Texas A&M faced a torrential downpour of blitzes and pressure from Arizona State Saturday night, and despite some ugly moments, managed to scrape out 400+ yards and 31 points on offense.
First things first, from a scouting perspective. Generally speaking, what does A&M's offense look like from a personnel, formation, and run/pass mix standpoint? Generally, A&M lines up with "10" personnel (one running back and four wide receivers), in either a spread (two receivers to either side, with the quarterback in the shotgun) or trips (one receiver to one side and three to the other) formation, and drops back to pass slightly more than half the time.
As promised, I'll start with an overview of things. A&M was successful (gain 50% of necessary yards on 1st and 2nd down and 100% on 3rd and 4th) 41% of the time overall. That number was much lower in the first three quarters, as A&M finished strong in the fourth quarter by having success on 12 of the last 13 plays. A good game for this offense should be more around 50%, with 60% being stellar.
This being the first week of the season, here's a quick visual review on formations. Since Kevin Sumlin brought his offense to College Station in 2012, the Aggies have not been a team that uses a lot of different formations. Saturday night was no different. 76/79 snaps were run out of these three formations:
Sloth (a formation name I made up because it features one slot receiver and an H back):
There were a couple small variations to those, like when they stacked their two slot receivers a few times in their trips formation (they never did this last year):
The Aggies also ran a couple plays with "20" personnel, two running backs and three wide receivers, and when they did that, they ran what I call a "pro" formation, with backs on either side of the running back.
But James White got hurt on the second play of that formation, and we never saw it again. The only other variation all night was when they moved the H back towards or away from the slot receiver in their sloth formation:
The last formation we saw was when Kyler Murray was in the game and A&M motioned Tra Carson out of the backfield to create an empty set.
Interestingly enough, A&M never used five wide receivers and never attached a tight end to the line of scrimmage.
As for the receivers, there was some movement throughout the game, mostly between the X and Z positions, which are the two outside receivers. Speedy Noil, who is almost exclusively used at the X position (on the left), did run a play or two at Z (on the right). Likewise, Josh Reynolds spends most of his time at Z, but played a few snaps at X, even catching a couple passes from that spot. Ratley played both X and Z, and Jeremy Tabuyo played a few snaps at Z.
The inside receivers, Y and H, were manned almost exclusively by Christian Kirk and Ricky Seals-Jones. Don't quote me on this but I never noticed anyone else in there except for a few snaps at H for Boone Niederhofer. Depth at receiver appears to be an issue early on for the Aggies. Unless I missed it, we never saw Ed Pope, Frank Ineacho, Sabian Holmes, or anyone else.
So how did the Aggies line up on 1st down and on 3rd downs? And what types of plays were called?
Here is what A&M did on each down from a play calling perspective:
As the season goes on, I plan on separating out Kyle Allen's throws to compare with Kyler Murray's, but for now, they are lumped together. Here is how they did in a variety of different situations:
As you can see, Arizona State, as expected, blitzed. A lot. A&M dropped back to pass 44 times, and ASU blitzed on 35 of them. If there's one area of success that stood out for A&M in the passing game, it was on quick passes. I chart those to include all screen passes and any quick passes that are thrown on a three step drop rhythm (single read throws where the quarterback throws on timing, typically slants, quick outs, and stop or hitch routes). On these, A&M scored both passing touchdowns and had a passer rating of 222.
Other quick trends and notes:
- On those last 13 plays that were so successful, every single play was run from either the middle of the field or the left hash. None from the right. And of those 13, seven were passes. Of those seven passes, six were thrown to the left, which was to the short side of the field.
- Related to that note, during that stretch, Damion Ratley and Josh Reynolds both spent time in the X spot, the spot where Speedy Noil normally plays. I don't know if that's meaningful yet, but it's something to keep an eye on. Noil only had one catch all game, and in the fourth quarter, other people playing his position were targeted successfully.
- From the left hash, A&M was successful 47% of the time. From the right hash? Only 30%. Possibly meaningless, but again I found it interesting.
- 1st down effectiveness was just 24%. Runs were 19% successful, passes were 29%. The Aggies need to win 1st down more.
- A&M used 10 personnel 81% of the time, and 11 personnel 14% of the time.