Peeps, I'm not sugarcoating it this week. Texas A&M kicked our butts. It's just that simple. We did almost nothing well. Everyone was tight, starting with Dan Mullen, and it showed. aTm exposed several deficiencies. And after 5 games, I can safely say I feel like I'm watching the 2012 season all over aGAIN. Let's get to what we learned:
1. The general consensus seems to be that the D played well, but I'm not buying it. I'll grant they played hard and didn't quit. But the numbers speak for themselves. The Aggies racked up 30 points and 516 yards of total offense. They rushed for 194 and threw for 322. We gave up another 100 yard rusher in Tra Carson. Say what you will about how good their O is, and it's true, but that still isn't a good defensive performance.
2. Most of the praise for the D seems to be centered around how they played in the second quarter and forward. And they did pick it up and play better, particularly in the second half. But the last time I checked, a football game is 4 quarters, and if you just show up for 3 of them, you get beat. aTm absolutely trashed the D in the first quarter. They jumped out 14-3 before you could get settled on the coach and had all of one 3rd down on their first two drives. And that 3rd down play came inside the 5. So for me, the D gets ripped for not playing all 4 quarters.
3. The D also missed opportunities for big plays and turnovers. We had just 4 TFLs and 1 sack. Kivon Coman dropped what should have been an INT.
4. Since I just mentioned it, Coman's drop was a backbreaker. We'd have created a TO on the aTm side of the 50 following a TD. That would've been a huge momentum swing and gotten a hot offense back onto the field. Instead, we have to settle for getting a stop and the ball via a punt. I gotta admit, I've been wrong about Coman becoming our best S to date. He's got skill, but he can't seem to put it all together for some reason.
5. I thought we actually tackled pretty well for the first time all season. aTm had a bunch of big plays, but almost none were the result of a missed tackle. They were mostly the result of WRs getting wide open, which is troubling.
6. Our DL has got to step up and generate some pass rush. Chris Jones in particular needs to step up. I know our scheme doesn't really call for our DTs to penetrate upfield, but sometimes you've just got to go make plays because you're that good. CJ is one of those players who's capable of it and he hasn't done it.
7. Can we put Diaz in football jail for continuing to play Zach Jackson, Tolando Cleveland, and Deontay Evans? They are awful and playing them is a crime that's stealing PT from young players who can develop like JT Gray, Jamaal Peters, and Mark McLaurin.
8. Good to see Beni Brown step up and lay the wood to Allen to keep him out of the endzone on a scramble. aTm scored a play later, but it would've been really easy to make it look like he was trying but let Allen score.
9. Hope Kendrick Market is ok, but non-contact injuries are usually serious. I wouldn't be surprised if he's done for the season.
10. JT Gray had a really good game when he was in, but then we pulled him and put Jackson back in. Ugh.
11. Noticed Will Redmond limp off. Didn't look too serious, but it can be hard to tell. Hopefully it's just a minor tweak and he's good to go in a couple of weeks.
1. Westin Graves continues to be really good. He nailed his lone FG attempt of the night into what looked to be a swirling wind. If only Mullen had let him take the final FG against LSU. (Yes, I'm going to gripe about that all season. Deal with it.)
2. Logan Cooke had a poor night. He shanked several punts, resulting in aTm having really good field position for much of the night. aTm is good enough offensively, but giving them plus field position is asking for trouble.
3. Holloway's fumble on the KO to start the second half was a big mistake. We were already pressing after letting aTm score right before the half. Then we compound the problem by trying to run the ball out of the endzone and giving ourselves horrible field position.
1. Offense was a nightmare. The stats were pretty average as we gained just 406 total yards. We had 196 rushing and 210 passing. That's the fewest pass yards we've had this season. But watching the game, we never generated anything consistent. It was "herky jerky" as Mullen likes to say. A lot of that had to do with the OL, but I'll get to them in a second. More of it had to do with our gameplan and really crappy play calling, which I'll also cover later.
