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The Aggie Offense: Western Carolina Film Review

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It was the third start in a row for Kyler Murray, but the night ended with a bit of a renewed quarterback controversy.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

I thought this week, with the performances of Kyler Murray and Kyle Allen already being the overwhelming topic of conversation, it would worthwhile to focus in on the quarterbacks and look at some of the good and bad (and neutral) with both.

Kevin Sumlin has already said that this week is another open competition for the quarterback position and won't name a starter until just before game time Saturday. Within the confines of the team, there certainly might be a starter named earlier in the week but for now, let's just look back at some of Kyler Murray's good and bad throws Saturday along with Kyle Allen's successful fourth quarter.

Overall, the Aggie offense never did feel like it go up to its potential on Saturday with Murray at the helm. His numbers weren't particularly impressive, and while the offense moved the ball a lot, it still stalled out too many times. Murray did have some good throws that went unrewarded, but also had some really bad ones that he got away with.

From a grading perspective, Murray played a poor game. He graded out at a -2.3 according to Pro Football Focus, a website that does extensive and detailed grades of every single player and a multitude of categories. Murray's score was the lowest of any offensive player for A&M.

The first pass of the game was Murray's worst decision. One thing that was interesting here is that if you notice Christian Kirk, he actually is looking to block. He never runs a route. So that tells us that this was never drawn up to go to anyone other than either Ricky Seals-Jones or Jeremy Tabuyo, both running slants.

int

Obviously, the middle linebacker just reads Murray's eyes and makes the easy interception. I don't claim to know how Murray is coached to read this play, but I do know that with no running back in the formation (Carson has lined up out wide to the right as a receiver) and with the tight end already being covered by another linebacker, Murray should know that there is nothing to keep the circled linebacker from covering that passing lane.

Perhaps the thought is that the LB would drop with Kirk as Kirk runs vertically, clearing out space for the slant. But the quarterback must visually check that the linebacker does indeed vacate that space before throwing the inside slant. The outside slant would have been the play here.

On the next drive, Murray's first pass is off of a run/pass option. The line and running backs execute a run play, and the two wide receivers to the right run short pass patterns. Murray makes a good, accurate throw here.

Murray's next pass was a bubble screen that went incomplete. It was a good read and would have been an easy gain of several yards, but Murray and Kirk weren't on the same page, as Murray tried to lead Kirk up the field a bit while Kirk was still floating out laterally. Not sure whose fault that is but it's a simple execution error that shouldn't happen.

Murray's next pass is one that could have been better. The Aggies get a good match-up here, and Murray recognizes it. As one safety comes down, it leaves the other safety covering Christian Kirk all by himself. After looking at his first option, Murray then turns his attention to Kirk, and with time in the pocket, waits a second to let Kirk run his deep post. The coverage is good, but this is still an advantage situation for A&M. But the throw is poor. I would have liked to have seen this pass with some more air under it. Float it up further down the field and let Kirk run under it.

The next pass is the good old stick/draw play, a run/pass option where the line and running back execute a draw play and the trips receivers run routes, with the inside receiver running a stick route. Murray makes a quick, accurate throw here.

The next play is another quick read and quick, accurate throw. He's really looking good on the quick stuff, other than the one bad read on the first play.

A&M finished that drive with runs until they scored a touchdown. On the next drive, Murray's first throw was again a short and quick throw and was again accurate and well-thrown.

The next throw isn't as good. Murray tries to hit Kirk over the middle, but it seems that he waited too long to get him the ball. The ball should have been thrown about a half second earlier to hit Kirk with space around him, but since it was a little late, the throwing lane had closed. This was a case of Murray getting from his first read (Tabuyo and Seals-Jones) to his second read, so credit him for that, but it's the type of read that needs to be made just a split second faster.

Murray's next pass was one of his best of the year. A&M runs a play action roll out to the right but sends Tra Carson on a wheel route back up the left sideline, away from all the flow of the play. And Murray dropped a perfect pass right into Carson's hands. This should have been a touchdown.

