Texas A&M Football

Thoughts from the Games and Arkie Look

MAFGA at Rose Bowl

We are now 3 games through what I still feel is Kevin Sumlin’s Farewell Tour.  After the second half of Saturday I’m not entirely sure it’s his Farewell Tour like I was coming into the season and especially after the UCLA and Nicholls St games.  If I were a betting man I’d still wager on a 7-5 season but what I saw in the second half of the ULaLa game made me pause my certainty.  Couple what happened in the second half and watching the Saturday games of the SEC teams left on our schedule this could be a 10 win team.  I put that at about 5% but if that team that showed up in the second half of the ULaLa game continues to show up and even better progresses they can possibly beat every team left on the schedule not named Alabama.  I truly believe that.  Will it happen?  I truly doubt that.

Based on Sumlin’s tenure there is no way this team consistently puts together 16 halves of football against the remaining teams not named Alabama.  We have a sample set of six halves so far and there’s been 2 really good halves and 4 absolute stinkers.  I don’t think the light went off for the rest of the season but if Sumlin wants to keep his job the light is dim and flickering.  I don’t think Sumlin has the ability to figure out the power source and wiring to light it up and keep it lit for 14 halves of football to save is job.  14 halves because he needs at least 9 wins to guarantee his job for next season so he needs 7 more wins.  He’s going to have some stinkers along the way so I don’t see how he wins 7 more but we’ll see.

This is still the guy that had an AMAZING first half against UCLA and then a COLOSSAL collapse in the second half followed by a full game nail biter against Nicholls State.  He then followed up that performance by trailing ULaLa 21-14 at half before absolutely blowing the doors off ULaLa in the second half to win walking away.  We’ll find out this weekend how much this team has really progressed and if Sumlin has any chance of keeping his job.

Let’s take a look at the various components of the units for where we are:

Offense:

Had the second half of ULaLa not happened I would have really thought this team had a best case scenario of going 6-6 right now.  What I saw in the first half of the ULaLa game and then especially in the second half gives me some real pause as to what’s going on.  Kellen Mond looked really solid at the QB position.  Even in the first half he looked really poised in the pocket and made some really solid throws.  Especially the deep ball to Ratley in the first half.  That was a beautiful ball.  Mond threw for over 300 yards which even against ULaLa is no small feat.  Prior to that game Mond looked like absolute garbage.  He really did.  He couldn’t throw a ball to save his life.  Maybe he just calmed down.  That ULaLa game could be Mond’s coming out party like Johnny Football in the 2012 SMU game or it could be like Kenny Trill against Arkansas in 2014 where it never got any better than that.  I think it’ll be somewhere in between because Mond is a true freshman and showed solid progression but it wasn’t a breakout performance like Johnny against SMU.  I think the rest of the way Mond’s going to have some solid games and then some stinkers which is why I still contend this is a 7-5 team.  Either way I think this is no doubt Mond’s team going forward unless he just really struggles.  If he struggles we’re hosed because I do think Mond has highest ceiling of any QB on the roster including a healthy Starkel.

For the rest of the offense the running backs have been the saving grace of this team.  They demolished UCLA in the first half and then didn’t get a real opportunity against UCLA in the second half.  They rushed for over 300 yards against UCLA despite barely seeing the ball in the second half which is just insane.  It really is.  They rushed for almost 200 yards against Nicholls St and the efforts of Kendall Bussey is likely the reason we won that game.  They rushed for over 200 yards against ULaLa which allowed Mond to have some success passing as ULaLa was doing what they could to shut down the run.  The running backs are no doubt the strength of this team as Bussey and Kibodi have stepped up with Williams and Ford banged up.  We’ve got some real talent at running back.

I have no clue what’s going on with the offensive line.  There’s so much shuffling I can’t keep up.  They flat out dominated in the first half of the UCLA game but then fell off big time.  I don’t know if it was because of the shuffling or defenses figured out how to attack each lineman.  It seems like the shuffling is over with McCoy back at center even though his snap issues continue.  Maybe they keep shuffling but headed into SEC play they better set what they think is their best 5 guys and let them work as a unit.  The strength of an offensive line is trusting the guy next to you to make the same reads as you so there’s no major whiffs.  That only happens with repeated work together to establish familiarity.  Jim Turner of all people should know this.

