Monday, September 16, 2013

10 Things I Think I Saw: Bama Edition

It’s been well documented that the other two amateurs running this blog were going to be watching the Texas A&M vs. Alabama game with beer (or jello shot) goggles on. Thus it fell to yours truly to understand and analyze the most hyped game in the history of the Aggie football program.

Full disclosure: I managed to snag a seat directly next to and between my best friends and full kegs of Miller Lite and Coors Original, right after staying up all night with a few good Ags to smoke brisket, ribs, venison sausage, and chicken wings. You could say I may not have been seeing straight. Then again, neither was the Aggie defense, so I guess we’ll call it even.

#Dufnering after the Ags ran out of time
I managed to avoid reading any recaps of Saturday’s classic (other than what the great Clay Travis had to say at his excellent SEC blog, Outkick the Coverage) for two reasons: a) I just didn’t have the heart to relive it again so soon, and b) see the paragraph immediately preceding this one.

I have the game recorded on my DVR, waiting on me to press play, but I wasn’t able to get to it yesterday. Tony Romo managed to suck away 3 hours of my life I’ll never get back again yesterday, Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston do what Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston do, and well, life. I’m sure I’ll watch it at some point to try and fully grasp what happened at Kyle Field on Saturday, but I’m going with my instant impressions here.

1. Yeah, all that “Nick Saban has had a whole offseason to prepare for Johnny” talk got smashed to pieces in less than 5 minutes. A&M proved once again that their offense is simply unstoppable out of the gates because the opposing team can’t comprehend how quickly the game moves until they’re down 7-0. Film is great – but it doesn’t prepare you for the in-game speed of Johnny Manziel. While we’re on the topic of ‘OMG Nick Saban you guys’ did anyone else notice how many penalties Alabama committed? And the Yeldon fumble inside the Aggies’ 10 yard line? For being such a ‘disciplined’ team the Tide sure did commit a number of mental errors.

2. Texas A&M is struggling to run the football this season. Manziel’s scrambling makes the numbers look better on paper, but when the offense lines up to give the defense an old-fashioned smashmouth run play, it’s just not effective. The running backs had 18 carries for 66 yards on Saturday. That’s horrible, especially when you consider the defense is singularly focused on stopping Manziel. It’s not a running back problem, as Ben Malena and Christine Michael proved last year. You expect a slight drop in production by losing someone as talented as Luke Joeckel. But I believe the real loss was Patrick Lewis, who as a senior at center last season was the anchor to the offensive line.

3. Mike Evans can’t be stopped. He’s the best receiver in the country, no questions asked. Amari Cooper is a freaking stud, but he doesn’t have the same blend of size, speed, and toughness that Evans does. Saturday was an absolutely incredible day for Evans, and surely made him a lot of money come April. Pro scouts had to have been drooling watching his shred the nation’s best defense. (While talking receivers, I can’t forget about Big Game Malcome Kennedy. Yes I just gave him a nickname. The dude shows up against Bama. Here's to hoping he can consistently produce.)

4. Johnny has gotten significantly better. Some of those throws down the sideline to Evans were just sublime. The accuracy was consistent, and his touch (which has always been good) was phenomenal. The play where he backpedaled, eluded the grasp of the Bama lineman, and heaved it up to middle of the field for it to be caught for a first down was something straight out of EA Sports NCAA 2013. You just don’t do that; in fact, no one else probably can. When you consider that Alabama has what most consider to be the best defense in the country every year, and that both interceptions weren’t bad throws (though his decision to thread the needle that got tipped was iffy) Manziel’s performance absolutely has to go down as one of the best ever. HE. CAN’T. BE. STOPPED.

5. I’ve seen a great deal of outrage over the play call on the Aggies’ third drive that led to the interception in the end zone. This is definitely a play I want to focus on when I go back and watch the game again, because Coach Sumlin in not so many words put that one of Ja’Quay Williams for running a poor route. Based on what I saw, I have to agree. Would I have rather seen a more conservative play call? Sure, but let’s not act like running the ball was getting us anywhere. If the fade is executed, it’s almost IMPOSSIBLE to stop. In fact I would bet a lot of offensive coordinators that have the QB and the receivers that Coach McKinney has are just as comfortable calling a fade in that situation as they are a dive play.

6. I just realized I spent my first 5 points on the offense, so I better focus on what really changed the game: the Aggie defense. Any time you let an offense that looked nothing short of putrid two weeks ago to an ‘inferior’ team from the ACC run up almost 600 yards of offense and 42 points (not counting the Sunseri pick-six), things are B-A-D. We saw what Coach Snyder can do with talented players last year, which leads me to believe that while Coach Sherman left the offense in pretty good shape a year ago, we may have seen the last real fruits of his defensive recruiting efforts walk out the door after the 2012 season came to a close.

7. Spencer Nealy was an absolute beast last year at nose tackle, and his absence is totally killing this defense. Damontre Moore, Sean Porter, and Jonathan Stewart got more headlines during their careers (and don’t get me wrong, they were all great) but I’m now convinced that Nealy was the heart of the 2012 Wrecking Crew. We’ve got a few studs developing at nose tackle right now with Manning, Golden, and Walker, but the fact is they are too young to make an impact right now. The defensive line on Saturday was nonexistent. McCarron was barely touched, much less hurried. It didn’t matter who Alabama had running the ball – all three of their backs were getting to the second level of the Aggie defense before they got hit. The Tide averaged 6+ yards a carry. Vomit.

8. It’s time to tinker with the linebackers. Bottom line is Jordan Mastrogiovanni and Donnie Baggs are not getting the job done. Baggs is hesitant and doesn’t seem to be interested in making plays. Mastro just looks overwhelmed. I’m sure his time will come, but he’s not physically ready right now. I can’t say anything particularly good about Nate Askew, but I at least saw him involved. Watching the game I didn’t even notice if we were blitzing at all. That says a lot about the defensive front.

9. Clay Honeycutt, man. I can’t put it all on him. (De’Vante missing the first two games because his head was up his backside this offseason and coming back rusty only to get burned by Norwood down the sideline for the equivalent of a basketball posterization was tough to watch, and did Howard Matthews play? He did? You promise?) But as a top-10 team, we just can’t have someone like Honeycutt seeing significant playing time. The youngsters may commit some errors due to their inexperience, but at least the higher ceiling is there! Get them on the field and start their education.

10. At the end of the day I’m really not that disappointed. I think deep down inside of us, we were all terrified of the Aggies coming out to play in front of the national audience and putting up a goose egg. There’s a long history of that happening. Saturday didn’t deliver the result that we all longed for, but it cemented the belief that the Texas A&M football program belongs in the discussion of national collegiate powers. After the game, Saban told Sumlin, “you just took 10 years off my life.” When was the last time Texas A&M commanded that kind of respect?

The loss on Saturday stung like hell. Waking up on Sunday knowing that the Aggies belong, well, was as sweet as Sugar (Bowl).

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