Nothing came easy against Alabama as the Crimson Tide defeated the Aggies 41-23 Saturday at Kyle Field. Four turnovers by A&M ultimately were too much to overcome, as they led to 24 points for Alabama. Looking at the overall offensive performance for the Aggies, it went about as expected: no room to run against what is the best run defense in the country, but some success passing.
A&M came into the game averaging 6.6 yards per play with a 49% success rate. That dropped to 4.5 ypp and 36% against the Tide though. On designed passes (passes, sacks, and QB scrambles), A&M averaged 5.3 ypp and had a 37% success rate. Running the ball, A&M averaged 3.1 yards per carry on designed runs, which actually isn't terrible against that defense and had a 35% success rate. The problem was an inability to generate any big plays.
Prior to this game, A&M was averaging a "mini-explosive" play (a run of 7+ yards or a pass of 15+ yards) on about one of every four snaps (26%). Against Alabama, A&M's explosive rate dropped to 17%. The biggest drop there was in the running game. The Aggies only had one run of 7+ yards on a designed run, and it was actually courtesy of wide receiver Christian Kirk. Their explosive rate was just 6%, and Tra Carson's longest run was just six yards. No one expected huge rushing totals from A&M Saturday, but a little more would have really helped. When passing, A&M's explosive rate was only slightly off of their season average.
An interesting note about the runs was that when A&M used their 11 personnel with Caden Smith at the H position, the Aggies were their least successful. Averaging just 2.2 yards per carry out of that formation, A&M was unable to get anything going. When replacing Smith with a wide receiver and spreading the defense out more, A&M was able to get 3.4 ypc. Still not great, but much more functional than 2.2.
Speaking of 11 personnel and formations, A&M did not use Jordan Davis in this game. I don't know if he was injured or not, but no Davis meant no formations all game with a tight end on the line of scrimmage. That had become a notable part of A&M's offense, and the Aggies had enjoyed success in formations where there was a tight end to one side and no other receivers to that side.
Without Davis, A&M ran 69% of their plays out of 10 personnel, which is the highest total since the Arizona State game. A&M is really limited by their lack of depth at running back and tight end.
Pass distribution continued to be dominated by the Y position, which is usually Christian Kirk and sometimes Ricky Seals-Jones. A&M is also really starting to figure out how to involve both players and move them both around. The Aggies targeted either the Y or H (regardless of who was there) 26 times against Alabama and averaged 7.6 ypp.
Finally, here are a few screenshots and clips of some plays of note.
The first play was a three level flood. Send one guy deep, one guy intermediate, one guy short. This is a common zone-beater play. It's designed to key the circled defender. If he sags deep, throw it short. If he takes the flat route away, throw the intermediate. The deep route runs the bottom defender out of the play.
Two plays later, as you can expect from A&M during the early stages of each game, the Aggies did something they hadn't done all year. First, the moved Ricky Seals-Jones into the backfield:
And then they ran a play they hadn't run all year, using Kirk as a decoy as he faked a screen while Seals-Jones runs a wheel route.
On the third drive, A&M continues to use Kirk as a decoy and show new looks. On this play, they again fake a WR screen to Kirk which allows Seals-Jones to break open.
The next one, even though it didn't work, was probably the most creative one. It was hard to notice on t.v. because they were showing a replay of the previous play and so the new player alignment was not seen, but A&M lines Kirk up as the H-back, like they did with huge success against Arkansas.
But this time, Kirk is the decoy, and the goal is to get the linebackers to chase him away to the right and then throw the screen to Tra Carson on the left.
Later, on 3rd and 4, A&M runs a combo with both inside receivers running pivot routes. These are great man beater routes, and running them side by side provides and easy read for the quarterback. Just pick the one who's open.
Allen makes the right read, but the safety for Alabama makes an incredible play. Sometimes the defense is really good.
Lastly, let's look at the big 44 yard pass to Seals-Jones that preceded his touchdown catch. This was a post/wheel combo, a pretty common two man combination. The outside receiver runs a deep post, hoping to draw the deep coverage with him, leaving a hole up the sideline for the wheel route.
It worked to perfection.
P.S. Here is how I celebrate big punt return touchdowns: