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Analyzing the Aggie Offense: Ball State

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Texas A&M used their home opener to work on a few new things, including the triumphant return of the traditional tight end.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Texas A&M defeated Ball State 56-23 Saturday night after jumping out to a 49-3 halftime lead. Being just the second game of the year and a game that A&M expected to win, it provided several chances to try new things and continue building a base of personnel and scheme to work with going forward.

Offense

First things first, a quick review of the overall tone of the game. I charted everything until Kyler Murray left the game. A&M was very successful, particularly on play action passing, and while the Aggies were primarily a "10" personnel (one running back, four wide receivers) team against Arizona State, against Ball State they were in "11" personnel (one running back, one tight end or H-back, three wide receivers) 64% of the time.

As for formations, the Aggies still used their three main formations from week one a majority of the time, but they added three new formations that accounted for almost 25% of their snaps. Here are pictures of each.

Shut sloth (just like the regular sloth formation but it's closed, or shut, with a tight end instead of a wideout):

shut sloth1

shut sloth2

Shut trips (just like trips but the single side is against closed, or shut, with a tight end instead of a wideout):


shut trips


Empty:

This first one is just the shut trips formation from above, but the running back is out wide at the Z position now.

empty1

This one is interesting because it's done with 11 personnel, and A&M moves Dolezal out into the X position, moves Speedy Noil inside to the #2 receiver position on the left, and meanwhile on the right puts Caden Smith out as the #2 receiver.

empty1

The Aggies did also vary the location of their running back in the backfield on their sloth formations, but for simplicity I just considered them all to be the same formation. Here are a few quick pictures of the backfield variations.

sloth1

sloth2

slloth3

As we dig a little deeper into the numbers of how A&M lined up and what kind of plays we ran, you can see that first downs appeared to still be lagging in the effectiveness department, but those numbers are skewed by the two drives charted in the third quarter. In the first half, A&M was over 55% effective on first down, which is great. Second and third down were great too, which is how you score 49 points in a half.

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I went ahead and separated Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray's passes out below. Obviously Kyle Allen played great, and the numbers are better than Kyler Murray. That said, Kyler wasn't as far off as the numbers show. He had a 45 yard touchdown pass called back and while he didn't seem quite as crisp as Allen, he looked very comfortable.

K Allen stats

k murray stats

The biggest takeaway for me though was seeing how well Kyle Allen threw the ball on play action and/or roll-out passes. I don't recall seeing very much of that from our offense last year, but it seems like it could really be a big weapon throughout the year.

I also chart passes by which position is being targeted. That's a little different from just seeing which player is targeted, as it accounts for substitutions and players moving to different positions, which A&M has done a little of this year. For example, Ricky Seals-Jones is usually the H receiver in our four-wide sets, but all of his catches Saturday came from the Y position, when he remained as the slot receiver while we inserted an H-back into the backfield.

targets

As you can see, our Y position (that is either Christian Kirk in our four wide sets or Kirk/Seals-Jones in our three wide sets) is very dangerous and effective. As the season goes on I'll continue tracking this.

A few other things I noticed from staring at spreadsheets for way too long:

  • When we run the ball out of 10 personnel, we are much more likely (or were against Ball State) to run to the perimeter.
  • Ball State only brought 5+ pass rushers one time. On the first drive, they blitzed with six rushers, and Kyle Allen scrambled for a first down. That was the last time. Such a change from ASU.
  • Kyle Allen had four designed roll-out passes (and as mentioned above, did great on them), while that type of play was only called once for Kyler Murray (and he was pressured and threw it away).
  • 14 of A&M's passes were thrown to the left, while eight went to the right.
  • A&M ran 11 run/pass option plays that I noticed. The Aggies were very successful on these. The touchdown pass to Josh Reynolds was a run/pass option, and overall there was an 82% success rate, averaging 10.7 yards per play.

Defense

This article usually talks offense but let's have a quick moment of appreciation for Myles Garrett. His name was rarely called Saturday and he only played a small number of snaps due to the score and the opponent, but he still affects the game even when he isn't making the big plays.

Here's an example. On Ball State's first drive, they got down to the one yard line with a long run. It was very close to being a touchdown, but Myles Garrett chased the running back down from behind and kept him short of the end zone. Here is the sequence.

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So after a stuff on first down, Ball State attempts to run on second down, and Garrett completely blows up the play, forcing the running back to re-route and get stopped by fellow Aggies. It doesn't show up in the box score, but this was caused by #15.


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Then on the ensuing third down play, it's more of the same. Ball State tries it again, and again Myles Garrett blows it up and, while not getting credit for the tackle, is the reason they lose yards.

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Myles Garrett essentially kept four points off the scoreboard for the opponent right there. Effort and freakish athletic ability like that are why he's a sure-fire NFL draft pick in 2017.

Check back next week as we analyze the A&M-Nevada game and look at some cumulative trends from the first three games.