A few thoughts on the spring game
My first thought after the White beat the Maroon 30-24 was, "hey, that was a pretty well-played game." For one thing, it was competitive. It was fairly cleanly played, and everyone played with a lot of effort. Kevin Sumlin didn't take spring games seriously, and it showed. This year's affair was a whole lot better.
There were also things that made me feel better about the team's chances in 2018. First off, I thought both quarterbacks showed signs that they can lead the football team and be successful in the process. Nick Starkel showed he's still the superior passer, throwing for nearly 400 yards and a series of rapid drives late in both halves. But Kellen Mond threw the ball better than he ever did last year and didn't turn it over, completing 73% of his passes with three touchdowns. I think he definitely started to believe in himself more as the game went on, which is a good sign of the maturation process.
Another plus was the possible emergence of a second option to Jhamon Ausbon. Kendrick Rogers had 5 catches for 90 yards and a touchdown, including a spectacular 32-yard grab late in the game with Travon Fuller all over him (to be clear, it was outstanding coverage, not interference). With Rogers and Camron Buckley to go with Aubson, maybe they're starting to get somewhere with the wideouts. Add in Jalen Preston and Caleb Chapman in the fall and things could be interesting.
This team not only used the tight end a lot, they used the middle of the field. Gasp times two! Jace Sternberger was outstanding a a blocker and a receiver, catching 8 passes for 147 yards and 2 scores. Eight catches for a tight end in a game? That's a season in recent years. But there's signs Sternberger can do that against more than just his teammates, because he runs well and his routes are sharp. Add in Trevor Wood and the tight end position may be an asset way faster than I thought.
I thought the defensive line looked great overall. Justin Madubuike is being described by his teammates as a monster, and he showed way Saturday. He was a force the whole game. Josh Rogers and TD Moton both showed a little bit, so there's no question they're loaded at tackle. But what was a bit of a relief was the play of the backup defensive ends. Ondario Robinson and Tyree Johnson both showed some really positive flashes, with Robinson being strong against the run and Johnson getting a pair of sacks. Johnson showed he can be a true speed rusher, blowing past starting right tackle Carson Green for his second sack without really being touched.
All six major linebackers performed at a level that should make you happy and pretty confident that they've finally got a two deep. You expect Tyrel Dodson and Otaro Alaka to put up numbers, but getting them from Buddy Johnson, Ikenna Okeke and Santino Marchiol is vital. Johnson showed a lot of speed playing the Rover position, and Okeke was around the football a lot. Marchiol showed he's going to play physical football, getting in some big hits and even tossing Starkel out of bounds early in the game.
Maybe corner won't be so bad with Charles Oliver, Debione Renfro, Fuller and Clifford Chattman. Fuller has really been a surprise this spring, going from third string to starter for most of camp with Renfro out. With his performance Saturday, he should be given a shot to win the job in the fall too.
Of course, not everything was good.
The big problem is (and if you say still, you're not wrong) the offensive line. It was short-handed and split up Saturday, but gave up six sacks and really struggled in the run blocking department for large stretches of the game. Now, they were missing two starters for all or most of the game (Koda Martin and Connor Lanfear), but you'd still hope for more. Maybe Colton Prater and Kellen Diesch are that "more". Prater had an outstanding spring and was taking the snaps at center Saturday for the White, with Erik McCoy playing right guard. But even if Diesch and Prater have taken a step, you need more than 7 o-linemen and they've got to be better than they were last year.
The starting safeties are great. After that, it looked pretty thin Saturday. Hopefully Larry Pryor and Leon O'Neal can help with that.
Overall, though, it was a very positive game. There's a lot of good things on film and the team definitely took things seriously. The defense flew to the ball and tackled well, and the offense made some big plays. I saw that Vegas has A&M down to win 7 games this fall, but if they continue to improve off of what we saw Saturday, they've got a great shot at topping that.
Things that were different
Snaps under center
Rollout passes to the quarterback's throwing side
defensive ends flipping sides from play to play
Use of the middle of the field in the passing game
Throwing to the tight end
Using a tight end
The Rover (linebacker split out) instead of the nickel (safety or CB)
3 wide, 1 TE set
The use of the fullback on occasion
All good (and needed) news
At halftime of the game, the coaching staff announced the winners of the spring awards (this is something new). And, honestly, it couldn't have gone better if you're looking for this team to improve in 2018. The winners are exactly the guys who are needed to step up.
Offensive MVP: Trayveon Williams
Offensive most improved: Colton Prater
Defensive most improved: Micheal Clemons
Defensive MVP: Justin Madubuike
Special teams MVP: Braden Mann
Team MVP: Jace Sternberger
Analysis of A&M's newest commit
Right off the top, I'm going to say that this was one of the more enjoyable highlight clips I've watched in a while. Baylor Cupp is just rude to opponents, and that's why so many Power 5 programs wanted him. He doesn't mind contact; he wants to bury someone.
He has a small set of clips on his hudl page that I watched first, and was sold in the first play when he knocked the crap out of poor unsuspecting linebacker who landed four yards backward. Then he chased down his running back on a 50-yard plus run to keep blocking for him. Then he shoved a guy to the turf after the whistle blew. And blocked a guy a full 20 yards backward before shoving him down.
