In an incredibly frustrating performance, Texas A&M was defeated by Auburn 26-10 at home on Saturday night. The loss was as ugly as the weather. When the best moment of the night was 100,000 people holding cardboard over their faces, you know it's not a good sign for the football team. What did the game tell us?
The Aggie offense is in complete disarray.
The struggles versus Alabama and Ole Miss have been well documented. However, when the Aggies named Kyler Murray their starter and played an efficient, mistake-free game offensively against the Gamecocks, it really felt (at least to me) like the start of something new. It seemed like the A&M coaching staff had a clear vision for how to use Murray and it seemed like a new course had been charted and big things were ahead.
And maybe big things are still ahead... but last night was a baffling failure offensively. And I'm not putting that on Kyler Murray. It seemed like there was no real plan in place to take advantage of Murray's skill set.
For example, last week, A&M ran a handful of quarterback draws, along with a few speed options, plus used a 4x1 formation (three receivers plus the running back all to one side, one receiver to the other side) six times and had great success on all of it.
Last night, however, I saw zero quarterback draws, only one or two speed options, and not once did A&M line up in that 4x1 formation that was so dynamic versus South Carolina. Why would you not do it a single time? Why would you not run a single quarterback draw? A&M went with five wide receivers several times against Auburn, and some draws would have likely forced Auburn to bring another defender in closer to the box which would have likely opened up some more passing lanes.
Furthermore, it felt like there was almost some sort of edict for Kyler Murray not to run. He rarely kept the ball on zone read plays and very rarely scrambled. It really seemed like the game plan almost intentionally ignored the things that make Kyler Murray so dynamic.
One more example: since Murray took over last week, A&M has brought back the bubble screen. They ran it a couple times and also successfully faked it a couple times against South Carolina. In the Auburn game however, the bubble was available several times but A&M didn't choose to run it. Based on Auburn's alignment, A&M should have taken those free yards until Auburn adjusted to it, and then that's when the offense should exploit the defense's adjustment.
A&M's failure to take advantage of the skills of their players and the inexplicable decision to avoid running the plays that Kyler Murray ran well last week was a killer.
Aggie fans are getting impatient.
The fans showed up despite the cold and wet conditions and were into the game from the start. The football team has a great amount of support. But the patience of the fan base is wearing thin.
Even with just a two-possession deficit and A&M driving on the Auburn side of the field, the stands had almost completely emptied. It seemed that most fans were fed up with what seems to be a rudderless ship at the moment (cold, rainy weather didn't help).
Kevin Sumlin has enjoyed a wonderful reputation with his fans at A&M. There were good memories of him from his short stint as an assistant in 2002, and when he (along with Johnny Manziel, of course) immediately brought success and an undeniable sense of cool to Aggieland in 2012, it seemed he could do no wrong.
The mid-season swoon of 2014 caused some fans to question some aspects of the Sumlin program. But most seemed quick to forgive, assuming that it was a learning experience and the same type of thing wouldn't happen again.
But here we are. It has happened again. And judging by reactions from a pretty broad spectrum of fans I've spoken to along with message board posts and chatter that I heard in the stadium Saturday night, the general mood of the fan base is pretty angry.
The Aggies don't do any one thing well enough to lean on.
One of the greatest movies of all time, The Three Amigos, has a great scene where the Amigos talk to the townspeople of Santo Poco to find out what it is that they as a community do really, really well. They are looking for something specific that they can use to come together and defeat El Guapo and his men.
At one point, Ned Nederlander says to the people, "This is not a town of weaklings! You can use your strengths against El Guapo. Now, what is it that this town really does well?"
And everyone kind of says "hmm...." and there's a long pause before someone finally yells out, "We can sew!" And while they're initially disappointed that sewing seems kind of worthless, they end up using that skill to defeat El Guapo. (I'm just going to assume you've all seen the movie, and if you haven't, please stop reading this and just go watch it already or at least watch this clip.)
So, if Ned Nederlander were to ask the A&M football team that question, what would the answer be? The Aggies don't run the ball well enough to control the game that way (although maybe they could if they actually used Kyler Murray's running ability the way they did against South Carolina). They don't pass the ball well enough, for a variety of reasons. Defensively, you could say that A&M can rush the passer as well as anyone, but that skill only becomes relevant if you can stop the run and force your opponent into obvious passing downs (nope) or if your offense has given you a lead which causes the opponent to pass the ball (nope).
It's up to the coaches to figure out what A&M can do really well and how to make those things show up in the game. It's not happening right now.