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May 27, 2013

Memorial Day Thoughts

- Before I get into the heart of what I have to say about A&M football, I just want to remind everyone that today we are remembering those who fell in the defense of this great nation, our freedoms, and our way of life. These people made the greatest sacrifice of all. They never knew what it was like to get married, raise a family, and watch their kids and grandkids grow up. They were cruelly robbed not just of their youth but also the rest of their lives. As an old Private Ryan did at the cemetery at Normandy when he dropped to his knees with a survivor's guilt and told the captain's grave that he had tried so hard to earn his reprieve from combat, take a minute and reflect on what this day really means.

For you guys on the boards that are veterans, or are currently serving, or have family that fall into those categories, God bless you from the bottom of my heart.

- Now, to the lighter side of things.

The pre season magazines are finally beginning to come out. Although most early polls have the Aggies as a top five team going into the 2013 season and as high as number two in some instances, the pre season magazines have a different take on things. They have A&M outside the top five (although in the top ten) and generally reason that SEC defenses and coordinators will catch up to Johnny Manziel in his second season of football. As a result, it appears that they are expecting him to have a season that's not as good as his Heisman winning 2012 campaign.

How much sense does that make? When Tim Tebow won the Heisman as a sophomore at Florida, did anyone project him to get worse as a junior because defenses would catch up to him. Mind you, Tebow did not put up the numbers as a junior that he did as a sophomore but he was a more efficient player and had a better supporting cast. As a result, Florida won a national title when he was junior.

Cam Newton won the Heisman as a junior and did not return to Auburn for his senior season. However, let's say that Newton did return for his senior season. While Auburn lost enough that they probably wouldn't have been as good as a team the following season, would anyone assume that SEC defenses would have caught up to Newton as a senior with a year of experience under his belt?

On the surface, assuming that SEC defenses would catch up to Manziel in 2013 is just not logical and it's assumption that certainly wouldn't have been made about the previous two Heisman winners from the SEC.

Why are such assumptions being made about Manziel? It's because he's considered to have an unconventional game (although you could certainly make the same argument about Tebow being used as something akin to a single wing tailback when he won the Heisman).

In addition, it's not like people figured out Manziel down the stretch last season after they had several game films to watch from the first half of the season when defenses were actually more effective in defensing him. Florida, Ole Miss, and LSU were Manziel's three worst games of the 2012 season and in each game those defenses adopted different tactics. In addition, SMU shut out A&M during the first quarter of their game by copying what Florida did in A&M's season opener.

Here's a quick look at what each team to slow Manziel down:

Florida…normally a two deep defense, the Gators shifted tactics in the second half after Manziel had run them ragged in the first half. They had their defensive linemen hold up their pass rush and stay in their rush lanes to pen Manziel up. They also played man coverage in the secondary which played havoc with an inexperienced Manziel and A&M's receivers in the passing game.

SMU…copied Florida's tactics which were successful for a quarter until Manziel started hitting Mike Evans on fade routes down the field against that man coverage. SMU then went to a three man front with a spy and Manziel simply ran into all of the open spaces provided by the Mustangs' coverage.

Ole Miss….the Rebels played a different front on every down, used faster, smaller players, and sent rushers from different directions. They helped force Manziel into three interceptions and A&M into six turnovers but the Aggies still made more plays down the stretch and won 30-27.

LSU…after falling behind 12-0, the Tigers shifted from their usual four man front to a three man front with two linebackers and six defensive backs. The ends were Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo used their speed to contain Manziel. As with Florida, the Tigers played press man coverage in the secondary and Manziel threw three interceptions (not all of them his fault). The Aggies didn't take advantage of LSU being outnumbered by A&M in the box enough and run the ball at the Tigers. As a result, A&M was relatively unproductive on offense, wound up turning over the ball too much, lost the kicking game, and lost the game.

Mind you, these three games all occurred during the first half of the season. When A&M was going 6-0 down the stretch, beating national champion Alabama on the road, and Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, all of these teams had plenty of film to look from these three games at just like defensive coordinators would have during this off season. However, for the most part, defensive coordinators down the stretch played their base defenses. Alabama used a four man front and press man which was a variation on their base look and Oklahoma quickly pulled both starting linebackers for a 4-1-6 look.

Against Alabama, the Aggies ran the ball some but they were more successful simply pass protecting, holding the ball, and trying to generate big plays down the field (the touchdown pass to Malcolme Kennedy). Against Oklahoma, the Aggies did the same thing but also ran the ball right at the Sooners to the tune of seven yards a carry from running backs Ben Malena and Trey Williams.

In other words, both Alabama and Oklahoma tried to do some of the things that Florida, Ole Miss, and LSU did versus Manziel but did not succeed because A&M made adjustments against teams that decided to defend Manziel's mobility. That's because defenses that designed their attacks around stopping Manziel's mobility left themselves vulnerable in other areas. For example, teams that played smaller defenders or reduced the number of defenders in the box found themselves at the mercy of A&M's big offensive line and quality backs. Teams that held up their pass rush to contain Manziel gave him all day to throw and defenders in man coverage simply could not stay with A&M's receivers that long.

As a result, it's hard to imagine what's left for defenses in 2013 to do against Manziel. If they take people out of the box, A&M will run the ball. If they try to contain Manziel with their pass rush, Manziel can hold the ball and take his time reading coverages or take off running himself. Either way, there's no reasoning whatsoever in suggesting that SEC defenses will be better equipped to stop him given that A&M and Manziel have already had experience making adjustments at the best that the SEC and the rest of the country have been able to throw at them.


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