Kevin Sumlin knew very quickly after Texas A&M's 2014 season was completed exactly how we wanted to mold his program into the future, to push them to front of the loaded SEC West. Gone are former offensive line coach B.J. Anderson and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, and in walks Dave Christensen and John Chavis, bringing with them years of experience at the highest level of college football and intimidating styles that will make the Aggies a more physical and intimidating foe. At least...that is the plan.
Our first look at the 2015 Aggies on Saturday night in front of a national TV audience should focus on one area of the field: the linemen. With two high-powered, spread offenses taking the field, it will be easy to get lost on the battles occurring down the field between wide receivers and defensive backs, but this will not be where the game is won. It will be inside, with unique blitzes being called on the Arizona State side to confuse a new Texas A&M offensive line. It will be a power-running scheme that the Aggies have not used in quite some time against the Sun Devil defense that was not built to withstand such a barrage. It will be an Aggie defensive line, finally freed, matching up against a Arizona State group featuring 4th and 5th year players within their program who have been waiting for this shot. These one-on-one battles will be more critical than the Lloyd Carrington - Josh Reynolds battle we'll see in the secondary, but unfortunately less sexy. But this is the way Kevin Sumlin's program had to be revamped to win in the SEC.
To get a glimpse of the individual match ups, consider these statistics. Here is how Arizona State's starting offensive line goes in terms of experience within the program: redshirt junior, redshirt senior, senior, redshirt senior, redshirt senior. While the interior of the offensive line returns in 2015, tackles Evan Goodman and William McGehee are new starters. Both will get Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall to start off. Welcome to big-time college football guys. On the inside, Texas A&M returns Alonzo Williams, Hardreck Walker, and Julien Obioha. But the defensive tackle who could make the largest impact on Saturday is true freshman Daylon Mack. The 335-pounder is such a unique talent in that he blends pure power with quickness off the line. This corps of defensive lineman, infused with talent, will finally be able to turn lose in John Chavis' defense and wreak havoc on anyone that stands in their way . Arizona State will face an onslaught of defensive pressure; it will be tough for the Devils to hold up for a full 60 minutes. But if there is a group who can contain the Aggies' this year, it will be a group of upperclassmen, just like Arizona State features.
On the other side of the ball, Dave Christensen was brought in to change the philosophy of the Aggie offensive line, moving to a power run scheme that is aimed at attacking specific gaps within the opposing defense. Texas A&M should have the upper hand here, as the Aggies average 312.5 pounds across their offensive line, and the Sun Devil front 4 only goes 267.5 pounds. Arizona State only has one player along their defensive line that weighs 300 pounds -- nose tackle Demetrius Cherry, who is listed right at that figure on the depth chart. If Christensen has finally taught the group some semblance of actual technique, the Aggies should push the Sun Devils around, opening up their new running game. While the Sun Devil defense is small up front, they will want to be disruptive with their quickness off the ball. If there is one thing that can aggravate a power running team, it's smaller, quicker teams that can get underneath the impending blocks and fly into the offensive backfield. With an offensive line featuring two new starters on the left side, and possibly a starter who is a true freshman in Keaton Sutherland, Dave Christensen and Jake Spavital must let this line get adjusted and work for the entire game. If things aren't clicking early, they cannot abandon the run and let the Sun Devils turn their blitz packages loose. If that happens, Texas A&M might be in trouble. It will be playing right into Arizona State's strength.
Here's a prediction on the outcome of Saturday's game based on the box score -- if Texas A&M has over 150 yards rushing, the game will have been close, within a touchdown. If Texas A&M has over 200 yards rushing, the game will have been a blow out in Texas A&M's favor. If Texas A&M has under 150 yards rushing, then they probably have come up just short with Arizona State prevailing. Texas A&M dictating the game flow in their favor is that important. Jake Spavital has been very good with the Texas A&M offense when he has had ample time to prepare and set a solid game script (see South Carolina, West Virginia, and even Auburn to some extent). He should have another good one prepared against Arizona State. But if things don't go well early, he cannot abandon it. He must trust Christensen and his offensive line. This was Kevin Sumlin's master plan, and it will work.
After the game on Saturday night, no matter the outcome, this will have been the first look at the revamped Texas A&M program, with a new mindset to reach new heights. Kevin Sumlin knew in December this would work. He's counting on it. The future depends on a successful 2015. He, and the program, are all in.