It's definitely a sign of the times that we can be sitting on a 35-17 lead midway through the 3rd quarter and just feel like the Aggie offense is struggling. But 4 straight turnovers stacked on top of a lost onside kick and an easy drop on 4th down left us all with an uneasy feeling about how things were going.
Fortunately, that sloppy play was sandwiched by the usual, ruthless efficiency of our offense and some surprisingly dominant play from our maligned defense. And in the end, the Ags cruised to an easy victory.
An undisclosed injury to RT Cedric Ogbuehi caused a major re-shuffling along the o-line, as Jake Matthews switched from LT to RT, Jarvis Harrison slid out from LG to LT, and redshirt junior Garrett Gramling got his 1st career start at LG.
Vanderbilt came out with a good gameplan, using some interior stunts and delayed blitzes to confuse the relatively inexperienced o-line and get a couple of free runs at the quarterback.
- Jarvis Harrison - rough day out on the edge; struggled with bullrush all game; got beat once to inside and once to outside; also called for an alignment penalty.
- Garrett Gramling - struggled with bullrush all game; beat once off the snap.
- Germain Ifedi - clean day
- Jake Matthews - clean day, outside of an early false start
- Mike Matthews - clean day
Overall, the line's performance was just ok - about what you would expect with essentially 2 new starters. This line should be good enough to beat UTEP, assuming Ced is still not healthy. The following week, Mississippi State comes to town with a defense ranked 114th in the nation in sacks (1.29/game), so it could probably hold its own in that game as well. This would give Ced a full month of rest before a monster showdown with LSU in Baton Rouge.
Injuries weren't just an issue along the OL, as Johnny Manziel was dealing with a bum shoulder himself. While there was little doubt Johnny would suit up Saturday, I was interested to see how his arm held up. Johnny's response? A perfect 10/10 opening drive.
- Monster stat line even with the arm pain (25/35, 305 yards, 4 TD) that graded out as one of his best games of the season.
- Best throws of the day: a perfect seam route to Laquvionte Gonzalez (dropped); a beautiful throw on the run, against his body, to Derel Walker along the sideline; hitting Mike Evans in stride 35 yards downfield for a TD.
- Looked much more confident in the redzone, twice showing patience in the pocket and finding Derel Walker in the back of the endzone.
The typical bad decisions reared their heads again, as Johnny forced a ball to a blanketed Evans, resulting in a pick. Johnny also ran into another sack by scrambling out of a clean pocket right into a DE. We all love Johnny getting out in the open field and gashing a wide open defense. But the next step he has to take is learning how to utilize the excellent blocking around him, go through his progressions, step up in the pocket and attack downfield, instead of retreating backwards and exposing himself to unblocked pass rushers.
One odd stat I noticed...between the 1st drive of the Alabama game (a TD pass to Cam Clear) and the 1st drive of the Vanderbilt game (a TD pass to Quiv) - so essentially 5 full games - Johnny threw 10 TD passes. Every single one went to either Evans (6) or Malcome Kennedy (4). All other receivers were shut out over those 5 games, so seeing Johnny connect twice with Derel and once with Quiv was a nice changeup.
An up-and-down day for the pass catchers.
(key: 0 - impossible; 1 - difficult; 2 - marginal; 3 - routine)
- Good - highlight catch from Derel along the sideline; tough catches by Derel and Malcome over the middle.
- Bad - season high 4 drops (7 in the previous 7 games combined) Huge drop by Kennedy on 4th down killed a drive.
- Quiv with a season-high 3 targets. He operates at a different speed than every other WR.
- Heavy emphasis on the swing passes to Labhart, which aren't overly productive (5.8 ypc). Would like to see those balls either thrown to Quiv or to Evans' side of the field, utilizing his superior blocking.
Receiver Targets vs. Vanderbilt
The story with the run game continues to be the lack of a run game. As jzimmermann pointed out, the offense is still ridiculously productive, so it's hard to get worked up over it.
Trey Williams continues to be a beast. On the season, over 1/3 of his carries go for 10+ yards. No one else on this team running at same high level. Hopefully Sumlin and McKinney don't hold that 1st half fumble against him going forward.
Tra Carson's day was over before it started due to a fumble, Ben Malena saw a lighter-than-usual workload and Johnny didn't get a single carry, paving way for Brandon Williams to have a breakout game (or at least what constitutes a breakout game for a RB in this offense, 11-61-1).
If you clean up the 3 fumbles that happened in the span of just 4 offensive snaps, this might go down as the best offensive performance of the Sumlin/Manziel era. Still, it was great to see the 1st unit put up 35 points in 2.5 quarters and give Joeckel and Hill some valuable playing time.