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October 19, 2013

Tarp's Postgame Thoughts

Offense

Auburn plays a lot of man coverage and they decided to stick with that strategy today despite lots of film that indicated that it was a bad idea to try to man up Mike Evans. As a result, Evans had another one of those games: 11 receptions for 287 yards, four touchdowns, and a 26.1 yard per catch average. Even when they gave the corner safety help, as long as Evans just had to beat man coverage underneath, it was a total mismatch.

However, A&M had a couple of crucial first half turnovers and this is a unit that just can't afford to make any mistakes because even single possessions are precious due to the Aggies' defense. But in addition, Auburn's speed and depth on the front four really paid off. This was the offensive line's most difficult game of the year and for the first time they really failed to move people up front and had issues in pass protection down the stretch. The Tigers had seven tackles for loss and three sacks. In addition, when they started having issues on the last drive in Auburn's red zone, A&M didn't seem to adjust its thinking that the ball had to come out quicker.

The Aggies averaged just 3.3 yards per carry and even though Trey Williams carried the ball just nine times, he didn't get a chance to do much with it. The longest carry by a running back was just 16 yards. Defensive tackle Gabe Wright had a very nice game and his quickness forced A&M to double team him which freed up linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost for 10 tackles. In turn, that put a big burden on quarterback Johnny Manziel who has another double digit game in carries. This time, he took off up the middle one too many times and got hurt. He had to leave the game long enough for it to perhaps cost A&M a field goal on one possession and go three and out on another.

In addition, A&M's receiving corps as a whole didn't generate many big plays like Evans did even though they were facing man coverage. Travis Labhart moved the chains but their longest reception outside of anything Evans did was 21 yards. We talked prior to the game about Star linebacker Robinson Therezie's cover skills and he played in big role in that regard in the short zones covering A&M's slots.

A&M has now had three games where they have had two turnovers and the result has been two losses and a last second field goal. That's not to put the blame on the offense but rather to point out how thin A&M's margin for error is on that side of the ball.

Defense

We didn't see anything new today that we haven't seen all year and that's part of the frustration with this unit. But in addition, Auburn proved to be a more physical football team and even their running backs continued to move the pile. A&M was giving up about 6.5 yards per rush coming into the game and nothing changed in that regard. They also had just two sacks and that's actually better than what they have been getting. The Aggies had been living dangerously with their defense all season and they finally ran out of luck with it.

We'll start with A&M's defensive line. A&M's ends had issues again with containment versus zone read and inverted veer and Auburn usually found one of them in particular and ran right at them. This is the second straight week that A&M had faced these plays and the Aggies need to play better assignment football. The Aggies also continue to get moved around, don't play with good pad level, and the second level personnel simply don't step into gaps like they need to. The problem with pad level is also one of fatigue because A&M doesn't rotate anyone and it's asking a lot of a true freshman like Isaiah Golden to play that many snaps. You also have to credit Auburn's interior three of guards Alex Kozan and Chad Slade and center Reese Dismukes. They are not a big group but they were more physical.

We talked early in the game analysis thread about the Tigers playing an H back and a tight end together and A&M not matching personnel with personnel. However, on the last drive Auburn went with four receivers and a running back and A&M's personnel wasn't an issue. In fact, the Aggies moved nine people into the box at times and it didn't succeed in slowing down the Tigers at all. Auburn ran the ball well on first and second down and rarely faced long yardage situations which was one reason that they were 7 of 14 on third down. The Aggie were never able to get their pass rushing personnel on the field because they just couldn't get the Tigers into those situations.

Alonzo Williams went out in the first half and Ivan Robinson took his place. Williams had been playing better and Robinson hadn't seen that many snaps this season. He doesn't have a big base and he was single blocked much of the time. A&M really needed someone like Kirby Ennis that could at least take on a double team and not give ground and his absence was really felt today.

Far too often, A&M's linebackers found someone on them and were unable to shed 300 pound blockers. However, when given opportunities to step up and make plays in the hole, they didn't do so. There were too many arm tackles as well.

It's a wonder that A&M's secondary played as well as it did. They gave up some long plays but they are in man coverage and expected to hold up the length of the field while quarterbacks are able to stand in the pocket and make whatever throws they want. There's just not any pressure to even make them move around.

The Aggies continue to have issues playing the wheel route but usually it's a case of simply blowing the coverage. On the long completion on Auburn's last drive, Nate Askew had a slot down the sideline and he bumped him early in the route and nearly ran with him stride for stride. It's just that Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall was able to stand there and throw the ball unimpeded by any defender.

You look at A&M's last drive and it's the flip side of what A&M's defense has been able to do. Auburn rotated a lot of people up front and kept them fresh and as a result they were able to maintain great get off on that last drive and create all kinds of pressure on Manziel. Marshall is not a great passer and missed on several opportunities but when you're able to average over nine yards a pass with a completion rate under 50%, you've got real issues with your pass rush.

When the Aggies had coverage issues in the first half, they moved secondary people around to compensate with Deshazor Everett going back to corner in place of Tramain Jacobs and Floyd Raven playing at safety. This helped some but A&M still had issues.

There were no such fixes available in the front seven. Williams went out and A&M gave up two long drives late almost exclusively on the ground. Darian Claiborne left the game with an injury on the Tigers' next to last touchdown drive and his replacement didn't fill on an inside run and it went for a 53 yard gain which set up a touchdown.

The Aggies have been living dangerously all year. Today, a lack of depth and technique simply could not be overcome and it doesn't appear that any fixes are in store any time soon.

Summary

The Aggies' lack of size, experience, and depth on defense and dependence on Johnny Manziel finally caught up with them against a non top ten opponent in the tenure of Kevin Sumlin. We talked about A&M's margin of error as a team in terms of turnovers and the Aggies have been minus one in turnover margin and lost two of those games and nearly went to overtime in a third. In addition, this is the third double digit lead that A&M has lost this year despite scoring 40+ points.

You can argue that A&M could manage the game better on the offensive side of the ball but it's just too much to ask every week. In addition, there's only so much that A&M can do on defense. They can try different people but they had to do that today and it didn't turn out well. They can play with better technique but if they are more than halfway through the season and it hasn't happened by now it's not going to.

However, one thing that really stood out today was that Auburn was a more physical football team. Right now, they are more sure of themselves because they understand their techniques, have more depth, and have defined roles which contributes to that. A&M is lacking in those areas and that showed up in the rushing stats and particularly on the last drives of the game for each team.

A&M has to quickly regroup because the latter half of the schedule just got tougher. The Aggies rebounded after a disappointing loss to LSU last season to make the Cotton Bowl but expectations are different this year and it remains to be seen whether those expectations will weigh A&M down the rest of the way.


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