Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Counter the Counter

I would say I am pretty knowledgeable about football. And by football, I mean the stuff that actually happens on the field.  But my good buddy Thomas Fritts puts me to shame. He is able to watch, enjoy (well as much as possible) and assess actual tactics (play-calling, reasoning, methodology, etc.) with the best of them. Whenever I have my own football team (either the Dallas Cowboys or my future son's middle school team in 20 years) Thomas Fritts will be on my staff. Enjoy the analysis. Take it to heart. Make your own opinions.

Usually before the season, the coaching staff comes together to evaluate their team. I have a pretty good idea of how it went - they went all in on Johnny. Every single one of them. And by "all in", I mean ALL IN on the fact that Johnny (and only Johnny) was going to carry this team to the promised land.

If we're being honest here, I don't exactly have a problem with that thought process. That cat had 1,400+ yards rushing last year and made all those vaunted SEC Defenses look straight stupid. You saw it. I saw it. The whole damn country saw it. But the old adage "too much of a good thing is a bad thing" came to fruition this season and bit our team square in the ass.

I'll give you one example that can be used as a comparison across all parts of the offense. It's a series of counter plays from the Bama game this past September. Follow along here and if you would, open your textbook errr...just fast forward to 1:16 and we can get started.

Ball: Aggie 41 yard line, Left Hash
DD (Down and Distance): 1st and 10
Formation: 5 Wide (2 to the left and 3 to the right) - shotgun
Play: B-ZAC 13 Skat

In simple English, what we have is Johnny sitting in the gun with 5 wideouts split evenly across the field (i.e. 2 to the boundary, or the short side, and 3 to the field, all the wide open space). LaQuvionte (#6) comes in motion "hot" and fakes receiving the pop handoff from Johnny. At the same time, the left side of the O-Line down blocks towards the middle of the field while the backside guard AND tackle pull around to the left, essentially creating a basic counter play. You see this play in the NFL every Sunday, but not quite in this formation and not with the QB keeping the ball. Anyways, Johnny gains 10 yards on the play, we all fist pump and all is right in the world.

Why was this play successful? I think that's easy; it was the first time we have ever run that play. Never did it with Kliff last year and didn't do it versus Rice or Sam Houston during the previous two weeks. Obviously there are other reasons as well, but I'll get to those in a minute.

Fast forward to 2:14.  (Here is the video again for your lack of scrolling pleasure).

Ball: Aggie 2 yard line, Right Hash
DD: 1st and 10
Formation: Trips Left - shotgun
Play: 14 Skat

This is the same play as the one I just wrote about above, but instead of bringing a slot receiver across as the fake, Johnny faked the inside zone to the left while the right side of the line down blocked and the LG and LT pulled around. Gained 8 yards. Thanks and Gig 'Em.

We ran the same play two more times (5:22 on a 2nd and 13 and 6:53 on a 1st and 10) for positive yards. Woo Hoo! Beatin' Bama!

Unfortunately, after that is where the staff, as a whole, shows its true colors.

Let me get on record with this: I really do like the theory of the play itself and the situation in which it is called. I like the run on 1st down because success on early downs leads to more manageable 2nd and 3rd downs. In this offense those can be coverted. Additionally, by using a sweep or zone play to implement your counter, you're essentially looking to capitalize on the over-aggressive tendencies by the defensive front. I like that thought process because you have to think Bama was focusing all week (and all summer) on trying to keep up with Johnny and his crew of receivers. This will, more often than not, precipitate over-aggressive game reactions. The Skat-counter play is a great way to combat such things, and thus is the exact reason it worked so well earlier in the game. Unfortunately, that didn't last.

At the 11:47 point in the video, A&M ran Skat for the 5th time. They were down 42-21 with 14:50 left to play in the 4th Quarter. It was first and 10 with the ball near the left hash. Interesting tidbit, three of the four times A&M ran Skat, it was 1st down, and all four times they ran Skat they ran it to toward the boundary (short side of the field). This time was no different.

As you can tell by the image attached, the defense was reading the play the whole freaking way. The left DE, Adrian Hubbard (#42), just stood there, reading the play and not getting up-field (this important later in the play). Clinton-Dix (#6) was the boundary safety on the play and came screaming up-field to make the tackle. CJ Mosely (#32) made Jake Matthews look stupid by slipping the block and not getting walled off to the inside. Once Johnny got to the outside, he saw #32 and #6 ready to make the play and tried to make something out of nothing by changing course and scrambling back to the right.

Sometimes Johnny can get away with that stuff... bailing on a play and making something out of nothing is a rare gift he possesses, but against such a fundamentally sound team like Bama, the opportunities are few and far between.

Johnny came back around to the right, and since #42 maintained his gap integrity, he was waiting on him. That strung the play out and directly contributed to #20 screaming up-field to make the play 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Don't mind the flag for the horse collar, I'm looking at why we ran that play on 1st down for the fourth time AND to the boundary for the 5th time.

