Like most Aggies right now, I am simply in a glass case of emotion when it comes to this A&M football team. So with that said, I will do my best to avoid that type of talk (I will only allow myself three "stop and weep" breaks while writing this) and stick to the topic of my weekly article, and that is simply the "what do we do and how well do we do it?" aspect of our football team.
But first it bears mentioning that the 21-16 victory over ULM on Saturday was, from a scouting standpoint, almost pointless for me to chart. As Ranger222 has already written about, A&M completely changed their offensive scheme for this game. Nothing we did really corresponded to what we had previously done. All of my prior charting and stat keeping is based on formations and tendencies that were so far removed from what we showed Saturday that they just don't even relate to one another.
So rather than hit all the same charts and stats and comparisons that I have done for previous games, I'm just going to give some downward-trending overall stats, a quick overview of the formations we ran and how many times we did (and compare that to our first 8 games), and then some other random numbers and thoughts.
First, I just want to show you these numbers:
Every single number on the left, if it were what we still averaged, would either lead the nation or be in the top five in the nation. Conversely, every single number on the right, if that were our full-season average would be in the bottom 20 in the nation, except for passer rating, which would come in at 97th nationally.
The drop-off has been enormous. Now, to be sure, playing three really good teams makes the numbers look worse than they would have if we had played easier opponents. But the problem is, our numbers against these teams are just as bad as "bad" teams have fared against them. For instance, no one this season has done worse offensively against Alabama than we did. No one except Wake Forest (who is battling SMU for title of worst offense in America) has gained fewer than 5 yards per play against ULM, except Texas A&M, who gained a whopping 3.5. And of course the second problem is that we have also regressed against the bad teams we have faced.
For reference, our four non-conference opponents this year, by chronological order, had Sagarin ratings of 168, 79, 188, and 134. Terrible, terrible teams. Our two most recent home games of that group, Rice (79) and ULM (134), both out-gained us. At Kyle Field. Go read that again just to let it set in.
The Aggies just suffered an October in which they went 0-3 and were outscored 142-51. For reference, Fran's worst month ever at A&M was an 0-3 month (November of 2003, his first year) in which he was outscored 168-37. In case you're curious, the schedule strength in each awful month was similar, though slightly tougher this year (just barely). Sumlin followed up that October with an underwhelming at best, incredibly concerning at worst victory, by five points, against a Sun Belt team that gained 93 total yards against LSU.
We were not very successful offensively against ULM. Obviously we haven't been very successful against anyone since October started.
- South Carolina: 61%
- Lamar: 67%
- Rice: 54%
- SMU: 71%
- Arkansas: 47%
- Mississippi St: 48%
- Ole Miss: 48% (prior to garbage time)
- Alabama: 30%
- ULM: 45%
So... what did I see from a scouting perspective? Again I'm echoing the Ranger222 article a bit here, but I saw the most vanilla game plan I have ever seen a major college team run. Just a handful of plays run out of two or three formations. That's it.
10 personnel (four wide receivers)? Not this week. Only ran ____ plays out of it all day. Packaged plays with bubble screens to the outside and zone running plays or draws inside? Nope. Stick/draw? Nope. Our "8" concept (which Jon Gruden calls "Dusty" and I have written about before)? Nope.
What did we do? We became a 12 personnel team. One running back, two tight ends (one lined up as an H-back in the backfield), and two wide receivers, split out to the side away from the tight end. And we switched from zone blocking to man blocking and ran the ball. A lot. The problem was, it wasn't successful. Neither Brandon Williams nor Tra Carson managed to even average four yards per carry. Williams started strong, with 25 yards on his first three carries, then managed only 46 yards on his final 16 (2.9 ypc).
We didn't bother to run a single play-action pass to take advantage of our commitment to the run. Why? I have no idea. We did package those runs with some quick hitches on the outside. On the first drive or two Kyle Allen looked very sharp making those throws. After that, I almost wonder if he had been banged up or something because the accuracy was no longer there.
There was no diversity whatsoever in our scheme. And that's why, from a scouting perspective, I find this game to be somewhat pointless for me to analyze too much. We didn't do anything that we had been doing for the last two months, and with a new quarterback who was given absolutely no throws to make, you can't even compare his performance to anything Kenny Hill did. They were running different offenses with different game plans.
At this point, we are nine games in. We are past the point of looking for new wrinkles each week. We're past the point of looking for Cam Clear to finally break out and be involved. We're past the point of waiting for the supposed other variations of the new wide receiver screen play we ran against South Carolina and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital talked about using again. We are past the point of waiting for some counters to the staple concepts we use. We are the team that we have been seeing for the last several weeks. It's up to the coaches and the players to be something different.
If I'm scouting us, I look at our offense and say that they don't stress you with many formations (and no shifts or motions), so pre-snap alignment is easy enough. They don't play with quick tempo, so we can call any defense we want most of the time. They don't do play action, so we can sit on the run and be aggressive there. They don't do misdirection, so whatever you see at the snap is what you're going to get, so you can be aggressive there. They run a few certain concepts so to a certain degree, we can see them on film and then play fairly aggressive, pattern-matching defense. Their receivers don't seem to be getting open so we don't really need to give too much help in coverage, and this week at least (who knows what will happen post-Auburn), they have a quarterback who is still very green and should be easy to confuse.
What does A&M do well at this point? Well, we still have receivers on the outside who are capable of making tough catches and gaining yards after the catch. Our running backs, despite the lackluster results, are, in my opinion, all good backs who run hard and really fight for every yard. Our offensive line has been disappointing but I think you can at least try to look at this past week as a game in which, for better or worse, Coach Sumlin was going to force us to attempt to be physical and we saw some glimpses of it.
What can we expect against Auburn? I honestly don't know anymore. I've spent this year trying to predict stuff each week that I thought we'd see, and it just doesn't happen. Will we go back to some four wide receiver sets? I have no idea. Will we run the same basic game plan that we did against ULM? I have no idea. I think that it's reasonable to expect a mixture. I think we'll keep the 12 personnel on the field quite a bit, especially since Ben Compton performed well in the H role. Hopefully there are a few more plays to run out of that set this week. I have wanted this all year but hopefully we'll finally see some play-action passing mixed in with the run game. I'd also like to see at least a little more diversity with our formations. I know we're not going to be that team that has hundreds of variations, but more than four would be nice, thanks.