2. Speaking of the OL, they were awful. Myles Garrett basically pitched a tent in the backfield. aTm only had two sacks, but Dak was continuously harassed. And one of the sacks was Garrett driving Rufus Warren into Dak and knocking him down. That was really early, but told me enough to know it was going to be a long night. The RBs and Dak found a few holes, but there weren't a ton. About 1/4 of our rushing yards came from one play.
3. Shump gonna Shump. He's a fullback who's really stiff. His drop of a 4th down pass early was a huge missed play.
4. Dak wasn't as sharp last night. He finished 20/34, 58.8% completions, 210 passing, 0 TD, and just 5.8 yards per pass. You had to know there would come a game where he wasn't quite as sharp and that happened last night. Dak did have a decent night rushing though, gaining 96 yards on 18 carries, 5.3 YPC, and 1 TD. It wasn't his best night by far, but he still accounted for over 300 yards of total offense. But what stands out are the "almost" plays. In particular, overthrowing a wide open Myles early that would've tied it was a huge missed play. Then there was the throw behind Shump on 4th down and the multiple throws just a little off target on routes in the middle of the field. It says a lot about how good Dak is that we expect so much of him.
5. aTm took Bear Wilson away, but he still wound up with a decent night. He finished second on the team with 3 catches for 65 yards and averaged 21.7 YPC. But he also had a couple of drops and a fumble. He's supposed to be our best WR, but he's got to hang on to the football.
6. With aTm focused on Bear, Fred Ross stepped up and had a good night. He led the team with 11 catches for 103 yards.
7. Malik Dear is a huge threat and vastly underutilized. He had one carry for 52 yards and a TD in the first half, then didn't touch the ball again until the 4th quarter. He also had two catches for 23 yards on the night. So for those counting, he touched the ball 3 times and gained 75 yards with a TD. He averaged 25 yards per touch. Why are we not making a concerted effort to get him the ball the way aTm gets Christian Kirk the ball? FREE DEAR!!!!
8. Aeris Williams looked good running the ball last night. He had 3 carries for 23 yards and 7.7 YPC. His fumble was a killer, though. But before you complain too much, it wasn't as bad as Shump's fumble against USM. I'd rather live with an A-Train fumble if he's toting the rock that well instead of watching Shump max out at a 3 yard gain.
9. We had a Donavan Lee sighting. Unfortunately, he got stuffed on both his carries because the OL got blown up and there was nowhere to go.
10. Is Gus Walley hurt? I don't remember seeing him at all last night, and he's been a big weapon for Dak.
11. Justin Johnson had a huge penalty to bring back a big play. But I didn't like the call. By the rule, yes, he absolutely made an illegal block. There's no question about it. And it was an even worse decision because it was away from the play and was completely unnecessary. But because it's away from the play, the officiating crew lets it go 9 times out of 10. It really exemplified a night where we couldn't catch a single break.
12. I mentioned him above, but Rufus Warren was beaten worse than a government mule last night. Myles Garrett absolutely abused him. I already talked about the play early in the game where Garrett "sacked" Dak by pushing Warren into Dak. But he got destroyed all night. We had to keep a TE or RB on his side all night to help him because he couldn't handle Garrett by himself. Hated to see him get hurt late in the game, but he was getting killed. Can we please go ahead and start Elgton Jenkins?
13. Our OL was getting beaten so badly, Mullen got scared and stopped calling for shots downfield. Everything was underneath or a screen, allowing aTm's D to creep up. That was a big reason we struggled to run, outside of the OL and Shump, and why Dak didn't have a huge night passing. You've gotta take some shots deep to keep the D honest.
14. Where is Donald Gray? He has a big game and has completely disappeared.
15. We've now scored 20 points or less in 6 of our last 7 SEC games dating back to the Arkansas game last season. The only game we scored more was Vandy, when we dropped 51. That isn't going to cut it and won't win many games in the era of high scoring offensive football. We better start finding a way to put points on board.