If I can figure out that we're running this play towards the boundary on 1st down time and time again, don't you think Saban and Smart will catch on pretty quickly?  The answer is yes.

This is where Kliff was masterful. He knew when teams would start to anticipate his plays and he would essentially "Counter the Counter". Kliff would give the defense something they hadn't seen yet, causing them to overreact and flow too far, while then quickly countering that with a different play altogether (yet still "within" the original play. The perfect example I can come up with is the option pass against Bama last year. See the video :51 in. We hadn't run the short side speed option but maybe once all year before that game, so the defense reacted strong towards the play and over-pursued. That lead to a gap in the defensive coverage and a simple read for Johnny to make the throw down the field. Easy yardage.

McKinney and Spavital never countered the damn counter this year. After the first two or three times of successfully running a certain play, you should expect the defense to adjust accordingly and your production from that play will eventually drop off. It is the responsibility of the play caller and coaching staff to not only expect this, but to prepare for it as well. How would we do that? There are countless ways, for example, imagine Johnny faking the pop pass to Quiv and rolling left like the original play, but then taking a shot down field on a deep crossing route over the top (which would likely be open due to the boundary safety screaming up-field, as seen the fifth time they ran it).

Now THAT is the stuff that made KK the man and THAT is the stuff that we were missing all year. He was one step ahead the entire year and knew EXACTLY when to put the defense on their heels with his superb play calling and ability to "counter the counter". The worst part is the situation got worse as the season progressed due to the lack of creativity and innovation by the coaching staff. It was the same crap game after game after game after game.  The LSU game was just the great culmination of what was happening all year. No creativity, no adjustments, nothing at all. It's the Walking Dead with a Heisman winning QB and it makes me sick to watch it.

Now, who is really responsible for all this? I think it's primarily Spavital, but it really does go higher than that to Sumlin. As for Spavital, if you watch parts of West Virginia's season last year I truly think you'll get the same vibe as the second half of this year. Check out their running game versus Oklahoma when Tavon Austin ran for 300+ yards and then compare that to Tra Carson and Trey Williams in the 2nd half of Arkansas this year. Eerily similar in both teams were begging for them to run the ball, and for whatever dumbass reason, it took Spavital twice the amount of time it should have to figure it out. Then when the light bulb turned on, it stayed on. They even ran the same formations in those two games (pistol with a lead blocker and 3 wide outs). Spavital was behind both of these games and it's crazy to see how similar they truly were.

At the end of the day, Sumlin is just as guilty for all this. If he had any balls he'd say something, but unfortunately he has just became an enabler for this entire ordeal.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Getting a Grip on Reality

This season was a failure.  No way around it.  We came in as a top 5 team with national title aspirations.  We leave as the number 25 team in the nation hoping for an invite to the Chick-fil-a Bowl.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love Chick-fil-a with a fiery, fat passion (can there be a Chipotle Bowl soon?), but their bowl game doesn’t exactly excite me given our team’s expectations.   Even after heartbreaking hiccups against Alabama and Auburn we pretty much controlled our destiny to a BCS bowl game (win out against LSU and Mizzou, be the hottest SEC team outside of the championship, stroll into the Sugar Bowl, easy breezy).  But no, we screwed that up too.  LSU manhandled us.  And then we choked away the Mizzou game.  Johnny was obviously not full strength, Mike Evans disappeared, and our offensive coordinators shit the bed.  Honestly, I don’t know how the season could have ended anymore painfully.

So what now?

Well, first things first, we wait for the bowl games to be determined.  

Wait, check that.  Johnny just turned 21!  HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOHNNY!  I have very little doubt that Johnny blew it up for his big day (and rightfully so).  Johnny should drink for free on Northgate for the rest of his life (if he ever wanted to deal with the paparazzi).  

Ok, moving on.  The biggest priority between now and whatever underwhelming bowl game we play in, is Johnny’s health.  Get that shoulder squared away; let that bad thumb heal up.  Let’s make sure we bring the “A” team wherever we go.

So our defense didn’t look half bad against Mizzou.  Are they making positive strides?  Are the young guns getting more comfortable?  Did Mark Snyder wake up?  Whatever the case, our defense did their job against Mizzou.  If we hold Mizzou to 28 points, we should win that game, plain and simple.  If they put up a similar performance in our bowl game, we should roll without question.   

Except there is a question… a big one… and it’s not really a question… it’s a big stinking elephant in the room.  McKinney and Spavital sucked this year.  Johnny and our offense succeeded (early on) despite their best efforts to inhibit any and all creativity.  They abandon the running game (as if we didn’t have FOUR stud running backs), they refused to adjust when the game called for it, they squandered the talents of our Heisman winner (I know we want to keep Johnny healthy, but could we not incorporate a dynamic zone read package) and ultimately they put together the most vanilla game plan possible on a week to week basis.  Was Kliff really the lynchpin last year?  You can’t convince me that the loss of Joeckel and Swope had that much to do with our struggles this year.  We replaced them with the next stud on the factory line.  Where was Sumlin during all these embarrassing efforts?  Did he not step in?  Did he step in?  I love Sumlin more than anything and I am 100% behind his extension, but I am still baffled by our offense’s way to frequent ineptitude this year.  Sumlin is an offense mind, right?  Well, where was that offensive mind?  Again, I reiterate… was Kliff the missing piece (or the lost piece actually) this year?  Ugh, I lose sleep over these questions.