At receiver this crew other than Christian Kirk looked like warmed over death before ULaLa.  They couldn’t get separation and if a ball came near them or even hit their hands they couldn’t catch it.  However, against ULaLa these guys started catching balls.  I think they’re going to be extremely inconsistent in SEC play but it was good to see them actually catching balls against a team even if it was a non Power 5 conference team.  Seems like there’s a lot of young talent but we’ll find out how much as we enter SEC play.

I still don’t trust Mazzone against great defensive coordinators which is part of why I’m leaving my prediction at 7-5 and for now.  There’s going to be stretches during games where our offense does nothing.  It’s just the way it is with Mazzone.  However, I did see some promise in the second half against ULaLa to make me think we’ll split our SEC games at 4-4 as there will be enough offensive firepower to win half of those SEC games but it’ll be inconsistent to not win enough to save Sumlin’s job.

Defense:

Defensively this squad has been the exact opposite of the offensive having played 4 great halves of football and 2 stinkers.  I remember sitting in the first half of the UCLA game thinking John Chavis was a damn genius.  I mean we were taking it to UCLA and Josh Rosen with pressure all over the place.  Then the second half happened which I don’t need to re-hash.  Despite the fact it was Nicholls St they actually played pretty damn good football most of the game but just had some brain farts in the passing game.  Same thing in the first half of the ULaLa game but played lights out in the second half against ULaLa shutting them out.

What I see is a John Chavis defense that is going to focus on shutting down the run and bring pressure because that’s what he likes to do and I’m okay with that for the most part.  The problem is we’re going to give up a big play here and there as we miss a coverage assignment or one of our guys just gets beat one on one.  It’s a defensive scheme that rather than give up yardage during the entire game the defense is going to look to shut down an offense knowing they could have some busted plays for big yards and likely touchdowns.  In this day and age offenses are going to get yards and scores so you just hope a defense steps up when it has to.  They didn’t do that against UCLA obviously but did do it against ULaLa in the second half.  This also leads me to believe the defense will have some stinker games and some solid games.  Kevin Sumlin just better hope they’re lined up with his offense having good games.

The defensive line has been tremendous.  We knew the defensive tackles were going to be good but the defensive ends have been way more impressive than I could have ever imagined.  They did a tremendous job against Rosen in the first half and then have shut down the run against Nicholls St and ULaLa which honestly was not the strength of Hall and Garrett last season as they tried to tee off on quarterbacks.  It seems these defensive ends are playing to their strengths rather than be something they’re not in pressure defensive ends.

Linebacker play has been really solid for the most part.  Having talent and experience in Alaka and Dodson is nice with them leading the way.  Anthony Hines showed some promise against ULaLa so maybe he keeps developing.  It looks like Larry Pryor is going to play that Safety/Linebacker position Chavis likes and looked tremendous against UCLA and ULaLa.  He’s probably been the biggest surprise so far.  Maybe he’s playing the true strong safety position as I haven’t been paying attention to where he lines up but I know the dude is making plays on the field.

Losing Donavan Wilson was big especially with the way Pryor has been playing as having Watts, Wilson, and Pryor would be pretty damn devastating.  Capers-Smith has stepped in for Wilson it appears and hasn’t been horrible other than letting the interception go through his hands at UCLA but we won’t talk about that.  Armani Watts has been Armani Watts.  He’s going to play on Sundays.  The dude loves to play football and knows where the ball is going.

Our corners of Priest Willis and Myles Jones have looked pretty good.  Similar to Pryor I haven’t counted specifically who’s lining up where on each play.  I just think those two guys have looked the best in coverage with Charles Oliver doing okay.  They’re not perfect but they’ve been on the good side of coverage a lot more than they haven’t.  Myles Jones is a true freshman and showing lots of promise.  Nick Harvey may never see the field again and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

All in all this defense has looked better than I thought they would.  I expected a fall off like from 2012 to 2013 and that hasn’t happened yet.  We also haven’t seen this defense against SEC teams but we’re about to see that.  In my mind the jury is still out on Chavis as he has some brain farts but in my mind he has this defense playing above talent and my expectations.  Not perfect but this looks like a decent enough unit right now.

Special Teams:

I think our Special Teams has really been below average.  They’re not terrible but they do little things here and there that make me wonder how focused they really are on Special Teams as opposed to just an afterthought.  I think there’s been at least 2 kick offs out of bounds.  One is excusable depending on situation but at least 2 in 3 games boggles my mind.  I think it’s actually been 3 which makes it even worse.  It tells me teams are looking for it and if they see the angle is steep then let it go out of bounds.  Heady play by opponent’s special teams on our lack of execution.  I’m not even sure why we’re doing it if we can’t execute it.