The next pass was a real missed opportunity for Murray and the offense. WCU showed that they were in man coverage when their linebacker chased Tra Carson when Carson motioned out wide. That fact is important, because it meant there was no defender in the way of Christian Kirk's route.

miss kirk

miss kirk1

It appeared that Murray just decided pretty early that he was going to throw to Seals-Jones here, but a better play would have been to recognize the void that the vacated linebacker had left and throw to Kirk who easily beat his defender. (That said, I should again point out that it's easy for me to say what he "should" have done, but I don't know how he is being coached or what his primary option is on any given play. Keep that in mind as I continue pretending to know what should have happened.)

On the next drive, Murray threw a tunnel screen to Damion Ratley for a minimal gain, as the timing seemed a little bit off. But that play is followed up by a nice play design using motion by Christian Kirk to draw the attention of the defense and then throwing the ball deep behind that. Murray does a nice job of reading the deep safety and seeing that Tabuyo has been released with no help.

On Murray's next throw, he does a nice job of getting to what appears to be his third read and then making a long throw from the right hash to the left sideline for a completion.

He followed that up with two perfectly executed and accurately thrown bubble screens. Murray's release is incredibly quick. The amount of time it takes him to begin executing the zone read and then decide to throw and pull the ball out and actually throw it is pretty amazing. Here are the two passes.

So I just have to stop here for a minute. This is the point in the game where I know Aggies were already very frustrated. A&M was only up by seven halfway through the second quarter. But at this point, has Murray really looked bad? The first pass was bad indeed. But after that, he's been pretty good. Missed a couple opportunities but also had a sure touchdown pass dropped.

Moving on to the next drive, Murray throws a short completion to Kirk and then an incompletion to him. The incompletion, shown below, appeared to be a case of waiting too long to decide. At various times, it seems like any of the three receivers to the right are open enough to get the ball, but Murray isn't able to do it in time.

After that, Murray took a sack and A&M punted. A&M got the ball back one more time in the second quarter and Murray effectively moved the Aggies about 40 yards before throwing a Hail Mary that was intercepted on the last play of the half.

Overall, when looking at Murray's first half, I again feel like he played better than it felt at the time. One big mistake clouds things, but after that, he was very accurate on most passes, and his main issue was just being a little slow to decide where to go a couple times and a little quick to settle for throwing to a covered receiver a couple times when there were other receivers more open. Freshman mistakes, if you will.

Moving to the third quarter, his first throw was a bubble screen that was a little behind Kirk, which caused Kirk to turn around to catch it, effectively ruining the chances of the play to succeed. He then threw a deep incompletion to Seals-Jones but it looked almost like an intentional throwaway  since no one was open.

The next play was another that very easily could have (should have) been intercepted. A&M runs their stick combo to the trips side, with the #2 receiver running about a five yard out while the outside receiver goes deep and the inside receiver runs a five yard stop route.

stick int

I will say this in defense of Murray. Sabian Holmes ran a very poor route. Holmes makes a soft cut and rather than breaking at a hard 90 degree angle right at the 43 yard line where he starts his cut, he drifts a full three yards down the field, which is one reason it's so easy for the defender to jump the route.

When looking at the other options, the only other possible throw would have been to throw to Kirk's outside shoulder, but to be honest, I can see why Murray chose to throw to Holmes. That said, the route was poor, and then the throw itself was poor too. You can see here when Murray is already loading to throw that Holmes is breaking and the defender is four yards off.

int

It's a negative for Murray either way, but Sabian Holmes needs to do a better job too. The defender for Western Carolina also deserves credit because he made a really good play. He broke on the ball very quickly.

After that, Murray threw another good bubble screen and then threw an incompletion deep in the end zone to Jeremy Tabuyo. This was another play that I don't think was a bad throw at all. Murray threw the ball to the back, outside shoulder of his receiver, but the receiver, whether he was interfered with or not, wasn't able to make what would be a difficult catch in any circumstance.