Back to Sumlin’s extension, I love it.  Coordinator shenanigans aside, I firmly believe he is the man to lead our program in the future.  He is going to recruit with the best of them and motivate with the best of them and at the end of the day I believe that’s the most important stuff from your head coach.  Good job Texas A&M, you stepped up, squashed the rumor mill and locked up OUR guy.

Is there a chance Johnny comes back after such a disappointing end to the season?  Does the Mariota decision sway him in either direction (I really have no idea)?  I assumed he would be gone last summer, but now I can’t help but to daydream on the 10% chance he might come back.  I have never loved watching a football player play football more than Johnny Manziel.  To see him back in maroon for one more year would be the ultimate Christmas gift.  Does Evans come back if Johnny does?  My head would explode. 

You can’t win it all every season.  I get that.  Obviously I would like to win something significant (a BCS game) to hang my hat on, but it looks like I will have to wait another year.  Expectations are a dangerous thing.  I never expected anything from the Cowboys this year (Jason Garrett is a lifeless dud) and thus have not been emotionally destroyed by their dramatic ebbs and flows each week.  But I had dreams this year for A&M.  I recovered quickly from Alabama.  But Auburn, LSU and Mizzou hurt with the best of ‘em.  They briefly took me back to the Fran and Sherm era.  Oh the dark times.

What can you do?  Not much really, just move on and focus on the positives (Swagcopters, recruits, Kyle Field, SEC network, etc.).  Thankfully, we have rid ourselves of the complacency of old.  We are in the SEC now.  We are in the Sumdog era now.  And I sure hope Sumdog has the “chops” to win something significant.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Second Annual Thanksgiving Laundry List

The LSU game sucked.  I was there.  It was cold and rainy and our team played like it.  I am done with it.  Goodbye Sugar Bowl dreams.  Hello Mizzou.  Instead of focusing on broken dreams and shaky play-calling, let’s instead meditate on the positives in our lives as Texas A&M football fans.  I can’t promise there won’t be a few snarky, back handed, totally unauthentic thank you’s though (I obviously haven’t fully thawed off from last Saturday).  Without further ado, the second annual Thanksgiving laundry list!

Mike Evans: Thank you in advance for giving Texas A&M its first ever Biletnikoff award.  Hardware (just like banners) lasts forever and that trophy will forever shine for Texas A&M.  You are a man among boys on the football field.  Watching you win jump balls is a true joy.  I only wish one of your two legendary performances could have resulted in an Aggie victory.  Fret not though!  NFL paychecks are in your near future.  As much as I would love to see you in maroon for another year, I don’t think you have anything left to prove. 

The Dry Bean Saloon:  Thank you for being my favorite bar on Earth.  Thank you for your reasonably priced, wonderfully executed shot concoctions.  Oh, and thank you for opening early on game days so I can take shots at 9 am.  Duck Busters all around!

Josh Lambo: Thank you times infinity for removing Bertolet from our lives.  I often felt like Bertolet was put on this Earth to torment me, but alas, Lambo has come to save us.  If you had told me that A&M would win ONE GAME on a last second field goal this year I would have slapped you in the face and told you to take your gibberish elsewhere.

Darian Claiborne: In the midst of a truly horrifying defensive year you have provided one small silver lining.  A true freshman middle linebacker stepping into SEC and holding his own is nothing to scoff at.  You have a bright future and I hope you become the defensive heart we need.

Mack Brown’s Corpse: Thank you for embarrassing yourself against BYU and Ole Miss.  Thank you for somewhat turning the team around and forcing everyone to wonder if you are indeed still alive as you bumble up and down the sidelines.  8-4 seasons in the Big 12 suit you well.

Jake Matthews:  Thank you for returning this year and solidifying yourself as a future NFL left tackle and top ten draft pick.  Despite the offensive line looking shaky from time to time we can’t deny your presence as our offense averages 45.6 points a game.

Drake:  Thank you for befriending our beloved quarterback and adding to his already impressive mystique.  Why you haven’t made any trips to College Station behooves me.  Throw us a bone.  Do a concert at Wolf Pen Creek Amphitheatre to help struggling Brazos County rappers.  THEY NEED YOU DRAKE!

Clay Travis:  Thank you for always having Johnny’s back (and for spending so much time analyzing the girlfriends of SEC quarterbacks).  When the masses wanted to focus on questionable off the field decisions or meaningless on the field antics, you always brought the attention back to the performance on the field.

Oklahoma State University:  Thank you for making sure I don’t have to live in a world in which Baylor is a national title contender.