1. Dan Mullen is the best coach we've ever had. It's not even debatable. But he's extremely risk averse and tends to coach tight in big games. It really showed up last night. I don't know how many runs we had on 2nd and 10 after an incomplete pass on 1st down, but it was a ton. There were way too many screens and check downs on third and long. We were just extremely predictable offensively. He also made a really terrible challenge that cost us a TO.
Then there was the clock management. About 2 minutes to go in the first half and we have the ball after the D got a stop. What does Mullen do? 3 passes that result in a 3 and out with only a few second offs the clock. Cooke shanks the punt and aTm has the ball inside the 50 with about 1:40 left. They immediately march down the field and punch in the TD to make it 24-10. All he had to do was run it 3 times and kill some clock. Instead, he hangs Manny and the D out to dry. Then at the end of the game when we should've been going hurry up and throwing it to try to score, Mullen decides to run it and basically winds up running out the clock for aTm. And to top it all off, we managed to finish the game with 2 of our TOs left. Inexcusable.
And as much as I make fun of the Reverend Hugh Freezus about throwing his players under the bus, Mullen is just as bad about throwing his DC under the bus. He had the audacity to blame that TD to end the half on Manny and the D when he was the one who put them in an awful position. It's like he can't fathom that what he does has a direct effect on the team as a whole and refuses to take responsibility for stupid offensive decisions that hurt the defense.
Mullen is a really good coach, but until he learns to take risks and let it all hang out in big games, we'll continue to have an artificial ceiling. At some point, he's got to coach to win, from the first play until the final play, and allow his DC to do the same, when it comes to these big games.
2. Once again, the D was on the field way too long. aTm had the ball nearly 34 minutes last night and ran nearly 90 plays. That's just entirely too long and a symptom of our inability to run the ball. And as I predicted, they won by 2 TDs with that size edge in TOP. We have got to find a way to hold on to the football.
3. I continue to be very unimpressed with the return of Manny Diaz. We started out playing a soft bend then break D, allowing aTm to drive the field almost unmolested. And worse, they had a couple of big plays on those possessions. To his credit, Diaz adjusted in the 2nd quarter and started bringing pressure. That definitely helped, but Kyle Allen was already in a rhythm. I question what the hell he was thinking not starting the game with a plan to get after Allen. Then I remember saying the same thing about not blitzing Shaun White last week. There's a reason we change DCs every couple of years but remain relatively the same schematically. I'll let you figure out what that is.
4. We have got to go all in on the youth movement. aTm and others put their true freshmen on the field early for significant periods of time. We all saw the production they're getting from kids like Kirk. Mullen's aversion to risk is probably the biggest factor why he's so steadfastly loyal to the upperclassmen, even though they aren't as talented as some of the younger players. He believes "experience" makes up for limited athleticism. But the only way young guys get experience is to play. The more they play, the more they see, the more they can fix things, the more the game will slow down. And they'll make some plays on pure athleticism that the older guys just can't. Starting next Saturday, we need to commit to playing Peters, McLaurin, Dear, Lee, Williams, Gray, Jenkins, Gerri Green, etc. for the majority of the game. They're going to screw up some, but the older guys are already screwing up. So what's the difference? At least we'll increase the amount of athleticism on the field, and that can't be a bad thing.
5. Personnel issues continue to abound. I discussed part of the reason why, but I think the other part is that because we're a developmental program, Mullen really believes that if a kid comes in, buys in, and works hard that he's going to be a productive player. And while that's true in many cases, it isn't always true. On field results have to matter. And based on that, there are several guys who need to see their PT given to someone else.
