The last week has been interesting to say the least. The Aggies handled (survived?) the Razorbacks in a 45-33 road win that generated more questions about the defense, and even some about the offense. Unlike the end of last year where the Aggies appeared to be emboldened by playing back to back games, this year's team desperately needs the time off provided by the bye week.
Healing injuries, working on the defensive side of the ball, and avoiding a new set of external distractions will be the major themes over the next few weeks.
Mike Evans came down awkward after a ridiculous touchdown catch and limped his way back to the sidelines. He was back in the game later, but was no longer featured. Either he was back in the game as a diversion, or he wasn't able to create space to get the ball like he normally does. According to Sumlin, Evans' injury doesn't appear to be serious, and he definitely deserves good health after putting up an SEC high 691 yards on 28 receptions this season.
Losing Evans for any period of time would be a big blow to the A&M offense as Kevin Sumlin announced yesterday that Ricky Seals-Jones is taking a medical redshirt after sustaining an injury to his knee against Rice.
Other injuries occurred where the team can least afford it. Freshman linebacker Darian Claiborne exited the game with a bruised thigh, but will likely be back in action next week. Senior defensive lineman and premier pass rusher Kirby Ennis exited the game limping on Saturday. He later returned to the game with a knee brace on, but was pulled back out later. Coach Sumlin's words from the press conference were most troubling:
"Darian Claiborne's got a thigh bruise and I'd expect him to be back next week. Kirby Ennis is a lot more serious than that. We'll continue to evaluate that and see where he is by the end of the week."
With Kirby Ennis on the sidelines, Alonzo Williams and Isaiah Golden's play against Arkansas showed promise for the future. Both Coaches Sumlin and Snyder were particularly impressed with Alonzo's development.
Sumlin: "We'll put Isaiah Golden and Hardreck Walker back on the field and move Alonzo some. Alonzo, by the way, that was the best game he played."
Snyder: "He (Isaiah Golden) did OK. The guy that played really well was Alonzo. Alonzo's played a lot of nose for us. Getting some guys back who've played 3-technique in real games will help us a lot."
The biggest effect the injury has at this point is further disrupting the continuity between a defense that has only been whole for the last three games. There's also a learning curve for the coaches as they are constantly observing the strengths and tweaking the ideal alignment of their new personnel. Sumlin on the defense:
"The communication, as soon as we get something going, Kirby's out half the game. We've got Isaiah Golden in there and we're back to where we were. Darian Claiborne has given us a shot from a tackling perspective. Are we fitting everything right now, no, but we're better than we were. The consistency at the linebacker position, Darian's really helped us, Steven Jenkins being back full time has helped us."
Off the line, Senior DB Otis Jacobs was tested, and Coach Snyder remarked "I'm the first one to take my hat off" as Jacobs came through and aided the Aggie defense in only allowing 17 passing completions. In what was the most game changing play, Deshazor Everett landed a completion for himself, and returned an INT for a touchdown for the second time in as many weeks, or as Sumlin put it, "He's playing pretty good."
The most notable observations from the Arkansas game came from the running game. Trey Williams and Tra Carson put up monster performances in the second half, taking A&M to a touchdown on three separate drives that had no completed passing attempts.
The only player who appeared to be out of sync offensively was Johnny Manziel. He didn't appear to take off with the ball like he normally does, opting instead to move laterally across the line and find a receiver. Clarence McKinney indicated that they didn't prepare for any designed runs this week, opting to feature the running backs instead. Sumlin attributed his noticeable change to his maturation as a quarterback:
"He's done a better job of seeing the field, not bailing right away, and when he's ran he's exercised good judgement in sliding or getting out of bounds, which we asked him to do. It's another sign of growing up and protecting the football and not being reckless. There's no doubt we have some more designed runs in for him. He knows that."
In a rare twist, the Aggie offense even huddled this week. No questions or commentary about this were given in the press conference, although sources close to the Arkansas program are reporting that during the two-days that Bret Bielema spent rigorously preparing for Manziel, one of his brunch breaks was dedicated to defending the huddle.
Former USC football head coach Lane Kiffin was terminated on Sunday, and it led to immediate speculation about who their next head coach would be. According to sources close to the USC program, Kevin Sumlin is at the top of their list.
We spent some time dissecting our thoughts on whether or not he would leave, and what the top coaching jobs are, but at the end of the day no one really knows the answer. All we did know was that Sumlin would be asked about it, even if indirectly by questioning his approach to handling situations like this.
"I don't talk about it. It's going to be talked about no matter what. If they're not talking about you at all, there's probably some other issues. That's always going to be the case, I hope. It means you're winning and that you're winning the right way and doing things that are helpful. From my standpoint, it's not a job to manage. I just don't approach it."
Sumlin provided an answer to a question that wasn't asked. Is he interested in USC? No one knows but him, but it's obvious he won't speak about it. At least he didn't Saban it.
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