Kevin Sumlin:  Thank you for being a ridiculously savvy dude.  I sure hope you realize the grass is not greener in the underwhelming Pac 12.  Let’s stick together for a few more years until the NFL beckons your name.  Unrelated side note: is it time to start rethinking the futures of your coordinators?  Just sayin…

Jake Spavital:  Thank you for completely ignoring our slew of insane running backs of late. Ugh. 

Clay Honeycutt:  Thank you for finally finding your way to the bench.  (Ok, I am done now)

Myles Garrett:  Thank you for pledging your future to Texas A&M and giving us some defensive potential to salivate over.

Kyle Allen:  Thank you for pledging your future to Texas A&M and giving us some offensive potential to salivate over.

Tra Carson:  Thank you for being a behemoth of a running back.  Our stupid play calling (and maybe your health?) may be preventing you from shining of late, but I haven’t forgotten what it was like to watch you earlier this season.  I can’t remember seeing a running back run with the ferocity and power that you do.  I have a big fat man crush on you Tra.

Texas A&M University (and old rich donors):  Thank you for stepping up and approving the Kyle Field renovation project.  You struck while the iron was hot and put a plan into motion that will further make Kyle Field one of the greatest venues in College Football (even though it was already great to begin with).

University of Texas and Oregon:  Thanks again for not pulling in that little old quarterback from Kerrville.  Texas A&M football will forever be in debt to you both.

Current Texas A&M Students:  Thank you for consistently bringing your "A" game every week and showing the SEC that we belong on every level.  Packing Kyle Field with 30,000+ students on a week to week basis is incredible! 

And last but not least...

Johnny "Football" Manziel: Excluding the recent poop he took in Death Valley (an injured hand?), there is nothing I am more thankful for than having Johnny as the quarterback of my team.  Fans and universities yearn for transcendent players that lead a team and ignite the nation.  Players like that don't come along every year (heck, they don't come along every decade).  Ours is young, impressionable, oozing with swagger, and the reigning Heisman trophy winner.  Maybe we need to remind ourselves one extra time to enjoy what might be Johnny's last two games in an A&M uniform.  Soak it up, live in the moment, revel in every highlight reel, and look forward to every mushy article (will he stay?).  Enjoy it all and be thankful.  Johnny did some pretty cool things at Texas A&M.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Trust Me Coach, USC is Overrated (via Yelp)

So there have been a few rumors of USC’s fondness for Kevin Sumlin floating around the interweb of late.  Rubbish, I say.  Why would Sumlin ever leave the beautiful, cultural College Station?  California weather is overrated.  Who needs the Pacific Ocean in your backyard when you have the Gulf of Mexico right around the corner?  I digress.  If Sumlin even gave the faintest thought to leaving, I would suggest he do his research on USC.  And what better way to research a spot than to check out its Yelp page.  Let’s ignore all those glowing, obviously inebriated, five star reviews and scroll all the way down and take a glance at the breathtaking one and two star reviews.  Coach, you need to know the worst case scenario of all potential employment opportunities. 

Jessica C – One Star:
Overpriced and overcrowded. Plus i did NOT like the way they treated their adjunct faculty. Think anti-union, no contract style conditions. 

If you like football, you might enjoy this school. Otherwise, I'd say save your money and head to UCLA. it's a hell of a lot cheaper and ranked higher. OMG i'm such a traitor!!”

Sumdog… did you hear how they treat their adjunct faculty?????  You don’t wanna be a part of that anti-union, no contract style bullcrap!!!!!  So what if this review was written in 2007, have you double checked to make sure they have righted their wrongs in regards to this adjunct faculty situation??? 

Wait, what exactly is the adjunct faculty?

Luke S – One Star:
“University of Spoiled Children, University of Second Choice.  I am bitter about the Rose Bowl and its not because the Illini lost.  I am not a Illini alum, I went to Northwestern, but the lack of class demonstrated by the USC players, coaching staff, and band has forever tainted my impression of USC.”

Sumdog… do you want your kids to be spoiled??? Do you want to be associated with a classless band??? Of course you don’t.  You have obviously become accustomed to life with a classy band.  Anyways, the super sensitive Luke S from Northwestern will not be happy with you if you go to USC! No reason to make enemies in the Midwest.

Traci J – One Star:
“The Sarah Palin of Universities.. 
Full of HYPE..”

Well shoot, I just don’t know where to go with this one…

Sue L – One Star
“what is to like about SC??? ehhh??? NOTHING..... cant think of a d*** thing....can i give it negative stars?”

Is Sue referencing South Carolina?  Maybe she is just an angry Clemson fan who got lost on Yelp?

Jerome B – One Star:
“USC is vastly overpriced. No one should be paying $200k plus for a bachelors degree. Grad school? Perhaps. Even then, that is a lot of green. Campus itself is nice, though it is not located in a good area. USC is still probably the third best school in Southern California, behind Cal. Tech and UCLA respectively.”

Sumdog… you don’t wanna go to the third best school in the SOUTHERN portion of California do you?  No telling where Jerome B ranks USC in the WHOLE state of California.

