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October 26, 2013

Postgame analysis: Offense

Johnny Manziel's shoulder wasn't perfect but it was good enough for the Aggies to put the onus on him offensively and as usual he delivered to the tune of 305 yards passing, an 71% completion rate, and four touchdowns. He was noticeably wincing after several throws, kept his running to a minimum, and slid down whenever possible when he left the sanctuary of the pocket. In fact, Manziel took a couple of sacks and rushed for just 17 yards. However, he continued to improve his proficiency as a down the field passer by holding the ball, trusting his protection, and delivering it to his receivers. On three of his touchdowns, the Aggies ran Y cross in red zone which is actually designed for the outside receiver on one side to run a post down the middle and hold the safeties so that the slot (the Y receiver) on that side can run a crossing route. Normally, the ball is supposed to be delivered to the slot but offensive coordinator Jake Spavital wants his quarterbacks to be patient and wait for the deeper route to develop. Derel Walker scored a couple of touchdowns on the play and Mike Evans had another.

Last week, Vanderbilt played more press man coverage as their game against Georgia went on and due to its success as well the play of corner Andre Hal, it was anticipated that they might repeat the strategy this week. In addition, given Manziel's problems with his shoulder, such a strategy might have stressed him more as a passer. Instead, the Commodores started out playing off of A&M's receivers with two high safeties 10 to 15 yards off of the ball. This allowed Manziel to work his way into the game with bubble screens, Y sail (short out routes by the slots), and hitches. As a result, Manziel was ten of ten on A&M's first drive and was hardly pressured as the ball came out quickly and the Aggie receivers were able to generate yards after the catch. Vanderbilt switched up to tighter coverages which resulted in Manziel hitting Derel Walker for 32 yards on their second possession and Mike Evans out of four verticals against Hal (Vanderbilt's best corner and one of the better cover corners in the league) for 43 yards on Manziel's third touchdown. His first 10 completions garnered 70 yards; his last 15 gained 235 yards which was double the average per reception because of the change and Vanderbilt was down 28-0 after A&M's first four possessions of the game.

The Aggies played without starting right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi which necessitated the shift of Jarvis Harrison to left tackle, Jake Matthews to right tackle, and Garrett Gambling to left guard. The unit had some pre snap penalties and you could see defenders coming in from that left side due to missed blocks and blown assignments. Even so, outside of those issues and a couple of sacks, the Aggies protected Manziel for the most part and opened significant holes for the running game, particularly behind center Mike Mathews and guard Germain Ifedi on inside zone. Gambling even had a nice trap block on a third and short to keep a drive alive. Trey Williams averaged 10.8 yards per attempt and the running game as whole checked in at 5.7 yards per carry.

However, after Vanderbilt successfully converted an onside kick down 28-3, the offense promptly seemed to go totally out of sync for five consecutive possessions in the second and third quarters. The Aggies started three of them on their own 49 yard line or better but couldn't get much going or when they did couldn't handle success. In order, they…

…turned it over on downs when Malcome Kennedy dropped a short pass on a fourth and one.

….suffered an interception when Manziel looked off Kennedy who was open short and tried to get it to Evans deeper down the field.

….had Trey Williams fumble on a carry designed to get A&M into field goal range right before the half.

….had Travis Labhart fumble a pass into the end zone for a touchback.

….Tra Carson fumbled on an 11 yard run on the first carry of the last of the possessions.

The defense struggled too as they allowed the Commodores to score two touchdowns to make it 28-17 at the half but they also forced a game changing turnover (Matthews' interception) and forced a turnover on downs. The sequence resulted in both Williams and Carson not getting another carry and Brandon Williams' first extended action of the season. He didn't miss any assignments and registered 11 carries for 61 yards and a touchdown.

The receivers had a really good day going against one of the best secondaries in the SEC. Walker had four catches for 59 yards and the two touchdowns, really running good routes to get separation and going high up for passes that were placed so that defenders couldn't get to them. Kennedy had the drop but consistently beat linebackers and safeties in the middle of the field to move the chains and keep drives alive. Quiv Gonzlaez also had a drop in four verticals that would have been a touchdown but had four receptions for 52 yards and his first touchdown which came on a bubble screen inside the ten when he played off of Edward Pope's block.

Backup quarterbacks Matt Joeckel and Kenny Hill both saw time on multiple drives once the game became a blowout in the third quarter. Joeckel had a touchdown pass to Evans while Hill went six for six. Joeckel was patient in his reads and didn't let pressure get to him. Hill worked with the backup receivers, kept his feet steady when he threw, went through his reads, and reminded you of the poised passer that he was in high school.


James Franklin deserves credit for a couple of onside kicks once the Commodores got down 28-3 in trying to get back into a game without his starting quarterback on the road. In addition, they seemed to galvanize his team for a while during the aforementioned possessions when A&M's offense really struggled with turnovers. However, his aggressive nature put his team behind the eight ball multiple times in terms of field position (they started just two drives in A&M's end of the field) and that's hard to overcome with an inexperienced quarterback. His decision to punt on a fourth and one with said quarterback resulted in a kick that only traveled five yards and was part of the aforementioned problems. His kicking game has been a non factor all year and other than the on side kicks (one of which A&M should have recovered and another which went out of bounds) it wasn't a factor today in flipping field position. Conversely, the Aggies had four touchbacks on kickoffs, averaged 45 yards a punt, and gave up virtually nothing on returns.

On the other hand, A&M's offensive staff continues to display a penchant for the deep ball and their passes outnumbered their runs once again with a starting quarterback who was less than 100%. However, A&M's defensive staff had an excellent game plan and their personnel moves (such as Baggs to outside linebacker where there's less traffic coming at him) gave people hope that the defense may actually stabilize. In addition, the offensive staff had injuries to overcome on their side of the ball and made sound adjustments as well. The Aggies now head into an easier part of their schedule with UTEP and Mississippi State prior to a bye week and two games that will make or break their season in terms of bowl position with a little more confidence in their defense.

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