59-0. Not a typo. 45-0 at halftime. I could beat you over the head with amazing stats and notes from this game, none of which are positive obviously, but there's no need. We all saw the same thing. Complete and total domination and a loss that ranks right up there with the 77-0 debacle of 2003.
Like you, I have been struggling to come to terms with the new reality facing this Texas A&M football program. Like you, I can handle losing games if we at least play hard and look like we care. And like you, I assume, this game infuriated me more than any game I can remember, thanks to what was clearly a lack of effort and a total failure from top to bottom. So with that, here are five major problems that need fixing.
1. THE TEAM QUIT. I hate saying that, but it's true. And not only did they quit, they quit in the first quarter. Again, I hate saying this. I am a supportive fan. But we have to be honest about what's happening. The effort clearly wasn't there. Guys were going through the motions and were afraid to both initiate and receive contact. Football being a contact sport, that's a problem.
I think the defense quit after Deshazor Everett dropped the easy interception. We seem to have a very emotionally charged team. When they see something good happen early, they feed off of it and play hard and with confidence. But when things go poorly at the start, they clam up. Dropping that sure touchdown seemed to completely take the air out of the defense.
As for the offense, I don't even know what to make of their effort. I just know that the offensive line and the wide receivers are not moving people any more. They are no longer playing with attitude.
What now? There are still four games left. An eight or nine win season is still out there. But so is a six win season. If you're Kevin Sumlin, do you start dropping grenades and firing people and running kids off the team? I think you use the bye week to basically ask them "Who really wants to be here?" and make them prove it. You work them to death for a few days and see who really wants it. You tell them that the only way to see the field is to show maximum effort and then you actually follow up on it. That's all easier said than done from behind this keyboard, and I might be totally wrong, but that's where I'm at as of right now.
2. Our defensive scheme. I am just going to focus on one simple thing, but it's something that I think is indicative of our whole defensive attitude. On multiple third down plays, our corners are giving so much cushion that they aren't in any position to defend a pass.
I understand that coaches have reasons for the plays they call. I understand that it's rarely as easy as we fans make it out to be. I understand that Mark Snyder knows far more about defense than I ever will. But I do not understand why, on 3rd and 7, we would give a cushion of ten yards to a wide receiver and just allow them to throw a simple pass to what is essentially an uncovered player. It's such a passive way of playing. I don't know if the mindset is "we will force them to execute and tighten up in the red zone", but that seems ludicrous. Every team can complete that pass. And we played too soft multiple times.
What's the solution? Well I realize we have some severe physical limitations with our defensive roster, but nevertheless, I believe we should just set them free to be aggressive. Every good team I watched this weekend featured defensive players that GO and fly to the ball. They play with passion. The last decade of Aggie football has featured some awful defensive units, and the big cushions and bad 3rd down defense have become a hallmark of our teams spanning multiple coaching staffs. I would much rather see us play a more aggressive brand of football and if we still give up big plays, fine, but in the process, let's MAKE some big plays of our own. After all, we have played eight games and only intercepted two passes and only forced two fumbles. Both of those rank in the bottom ten in the nation. So why don't we force turnovers and affect things with our defense? In my opinion, it's due to a passive scheme, which leads to passive players. No aggression in our scheme leads to no aggression in our players.
3. We play on our heels. One of the hallmarks of our defense is the fact that they rarely if ever make tackles while they are moving towards the ball carrier. Almost always, we are the ones trying to tackle ball carriers as they go by or as they knock us down. Whether it's our corners sitting and waiting for the receiver who just caught a screen to start running forward or our linebackers sitting behind the line and waiting for the ball carrier to come through the hole towards them rather than being the one to shoot the gap and go make a play, it is maddeningly consistent.
Compare the difference between the way Bama's corners attack our receivers and then the way our corners sit and wait and allow several yards to be gained. Bama's corners move forward and attack the ball carrier. Our corners sit and wait to see where the receiver is going to go and by waiting, put themselves at a disadvantage. Controlled aggression wins. And we are not aggressive.
What can be done to fix this? I don't really think much can be done mid-season. This is how our players play. They need to be completely re-programmed. Switching from passive to aggressive is a major mindset shift. This issue here is a big reason why I think that a change in the coaching staff would be good. I like Mark Snyder very much, however, his players play scared, tentative, passive football and they don't even do a good job of carrying out their assignments. If you're going to bust an assignment, do it fast and with aggression. I think we need to hire a new defensive coordinator and find one that is willing to run an aggressive scheme. Anything to get our players into an aggressive approach to football.
4. Our offense is too simple and predictable. I was watching West Virginia this weekend, who we all know is coached by Jake Spavital's previous mentor Dana Holgorsen. Holgorsen runs much of the same stuff that we do, offensively, and yet when you watch them, they are much more diverse than we are. In particular, in the running game. They use more three-wide sets (as opposed to four wide) than we do, and they commit to running the ball. They mix up their backfield action and use more fakes and misdirection. Yet they still run the passing game and rack up the big numbers through the air. But their diversity allows them to run the ball effectively which also keeps the passing game from getting shut down.
Note that they, like us, faced Alabama this year. But whereas we completely got shut down and shut out by them, West Virginia managed 393 total yards and kept the game close. They have run for 180+ yards in four of seven games. They have a very consistent yards per play total on a game by game basis this year.
So what can we do to help ourselves? One simple idea would be to take a page or three out of the West Virginia playbook. Copy them. Diversify our run game the way they have and keep the defense off balance. Self scout and realize that defenses are sitting on certain things. CHANGE.
5. Kenny Hill is inaccurate and not getting it done. This is a tough one too, but it seems clear that at this point, Hill is just not up to the task. The numbers aren't pretty. He was the quarterback in charge of the first shutout of Kevin Sumlin's career. He has led just one touchdown drive in the 6 quarters that make up the first halves of the last three games. Ranger222 made a good post a few weeks ago showing some of the fundamental errors that lead to Hill's inaccuracy. It continues to be a problem.
He's inaccurate down the field but I also believe that his inaccuracy on the short passes that are a staple of this offense are just as crippling. Those passes are designed to get the ball into someone's hands quickly and gain a few yards. When the ball wobbles and is not placed well, it forces the receiver to adjust and if he has to turn or contort his body, it ruins the window of opportunity to hit the (rapidly closing) hole.
So what can be done? Well, this is another one that is easy to say for me but if (and this might be a big "if") Kyle Allen is remotely close to being ready, you have to give him the ball for the last few games. We know what we have with Hill. I fear that if we keep Hill in, nothing will change and this season will finish in a ball of flames. If there were ever a time to switch quarterbacks, it is now. We have a bye week and then a cupcake opponent to get Allen's feet wet. I don't think you can look your team in the eye and receive any respect from them if you trot the same quarterback out there despite the troubles he has had.
Again, that assumes that Kyle Allen has kept his head in the game and has used these last two months to continue preparing like a professional. If he has, we have to give him a real shot. If he hasn't, we can just add that to the list of internal problems this team is facing.