This week's article is going to be a little different. It feels like something big is happening with the A&M football team, and a simple report of some numbers and charts describing the failure of the A&M offense Saturday night seems a bit pointless. The simple fact is this: the offense did not work.
There. There's your summarized version of what my normal article would have boiled down to. (A&M was only successful on 19% of their designed passes, 44% of designed runs, which isn't actually that bad, and 28% of their plays overall.)
With that out of the way, it only makes sense to discuss the big picture of what happened with the offense and talk about the issues that everyone wants to talk about: offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. I'll hit on the issue of the quarterbacks a bit too, but Spavital is the man in charge of those quarterbacks and the man ultimately in charge of the offense.
You may recall that I wrote a lengthy article defending Spavital as a play-caller just a few weeks ago. This was when A&M was still undefeated and Kyle Allen was leading the SEC in pass efficiency. (Seems like ages ago, doesn't it?) That article focused almost entirely on the simple issue of his effectiveness calling plays and getting the offense to gain yards and score points and whether or not it was being done at an acceptable rate considering the roster he was working with. And my conclusion was a resounding YES.
There are other aspects to his job besides just calling plays though. Making sure that the plays called have been practiced well enough to be executed, making sure that the players know their assignments, teaching the quarterback where to go with the ball or what checks to make, making sure that the right players are playing, etc.
When I went back and watched the Aggie offense against Ole Miss, a few things were clear:
- Believe it or not, Spavital called a pretty good game, from a stricly X's and O's standpoint.
- The offensive line got beat far too often for the offense to succeed.
- Execution is just not sharp right now.
- Kyle Allen was not healthy and should not have been playing beyond the early part of the 3rd quarter at the latest.
Spavital actually called a pretty good game in a vacuum.
The offensive line gets beat too much.
I don't know what percentage of blame to assign to each coach. Offensive line coach Dave Christenson was brought in to spice up the running game and shore up the weaknesses of what people like to think is a talented offensive line. But so far, it just isn't working. There have been flashes, and the running scheme is definitely more diverse, but the missed assignments are far too often and far too crippling for an offense.
Seven weeks into the season, it led Sumlin to say the following at his press conference yesterday:
Maybe we’re trying to do too much up front as far as angles and reads and things like that. Just looking at it, our guys are better coming off the ball and doing things straight that way.
"The new run game stuff started in the spring. The ability for us to utilize more gap scheme stuff and not just be a zone team, to be able to use some angles and really work on pulling some people ... As athletic as we are, we ought to be able to do that. Utilizing some more two back sets, I think you saw some more of that in the bowl game and a tight end, whether that is an H-back tight end or inline tight end, we have looked at how that can happen. Getting some more blocking surfaces, using more angles and pulling people, while utilizing our athleticism a bit more. Dave Christensen has shown he can do that.
Execution is not sharp.
This is what I think the ultimate problem on the field is. Not play calling, but getting the players to make those calls actually succeed. That's Spav's job, and it's not happening enough.
Whether it's dropped passes, offensive line busts, running backs not hitting the proper hole, or quarterbacks not seeing wide open receivers, the Aggies are having trouble stringing together very many good plays in a row. This is another thing that ultimately falls on the offensive coordinator. While I'm defending his ability to call plays and design a good game plan, he is not succeeding in getting the team to execute that plan. And that's just as important.
I have no idea what an A&M practice is like. There's a growing trend among spread/up-tempo teams in college football that I assume A&M is part of, and that is to use your actual practice time to simply get as many reps as possible and then do the real coaching, the correcting and instructing, during film work. If someone screws up, the coaches wait until later to fix it and focus on just moving to the next rep.
This article and others talk about the trend.
Oregon’s practices last two hours, an hour less than a typical college practice, and there is so little time between plays that coaches must do their teaching with only a few words or wait until the film room. Kelly said that practice had become so sophisticated and fluid that getting off 30 snaps in a 10-minute period had become common. -
And here is another coach talking about that concept:
We will never stop team periods so an individual coach can instruct his players. The coaches will have to learn how to coach players on the fly. We are constantly working on instructing players while we are moving to the next formation and getting the next play call. I love it this way because it keeps assistant coaches on their toes. I have seen way to many practices where assistant coaches stand around 85% of the time while 1 or 2 coaches run the whole period. Even the guys running the scout group have to learn tempo so they can get the scout group in the right look for each play on the practice script. With that said, you must now be able to incorporate film time into your practice schedule so your coaches and players can see the mistakes that were made and be given ample time off the field to correct them before the next practice.
There is value in that, but I would assume a coach would also have to guard against developing an atmosphere where perfection is never demanded in real time.
To be clear, I don't know if that is A&M's practice method, nor do I know how Spavital and the other coaches do their hands-on teaching during practice. But whatever method they use, perhaps they should consider changing something and figuring out a way to hammer down the execution aspect. Because too often, it's just not there.
Kyle Allen was not healthy and should have been replaced earlier.
Here's the big one, the issue that had Aggie fans screaming at the television Saturday night. Kyle Allen has proven to be a good quarterback when healthy. But when he went through a stretch that spanned nine drives- NINE- with just two of his 22 pass attempts being completed and both of those going for negative yardage, it was obvious he is not healthy.
Seeing a doctor work on his throwing arm on the sideline didn't exactly help the cause either. So you have a guy who has already been grimacing and missing passes in the prior game due to what appeared to be an injury in his throwing shoulder, and then he goes through a near historic-level stretch of ineptitude, and those of you that watched the game know that many of his passes weren't even remotely catchable.
That's a problem. The circumstances regarding why Kyler Murray didn't play have already been beaten to death, but why didn't Jake Hubenak play until so late? Putting aside the fact that letting things play out the way they did just looked incredibly bad, the bigger issue is that it gave A&M no chance to win.
In Hubenak's limited time, he showed enough to demonstrate that he was at least capable of making throws that Allen in his injured state was not capable of making.
I don't know whose decision it was to leave Kyle Allen in for so long. Whether it was Sumlin or Spavital, they both should share blame. Their job is to put players on the field who give the team the best shot at winning, and through no fault of Kyle Allen's, he was not that guy.
So now here we are. Another October swoon for the Aggies and another midseason quarterback change seemingly in the works. Questions about who will start at quarterback and who will call plays and who may or may not be on the hot seat abound.
From where I sit, the scheme isn't broken. It's good. But that's just one piece of the puzzle. Execution, personnel decisions, and player management seem to be suddenly causing huge problems. Ultimately, the offense has failed in recent weeks. That's the bottom line.