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September 28, 2013Defense:
The numbers aren't pretty .484 yards, 7.45 yards per play, 7.0 yards per rush, two running backs over 100 each in total offense. A&M actually did a few things well but they're lost in Aggies' inability to tackle or rush the passer or just make plays.
My last write up before the game focused on the fact that teams that get upset usually lose the turnover battle and the Aggies' ability to get a couple of them was the difference in the game. Deshazor Everett's interception came on a third and five play in which A&M was in a 3-3 with a two deep look. Toney Hurd was on the slot to the left side and shifted to an outside zone at the snap with Tramain Jacobs over the outside receiver bailing to the deep outside. Everett now had the slot and because Hurd had bailed it looked like the slot was open. However, Everett jumped the route, picked the ball off, and there was nobody in front of him as he finished off the 35 yard return for a touchdown. Remember that A&M had allowed Arkansas to drive for a field goal on the Razorbacks' last possession of the first half even though they had started from inside their ten yard line and that they got the ball to open the half. It looked like that there was a real possibility that the game might slip away at that point and Everett's pick was probably the play of the game. His move to safety has enabled him to be more involved than he was at corner and the pick six was Everett's third turnover of the season and he's returned two of them for touchdowns.
One of the other two big defensive plays came on the fourth down inside of A&M's 20 yard line midway through the fourth quarter. Arkansas faced a fourth and ten and A&M's three man rush finally got Allen out of the pocket and made him move around. Hurd came up on him near the line of scrimmage and Allen couldn't just throw the in the middle he had to try a longer pass to the sidelines which Jacobs was able to break up. On the second interception later in the game, Tommie Sanders had a slot receiver and showed tremendous speed in running with him stride for stride. Normally, it was a mismatch that Arkansas would be looking for (linebacker on slot) except that Sanders can run with most slots and Allen simply underthrew the ball assuming that the receiver would be open.
Otherwise, there just wasn't much to write home about tonight. A&M stayed in a four man front except on some passing downs and tried to get their safeties involved in run support by playing one nearer the line of scrimmage and the other as a centerfielder. However, time after time, A&M would hit one of Arkansas' backs early and they would just keep going through that defender and more on their way to gains of over 10 yards. Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams are quality backs but the lack of ability of most A&M defenders to wrap up after contact continues to be a recurring problem. Last week against SMU, it was a nuisance. Tonight, it allowed Arkansas to gain both major yards and confidence that they could play with A&M. It's hard to find anyone that actually had a good game tackling.
A&M pass defenders actually had a credible game and made several plays in one on one coverage but suffered once again from the lack of a pass rush. Brandon Allen played a tremendous game coming off of a shoulder separation two weeks ago but was under 50% for the night in completion percentage. Given how much time he had to throw, that's a pretty amazing stat. Allen was rarely forced to move around and wasn't even sacked. In particular, the Aggies had issues defending tight end Hunter Henry who caught four passes for 109 yards as he would come across the formation on a drag route and then turn upfield as the defensive backs were pulled in by a play fake. This is a slow developing play that is undone quickly by pressure and Allen had no problem rolling to one side and throwing back to the other.
Overall, the lack of tackling, pass rush, and playmaking ability means that the Aggies have to force two plus turnovers a game just to survive on defense. Deshazor Everett is the defense's most valuable player right now with his ability to make plays and it's hard to imagine where A&M would be without him.
For the second straight week, A&M faced a team that came out and played two high safeties and Arkansas didn't let A&M throw the ball down the field after Mike Evans' 49 yard catch on the first play of the game. However, as they did last week, the Aggies adjusted and still managed to ring up 524 yards even though they had only 11 possessions. Johnny Manziel was once again efficient rather than spectacular, had no turnovers, and was able to get himself out of trouble time and time again.
In the first half, the Aggies threw a lot of shorter passes such as screens and hitches to receivers which were open because Arkansas was playing off of A&M's outside receivers. In the second half, the Aggies used the diamond formation or formations with two backs as Arkansas was unwilling to involve its safeties in run support. They either had an advantage or were equal to the number of Arkansas defenders in the box and ran the ball. We talked before the game that A&M's improved running game would pay off in a situation like tonight (hostile crowd, bad weather) and it did.
Four A&M backs including Manziel had gains of 20 yards or better. Tra Carson had his best game of the season with a 7.1 average and ran with power, balance and emotion. Trey Williams used his acceleration to run inside zone and get to the second level much more quickly than A&M's other backs could. Manziel's scrambles bought him time in the pocket but were an important asset in the first half as he carried the offense both on the ground and in the air. In the second half, the Aggies simply pushed Arkansas around and the backs took advantage.
The Aggies' receivers were very sharp tonight they ran good routes, got open, had virtually no drops, and blocked well in the running and screen game. In the first half, Evans helped Manziel out immensely by running to him when he scrambled on his first touchdown catch or adjusting to a jump ball on his second. When Evans was injured after his second touchdown catch, Manziel found Derel Walker to the outside for five straight receptions totaling 59 yards.
A&M's offensive line was helped out by Manziel's ability to move but quite honestly this was their best game of the season. They never let Arkansas' quality defensive line get any penetration. The Aggies ran inside zone and outside to perfection with guards Germain Ifedi and Jarvis Harrison usually taking their defenders backwards or away from the play. This allowed Mike Matthews to attack the Hogs' inside linebackers and he was also able to stay low and win battles against defensive tackles himself. The Aggies' tackles Ced Ogbuehi and Jake Matthews moved well laterally in pass pro and kept their hands up. Remember that ends Chris Smith and Trey Flowers were among the country's sack and tackles for loss leaders coming into the game and they were not a factor at all. Tight ends Cameron Clear and Nehemiah Hicks blocked well when given the chance against these same ends. Again, the Aggies averaged 6.0 yards per carry and 8.7 yards per pass and it's easy to put up those types of numbers when you're getting a great performance up front.
Going into the game, I wrote how Arkansas had to get turnovers, big special teams plays, needed to weather A&M's usual score on the first possession, run the ball, and find a way to outscore A&M in order to pull the upset. They were minus two in turnovers and got no big special teams plays. However, they did run the ball and used that to set up big plays in the passing game. In fact, Arkansas' passes outnumbered their runs (36 to 30) as the Hogs got down early and had to try to match A&M score for score as they realized that they couldn't stop A&M defensively. For a team not built for that style of play, they were quite successful doing it.
Arkansas played with a lot of emotion in front of a large home crowd and Brandon Allen provided leadership and the ability to move around and throw the ball off of play action. Williams and Collins ran hard and broke multiple tackles on several plays. They only had one penalty. Most of all, we talked beforehand how the Hogs wanted to shorten the game so that they could make it a one score affair going into the fourth quarter. Despite the fact that they actually had the ball less than A&M both in time of possession and number of plays, the Aggies had just eight possessions going into the fourth quarter and just 11 overall. The Aggies still scored touchdowns on 50% of their possessions excluding their last one when they were trying to run out the clock but an extra couple of possessions earlier could have helped put more distance between them and their opponents.
Overall, A&M's offense won the game and the defense provided a couple of timely turnovers but that same defense is going to make their margin of error razor thin in games against better opponents. The lack of pass rush is probably something that can't be fixed but A&M has got to do a better job of tackling if it's going to be playing meaningful games with BCS trips on the line in November.
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