan for the women because he doesn’t care about coaching all that much.  There’s no doubt money isn’t everything but I just wonder if he’s driven to be great.  It doesn’t seem like it’s a driver for him right now.

The other thing that makes me pause for his true drive to be great is how things went down at Bama.  When he accepted the FAU job it was stated he would finish with Bama including the national championship game if they got there.  After beating Washington to get in the national championship game two to three days later it’s announced Kiffin would not be coaching in the national championship game.  That was out of the blue and my guess is Saban told him to pack his stuff because he wasn’t focused anymore.  A guy driven for success would have been so focused to win that game knowing it would help his recruiting at FAU even more by being able to show off back to back championship rings.  If he’s suffering burnout at 41 for being just the OC at Bama it gets much worse trying to be a national championship head coach.

Maybe I’m wrong about Kiffin.  Maybe he has a plan in place for achieving greatness which to me is winning national championships.  Maybe he doesn’t care and just wants to live an easy life away from the stresses of big time college football.  If he truly wants to be great there are better paths to take than the one he’s taking now.  He just turned 42 today so maybe there’s time for him to mature but I believe this is about the time he should really mature and change his focus.  Based on his actions in the last 6-9 months he’s definitely not ready to be head coach at an SEC program competing for national championships in my mind.

Either way he’s accomplished more than most head coaches at the age of 42 so maybe he’s just on the beach with a cold beer in his hand smiling that he figured out the world before it figured him out.

Happy Birthday Coach Kiffin.

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!

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!