Andrea Z – Two Stars:
“As a progressive person, USC is also an incredibly stifling campus.
“Also, USC does not treat its community or workers all that well.  There is constant complaints from both parties on this issue... and the clothes for their athletes are made in sweatshops.

Sumdog!  You are most definitely a progressive guy who does not approve of sweatshops.  No way you want to associate yourself with such unprogressive behavior.

Joseph W – Two Stars:
“The professors here want to suck the youth out of your eyeballs and make you pay for it.” 

Correct me if I am wrong Coach, but I think your football players are gonna need their eyes to succeed on the field.  That would be a huge disadvantage to play football without your eyes.  Is Mary’s School of the Blind in the Pac 12?  Oh shoot, I forgot Colorado just joined… they sometimes play as if they were blind (or stoned).

Mary N – Two Stars:
“it was ok.

Mediocrity and complacency do not suit you Mr. Sumlin.

Maria D – Two Stars:
“While USC strives to be diverse and offers many scholarships, much of their student body also lives up to the stereotype.  Lots and lots of rich white kids from Orange County and Texas who are outraged the first time they are forced to confront their privilege in classes that address race and socioeconomic status.”   

Oh shoot, how did that get in there!  I am a privileged white kid from Texas.  Ignore this Coach.  Let’s get to the final review.

Brittney S – One Star:
“UCLA is so much better and ranked #8 in the world, while USC isnt even in the top 10: it's in the 50's-60's. Don't come here unless you wanna get shot or ripped off.”

Plain and simple Sumdog… nobody wants to get shot.    

I rest my case Coach Sumlin.  If this doesn’t convince you that the grass is not greener on the other side, I don’t know what will.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Throwback Thursday

For your Thursday viewing pleasure, why don't we toss it back to these two awesome clips.  

I don't know about you, but I think it is pretty cool when the greatest boxer on the planet bets $220k on my quarterback.

I also think it is pretty cool when one of the most famous rappers on the planet considers my quarterback a close friend.

Gosh I love my quarterback.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Rejuvenated Spirit

First off, apologies to our expert Crawford Jones, he passed along his Vandy preview last week, and we dropped the ball (with excuses ranging from work to Vegas).  To further legitimize his “expert” title, I will go ahead and say that Crawford predicted everything correctly.  He is the expert for a reason.

Second off, big snag for the Aggies today as they pulled in Jermaine Eluemunor, one of the best JUCO offensive linemen in the nation.  This guy could easily start next year given his advanced age and the fact that he will be enrolling at Texas A&M this January (giving him a head start with spring practice).  It's all about the trenches!  YESSIR!

Well here we are; knee deep in the thick of the season.  The BCS rankings are out and the Heisman chatter is starting to heat up (FINEBAUM IS BACK ON THE JOHNNY BANDWAGON). The Aggies have taken us on an absolute roller coaster over these past few weeks.  That Auburn game hurt.  It hurt like all those old Fran and Sherman breakdowns.  I was there, confused and dumbfounded as those last seconds melted off the clock.  Other-worldy efforts by Johnny and Mike were wasted.  Our defense looked like a soggy paper bag.  Ugh, I will say no more, there is no reason to rehash the pain.

Then within days, our moods were lifted by the news of TWO five-star recruits committing their future to our beloved Texas A&M (I will jump back to this in a moment).  Then a few days later, the Aggies went out and did what a great team should do; they dismantled a solid opponent at Kyle Field.  Vandy was coming off a solid victory against the team formerly known as Georgia, and undoubtedly had high hopes that they could run over A&M’s defense in true Auburn fashion.  Vandy isn't a BCS-caliber team, but if you give a well-coached, legitimate opponent a glimmer of hope (and a few timely turnovers), anything can happen.  Sumlin and Johnny didn’t let that happen. A&M showed up and took care of business.  Johnny went bananas early and gave himself some extra visor-time in the second half.  It was a truly well-rounded effort on offense and the defense appeared to take a positive step forward.  I feel good going into a half bye week against UTEP.  WELCOME HOME, JAMEILL SHOWERS (even though the poor guy still doesn't get to make a start at Kyle Field due to an injury).

So let’s get back to those recruits (and our defensive future).  Our abysmal defensive line has been our Achilles heel this year, so to hear the news about Myles Garrett and Daylon Mack in such close proximity was a huge pick-me-up.  Championships are won in the trenches, and a dominant defensive front seven can single-handedly win you football games and save seasons.

