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November 3, 2012

Postgame Observations

A few thoughts after A&M's 38-13 thrashing of Mississippi State in Starkville:

That was a beating. Mississippi State, under Dan Mullen, has worked hard to develop a team that wins in the classic SEC style: run the ball and stuff the run. Texas A&M on the other hand, looks to spread you out and won't hesitate to throw the football. A lot of people thought A&M would be a finesse team in a physical conference, but the Aggies have shown that assumption to be garbage. A&M, as they did in every other conference game this season, came out and punched the Bulldogs in the mouth. Three scores on three positions while Mississippi State did nothing with the ball and the game was pretty much over. A&M proceeded to spend the remainder of the game hitting quarterback Tyler Russell, stuffing the run and dominating the line of scrimmage when they had the ball.

The offensive line is NOW as good as advertised. A&M handled LSU in the running game at home, and has crushed Auburn and Mississippi State in back-to-back weeks. The Aggies ran for 361 yards against a team that had only given up 144 a game before today. A&M averaged more than 6 yards a carry, with Ben Malena leading the way at 6.6 YPC. Add in that Johnny Manziel had all the time he wanted in a 30-36 day and it's obvious that the front five for A&M has adjusted to B.J. Anderson's scheme and are executing a lot better.

The offensive playbook is still opening up. There were several more new formations used today, Thomas Johnson got more into the game and the middle of the field continues to open up. And, as A&M continues to succeed in gouging opponents with the run, the playaction pass is becoming an even more dangerous weapon. The Aggies used it to great effect today.

Johnny Manziel had his best day. A&M's quarterback did everything right Saturday as he piled up another 440 yards of total offense. He was 30-36 in the air for 311 yards, as we mentioned, and ran for another 129. He's had more explosive days and tallied more yards, but everything he did today was smart. Mississippi State runs multiple looks trying to confuse their opponents, and they tried that a lot in the first half today. It failed miserably, because when A&M didn't have the right play called, Manziel made the right call on the audible and the offense kept moving. He didn't force any passes, made good decisions on his runs and even threw the ball away a couple of times instead of trying for one of his remarkable runs. His awareness of everything going around him is improving, and that should terrify opponents.

Manziel now has two go-to guys. Ryan Swope had his second consecutive 100-plus yard game in a row today, and he's become just as an important target for Manziel as Mike Evans has been all year. Swope has played like a man possessed the last three weeks and did so again today, and Manziel was able to find him when he got open. The quick passes to Swope are becoming like handoffs, getting A&M easy yards when they need them -- then he goes 15 to 20 yards down the field, sits down in the zone, gets the pass and breaks loose. It was just a matter of time before he and Manziel got on the same page, and that time has come.

Kirby Ennis for All-SEC. The big man in the middle for A&M's defense has gotten little attention all year long, but he and Jonathan Mathis were the two major reasons why a team that tries to utilize offensive balance couldn't get to 100 yards rushing today. Mississippi State likes to run north-south and doesn't like to go east-west; after some early success, they couldn't do that. Ennis held up the guys in the middle, Spencer Nealy was able to move freely to disrupt and A&M's ends and linebackers were able to do the rest.

Damontre Moore is a freak. Yeah, this is now obvious. But when you run down a wideout in full gallop from behind 40 yards down the field -- and "you" are a defensive end -- that's something special.

That's why the Aggies were pumped to get Devante Harris. Harris had his first career pick today, but he did more than that. He helped minimize the damage done by Chad Bumphis and the other Mississippi State receivers. He was strong in coverage and tackled far better than he did earlier in the year. He's starting to develop.

Strong application of pressure. Even though A&M only got one sack -- that Moore fella again -- A&M kept Russell on the move all day an hit him a lot. Russell is significantly less effective on the run and the Aggies rattled him with the constant beating.

OTHER NOTES:

* Ben Malena likes Mississippi. He has two 100-plus yard games this year -- one in Starkville and one in Oxford.

* Swope has made 25 catches for 342 yards and two TDs in the last three games. His 9 catches today were the second-most he's had this year. He now has 641 yards receiving on the year, after having only 95 yards through the first three.

* The Bulldogs hadn't given up more than 600 yards in a game in 11 years. A&M racked up 693 today.

* Mississippi State was 2 for 10 on 3rd down today. A&M's opponents have been 6 for their last 36 on third down in the last three games.

* Through two games of their three game road "death march", Texas A&M has accumulated 1,364 yards of offense and has scored 101 points while giving up 34.


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