Tripucka has done an excellent job with long punts and pinning punts.  He’s definitely the bright spot on special teams.  LaCamera has been pretty solid with 5-7.  Ironically enough had he been healthy enough to kick the final field goal attempt against UCLA we might have won but that’s the breaks.

The worst thing I’ve seen on special teams was the called fake field goal against ULaLa.  I don’t like exposing wrinkles against “inferior” opponents.  Every kick block team is coached to look for fakes.  Or at least they should be.  I don’t like putting that stuff on film when it’s not needed.  Even worse we couldn’t even execute it against ULaLa.  That was terrible.

I have faith in the individuals of Kirk, Tripucka, and LaCamera but as a whole unit I don’t see the Special Teams doing anything special to win games but maybe I’ll be wrong.

 

We’re about to find out what’s going on with this team starting this Saturday as we enter SEC play.  Based on what I’ve seen in our games and our opponent’s games I think we beat Arkansas and South Carolina and then lose to Alabama and Florida although Florida is VERY beatable.  For right now though I’m going to put it as a loss as I think the Florida defense will shut our offense down and they’ll win with defense and special teams while our defense holds their offense to a couple of field goals.  It’ll be an ugly offensive game for sure.  If we split those games that will put us at 4-3 with remaining SEC games against Miss St, Auburn, Ole Miss, and LSU.  We’ll have a gimme with New Mexico which is 5 wins so Sumlin would need to do better than split those final four SEC games to potentially save his job.  Sweeping those would save his job and 3-1 might save it depending on how they look.  I’ll leave my prediction at 7-5 for now but let’s worry about Arkansas first.

 

Arkansas:

Although Arkansas has played us close since going back to JerryWorld (yes, even last year was close until mid-way through the 3rd) I think we win again this year for the following reasons:

  • Arkie looked TERRIBLE at home against a solid but not great TCU team. I mean they looked bad.
  • Bret Bielema is a bigger moron than Kevin Sumlin at game planning and in game coaching.
  • Arkansas is a worse team than last year.
  • Our defense has looked good for the most part.
  • Mond’s passing gives me hope we can keep Arkie from solely focusing on our running game.
  • Having played at 11:00 a.m. last week will help A&M.

In my mind unless we come out totally unprepared Austin Allen will have to channel his inner Josh Rosen to beat us completing passes like crazy over the middle and hitting his running backs flaring out of the backfield.  Austin Allen is a damn fine quarterback but I don’t think he has the offensive line and skill position guys to score a lot of points on our defense like Rosen.  At least the defense I’ve seen this season.

If I’m Bielema I use the entire bye week going back and watching film of A&M since the Tennessee game and installing offensive plays that worked against us.  That’s basically using the middle of the field  in the passing game as well as using running backs out of the backfield to take advantage of our aggressiveness.  You can bust those for big yards if you have the patience to set them up.  Instead though, I think Bielema will run his traditional offense of wanting to establish the run to set up the pass and it won’t be effective.  We’ll have more talent on defense than they have on offense and we’ll be prepared for it.  At least that’s the way I see it on that side of the ball.

On offense I think Mazzone’s traditional read based offense will be fine as we have more talent on offense than they do on defense.  If I’m Arkansas I definitely come out looking to stop the run and make Mond pass to see if the second half of last week’s game was a fluke.  If Mond can pass we’ll win this game walking away I think.  If Mond can pass they’ll have to adjust to defend the pass which will open up our running game or they’ll choose to dare Mond to continue to pass which he’ll do.  If Mond can’t pass then A&M could be in trouble but I think Mond has made a quick adjustment to the college game.  I think he’ll be fine against defenses where A&M has more talent on offense.  I definitely think Arkie’s defense is worse than last year’s defense.

I think we’ll see A&M up at half like 17-10 and I think the final score will be 30-16 in favor of the Aggies.  If that happens it’ll look great on the scoreboard but I’m not sure how much that will tell us because I do think Arkie is that bad.  If we do lose to Arkie look out as we could go 0-4 against Arkie, SoCar, Bama, and Florida.  If that happens I don’t think Sumlin will survive the bye week but I don’t see that happening.  I think he beats Arkie this weekend making us wait a few weeks longer to figure out his true fate.

I believe it’s his Farewell Tour but you never know for sure until the Fat Lady comes out on stage.

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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!

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.

Who Controls The Heat on Sumlin’s Seat?