Here is what we need to happen.  Starting in the middle, we need one of our three true freshmen DTs (Golden, Walker, and Manning) to become a genuine star (Isaiah Golden is the frontrunner here).  This is crucial and for the sake of time, it needs to be one of the guys already on campus.  Daylon Mack is two full years behind these guys; he will be in the next wave of difference makers.  Surprise, we need somebody to step up and be a star at DE too.  Julien Obioha is a solid player, and maybe he takes his game to the next level, but I feel like we would have already seen flashes (I think that description will apply to Jay Arnold as well in the future).  That leaves us with two guys Daeshon Hall and Myles Garrett.  Hall will have a year’s worth of experience (and weight room) on Garrett, but as we all know, Garrett is a freak.  Either Hall makes the jump or Garrett becomes a stud from day one (Nkemdiche and Clowney did it), but one of those things needs to happen.  We need some studs.  Studs elevate the play of everyone around them.  An average defensive lineman playing next to a stud immediately becomes an above-average defensive lineman.  It’s that simple.

I feel like we already have a head start in regards to our linebackers, because Darian Claiborne is a football player.  A true freshman stepping into the middle of our defense smack dab in the middle of SEC play, now that’s impressive.  Just like that, we only need to fill in two more linebacker spots for the next three years.  I think Jordan Mastrogiovanni eventually takes over one of the spots.  He has had a naturally up-and-down season (which isn’t bad at all for a true freshman).  He impressed early in camp (notably his pass rush), got on the field, and has done a thing or two worth noting.  I think he becomes entrenched as a starter next year.  So who gets that last spot?  Tommy Sanders?  Brett Wade?  Donnie Baggs?  I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say it’s our troubled, but uber-talented future Aggie HOZA SCOTT.  Based on all accounts, he seems to have overcome whatever issues he had during the off-season and finally got his head on straight.  I think he just barely qualifies, and then thrives when he gets to College Station.  Don’t forget that after last year, it was Hoza Scott who was the consensus best recruit in Texas, not Myles Garrett.  So don’t call it a comeback.

The front seven will still be super young next year, but all we need is two sophomores to jump to the next level (Golden and Claiborne) and two freshmen to show they can be difference makers (Garrett and Scott).  Obioha will provide a steady presence. Walker, Manning, and Hall should be in the rotation.  Mastrogiovanni could become a dynamic weak-side pass rusher.  None of these scenarios are unreasonable.

It’s crazy how a simple SEC win (and a few high schoolers) can rejuvenate the spirits again.  The future is bright.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Inside the Huddle: Myles Garrett

Check out this awesome feature on 2014 DE, Myles Garrett, from back in September. Garrett is currently rated as the number 1 defensive end in the nation and a top ten overall player in the 2014 class. Last week he committed to play for Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M. Be patient, Aggies, help is on the way.

Friday, October 18, 2013

From the Expert: Auburn Preview

The expert got just enough right last week to be invited back for another go-round.  We are a results oriented blog.  I am kidding.  Mr. Crawford Jones knows his way around a football field.  TWEET AT HIM!

Mid-season is upon us! Texas A&M comes into this one after a huge scare against Ole Miss. The game itself wasn't even the biggest scare; when Johnny Manziel clutched his knee in agony last week a collective gasp rippled through College Station. There will be no rest either as Auburn represents another tough test for the Aggies. Thus is the life in the SEC.

