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October 22, 2012The most important part of Texas A&M's loss to LSU this past weekend occurred after the game when prospects and their parents were invited into the locker room to meet with both A&M players and coaches.
One of the things that we have mentioned in the past is that this staff GETS recruiting. Everyone we talked with was impressed that after such a loss, the A&M program was willing to let outsiders into their world. None of them were expecting this and you got the idea that would not have thought about doing it themselves were they in A&M's position. Not only that, what does that say about A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff that they had the confidence in their staff and players to conduct themselves in a professional yet personal manner despite dealing with the emotions of a loss to a top ten team?
The loss Saturday showed that such salesmanship remains necessary for the A&M football program. Even though the Aggies could attribute the loss to self inflicted mistakes, it was apparent that A&M's margin for error is far smaller than that of LSU's due to the variance in talent between the two teams. One of the things that I wrote in 2009 after A&M's loss to Arkansas in the first game in the renewal of that series was that the Aggies needed to get bigger and faster. That still rings true (although on a different level) versus a program like LSU. The Aggies need more length in the program because when you have length, you have players that can add quality weight and can still run better than shorter players. Three of A&M's starting secondary players are 6 feet or shorter while LSU has three starters that are 6 foot 2 or taller. Thus, it's no coincidence that A&M's receivers had difficultly getting open down the field against that type of size and athleticism.
In addition, LSU played Saturday with three members of its offensive line that were slated to start prior to the season out either due to injury or personal issues. Two of them were basically all Southeast Conference offensive linemen in the 330 pound range (Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst). If A&M were missing tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews and center Patrick Lewis, the Aggies would have to make significant adjustments in scheme to account for the loss of personnel of that quality. LSU simply trotted out more 6 foot 6, 300+ pound guys and ran right at A&M even though the Aggies stacked eight or more defenders in the box on every play. The Tigers still wound up rushing for over 200 yards and moved the ball just well enough via A&M turnovers to win the game.
You look at some of A&M's visitors this past weekend 6 foot 2 defensive back Edward Paris of Mansfield Timberview, 6 foot 3 receiver Quincy Adeboyejo of Cedar Hill, 6 foot 3 receiver Kyrion Parker of Manvel, 6 foot 6 athletes Ricky Seals Jones and Derrick Griffin, 6 foot 4 defensive tackle Kerrick Huggins from Dallas Skyline, 6 foot 5 offensive tackle Ty Barrett of Skyline and these guys offer the type of size necessary to compete on that level. Win or lose, it's imperative that A&M continues to land those types of prospects going forward to compete with the likes of Alabama and LSU and tactics like this will ensure that A&M will do so.
Back to the game for a moment:
- Against Ole Miss, A&M turned the ball over six times but allowed just ten points. Against LSU, the Aggies turned it over five times and gave up three touchdowns including the clincher with just over three minutes to go. The two turnovers late in the first half gave the game a feeling reminiscent of that in 2011 when the Aggies would turn it over and it was a game changing event. You got the sense that it was going to be difficult for A&M to recover from such miscues even though the majority of the game remained to be played and they were down just one score almost all of the that time.
- It's become apparent that when teams lack the athleticism to stop Johnny Manziel from getting into space and getting big gains, A&M's chances of winning decrease considerably. Manziel's longest run versus Florida and LSU was just 16 yards; in contrast, he's had at least one 38 yard run in every other game that A&M has won this year. In addition, when he's able to buy time, he can make plays downfield in the passing game or force opponents to cover A&M's receivers in a manner to allow them do so. A&M's biggest play in the passing game in their two losses has been just 28 yards. The good news is that outside of Alabama, there's really no one left on A&M's schedule that can do that.
- The disparity between Johnny Manziel and the remainder of the quarterbacks in the SEC is astounding. You go into every A&M game inherently understanding that A&M is going to get a lot more productivity at the position. However, regardless of productivity from a yardage standpoint, turnovers are the difference at the position. Saturday, LSU's Zach Mettenberger couldn't hit open receivers downfield and couldn't even run for a first down late in the game on a bootleg. However, he didn't turn over the ball and that negated everything else that Manziel did. It's still a defense and turnover league and whoever plays best in those two categories still wins games regardless of what the opposing offense can do.
- Prior to the season, a game a against a SEC team that won an MNC (Mythical National Championship) just two years ago might appear to be daunting.
Not anymore. Auburn's quarterback play has taken them to new lows as a program. They rank 13th or 14th in the conference in total offense, passing offense, scoring offense, and passing efficiency. But in addition to that, they can't run the ball (97 nationally), can't protect the quarterback (113th in sacks allowed), and turn it over (112th nationally). That's what happens when you start nine underclassmen on offense). Their defense is good enough to keep most games somewhat close but even those guys rank in the bottom four of most SEC statistical categories. We'll get into the Tigers more later on this week.
- The SEC remains a stop the run, turnover margin league as I alluded to earlier. Florida racked up less than 200 yards total offense Saturday but still blew out South Carolina because they forced five turnovers and held the Gamecocks to 36 yards rushing (even though they only had 89 yards themselves). LSU gave up 400 plus yards of total offense to A&M but forced five turnovers and rushed for 200 plus yards. Vanderbilt outrushed Auburn 209 to 103 on Saturday.
This is because when you have a great defense that can run, that type of speed allows you to force turnovers by beating people to spots (either for tackles or interceptions), gets two people to a ballcarrier (one to make a tackle and another to strip the ball), puts enough pressure on you so that you make bad decisions with the ball, and hit with velocity (see Ben Malena's fumble on Saturday).
Overall, you can still handicap a game in this league pretty much via turnover margin and rush defense and those advantages lie with the elite defenses. Regardless of A&M's offensive style or players, you are not going to overturn that formula because there's just too football players in this region (two states with populations of 25 million) that can run, can play defense, and if you can recruit well enough will allow you to build depth on that side of the ball.
- Finally, you look at the scores coming out of the Big 12 and you wonder why a defensive coordinator would take a job in that league. The quarterback play in that league is miles ahead of that in most places and there's a lot of talent at the skill positions. Nonetheless, defenses in that league have no idea what their assignment is from play to play, have no gap discipline versus the run, can't get physical with receivers without the receiver running past them, and can't keep anyone in front of them. These are things you learn at the most basic levels of football but you get into a Big 12 program and everything is forgotten and nothing is applied.
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