12th Man Flag

As we enter the 2016 Aggie football season there’s lots of questions if Kevin Sumlin is on the hot seat.  There is no correct answer at the current moment.  The reality is the heat of Sumlin’s seat is controlled SOLELY by him and will be decided this season.  If the Aggies win 9 game this season there is no heat.  If he wins 7 games then he’s gone and if he wins 8 games it’ll depend on the number of home games he wins.  More than likely the LSU game will be the most important.  If he loses to Bama, UCLA, Tennessee, and LSU I don’t see how he can survive that but it’s still possible.  As long as Sumlin doesn’t get to 4 losses there’s not an ounce of heat but once he hits 4 games then that seat will be hot.  It’ll all because of his head coaching ability and nothing else.  I’ll do a season prediction as we get closer to the season but this is my analysis of Sumlin and where he stands right now.

Coming into his fifth season at A&M it’s crystal clear what kind of coach Kevin Sumlin is.  He’s a CEO coach that’s not going to grind things out.  He’s hands off when it comes to the decisions his staff makes for in game preparation and even in game.  I have a ton of specific examples but I won’t bore you with them.  Buy me a beer and I’ll tell you in great detail.  Kevin Sumlin is in the style of coaches like Les Miles, Mack Brown, and Bobby Bowden.  They clap a lot and hope to give great speeches but if you ask them exactly what’s going on during the game he’s just watching like me and you.  You better hope he can hire a great staff and recruit because he’s not going to have much effect on the actual games himself.  That’s not a bad thing but it’s not a great thing either.  It’s possible Sumlin can win a National Championship but he’s only as good as his staff and recruiting momentum.  I’d actually be fine if he turned into Miles, Brown, and especially Bowden as all of those guys have a National Title to their name and I want that feeling just once before I die.  Just once.

He’s not in the class of coaches like Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, and Gary Patterson who are guys that flat out grind it out during the season making decisions that influence his coaching staff in weekly preparation and in game decisions.  I think Jim Harbaugh will join this group as well but let’s give him one more year at Michigan to make sure.  I also think Tom Herman will join this class one day but let’s also give him one more year and see where he goes next.  If Sumlin falters and Herman has another great season at UH I’d love to see Herman in maroon but let’s not worry about that right now.

Sumlin will never join that list of elite names because it’s not who he is.  He’s not interested in the details of the day to day grind for game planning and in game coaching.  He wants to be popular and celebrate leaving it up to those below him to make things happen.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing but if he doesn’t hire right or loses recruiting momentum then he’s toast because he doesn’t have the ability to directly reverse course by himself.

Sumlin got to this whole make or break season because of hiring decisions he made.  When Kingsbury left he promoted someone with no experience calling plays in Clarence McKinney.  When McKinney didn’t work out he repeated the process in hiring Jake Spavital.  Don’t even get me started on Jake Spavital.  When year 1 of Jake Spavital didn’t work out Sumlin fired his offensive line coach and brought in Dave Christensen.  That went even worse as Christensen was a HORRIBLE offensive line coach and Spavital was his usual horrible self.  A decision made by Sumlin made things WORSE.  So in the 3 years post Kingsbury Sumlin just TOTALLY botched his offensive staff.  I mean just TOTALLY botched it.  He made $5 million a year to make these stupid decisions.  $5 million a year and he’s hiring inexperienced offensive coordinators.  That’s on him.

While Sumlin was promoting Boy Wonder Jake Spavital, Nick Saban lost two games in a row to go 11-2 in 2013 and sent his offensive coordinator away.  Seriously.  He told his OC in an 11-2 season to get lost.  He then hired Lane Kiffin as his OC and won the SEC two years in a row including a National Championship.  He had no real relationship with Kiffin but remembered how tough it was to coach against his offenses despite the reputation of Kiffin at the time.  See the differences in how these coaches operate?  Saban isn’t about relationships.  He’s about results on the field because he knows if he wins everything takes care of itself.  Saban is focused on the field.  Sumlin is focused on the lights off the field.

