Behind the arm and legs of Kyler Murray, Texas A&M had their most consistent and effective game of the year on offense. Overall, the Aggies were successful on 58% of their plays (a very high number), with almost identical success rates on both runs and passes.
I'll hit a few different things here, but first, here are three ways the A&M offense was different with Murray at quarterback.
Zone read and run/pass options all day long.
A&M had, for whatever reason, gone away from using RPO's (run/pass options) this year, usually only doing a few per game. But that all changed Saturday. By my count, A&M used at least 24 RPO's, which is almost 1/3 of the plays run.
The most common way A&M did this was to run a zone read with Murray and the running back while also having a bubble screen option with the slot receiver. Here are examples of both the run and the pass options. Either way, the offensive line simply blocks the running play.
A couple other times, the RPO's produced quick passes that weren't bubble screens. Taking a page out of the Auburn playbook, the Aggies allowed Murray to throw to the single wide receiver side if the corner covering that receiver tried to cheat up to stop the run. Murray was 2/2 on these, converting first downs both times. Here's the first one:
And here's the second one. On this one, notice how quickly Murray recognizes the corner blitz and throws the ball to the uncovered receiver. A heck of a read and throw and surprisingly heads-up for a true freshman in his first start.
No more bootleg, roll out play action passing.
These types of plays, where A&M either ran a play action bootleg or just a designed roll out, were very common when Kyle Allen was playing. We can assume it was done to give Allen some room to operate and get away from the pressure that was so often caused by A&M's poor pass protection. Moving the pocket and/or rolling out the quarterback is a common method of working around having pass protection issues.
But with a mobile quarterback like Kyler Murray, the Aggies didn't need to do that. Murray's passes were mostly quick throws, which also negates a pass rush, and on longer developing passes, Murray has the ability to escape pressure.
This aspect of the game plan worked out nicely, as Murray was only sacked once and scrambled three times. Every pass he threw was from inside the pocket. That's pretty amazing and says that not only did the offensive line protect him well, he was doing a good job of getting rid of the ball quickly.
Overall, the Aggies were at 59/41 versus South Carolina, including 60/40 on first down. So A&M kept the same run/pass ratio for the whole game, and had success doing it, which allowed them to remain flexible. Gaining positive yards on 1st/2nd down makes more easier 3rd down conversions, and that was the case Saturday.
A&M had 13 snaps on 3rd down Saturday, but only two were longer than six yards needed. Against Alabama, the Aggies faced 3rd and long ten times. Against Alabama, the Aggies gained zero yards on first down a whopping 11 times. Against South Carolina, just five times.
A&M's ability to mix run and pass (while leaning on the run to set everything up) and be successful doing both led to an efficient day for the Ags. Manageable third downs, successful play action game, and effective clock management all flowed from it.
South Carolina used a spy on Kyler Murray several times, and it led to some open passing lanes. Here, the linebacker is spying Murray and that leaves the slant to Pope open:
A couple plays later, they again spy him, and the spy makes a good tackle.
But on the next drive, they again spy him, and not only does the linebacker leave an open hole for Murray to throw over, the corner who is covering Reynolds also gets caught looking at Murray and Reynolds runs right by him. Watch the corner on this play. Coaches talk about "eye discipline." He didn't have any. The other thing to watch is how Murray looks left first, which keeps the safety moving towards the receivers on the left, which helps give Reynolds room. All around, a perfectly executed play.
Another interesting thing the Aggies did was run a new series of plays in which they lined up in a trips formation (three receivers to one side) and then motioned Tra Carson out to join them, forming a 4x1 formation. From there, there were three options. Murray could run a quarterback draw, he could throw a screen out to Carson, or he could throw to the single receiver side. A&M ended up doing each option twice. Here are all six, in chronological order. The Aggies were successful on five of the six.
The Aggies also went with an empty set three other times, and on two of them, Murray ran a QB draw, so all told, they went empty nine times and ran QB draws on four of them.
Finally, when I saw this play,
I immediately thought of this: