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November 3, 2013

Tarp's Postgame Thoughts

Offense

UTEP rolled a safety walked up into the box out of a two deep look and played a lot of man free coverage. This is quite a bit different than what the Aggies had been facing lately but it didn't really affect what A&M did. Johnny Manziel had more opportunities to throw the ball down the field versus single coverage and it took a while for he and his receivers to get in sync. In fact, Mike Evans dropped a few passes before living up to his usual standards. However, even with all of the misfires, Manziel wound up hitting 70% of his passes at over 10 yards an attempt which is not too far from his usual numbers.

Because of the man coverage with a safety down the middle, there was one familiar thing that we saw in comparison to last season and that's Manziel taking off on a long run. The reason for that is simple: when facing two high safeties, he has to beat two people when gets to the second level of the defense on a scramble. In addition, in a zone, defenders are watching him as much as the receivers. In man, they are chasing A&M's receivers to the outside on designed routes which opens up the middle of the field. On his touchdown run, the defense chased the receivers and the one defender in the middle of the field is no match for him in one on one situations.

Kenny Hill came in and showed you everything that we saw out of him in high school. He's exceptionally poised in the pocket, doesn't move his feet around unless he has to, has a compact delivery, and a good arm. His best pass all night was the one he didn't complete down the sideline to JaQuay Williams as he dropped it right over his outside shoulder but Williams just couldn't catch it. Hill was 5 of 6 for 57 yards (9.5 yards per reception). A&M does some different things when the backup quarterbacks come in and they'll complete mesh and shallow cross as opposed to the deeper post and go routes off of the other Air Raid plays. Hill stayed with the short routes even on third down and didn't try to force things down the field.

The Aggies averaged 7.8 yards a rush and didn't seem to suffer the absence of Cedric Ogbuehi much except when they gave up back to back sacks from defensive end James Davidson in the third quarter. Manziel ran the zone read to perfection on his first touchdown run and Brandon Williams came in for the injured Tra Carson. The Aggies used a tight end in backfield when he was in the game who blocked the backside end while Williams followed a pulling guard to the playside. On Trey Williams' touchdown run, the Aggies pulled both Mike Matthews and Germain Ifedi from right to left and Matthews did really well to turn upfield and take out a linebacker. It wasn't something that we've seen all year even though he's got the athleticism for it. A&M's second team line was serviceable.

Slots Travis Labhart, Malcome Kennedy, and Quiv Gonzalez benefitted from seeing man coverage as UTEP gave them too much room to maneuver underneath one high safety, especially with all of the time that the quarterbacks had to throw. Labhart also benefitted twice from busted safety coverages, once on a fake bubble where he faked a block and turned upfield and another time on a corner route where the corner, nickel, and safety all followed the outside receiver inside. The Aggies had eight pass plays of 15 yards or more.

Overall, despite going three and out on three of their first four possessions, A&M took advantage of man coverage against its slots, pass protected, and had several big plays because of it.

Defense

The Aggies are playing much more aggressively the past couple of weeks and it may be due to the fact that for the second straight week, A&M faced an inexperienced quarterback making his first start on the road. Blaire Sullivan had three interceptions, two sacks, and outside of a couple of opportunities never got the ball downfield.

Nonetheless, it's been a pretty good strategy. The Aggies were in a 4-3 look with man coverage and also brought up their safeties into the box because UTEP used multiple tight end formations. Those sets made it easier for A&M to cover as there wasn't as much speed on the field. For example, Howard Matthews played the flats for one interception and then had another in robber coverage when he saw the tight end from the opposite side go downfield on a deep crossing route, read the tight end, and dropped right where the pass was thrown. In addition, by slanting and blitzing like they did last week and getting more people involved near the line of scrimmage, the Aggies got penetration for eight tackles for loss and held UTEP to just 2.9 yards per rush.

Defensive end Gavin Stansbury had his second straight good game with seven stops including a tackle for loss/sack. He uses his hands better and keep his head up more than he did a couple of weeks ago. Daeshon Hall had five stops including a tackle for loss. No matter his size, he's just very difficult to block because people want to reach him and down block him and he has that first step. Hall nearly had a sack except that he took too shallow of an angle into the backfield, something he'll learn with experience.

Julien Obioha had 1.5 tackles for loss. Defensive tackles Ivan Robinson and Isaiah Golden had five tackles each and again did a very good job of protecting the inside linebackers and not allowing linemen to come off of double teams. Robinson is just tough to get your hands on at times. Hardreck Walker played a little lower this week than last. Jay Arnold played the three technique and forced the quarterback outside once on a stunt. He also stopped a third down by pushing through a guard's shoulder, forcing the ball carrier to Jordan Mastrogiovanni and Shaan Washington, and assisted on the tackle.

With better protection, Darian Claiborne rose to the top of the tackle charts tonight with 12 tackles, three of them solo. He's also getting better at avoiding blockers. Steven Jenkins had six tackles and was also good at avoiding blockers and running to the ball. Donnie Baggs continues to be comfortable playing the outside and doesn't make the same mistakes that he did inside. Washington had 1.5 tackles for loss.

We've already talked a little about Matthews who had six tackles in addition to his two interceptions. However, Floyd Raven came up and played the tight ends well in coverage and also didn't make mistakes in deeper coverages either. Devante Harris had a nice pick when bailed out of press coverage and dropped a few yards back to a receiver running a corner route behind him. People have gotten where they leave Deshazor Everett at the other corner alone. Toney Hurd did a nice job in short coverages and also played well versus the run out of the spread. Noel Ellis had a fumble recovery.

Summary

A&M's offense didn't get off to a quick start but ultimately it didn't matter because A&M's defense controlled the game like it did last year. UTEP scored on its second possession but gained just 125 yards the rest of the way. A&M pressed the line of scrimmage, shut down the run, and forced four turnovers. In addition, the younger guys in the unit are really coming on. The trick to carry the last two games forward against better competition starting next week against a physical Mississippi State team that has the type of quarterback run game that has given A&M fits this year.


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