On the defensive side of the ball Sumlin held on to Mark Snyder one year too long. He probably shouldn’t have hired Snyder in the first place but Snyder wasn’t really as bad as Aggies fans made him out to be.  Snyder was an above average coach but when paired with Sumlin’s below average OC hires after Kingsbury it made him look that much worse.  Snyder was a tremendous DC his first year getting the most out of a lot of guys that weren’t the most talented but had a ton of heart.  Snyder deserves credit for that 2012 defense but when the guys with heart left then Snyder was hosed.  He made some HORRIBLE personnel decisions two years ago and I really feel Sumlin should have stepped in and guided him.  I won’t name player names but there’s a certain position in the middle of the field that clearly wasn’t able to perform in the position but he kept getting run out there until it was painfully obvious.  Sumlin then had to pull the old “every position will be evaluated” technique in the middle of the season.  A great coach NEVER says that because they anticipate that coming before it gets there and makes adjustments.  $5 million a year to make those decisions when it’s painfully obvious what’s going on.  FIVE MILLION AMERICAN DOLLARS and midway through the season we have to re-evaluate everything because we’re getting our ass kicked.  $5 million to reshuffle the cards.

As much as I’d love to see Tom Herman in maroon because I do think he’s going to join the likes of Saban and Meyer I REALLY want to see Sumlin win 9 games or more this year and keep his job.  I absolutely LOVE the current staff he has for a guy like Kevin Sumlin.  I mean LOVE.  I’ll take John Chavis over any defensive coordinator in the country.  Hands down without a doubt.  That dude is a grinder.

I know Aggie fans felt we gave up too many yards on the ground last season but the reality is our defense played well enough to win EVERY game last year.  I’m not kidding.  Even against Alabama we held them to 20 points on offense.  They didn’t score a touchdown beyond 5 minutes in the second quarter.  Derrick Henry gashed us for 20 minutes but Chavis made adjustments and kept him contained.  Chavis’ in game adjustments were just remarkable all season.  Go back and watch the games and while we did give up some big runs on occasion for the most part our defense stopped opposing offenses when it mattered.  Boy Wonder Spavital just couldn’t get his stuff together to respond when the defense gave the offense an opportunity to win the game.  I don’t put that on Chavis.  I hate Jake Spavital.  Seriously.  What a failure.

The Wrecking Crew is never coming back.  Football has evolved where offenses are going to score points.  Even Nick Saban has learned this which is why he’s adapted.  If you think we can field a defense that holds quality opponents under 300 yards and 14 points you’re fooling yourself.  It ain’t happening anymore.  John Chavis coaches a defense that attacks and adjusts to make stops when it counts.  That’s all you can ask for and he’s better than anyone in the college game in my mind.  Most importantly he’s not going anywhere.  As long as Sumlin is coaching A&M so is Chavis as long as we keep paying him.  I don’t want to lose that so I want Sumlin to succeed this season.  Think Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips.

Offensively it took 3 years but Sumlin seems to have finally gotten it right.  We’ll have to see how this season goes for Noel Mazzone but I like his experience.  If we win 9 games that tells me he’s a solid enough offensive coordinator to compete at an elite level year in and year out.  Even more than Mazzone I absolutely LOVE the hire of Jim Turner.  This guy is a flat out grinder when it comes to the offensive line.  He consumes himself when it comes to the offensive line in recruiting, technique, and motivation.  It’s no surprise what’s happened to our Oline recruiting since he got hired.  I think he’s the best offensive line coach in the country.  He loves Aggieland and likely never leaves if he has anything to do with it.  Offensive success begins and ends on the offensive line and I love having Turner handling that component of our offense.  He and Mazzone should combine to be a really good offensive tandem.

More than likely this will be Mazzone and Turner’s toughest year on offense.  Our QB is unproven and our offensive line has some holes.  Yes, Trevor Knight is unproven.  If Mazzone and Turner can get 9 wins or more things get easier next season as Turner adds talent and depth on the offensive line.  QB will once again be in question next year but year 2 with an offensive coordinator and better line makes things a lot easier to manage.  And just like Chavis, Mazzone and Turner are lifers at their positions so they’re not going anywhere as long as Sumlin is successful and we keep paying them.

I’d love to see nothing more than a band of Sumlin on vocals, Chavis on lead guitar, Mazzone on bass, and Turner banging the drums rocking Aggieland for years.  It’s very possible but it’s going to take 9 wins to do it or 8 wins with major wins at Kyle to keep these guys around.  7 wins or less and some of them are going to have to find a new band to get gigs.  They won’t be booked in Aggieland next season.

If Sumlin only wins 7 games then buy him out and head down Highway 6 to 290 and get Tom Herman and be done.  If Sumlin isn’t the answer then I’d love to see Herman, Chavis, and Turner rocking in a new band in Aggieland.  If not Herman then I’d be fine with Chad Morris to rock out with Chavis and Turner.  All I know is for the first time in 4 years Sumlin has a staff he can win with and I want him to.  If he can’t croon some chart toppers this year it won’t be because of the guys behind him.  It’ll all be on his high dollar vocals not making it and he’ll never figure it out.

