There are not a lot of good things to say about Texas A&M's performance Saturday night against Ole Miss. A 23-3 loss that was uglier than the score indicated left Aggie fans with far more questions than answers. Here are three things that seem apparent.
The Aggies have a quarterback problem.
What once was a position of hope, potential, and depth has suddenly, in a seven day span from the fans' perspective, turned into a nightmare. The old saying about "if you have two (three) quarterbacks, you have none" is proving to be more accurate than not.
There are multiple layers to this issue. I have no interest in being the guy who lists out all the rumors and then tries to decide who is and is not at fault based on incomplete information. So let's just go with what played out on TV for all to see.
Kyle Allen started the game, missed a wide open receiver for what would have likely been a touchdown on the second play of the game, and continued on in one of the most inaccurate performances in A&M quarterbacking history. At one point, a string of over 20 consecutive passes took place with just two completions, both of which went for negative yards. It seemed like Allen was injured in some way (and his shoulder received some attention on the sidelines). He wasn't just a little bit off. His passes were WAY off. Not even close.
For reference, since the beginning of 2014, over 1,000 quarterbacks have attempted at least 34 passes in a game, and only seven of them have had a lower completion percentage than Kyle Allen did last night.
For whatever reason, the A&M coaches left him in. Neither Kyler Murray nor Jake Hubenak saw the field until the middle of the fourth quarter when Hubenak finally came in.
Without getting into the issues of why it was Jake Hubenak and not Kyler Murray, I think it must be addressed that the coaching staff left Allen in too long. He was clearly incapable of making the necessary throws due to injury or some other factors. This wasn't about calling poor plays, it was about having a quarterback in the game who physically couldn't execute those plays. Kyle Allen has proven, in my opinion, to be a good quarterback when healthy. But he's apparently not healthy, and for the good of everyone—Allen himself, the team, the fans—he should have been replaced sooner.
There are many, many more things that can be discussed about the offense and the coaching staff and the quarterback issue, but for now, suffice to say that the handling of the quarterback issue over the next week and subsequent weeks will have major implications for Sumlin and Spavital and the team as a whole for the remainder of this season and beyond.
For the second year in a row, a mid-season collapse has occurred.
Obviously a big part of this goes hand in hand with the first point, and while the two years aren't totally identical (this year's defense has remained mostly steady), they are too similar to ignore.
It's completely fair to start asking some really difficult questions about Kevin Sumlin and his program. Why have these mid-season swoons occurred? Can he manage a locker room? Is he recruiting the right kind of people? Is the culture he created conducive to sustained success?
To be fair, the season isn't over, nor is it a complete failure. 9 or 10 regular season wins are still possible, which would be an improvement over last year. But the disturbing trend is one that has shown that when things go bad, they don't get better until they bottom out. And Aggie fans don't want to keep being shown a team that starts strong, then craters, then rebuilds.
It's particularly concerning just how dramatic the lows have been. Last year's loss to Alabama and this year's loss to Ole Miss looked different in some ways but felt very similar in others. Sumlin teams are not supposed to get held out of the end zone, yet that has happened in two straight seasons. Sumlin teams are not supposed to have poor quarterback play, yet for two seasons in a row we have seen a mid-season regression. Sumlin teams are not supposed to appear listless and apathetic, yet it's happened in both 2014 and 2015.
Once again, Sumlin has a rebuilding project on his hands... in the middle of a season. Can he pull it off?
Armani Watts is a man on a mission.
Watts hasn't been perfect this year, but his performance jumped off the screen last night. On a night when the offense gave the defense no help at all, the defense was counted on to keep the game respectable. And, with the help of the usual suspects like Myles Garrett and Donovan Wilson, Watts and crew did so.
Watts was all over the field, notching 20 tackles, with an amazing 16 solo tackles. 2 tackles were behind the line of scrimmage, and he also intercepted a pass. He ranks 18th in the nation in tackles per game, and while you'd rather have your linebackers making more tackles than your safeties, he is doing his part. It wasn't always pretty (a few tackles were shoestring tackles), but it was effective.
Watts started with a bang as a true freshman last year, playing a strong game in the season opener at South Carolina, but he wasn't able to sustain that level of play all year. This year, it seems like he started out somewhat quietly but has been getting better and better. With Justin Evans playing beside him, the Aggies have to feel good about their situation at both safety spots as they look ahead to next year.