This article on Texas A&M pondering changes on its coaching staff after the season ends caught my eye in sort of a misery loves company way, but I found the analysis of what happened in the Aggies’ game against Auburn more interesting.
Texas A&M is not a bad football team. However, when you get this deep into the season desperate teams can work hard to ascertain your weaknesses, analyze them, and figure out a way to exploit them.
Saturday afternoon, you saw a Arkansas team fighting to make a bowl game pull out a stunning overtime victory on the road over an Ole Miss team that had more incentive to win and should have been better across the board. It just speaks to how motivated coaching staffs can be when jobs are on the line because a team is perceived to have underperformed and how players feed off of that energy from the top down.
Saturday night you saw the same thing happen with A&M and Auburn. Auburn had to have that win in College Station or else they were not going to make a bowl game which is quite a fall for a program that was rated in the top five before the season and had made the publicized staff hire in the country in defensive coordinator Will Muschamp…
“When jobs are on the line…”. Hmmm. That do sound familiar.
The article breaks down TAMU’s shortcomings, which were temporarily masked by the South Carolina win (that, too, sounds familiar). On offense,
… Thus, for all of the talent in A&M’s offense, where do the explosive plays come from? Early on, they came from Kirk’s legs. Against South Carolina, Murray either generated them or was such a threat that he opened up the field for others. Outside of Josh Reynolds and Speedy Noil, who both go up and get the ball, A&M really doesn’t have anyone to generate explosive plays, especially unscripted ones. A&M had one long play over 20 yards versus Ole Miss and just two against Auburn.
It also doesn’t help that when A&M has made changes this season that they lose patience if those things start to slow down and revert back to things that don’t work, particularly those rollouts and bootlegs where they pull a lineman or H back. Those players lack the mobility and coordination to make those blocks on the perimeter which means that quarterbacks come under duress and turn the ball over.
A&M gets little push in the running game or misses blocks on a consistent basis. Running back Tra Carson is playing the best ball of his career. He’s running hard and his pass protection is very good. He’s even doing the best he can going outside even though he’s between the tackles runner. Even so, A&M had a second and one near the end of the first half the other night, ran three straight plays, and didn’t gain a yard. They missed multiple blocks in the process on the three plays and even couldn’t make the first down when they had Auburn outnumbered in the box and used a H back and running back to block for the quarterback.
I hear him on the lack of explosive plays and the blocking problems. As I’ve already mentioned this morning, I don’t know if last week is a sign that Georgia is getting a handle on the latter, but there’s a chance that running for 300 yards against a Kentucky defense that isn’t very different statistically from what the Dawgs face this Saturday is a good sign.
As for the defense,
Defensively, A&M has had issues against the run all season but for some reason they really weren’t noticed until the South Carolina game at home. The Aggies have been giving up almost 250 yards a game since the Arizona State game and it was always blamed on something that they hadn’t seen before or the linebackers (which have been a convenient scapegoat all season).
Unfortunately, when you give 311 yards rushing, it finally seemed to hit home with people that the lack of defense has been a team effort. A&M used six people in the box less than ever the other night versus Auburn but it didn’t matter. Their containment, run fits, and punch have been lacking all season as a group, not just at the second level of the defense. In addition, A&M’s opponents are all using different means to run the ball (Alabama’s power rushing, South Carolina’s quarterback run game, and Auburn’s wing T principles out of the spread) and continue to pile up their best or second best efforts of the season running the ball. That doesn’t happen if you are doing what you need to do.
As a result, A&M’s safeties have been called upon to make tackle after tackle and it culminated in a 39-tackle effort at the Ole Miss game between Armani Watts, Justin Evans and nickel Donovan Wilson. Not only do they rank as the leading, second leading, and fourth ranked tacklers on the team but Watts is the only defensive back in the top 15 tacklers in the SEC.
Fortunately, that hasn’t been Georgia’s problem for the most part this season. On average in conference play, Georgia’s defense is far stouter against the run than is A&M (3.87 vs. 5.54). As inconsistent as Georgia’s tackling has been this season, it’s nothing compared to how poor TAMU looked in that department against Auburn.
I mentioned in my SEC Power Poll that there’s a real question about how much of Auburn’s win last weekend could be attributed to its own improvement and how much was a mirage built on the Aggies’ sagging fortunes. This is what I’m talking about.