So who controls the heat on Sumlin’s seat?  He does!  He does!

Thoughts From the Games

Thoughts from the Games
Florida, SMU, and SC State

I’ve been holding off writing this again because the new gig has been taking up a lot of time but mainly I didn’t know what the hell I was looking at with this Aggie team. An amazing first half against Florida followed by an offensive turd in the second half. The turd continued through the first quarter against SMU before getting flushed. Then we struggle in the first couple of series against SC State before really opening it up. Through it all I feel like I started seeing what’s going with this team.

The La. Tech Game:

I’m still torn on if the lack of the La. Tech game has hurt us or helped us. As we get further along I think it’s actually helped us. They’re a good team and there’s a good chance we would have gotten beat as our offense would have struggled being on the road for the first time. Make no mistake we came out against Florida on emotion and surprise due to our first game in the SEC. I honestly can’t think of a time when campus and Kyle was fired up for a 2:30 game like that. There were a couple of the OU games in the early 2000s that had a 2:30 start and Kyle was rocking but they’re few and far between. I can’t help but think that carried over to the team and that’s part of the reason we jumped out to a great start.

Plus, with the element of surprise Florida had no idea what to look for offensively. Had they had film of us against La. Tech I think you might have seen our offense struggle the entire game as we’ll get to in a bit. I really do think we might have lost to both La. Tech and Florida had we played that game. As it stands I think we can now go into Shreveport and win that game and the result of the Florida game would have been the same and maybe even actually worse. We lost that Florida game but we all walked out of there thinking we could in fact compete against SEC teams. Let’s not underestimate the result of that. So, I think we dodged a bullet not playing La. Tech as this season is shaping up.

Offense:

I think we’ve all figured out what happened in the second half of the Florida game. I remember noticing it in the game and the quotes after confirmed it. Florida stopped sending their backers and just relied on their front four to apply pressure. That eliminated the open lanes due to over pursuit that our running backs and Manziel were able to exploit in the first half. Since that change our running game has been non-existent. Sadly, I think it’s going to continue that way until we start hitting passes down the middle of the field to pull linebackers from attacking the line of scrimmage or implement a true tight end or fullback.

What happened on Saturday night confirms what I believe as we couldn’t establish a rushing attack against a much inferior front 7. If we can’t establish a running game against this crew even without CMike we’re not going to do it against anyone. Much like Florida, SC State implemented the same scheme against the run. The used their front four to engage our offensive line and then the backers would simply scrape and fill holes. Not aggressively but basically seeing the same thing that the running back on the other side is seeing. The end result is their backers and our running backs are meeting at the LOS. I watched the SMU game on TV so it’s hard to tell but I’m guessing we did the same because we didn’t start moving the ball until Manziel made plays when the defense broke down on the ground and he was able to exploit it through the air in addition to his running. Other than Manziel we really didn’t have a running game against SMU either. Not good.

The reason this is happening this year and not last year is because we don’t have a true TE or fullback. What’s essentially happening is that our 5 offensive linemen are engaging the defensive front four leaving the 3 linebackers to fill the hole that’s created. In addition, because there’s no TE the outside linebackers are playing back off the line of scrimmage and just outside the tackles shoulder looking inside to fill those holes between the tackles. Normally they’d be lined up further outside on a TE and much closer to the line of scrimmage trying to avoid being sealed inside on a block. Without the concern of being sealed inside they can play both the inside and outside assuming they read the offense correctly.

Certainly our offense line has struggled early on with assignments but on Saturday night against SC State I watched our offensive lineman handle the front four of the defense only to have the LB fill the hole and meet out RB at the line of scrimmage. It’s not the line’s fault as much as it is the scheme’s fault. With a fullback they block the linebacker filling the gap and clear them out or at least engage them so the running back has a chance. It’s simple numbers working against us and no matter how well you execute you can’t block 7 guys with five guys. And they’re obviously going to leave their 7th guy home since we essentially have 2 RBs in the backfield with Manziel. So it’s basic 7 on 7 inside the box and I don’t see it changing if SC State can stymie our running game.

