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November 3, 2012

Tarp's Postgame Observations

We're going to go back and touch on a few things that I wrote about yesterday and earlier in the week.

- Going into the game, I had written about how Mississippi State dominated three stats categories: turnover margin, third down defense, and not giving up big plays. Today, they were even in turnovers, allowed A&M to convert nine of 16 third downs, and gave up several plays over 20 yards. By getting dominated in those areas, they ended up losing by 24 points.

- We'll get to the offense in a minute but you win in the SEC with defense and A&M's defense controlled this game from start to finish. Yesterday, I wrote that MSU's base play was the power where they pulled their fullback (as a tight slot) and an offensive lineman from the opposite side to the playside and ran tailback LaDarius Perkins right at you. The key to stopping that play is to get penetration but everything rested primarily on nosetackle Kirby Ennis. He had to be able to draw double teams and not allow one of the center or guard to scoop him and get to inside backers Jonathan Stewart or Sean Porter at the second level because those guys would be filling the hole near the line of scrimmage.

Well, Ennis and Jonathan Mathis played a great football game today. They consistently worked the double team and freed up the linebackers to make stops and Stewart and Porter were able to pop Perkins in the hole before he could get going.

How did this impact MSU's offense? The Bulldogs depend on Perkins getting five yards a pop, 20 carries, and 100 yards a game to move the chains and set up their play action passing game. In turn, play action passing allows you to throw the ball down the field for big plays because it freezes linebackers and safeties who come up to stop the run. It also minimizes pass rush because those guys are gap conscious rather than teeing off on Tyler Russell.

Mullen runs Urban Meyer's offense which is a play action based passing game and so when that doesn't go they are in free fall mode because they have nothing to fall back on. Unfortunately for MSU, Perkins gained just 42 yards on only 13 carries and had a long run of only 15 yards. As a result, their offense totally ground to a halt. They had just 15 first downs and could not generate anything on first down which meant that they faced too many long yardage situations on third down (just two of ten on third down conversions).

Ennis' play was the key to A&M's defensive play today. He's played well all year but this was his shining moment on the road against a good running team in a hostile environment.

Terry Price, take a bow. You've earned it. Better yet, ask for a raise.

- One of the most underrated aspects of defensive coordinator Mark Snyder's coaching is his ability to change up schemes and personnel from week to week while being to get his charges to play fundamentally sound ball and buy into their elevated or redcued roles. Today, he moved Deshazor Everett back to safety and played Devante Harris at corner. A&M's corners outplayed their more heralded counterparts today by giving up nothing down the field and doing their best job all year in tackling in space against some good outside recievers.

- Damontre Moore continues to be a consistent force. He had another sack today and also made a great play running down a MSU receiver down the field.

- Offensively, we noticed in watching MSU prior to the game that against spread formations they stayed in a 42 look and varied their coverages in the secondary. Today, they went to a three man front with three linebackers and play two high safeties for the most part. They also moved one of the linebackers out of the box for the most part and split the distance between a slot and the tackle.

In other words, they did the same thing against A&M that Auburn did last week and were consistently outnumbered in the box. In addition, their safeties were too far removed to come up and support the line of scrimmage. As a result, Kliff Kingsbury and Johnny Manziel got A&M in the right play against these fronts, either running the ball or using bubble screens. Although A&M never generated anything down the field (as with Auburn), the Aggies still compiled 36 first downs, 361 yards rushing, conveted over 50% of their third down opportunities, and punted just once even though they consistently started drives inside their own 30 yard line. Also, Manziel was able to go play action and do to MSU what they like to do with opponents. Between the screens and play action, it's no surprise that Manziel was able to hit 30 of 36 passing. It IS a surprise that it took MSU almost three quarters to make an adjustment and by that time it was too late.

- In the last two games, A&M's concerns about its running game have disappeared as it has rushed for over 300 yards in each game. A&M's offensive line is benefitting from opponent's schemes and A&M's play calling but they are doing a better job of getting push, coming off blocks to get to the second level, and staying with blocks. All of these aspects came together on Manziel's last touchdown run when A&M found that it had a numbers advantage on the right side of the formation if Manziel was included. They ran option to that side and Jake Matthews shoved the end across from him five yards back from the line of scrimmage. Not only was MSU outnumbered, they lost the battle up front as well.

Also, remember the screen passes to Malena that A&M ran or the bubble to Thomas Johnson. Both times, offensive linemen got out and got onto defenders when earlier in the year they simply couldn't release fast enough or let people get back there to quickly and also stayed with defenders.

- Because MSU never got enough numbers in the box or even tried to get much pressure on A&M, they could never stop A&M's running game and get A&M in predictable situations to pressure them. As a result, a team that lives for turnovers got just one and it came too deep in MSU territory or too late in the game to influence the outcome.

- I posted this during the game but Johnny Manziel has made a significant transition of sorts. He entered A&M as a combo guard, a scorer who set his teammates up occasionally but did a lot of heavy lifting himself. He's now emerged as a point guard like Chris Paul, someone who runs the offense, get A&M into the right play, gets the ball to people where they do damage with it, and like Paul can take over in a scoring role when A&M really needs him to.

He's emerged as A&M's "I got this guy" like Paul…when A&M found itself facing a third and ten at MSU's 37 yard line, MSU blitzed, Manziel evaded the rush, saw the open field, and took off knowing that MSU was in man coverage and defenders would be chasing receivers and not him and said to himself "I got this"…

His discipline in getting A&M into the right play has resulted in A&M scoring 66 points in their last two first halves of games…not games, HALVES. In addition, his footwork continues to be good, his mechanics and delivery have gotten better, and his vision to find open receivers on the move is much better because he has a better understanding of where they are supposed to be on the field. He continues to average nearly ten yards a carry and be elusive enough not to take significant hits.

And of course, when all else fails…"I got this"….

- Mike Evans had another exceptional game despite playing with an injury…nine catches, 13.6 per reception, significant yards after the catch, and great blocks for Ryan Swope on screens who returned the favor for Evans on numerous occasions himself and caught nine passes himself and laid out a MSU defender with a blind side hit.

- After stopping a route against LSU which helped result in an interception, Thomas Johnson re-entered the game plan with four catches.

- A&M had just one turnover (shouldn't have been ruled as such), four penalties, gave up just three plays over 20 yards, and had one punt. Don't look now but the Aggies are undefeated on the road in the SEC which has the greatest home field advantage by far of any of the BCS conferences. Also, they continue to score on their first possession and stop opponents from doing the same which shows you just how well prepared they are.

-Finally, for all of the talk about how A&M would adjust to the SEC in terms of its physical style of play running a supposed "finesse" offense, the Ags have been the most physical team in every game that they have played this season. In fact, A&M runs the ball and stops the run better than anyone else in the conference but Alabama, LSU, and Florida.

In terms of being what a SEC program is supposed to be, the Aggies are already there. Throw in a swashbuckling, playmaking quarterback who can play the "I got this" game for three more years that the others don't and you've got a present that no one anticipated but a future that everyone can see coming.


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