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Texas A&M vs. Arkansas: New formations and deception won the day for the Aggie offense

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The Aggie offense wasn't on the field very much against Arkansas but they made the most of their opportunities. A&M picked up big chunks of yardage with new formations and plays.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Texas A&M ran only 48 plays Saturday night against Arkansas, but were fairly successful overall, with a 50% success rate. On designed runs, the Aggies were successful 7/17 times (41%), and on designed passes, 17/31 (55%).

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For visuals or descriptions of some of these formations, refer to my previous articles.

For the fourth time in four games, the Aggies ran an offense that didn't look much like it did the prior week. Texas A&M used different personnel groups and formations and completely avoided some formations that have been staples of the offense.

After using a spread formation (one running back with two receivers on either side) 48 times against Arizona State and myriad times in every single game since Kevin Sumlin took over, the Aggies did not run that formation a single time against Arkansas. Instead, the Aggies used more trips formations and brought out a few new formations.

The first new formation was one the Aggies ran four times, and I'll call it "tackle over trips." It's still a trips formation with three receivers to one side and one receiver to the other, but look at this and see what makes this unique. The center is no longer the middle of the five linemen. The tackle from one side has moved over to the other side. When A&M did that, Arkansas failed to recognize what was happening and over-shifted their defense toward the two-tackle side of A&M's line, giving the Aggies a numerical advantage to the other side.

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The other two big wrinkles A&M threw out were not technically new formations, but moved players around in ways that confused Arkansas. These formations were pointed out by the announcers on TV, but let's review.

The first was when A&M used "10" personnel (one running back and four wide receivers), but lined up in a formation they typically use with "11" personnel (one RB, three WR's, and one tight end). In this formation, the Aggies lined the versatile Christian Kirk up as the H-back, where the tight end usually goes.

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A&M hadn't thrown a single pass all year to the H-back in that formation, and sure enough, Arkansas left it completely uncovered and A&M capitalized with a big gain.

One note that I think helped this play work is that A&M did it immediately after another big play, without subbing. Tempo and switching formations with the same personnel on the field worked greatly to A&M's advantage. (Side note: the play before was the "tackle over" formation shown in the first set of pictures above. So A&M hit Arkansas on back-to-back plays with new formations and plays that hadn't been shown all year, and they worked to perfection. This is an example of a game-opening script working as good as it possibly can.

The other wrinkle was another case of using one personnel group to run a formation that isn't usually run with that group. While the Aggies did run some true five wide receiver sets against Arkansas, they also went with the empty backfield, five-wide look out of their "10" personnel group a handful of times. When they did, they would place the running back, Tra Carson, all the way on the outside of the formation.

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This forces defenses to make a choice. Do they cover the outside man with a cornerback, which then puts a weaker defender in coverage on the receiver (Josh Reynolds in this case) who is now the #2 receiver? Or do they leave their good cover corner on top of Reynolds and slide a linebacker all the way out to the perimeter to cover the running back? This move takes a linebacker out of the middle of the field and forces a linebacker to play outside his comfort zone.

The formation forced the Hogs to call not one but two timeouts. Even after the second timeout, they still hadn't decided how to defend it, because that formation is what A&M used to complete the 63 yard pass to Reynolds on the game-tying drive.

One final bit of great planning and recognition by the A&M offense came in overtime. After not using Jordan Davis the entire game, A&M inserted Davis as a tight end on the line of scrimmage on both plays in overtime.

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Rather than describe it myself, I'll let Jake Spavital sum it up:

In overtime and the fourth quarter he was making such mature decisions. The touchdown pass to Christian Kirk was a check by him in overtime. We discussed it all week; it was the first time we ran that set and put Jordan Davis out there, Kyle recognized the way they adjusted to it."

Considering the small number of plays A&M ran (a combination of Arkansas successfully controlling the ball and A&M having such a high yards-per-play average when they did have the ball), the Aggies managed to work in quite a few tricks and deceptions and ended up having a great day.

Despite only scoring 21 points in regulation and 28 overall, consider this:

  • 8.8 yards per play by A&M is more yards per play than Arkansas has allowed to any team other than Johnny Manziel's 2012 Aggies going back to at least 2008.
  • 206 passer rating by Kyle Allen was the highest number by any Aggie against a Power 5 opponent going back to at least 2008.
  • 8.81 yards per play by A&M was the highest number by A&M against a conference opponent since the 2013 Alabama game, when the Aggies averaged 8.85.
  • 20.2 yards per play on their first 10 plays. I don't know exactly how many plays or drives Jake Spavital scripts ahead of time, but this was one of the better efforts I have seen in a while.

All in all,  a pretty efficient day for the Aggie offense. A&M is showing a lot more creativity this year than last and it is paying dividends. Up next is Mississippi State. Can A&M win their first revenge game of 2015?