The other reason we’re struggling to establish a running game is we’re asking our lineman to run block without a hand on the ground. Without a hand on the ground it’s harder to keep lower leverage as well as fire out off the ball. Think of why track sprinters launch with their hands on the ground instead of on two feet. It’s much harder for our linemen to displace the defensive line so the best they can do is engage the defender and try and move them a little bit.

With all that I just don’t see us establishing a running game in this offense. At least between the tackles like we’ve seen in the past. What’s really lacking that I think we should be able to do is being able to establish an outside run. I would love to see us do overload sets to one side to see if we could seal an edge. Run some sweeps, screens, and zone reads to see if we can get those OLBs to focus outside more or exploit them if they’re hell bent on helping inside. I’d like to see Christine Michael get involved more in the running game so let’s hope he’s got his head clear and realized he’s costing himself money by doing whatever he’s doing to limit his playing time. He can actually take on a linebacker in the hole and get yards after contact. We’ll find out this weekend hopefully.

At receiver it’s hard to figure out what we have. We all know Swope and EZ but it seems like the staff is trying to figure out what they have in the others. It’s quite clear they’re trying to establish Mike Evans as the outside guy if you leave one on one he’s going to make you regret it. It seems we’ve tried to establish that without success and that’s why we can’t exploit the middle of the field with seam routes that Swope is perfect for. Manziel is also missing a bunch of open guys across the middle. Maybe he’s focused too much on the pocket pressure and not looking down field soon enough for fear he misses the pressure. However, it does seem Manziel is getting more familiar with his receivers as he’s been spreading the ball around the last two games. The receiver rotation has also been a little inconsistent so I’m not sure what all is going on and what we’re trying to accomplish with who. We’ll call the receiving corps a work in progress. There’s certainly talent there but it seems everyone including this coaching staff is still trying to figure who’s who and what’s what.

Alright, let’s get to Johnny Football. The kid is electric no doubt. There’s also little doubt he won’t be able to do what he’s done against SMU and SC State on the ground against our conference opponents. I think we’re going to find out that we played the weakest two teams we have on our schedule so it only gets tougher for Johnny Football from here. He has gotten much better about trying to stay in the pocket and when he scrambles keeping his eyes down the field and throw the ball rather than run. Still, there’s times when space is there and the kid should in fact take off and run. He did it against Florida until they took it away from him and he’ll learn over time as he gets more experience when it’s there and when it’s not. He’s just a work in progress.

Don’t forget ultimate success in college football happens because of one of two things or both. Those things are a suffocating defense and/or an electric player on the offensive side of the ball. You know the defenses of Alabama and LSU and even Florida’s first championship under Meyer but the times those teams haven’t won it you know the names of Vince Young, Tim Tebow, and Cam Newton. Now, I’m not saying Manziel is on the level of those guys but it’s pretty clear to me if you want to win it all you need someone that can transcend the offensive side of the ball if you don’t have a strong defense. Looking back there’s never been a “system” offense to win a National Championship. Oregon tried against a fairly average Auburn defense and couldn’t do it. Even Mike Leach’s vaunted offense often stalled against better defenses which is why he rarely beat Texas or OU and struggled in both Cotton Bowls he made it to with what might have been the SEC’s third or fourth best team.

I say all that in hopes that our offense is evolving from game to game as the coaches and players learn one another. I’d rather see that happen than the coaching staff stand headstrong and try to install their “system.” I’d really like to see Kingsbury evolve beyond what appears to be his “Air Raid” roots at Tech and UH. Nothing against Kingsbury but I’m beginning to see his roots won’t do well week in and week out against the SEC defenses.

As for what happens from here it’s not ideal but I think we can have a run of 3 games against Arkansas, Ole Miss, and La. Tech where can have some learning curves and still win. Now, I’m not saying we can win those games with major hiccups because we can’t but I think we can have some growing pains in those games and still win. Mainly because I think our offensive line is getting more comfortable in this system and receivers are learning what to do when the play breaks down and Manziel is able to extend the play with his legs.

So, in summary we’re not going to establish a running game between the tackles. Because of that let’s hope that Manziel and this coaching staff can learn from each other and craft the offense to the strengths of the talent we have on that side of the ball. It’s our only hope Luke.

Defense:

“The one constant through this season so far, Ray, has been defense. Aggie Football has rolled by like an army of steamrollers remaining competitive because of defense. The Wrecking Crew had been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again by men that go by the names of Fran and Sherm. But defense has marked the time and Aggie fans have waited for its return. Kyle Field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.” I adjusted the quote from Field of Dreams to reflect somewhat of how our defense has really carried this team so far. It feels good to have a defense that looks like it knows what its doing and can respond when needed.