The next play, Murray used his athleticism to avoid some defenders but then got too greedy and made an ill-advised throw that could have been intercepted. It wasn't within the design of the play, it was just a case of trying to do too much. Thankfully, he got away with it, but that's the kind of throw he needs to eliminate.

Next drive, a poorly thrown deep ball (and it appears that a short, quick completion to Kirk was available):

And that was followed by a completed pass, a quick throw that was accurate enough to catch but just inaccurate enough to matter:

To finish that drive, Murray throws a touchdown pass to Ratley on a well-played run/pass option. Murray is pretty good at these.

On Murray's final drive, he threw a perfect pass for what should have been a big gain to Tabuyo, but Tabuyo misplayed it. You can't see it from the angle below, but Tabuyo hesitates at about the 50 yard line right as Murray threw the ball and that hesitation kept him from catching it. Had he just kept running, he would have caught it in stride right around the 40.

On the very next play, Murray is looking comfortable as he hangs in the pocket and finds Kirk over the middle. A&M runs stuff like this a lot. Against a zone, the quarterback just reads the circled linebacker. If he sinks deep with Kirk, you throw it to Seals-Jones on the pivot route. If he chases the pivot, you the square in route behind him.

nice pass

That was essentially it for Murray's night. He threw one or two more screens on that final drive and he scrambled a few times over the course of the evening. All in all, you can see enough mistakes to see why PFF graded him with a negative score, but I think all the talk about how bad he is and how he's just not a good quarterback and whatnot are overblown. Keep in mind also that he was playing without two of his starting wide receivers, and while it's easy to say that shouldn't matter against an FCS opponent, the fact is that A&M has not used their second string receivers very much at all this year. Ed Pope and Jeremy Tabuyo very rarely see the field, so it's definitely a factor.

So now that we've looked at Murray, let's look at Kyle Allen. Allen came in after the 3rd quarter, and promptly led a quick touchdown drive and then ran out the last several minutes of the game. His first play was A&M's longest play of the day. Give Allen credit for making a quick decision and letting it rip on this throw. The throw itself was actually a little underthrown. Kirk did a great job of finding the ball in the air quickly and adjusting to it.

So speaking of that play, it's identical (but a mirror image) of the play A&M ran in the second quarter with Murray at quarterback. Both players made the same read and both made nearly identical throws. Both quarterbacks threw the ball to about the same spot relative to the receiver. In one play, Kirk was able to adjust and catch it. In the other, he wasn't. I considered showing some frame by frame screenshots of similarities and differences but just watch these for yourself.

His next pass is a bubble screen to Kirk that goes for a touchdown. Nice play all around.

Moving to the final drive, Allen threw a few passes as the Aggies effectively ran off the final eight minutes of the game. Here's a nice job of quickly moving from left to right with his progression. Throwing to Jordan Davis here appears to be his third read.

Next play was a nicely thrown comeback route to the outside.

After that, another bubble screen and then a gorgeous throw on a comeback route to Ed Pope to the near sideline. Again Allen does a great job of checking the stick combo to the left and seeing that it's not there but knowing that he has Pope in man coverage to the back side.

Obviously it was only two drives, but Allen did play really well. It's hard to compare the two performances too much simply because not only was there a huge discrepancy in the number of plays, Allen also had the benefit of playing in the fourth quarter after that defense had already faced about 80 plays. I'm not trying to downplay his success, but a fair analysis would include that note.

Overall, my opinion is that Kyler Murray did not play as badly as many (most?) fans seem to be saying. We know what Allen can do when he is at his best. It wasn't a fluke that he was atop the SEC in many categories through his first five games. Murray, meanwhile, has certainly had his share of freshman mistakes and plays he would like to have back, but I think going back and objectively looking at his performance should give Aggie fans great optimism.

Regardless of who starts for A&M on Saturday, the thing the Aggies need to do is stop settling for 50 yard field goals and stop turning the ball over. If A&M can do that, they will win. With either quarterback.