Who is Auburn this year?
  • Auburn comes into this game with an identical 5-1 record and a national ranking of #24. Their lone loss was to #6 LSU. This game has Auburn’s full attention since it was scheduled between two cupcake games versus Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic.
Battle to Watch
  • Mike Evans vs. Auburn Secondary: This is a big question for every opponent, but who will guard the big wideout? While Evans is third in the NCAA in receiving yards, the Tigers do have ballhawk Robenson Therezie (who is tied for the SEC lead in interceptions). So what’s the problem? Well, Therezie stands only 5’9” while Evans comes in at 6’5”. Giving up over a half foot to an already explosive receiver seems like a recipe for disaster on deep balls.  How will the Tigers counter this glaring mismatch?
Common Opponents
  • At this point it’s only Ole Miss. The Aggies beat the Rebels last week on a late field goal while the Tigers beat them two weeks earlier by a score of 30-22. The Tigers were more dominant overall, albeit they got to play them at home. The Tigers defense fared better against the Ole Miss offense, but the Aggies put up more points than Auburn did.   I don’t think we learned anything new here.
Defensive Outlook
  • A&M notched another sack last game, pushing their season total to five. IN SIX WHOLE GAMES! Once again, they will need to get pressure on Auburn QB Nick Marshall. Marshall has 4 TD’s and 4 INT’s (half of those coming in their loss to LSU). If he can take care of the ball, manage the game and keep the A&M offense off the field, the Tigers could be thinking upset. The Aggie defense gives up the most yards in the SEC, making the potent Auburn rushing attack all the more frightening. The Aggies will need a couple turnovers to create additional possessions and wear down the Auburn defense.
  • The Tigers bend-but-don’t-break defense ranks 3rd in the SEC in scoring defense but 10th in yards – with most of those coming through the air. This defense is tougher than what they faced last week, but it could still be a big passing day for Johnny Manziel.
  • With a defense that gives up a ton of yards through the air and nobody to match Evans’ size (honestly who does) expect his assault on SEC secondary’s to continue.   He will find the end zone at least once.
Offensive Outlook - More Fireworks!
  • Enjoy this one because it will likely be a high scoring repeat of last week, but expect the Aggies to work more through the air with just enough of Malena and the William’s duo to keep the defense off balance. The Aggies have always been the pacesetters on offense so expect them to score early (captain obvious, I know) and get the Tigers out of their comfort zone.
  • The Tigers would be smart to hold on to the ball as long as possible and try to play a “time of possession” game with the Aggies. The Tigers run the ball well and the Aggie defense is stuck in neutral, being pushed around almost at will. With that being said, I still expect the Tigers to make one or two crucial mistakes to give the Aggies some breathing room.
  • Texas A&M (-14) vs. Auburn @ Kyle Field 
  • 2:30 CST (College Station Time) 
  • CBS (prime time SEC slot)
From the Mouth of Head Coach Kevin Sumlin
  • "They're 5-1. They're ranked 24th in the country. They're very different from the team we played last year. They've got a lot of energy. In some respects, it's a lot like where we were last year. They've got a new coach. They've got new players. They're playing with a lot of confidence. Gus (Malzahn) does a great job schematically. They're playing very well. They've played some close games and gained some confidence. It might be a lot of the same guys, but it's a completely different football team from an attitude standpoint. That shows up, not only in their record, but in their approach as well."
Injury Report
  • Johnny Manziel took another couple years off of every Aggie fans life expectancy last week with his knee injury but he should be good to go this week.  Sumlin stated that Deshazor Everett is “probably probable” for Auburn.  I expect him to play, and the Aggies defense needs all the help it can get.  Which leads me to the understatement of the week: the Aggies really miss Kirby Ennis. 
  • Manziel will need to gash the defense through the air this week after torching the Ole Miss team on the ground last week. I expect that Manziel to predominantly move the team down the field with his arm, but finish one or two with his legs.
Kicking Game
  • Josh Lambo got the nod and gained some much needed momentum (and trust from the Aggie faithful) when he hit the game winning chip shot. Overall he was 2 of 3, but he made the one that mattered most.  RIP Bertolet.  
Last Week
My Prediction
  • I was close on A&M’s score last week but I gave too much credit to their defense. I expect a similar game this week in relation to the scoreboard. A&M Wins this one 41-32 with Lambo hitting a late FG to ice it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

On Oxford

My goal each year is to make one road trip to watch the Aggies play an SEC opponent. Last year, it was Tuscaloosa, and this year I went to Oxford. I want to go back to each town every chance I can get, so my goals may need to be adjusted accordingly. Oxford was a freakin' blast; if there's some black holes in my recap of the gameday experience and the game, c'est la vie in The Grove.