He's nasty. I like it.
He's also huge. At 6'6", 235, he could easily be the size of Jace Sternberger by the time he gets to campus (he's already two inches taller). By the time he's a sophomore, and maybe before, he could match the frame of incoming TE Trevor Wood (6'6", 265).
Cupp's an interesting case. He can certainly catch, but he's an outstanding blocker. His plays on defense showed me almost as much as offense, because that's where I saw his lateral quickness. This guy can get in front of people on the edge, then drive them. One thing that Jimbo Fisher wants to do if he can is run off tackle, and if you have a lead blocker like Cupp, that would certainly help.
The Aggies are starting to get some versatile big bodies into the pipeline. With Sternberger around for a couple of years, Glenn Beal heading to campus this summer, Camron Horry and now Cupp, some decent depth is beginning to form. I hope Cupp adds a bit more weight between now and next fall, because A&M could probably use him sooner as opposed to later.
A flashback to the QB debacle of 2015
Jake Hubenak's article on another site today has caused some discussion about the disaster that was Kevin Sumlin's handling of his quarterbacks in 2015. The ego and arrogance that helped bury him at A&M, along with some very poor decisions, were all on display in this debacle.
I said it then (politely) and I'll say it again now: Sumlin lied about Kyle Allen's injury and played Kyler Murray because he made a deal with his dad to get him on campus. Sumlin thought he was good enough to handle the situation and keep the media at bay when difficult questions were asked. He was wrong in both instances.
All of this started well before the season, when Kyler Murray popped up in Austin and posted pictures of a Texas jersey with his number on it. The meltdown on this board and other Aggie boards was immediate and palpable. The unthinkable appeared to be happening: a legendary Aggie quarterback was trying to help out his old buddy in Austin by re-directing him to the Longhorns.
After a week or so of everyone twisting in the wind, Sumlin had an in-home visit with the Murrays and got Kyler to shut things down. He was going to be an Aggie. But almost immediately, rumors started swirling that Sumlin had made a deal with Kevin Murray and Kyler was going to be on the field sooner rather than later.
That meant stiffing Kyle Allen, the #1 quarterback in the nation the year before and the guy coming off a Liberty Bowl MVP performance.
It didn't take long for that to happen, with Murray getting on the field in the first half of the Arizona State game. Sumlin was doing precisely what he angrily claimed he'd never do: play musical quarterbacks. That continued for a few weeks until the Arkansas game, when Allen pulled out a huge win with a great performance. The Aggies then spanked Dak Prescott and Mississippi State before Alabama came to town.
Allen got sacked on the Aggies' first series and hurt his shoulder, but stayed in the game. He threw two pick-sixes in the first half and Murray came in the game. He wasn't much more effective, so Allen went back in. At this point, Murray cursed out Jake Spavital on the sideline before going to pout. He got thrown back into the game again later, and immediately threw an interception of his own. Allen came back again, threw a TD pass to Ricky Seals-Jones to get the Aggies within one and had them driving before throwing his third pick-six of the game. Aggies lose.
Allen leaves the Bright complex that night with his arm in a sling. He's seen by yours truly, who tweets it. So do other people who saw it. Sumlin throws a fit at the Tuesday press conference, denying Allen is hurt at all. He also neglects to mention Murray has been suspended for a game for his sideline outburst.
Allen, of course, plays horribly with his injured throwing shoulder against Ole Miss. Sumlin, after the game, again angrily denies Allen is hurt even though everyone in the stadium saw the medical staff working on his shoulder. Murray returns for South Carolina the next week and starts. He plays well. He is named the permanent starter.
At this point, Allen has had enough. He's done everything his team could have asked for, including playing hurt, only to have his coach blame his poor performance on him just not being good enough, not being hurt. He sits out to recover from his injury and loses his job.
Murray, on the other hand, flops terribly as a starter. After an inept performance against Auburn and doing little against Western Carolina, Allen is reinserted back into the lineup. He plays well against Vandy, gets mauled in a loss at LSU and re-injures his shoulder, but hears nothing from his coach. No apologies, no support, nothing.
So he leaves.
Murray, on the other hand, wants it clearly stated that he's going to be the starting quarterback at A&M, period. That Murray, by the way, is Kevin moreseo that Kyler. But both Murrays met with Sumlin before bowl practices began and set out a series of demands. Sumlin finally stands up and says no. Kyler Murray ghosts and doesn't show up for practice. His teammates respond by packing his things for him. Murray transfers. Jake Hubenak, who had outperformed Murray all year anyway, gets the nod for the Music City Bowl because he's the only guy left.
So did Sumlin learn from his pitiful handling of quarterbacks in 2015? Plainly not. After Nick Starkel got hurt against UCLA, he turned to an unprepared Kellen Mond and saw a 34-point lead evaporate. He had another quarterback, but that guy was injured. After the game, though, Sumlin lied yet again and said he wasn't.
That quarterback was Jake Hubenak.
And Kevin Sumlin wonders why there were trust issues when he left.