Without our defense we get blown out by Florida and probably even play SMU close. Make no mistake this is no Wrecking Crew. Not even close outside of Demontre Moore. Dude is a one man Wrecking Crew so he definitely can be called that but there’s no one else. What this defense is doing is playing assignment football REALLY well. People are executing their assignment which allows all 11 defenders to cover the entire field and line of scrimmage. I think as we get more comfortable with the base defense and continue to execute it in our sleep we’ll see it get more aggressive. Until then I hope Snyder doesn’t change a thing as it’s absolutely marvelous to watch even if it’s not the old Wrecking Crew we know and love.

It’s also not on the level of Bama or LSU simply because we don’t have the athletes but it reminds me a lot of TCU’s defense. Now, don’t get me wrong in that we haven’t played an offensive juggernaut as Florida was very basic on offense, Garrett Gilbert couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat, and SC State missed a lot of open receivers or dropped balls that hit them in the hands. However, rarely is a receiver running wide screaming open like we saw with the litany of DCs that came before Snyder. Our LBs seem to understand their gap assignments and not overrun the ball carrier and the DLine understands engaging the OLine to free up others to make plays. Then there’s DeMonster who just wrecks shop all over the field. What’s impressed me the most is not what he’s done in the backfield but his pursuit all over the field. Time and time again he’s making tackles on the sideline simply because he’s pursuing the ball carrier the entire time. He must realize he can get paid like Von one day.

We are weak in a couple of areas and those include screen recognition and runs to the outside. Our defensive line will get sucked in by a screen and our LBs will either be slow to react or get up in the blocking or trash. Florida and SC State both ran some plays to the outside and gained positive yards. I think the weakness on these two things is our focus of not getting gutted up the middle and focusing our attention inside. I hold out faith that as our defense gets more comfortable with base assignments they’ll recognize screens and outside runs quicker and be quicker to react.

Despite how bad they’re playing as a team right now a Tyler Wilson lead offense can move the ball so we’ll find out where this defense really is on Saturday. Let’s hope we’re still proud.

Special Teams:

I have no clue what we have on special teams. No clue at all. We seem to be getting better each week but I’m still not sure as a whole. Our kicker hasn’t seen a tough field goal and he’s 1 of 2 making a 27 yarder and missing a 23 yarder. Doesn’t exactly instill much confidence does it? Epperson punts either like an old man playing golf that hits a shot 120 yards in the air but gets no trajectory so it rolls another 60 yards for a somewhat respectable drive or he punts like those rugby guys that rely on a roll except Epperson isn’t running before kicking. Whatever he’s doing it’s working for the most part so we’ll take it.

As for returns Dustin Harris has looked pretty decent returning punts but let’s be real in that he’s not an explosive returner. He’s got decent straight away speed but he’s no Dante Hall unless he’s jumping the curb and parking on the grass next to Kleberg that we don’t know about. Kick return wise our blocking was TERRIBLE against Florida and we haven’t seen many kicks in the other games thanks to our defense. However, with the new rules we shouldn’t be returning kicks on anything 2 yards or deeper in the end zone. Just take a knee and take it out to the 25 and be done with it. You get caught at the 15 yard line and then stall on a three and out all of sudden you’re behind on field position and that stuff matters.

There are just still a lot of unanswered questions about everything to be honest. Looking forward to Arkansas I’m DEATHLY afraid of this game. Tyler Wilson can still move the ball so they’re going to have the best day of any team against our defense so far. If our offense stalls a few times like it did against Florida we could be looking at being on the short of a shootout. I’d like to think we could win 35-21 but I can also see us losing 28-24 which would result in John L. Smith streaking on Kyle Field. Nobody wants that. Nobody.

If we can in semi-convincing fashion and our offense doesn’t stumble for the most part and our defense can hold Wilson and their offense mostly in check than I think we can go 8-4 with conference wins over Ole Miss, Auburn, and Mizzou in addition to our non-conference games. Arkansas reminds me of A&M last year. In total disarray as a team but there’s still enough talent that if it all clicks then they can beat a lot of people.

I’m somewhere between 8-4 and 6-6 with this team with all the clarity coming over the next three games.  When we get to the mid-point of the schedule we’ll have a good idea of what we have despite still having LSU and Bama on the schedule.

Thoughts from the Mizzou Game

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

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

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

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

OFFENSE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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