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January 5, 2013

Tarp's postgame thoughts

- I wrote yesterday about Oklahoma's talent advantage in winning 11 of their past 13 meetings with the Aggies…how the Sooners had Heisman Trophy winners/ candidates and multiple All Americans on both lines. I also wrote that the tide had turned and in this game it was A&M that had that kind of talent advantage. As a result, A&M crushed the Sooners tonight in much the same way that the Sooners had crushed A&M over the years.

Johnny Manziel was his usual self tonight. Oklahoma did everything they could to stop him, throwing blitzes and multiple looks in the secondary at him and it didn't matter. For some reason, people thought that he would be distracted by the loss of Kliff Kingsbury and all of the hoopla from the awards that he received and obviously those things were not a factor nor should they have been.

Manziel did what his counterpart Landry Jones could not and that was generate big plays. He avoided the rush or ran on designed plays such as the QB dart and speed option and had several long gains (he averaged about 13 yards a carry). When Oklahoma played man free in the secondary he simply avoided the rush, let the defenders chase their guys, and took off into empty space with a single deep defender with way too much cushion to be able to come up and make a play. A&M's receivers also did a great job blocking for him. When Oklahoma blitzed, A&M ran speed option, blocked the end man on the line, and optioned the blitzer on the inside. In other instances, A&M simply picked up the blitz and Manziel had time to throw the ball downfield against man coverage. Oklahoma rarely got pressure on Manziel and even when they did he was able to avoid it.

The All Americans came to play tonight as well, particularly on the offensive line. A&M simply overwhelmed the Sooners up front with their athleticism, particularly Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. Their ability to stay with Oklahoma's edge defenders meant that the Sooners got no penetration against either the run or in pass pro. In particular, they gave Manziel all day in the third quarter to find receivers downfield, either after he extended plays and they came free or just staying in the pocket and letting him find people running their usual routes. They pushed Oklahoma around to the extent that running backs Ben Malena and Trey Williams averaged right at 7.0 yards per carry.

Finally, A&M was much quicker up front on the defensive line as well. A&M started playing on Oklahoma's side of the ball in the second half and as a result the Sooners were never able to generate a running game. The Aggies didn't get a sack until later in the game but Landry Jones operated under pressure later on and he never was able to get the ball down the field and in particular to his favorite targets (the outside receivers).

People that hadn't seen A&M this season didn't realize that such a talent disparity existed between the two teams. Those of us that had did.

- The game was won at the start of the second half. The Aggies were up by one point, had just given up a score to close out the first half, and Oklahoma was getting the ball at the start of the second half.

Oklahoma started off the game with its usual 4-2 nickel package and two high safeties and quickly gave up big runs to Manziel and Malena. They called a time out, shifted gears, and started going man free in the secondary with one high safety. They walked safety Tony Jefferson in and out of the box, benched linebackers Tom Wort and Corey Nelson, and played backup Franklin Shannon with Jefferson almost serving as a second linebacker. They blitzed and usually rushed five guys with six people in coverage and one of them spying Manziel.

This alignment worked for a while in the first half as A&M had to punt a couple of times. However, at the start of the second half, the Aggies made an adjustment. They started running the speed option versus the blitz as we referenced earlier. They also started running longer routes and having Manziel hold the ball to deliver it down the field, picking up the blitz or just finding people getting free against man coverage.

Also, the Sooners got smaller with six DBs and a LB which meant a mismatch with A&M's size and athleticism in the offensive line. That meant little or no pass rush and the opportunity for A&M to run the ball right at the Sooners as evidenced by A&M's 7.0 yards per carry out of its running backs and big plays in both the run game and the passing game.

On defense, A&M had played off of Oklahoma's outside receivers in the first half and wasn't getting a lot of pressure on Landry Jones as the Aggies opened in a three man front and without starting DE Julien Obioha. This resulted in outside receivers Kenny Stills and Justin Brown catching 10 of Jones' 23 passes and converting seven of nine third downs because the corners were giving up too much space.

In the second half, A&M moved its defenders closer to the line of scrimmage and choked off any open space that Oklahoma might have had. Due to the fact that Oklahoma could not run the ball, even with A&M being in a 3-3 alignment and at times with fullback Trey Millard in the game, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder started using multiple looks…shifting the defensive line and coordinating it with linebackers moving in and out of the line of scrimmage. The Aggies would move into the line, show blitz, and then bail at the last minute. As a result, Jones started seeing more pressure and having to get rid of the ball more quickly (Stills and Brown had just four receptions in the second half). In addition, they had people popping up in the passing lanes that Jones didn't foresee which resulted in tipped or batted passes and receivers fending off defenders when the ball arrived.

In the third quarter, A&M had 12 first downs to Oklahoma's two, 100 yards rushing to Oklahoma's 17 yards, and 266 yards total offense to just 63 for Oklahoma. The Sooners had three 3 and outs; the Aggies had three touchdowns.

Those numbers really tell it all.

Other items:

- Oklahoma backup QB Blake Bell was never a factor in the game because the Sooners only had one possession inside of A&M's five yard line in the second half and only one short yardage situation. He got stuffed on one play and had to throw the ball away on another on Oklahoma's first possession of the game. Keeping him out of the game and away from converting those situations was a huge factor.

- Oklahoma got a penalty on fourth down and goal on their first possession after being denied on back to back plays. The penalty probably saved them from being denied on fourth down so that they could kick a field goal.

- We talked yesterday about how Ryan Swope had big games against the Sooners in the past and how he should have another one tonight. Well, he had eight catches for 104 yards…his third straight 100 yard receiving game versus Oklahoma…and a touchdown on the fourth and five in the third quarter that put A&M up 34-14 and essentially turned out the lights for Oklahoma. They simply could not cover him with a nickel back, especially when Manziel had too mucnb time to throw.

- A&M's dominance up front and Manziel's artistry once again translated into big plays for A&M. The Aggies had ten plus plays of over 18 yards while the Sooners longest pass was just 19 yards and their longest run was just 18 yards.

- Oklahoma was just one of six on third downs in the second half. They could not stay on the field due to A&M's defensive adjustments and they could not generate any big plays to score points.

- This game actually felt more like the Arkansas game than any other this season. In that game, A&M gave up over 500 yards total offense and the Hogs ran over 100 plays yet were blown out because they couldn't score in the red zone or generate any big plays (and keep A&M from big plays). Oklahoma had the ball for 36 minutes and had 401 yards total offense and lost by four touchdowns for similar reasons.

- As important as A&M's play at the start of the second half was, the game appeared to be turning in the second quarter when A&M's defense came up with a big play. It started when they turned it over in the end zone and Oklahoma began driving back down the field. The Aggies had been playing a three deep look with their corners playing off of Oklahoma's outside receivers. However, the Aggies changed things up by playing their corners in the short zones of a three deep look and using their safeties and Mike linebacker Jonathan Stewart as the deep defenders. Jones didn't see Dustin Harris stay put and threw the ball right to him. The Aggies promptly drove down the field and scored another TD in game that appeared (at least at the time) to be going back and forth and made up for their lone turnover by forcing one.

- The Aggies put a lot of things to rest tonight. They won for the first time in Cowboys Stadium. They upheld the reputation of the SEC after Florida's less than stellar performance two nights ago. They put together the SEC's best bowl performance by far. Most importantly, they established themselves as the dominant program in the region by beating Alabama on the road, finishing with a better record than Texas, and thrashing Oklahoma in a major bowl game. That translates into a top five pre season ranking for 2013 and all of the attention that goes with it as well an irresistible lure for the state's top 2014 recruits who won't take long to jump on board.

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