6. aTm didn't just beat us, they beat us up. I lost count of how many guys we lost to injury tonight. I already mentioned Market, Redmond, and Warren. But I also know Gabe Myles looked like he got hurt pretty bad, Joe Morrow got hurt, and someone said that Clayborne got hurt too. So that's at least 6 guys. Dear took a pretty wicked shot to the head that I remember seeing, too, so that's something to keep an eye on during the week.
7. I feel like we aren't well coached when it comes to fundamentals. Bear gets the ball poked out because he was carrying it too loosely. A-Train fumbles because he's got the ball in the wrong hand. We struggle to wrap up when tackling. It's "little" things, but we're seeing the difference those things make over the course of a game and a season.
8. aTm is the 2nd or 3rd best team in the SEC West right now. Depends on whether or not you rank them ahead of Bama. They've had a big time offense since hiring Kevin Sumlin and joining the SEC, but John Chavis is already making a big impact on their D. That unit is a lot more aggressive and physical than they have been. It won't be long until they're in Atlanta if they keep improving at their current rate. Seems like most of their best players are underclassmen.
I know it seems like I'm being overly critical of Mullen and really down on him. I'm not. No coach is perfect and a whole lot of really good coaches tend to be risk averse. It just sucks seeing the potential of a team and knowing we aren't maximizing it. But as long as we're going bowling every season, Mullen can stay as long as he wants. We'll even build him a statue - and we should if he keeps winning 7-9 games every year.
We're going to be in a fight to finish 8-4 if we don't get some things fixed, particularly on offense. We've got two OOC games, UK and then a bye week before we go on the road to Mizzou. That's 4 weeks for us to make an overhaul and time for some major improvements. Now is the time for Mullen and the staff to make some major changes. Go all in with new blood and sit guys like Jackson, Evans, Warren, Cleveland, etc. I'd also advocate bringing back the 2009 and 2010 offense that had a FB. It gets Mullen's favorite Shump on the field and lets us put a real RB on the field at the same time. Plus it will add a little extra thump to the run game and extra help for the OL in the passing game with Shump in for lead blocking/pass pro. It's a win-win for Mullen. If we're going to finish 7-5 or 8-4, I'd rather do it watching us play guys who can help us down the road and know we're getting them ready for next season when Fitzley takes the helm.
Unless we make some changes, we're seeing a repeat of the 2012 season. Honestly, I feel a whole lot of deja vu watching this 2015 team right now. We're playing a bend then break D, can't really run the ball, have problems on the OL, and are generally a soft team. We're beating the bad teams and losing to teams with a pulse. The only real difference so far is Dak and the 2015 WRs are >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> than Tyler Russell and the 2012 WRs. Thus we're beating the bad teams more easily/badly, but overall it's playing out about the same. We have to get back to physical, nasty football in a big hurry on both sides of the ball. Softness breeds softness, which is one of the major reasons I hate bend but don't break as a defensive philosophy. If you aren't attacking and dictating, then by default, the opponent is attacking and dictating. I'd rather be the aggressor.
This team has the potential. We keep seeing flashes of it. Now it's up to the coaches to fix it. We have yet to play a complete game against a FBS opponent for 4 quarters as an entire team. The next 4 weeks and how we approach them are the key to finishing 7-5 or 9-3. I think we're capable of beating almost every team left on our schedule, except maybe Bama, if the coaches are willing to make some changes and go back to embracing our identity of being a physical program. If we do that and make the necessary personnel adjustments, we've got a very good shot at 9-3. If not, 8-4 is our absolute ceiling.
Of course, that's all also dependent on the injury report this week. If Market, Redmond, and Myles are all out for an extended period of time, that's a big blow. Same for Clayborne, although I didn't ever see him get hurt. Ditto Dear if that shot he took gave him a concussion. Those 5 guys are key players for us. My best guess with no inside info: Market and Myles are out for several games, Redmond is dinged but ready to go for UK, Dear is OK. No idea on Clayborne.
To quote Patton: "Now you know how I feel." It's going to be a wild ride the rest of the way. Fire in the hole!