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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.