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October 19, 2013

Tarp's pregame thoughts

Before getting to the game today, let's talk about yesterday for a minute.

It wasn't enough that Arlington Martin defensive end Myles Garrett, arguably the number one prospect in the state of Texas, committed to Texas A&M yesterday a day ahead of schedule. No, head coach Kevin Sumlin had to fire up the Swaggcopter and send offensive coordinator Jake Spavital to the Allen/Plano West game last night. The game featured a number of top 2015 and even 2016 college prospects but most of all it featured Allen junior quarterback Kyler Murray who put on a performance that's pretty routine for him and pretty incredible for anyone else: 392 yards in total offense on 24 passes and runs and seven touchdowns rushing and throwing in eight possessions.

Yes, that's right, close to 20 yards a play and 50 yards a possession. Every touchdown was over 20 yards in length. He even had a play where he made two defenders collide in the backfield when they were trying to corral him on a pass, eluded them, and then rolled back to his right and lofted the ball to a back in the flat for a 20 yard gain. Otherwise, he either ran the ball on designed running plays where he wasn't touched or stayed in the pocket and delivered the ball to the open receiver.

However, before you comparing him to The Chosen One….don't. Murray is simply his own player and even though he shares some gifts with Johnny Manziel, he's a much better passer at this stage of his development. His footwork and delivery look like that of someone much older and in terms of straight line speed he may be even faster. Nothing seems to faze whether it's a defensive lineman bearing down on him or an interviewer…his confidence and maturity are unparalleled for a junior in high school.

In terms of his height….the Eagles' offensive line has two starting Division tackles who are both 6 foot 5. The remainder of the line has some size as well. He has no problem dealing with that because they create throwing lanes for him and because he moves around in the pocket enough to create them for himself.

Spavital got a good look at all of this himself down on the sidelines, especially because Murray kept running through the end zone on his touchdown runs right past where Spavital was standing. The Aggies have already offered him and although he's the son of former A&M great Kevin Murray, he's his own man and he'll make his own decision. Nonetheless, Spavital couldn't help but think that Murray isn't a fit for A&M and again it's not just because he's a playmaking quarterback similar to the Heisman Trophy winner he coaches right now. It's because Murray is already well versed in the Air Raid offense that represents the foundation of A&M's attack, accurate, poised, well coordinated, and most of all productive to the tune of a 65% completion rate, over 10 yards per passing attempt, and over seven yards a carry with a touchdown to interception ratio of 18 to 3. He already understands that if he holds the ball and trusts his protection that he can make big plays down the field in the passing game. In fact, if you want to make a comparison of Murray to quarterbacks at A&M, he's more like freshman Kenny Hill or incoming freshman Kyle Allen than Manziel because of his pocket presence and ability to attack down the field.

-I also got a chance to see the Aggies' first offer in the 2016 class, Allen offensive tackle Greg Little. Little stands 6 foot 6 and close to 290 pounds already. He's still learning to deal with his massive frame and there's no doubt that he's not ready right now to take on the likes of someone like a Myles Garrett (Garrett was pretty rough on him during a pre season scrimmage between Allen and Martin). However, he will improved his coordination and technique as time goes on and he's well coached enough right now that he gets his hands up high pretty quickly and keeps them inside those of the defender. His feet are decent as well; he doesn't overstride and takes very controlled, small steps rather than larger ones that could throw him off balance. He doesn't have great bend in his hips or knees and may be more of a right tackle (which he currently plays) than a natural left tackle. Nonetheless, he only got beat once last night in seven possessions and his effort is good for young guy who's used to lining up and just physically beating people. Those guys get lazy because of a lack of competition but he's well coached at Allen and you can bet that won't happen.

-Now, onto the game.

I always start off talking about turnovers and it's surprise that both teams' lone defeat and closest wins…Mississippi State and LSU for Auburn; Alabama and Ole Miss for A&M…featured both teams turning over the ball more than they should. The Tigers had three turnovers each in their two games while the Aggies turned it over twice in theirs. Even though both teams got some turnovers in return to help them out, you just make it harder on yourself when you make mistakes like that. In Auburn's case, they depend on their defense to overcome their turnover issues while the Aggies count on scoring more points.

Thus, it's not just about winning the turnover battle today for either program. It's about who is more likely to make mistakes and who is best equipped to overcome them. In both instances, the Aggies…especially if Deshazor Everett returns on defense…are less likely to make mistakes and have an offense that can overcome their own.

-We all seem to need to get reeducated on the importance of home field advantage once the season begins and the first upsets come our way but there's no denying how important it is once you experience playing on the road. It's not just about crowd noise or dealing with playing away from home; mostly, it's about a home crowd that you elevate your team's energy level or have an intimidating affect on the officials. It's hard to measure statistically but I think that it's underrated no matter how you analyze it. Today, the Aggies have the home field advantage and although Auburn an run the ball and play good defense for stretches (which can dampen those effects), it's going to be hard to overcome A&M's energy level for 60 minutes.

-If you want to talk other intangibles, Auburn doesn't commit a lot of penalties and is very good at kickoff returns (averaging over 26 yard a return). Because of their pass rush, they get off the field on third downs when they get you into third and long situations. More importantly, the Tigers quit playing for Gene Chizik last season and have bought into what new head coach Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson are selling them. They see this as a statement game to show the world that they are back as a program.

In all likelihood, it's hard to imagine that this game doesn't go into the fourth quarter simply because A&M has a hard time stopping anyone for 60 minutes and because the Tigers won't stop playing themselves. However, it's also hard to see Auburn winning this game because even though Auburn plays good red zone defense, A&M's offensive line pushes you around in the red zone and the Aggies score touchdowns rather than kick field goals. In all likelihood, it's the same formula for victory this week that it has been all season…the Aggies keep scoring touchdowns because they have number two and the other team eventually can't keep up.

-Finally, this game is another example of why the Aggies joined the SEC. It's CBS' 2:30 kickoff and A&M has the spotlight all to themselves on a national over the air broadcast. However, they're not even playing a top ten opponent like LSU, much less top ranked Alabama…it's a top 25 team that just moved into the rankings. It's just a great matchup between two traditionally successful programs in two football crazed markets that have enough national appeal to command a significant audience outside the region. Yes, the Aggies have the best and most exciting player in college football but even without him this is the type of game that you could see being a national broadcast long before A&M even joined the SEC. It's the type of game that we all live for as college football fans and A&M plays one almost every other week in the best conference in the country.

I'll be on line during the game and on twitter for in game analysis. See you there.

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