Oxford/Ole Miss/Grove
  • The Grove is everything you think it probably is, and more. It's entirely different from other tailgates I've been to, for these reasons and surely more but I was in no state to notice:
    • There aren't any actual "tailgates". The grove is similar to how Spence Park is set up, only if there's absolutely no extra space to throw the football or spread out.
    • It's literally a city of tents. There are walkways between tents (think Friday nights at chilifest, to an extent) but no space in the Grove is unoccupied.
    • No one cooks/grills in the grove. Every tent I saw had premade or bought food and set it out in an elaborate display. The best such display I saw was a table full of good around a huge cotton plant centerpiece. Robert E. Lee would be so proud!
    • No one plays music in the Grove, and there are relatively few TVs to watch other games on.
    • You don't see washers, cornhole, or ladders being played in the Grove. I'm serious when I say people just go there to eat, drink, and drink some more. There are no other activities.
    • Literally everyone is in a space the size of Spence Park. I've never seen such a concentrated tailgate scene. It's not as big as what you see at A&M, Bama, LSU, etc but the density of the tents in that one space is really cool.
    • Ole Miss does a "walk of champions" where the team walks down a pathway in between all of the tents. Our tent happened to be front and center for this, which gave us ample opportunities to ask each passing white Ole Miss player, "Are you the kicker?"
    • The scenery at the Grove, if you know what I mean, was worth the drive from Texas.
  • Vaught-Hemingway stadium was a giant letdown for me. I knew the stadium was small beforehand but I expected to find it charming. Instead, I quickly realized that it needs major upgrades and is one of the quieter big time football stadiums I've been to. Think DKR at UT, but with half as many people in attendance. I was shocked at how lifeless the crowd was for such a big rematch that also happened to be an instant college football classic. They got loud once or twice to chant "DEFENSE" like they were at an NBA finals game, but other than that it was pretty dead. Except for when they cheered as Johnny lay injured on the field. That was so sweet, Rebs!
  • Ole Miss's insistence on hanging their "banners" in the south end zone was a) enlightening because I forgot they are indeed 3-time national champions but b) incredibly depressing as they haven't accomplished anything worth noting since 1963. Thats 50 years without even a conference title. Half a century!
  • The stadium experience drove the nail deeper that there is a large gap between the Mississippi/Arkansas schools and everyone else in the SEC West. Student body size, alumni base, donor influence and school prestige are so clearly an advantage for A&M, LSU, Bama and Auburn. Do recruits see this?
  • If anyone has info on how many Aggies were at the game Saturday night, let me know. I was in the largest Aggie section so I didn't have much perspective. The stadium holds 60k and we had an entire end zone and two huge corners. I would ballpark at 75/25 Ole Miss fans total.
  • I freaking love Kevin Sumlin. Johnny put A&M on the map, but it's Kevin Sumlin that will keep us there. If you don't watch the YouTube videos of his post game speeches and see how fired up he gets this football team, you're doing it wrong.
  • Auburn better beware. After a sluggish performance coming out of the bye week and still coming out of Oxford with a galvanizing win, the Aggies are going to look to punish the Tigers.
Aggie Defense
  • Darian Claiborne is a playmaker.
  • Defensive line was nonexistent again.
  • Obioha was supposed to be the next beast after Von and Damontre. What's up with him?
  • My boy De'vante Harris played very well. He made a few nice tackles and generally covered well.
  • Howard Mathews needs to be benched. The fact his abysmal performance came after a bye week is shocking. He didn't miss tackles or get burned, per se, but he looked completely lost out there.
  • Floyd Raven got burned for a TD in the second half but recovered to make a play or two down the stretch.
  • Tony Hurd jumping offsides on 4th and long is inexcusable. Next play was a crushing TD.
  • Looks like the Jordan Mastrogiovanni experience has been put on hold.
  • Otis Jacobs was hit or miss.
  • I've given DC Mark Snyder the benefit of the doubt all season long because of the exodus of talent after last season, but Saturday night pulled back the curtains on a scheme problem. The secondary is often visibly confused and reminds me of watching the Cowboys' D in Rob Ryan's "complex" defensive schemes. Has Snyder muddied the waters this year by adding wrinkles to the scheme? It sure looks like no matter the talent, the D is hesitant to let loose and make plays.
Aggie Offense
  • Being at the game may have skewed our perception, but my entire group when leaving the game agreed Johnny gave us the quietest legendary performance we can remember. It probably looked better on TV. For some reason it seemed less than dominant in person. With that said, what a gutsy, ballsy performance. Seeing the post game chatter about Johnny's smile as Ole Miss took the lead in the 4Q confirms what we already knew: this young man doesn't give a shit about your feelings; he's just going to do the damn thing. His scrambling in the 4Q on a bum knee was spectacular, and left Ole Miss and their fans completely and hopelessly frustrated. As a few of them told us at the bar after the game, "we just got Manzieled".
  • Mike Evans was a sleeping giant last night. Ole Miss had a safety rolled over the top of him almost the entire game last night. When he finally got the ball, Evans made it memorable as he totally bitched an Ole Miss DB by hurdling him AS HE WAS JUMPING. Seriously, Evans would have hit his head on the rim on that play.
  • Because Evans was so smothered, one Travis Labhart was able to rise to the occasion. Labhart was huge; on most plays he was the only open receiver on the field. Credit the Ole Miss defense for that.
  • One surprise was Malcolme Kennedy's quiet game. His awesome shoestring (non) catch aside, he wasn't much of a factor.
  • Where the heck was Tra Carson? The running game last night was dominant when given the chance to play. I don't know the final stats but I remember seeing A&M had averaged about 6 yards per carry at some point in the 4Q. We had the lead almost the entire game - why was the running game abandoned in the middle of the game like a sinking ship?
  • Clarence McKinney got totally exposed last night. It seemed like the offense never really found a rhythm because the play calling was so inconsistent. The yardage definitely added up in the end but with the amount of time the offensive line gave Johnny, it was shocking that more vertical routes weren't called. However the 4th and inches play was particularly frustrating. Why line up in shotgun if you're going to hand off to RB?! I get that we operate out of the shotgun, but what's wrong with a classic QB sneak in a goal line formation, or at least going jumbo and have big Cam Clear pave the way for Malena/Carson?
  • World, meet Trey Williams. Trey Williams, meet the world. Good god is he shifty. Saturday night was what anyone who watched his HS highlights on YouTube 2 years ago dreamed of. His TD run to the northeast corner of the stadium, right into the A&M visitors section, was impeccable.
  • Did Johnny's TD run to the northwest corner at the pilon seem like it lasted an eternity to anyone else? His knee injury didn't seem to significantly hinder his agility, but he definitely didn't have his top gear when sprinting on that run. Pretty scary.
  • Darell Walker is a freak, and he gives me good feelings. Not sure if he's a deep threat, but we need some vertical opportunities next week.
Aggie Special Teams
  • Thank you Aggie Jesus for Josh Lambo. Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Bertolet. After the inconsistency Bertolet showed in kickoffs, do you think Sumlin will have Lambo handle kickoff duty too?
  • It still hasn't hit me yet that A&M won the game on a field goal, and didnt miss a single extra point. That sounds like a headline from The Onion. Truly amazing.
I'll be back, Oxford. Lucky for you, Ole Miss, Johnny Manziel won't be.