Over the past few years, I’ve done a combination of charting (formations, personnel groups, and a thousand other things) and film breakdowns as we looked at the Aggie offense each week.
This year, the focus will be more on just the film side. The charting was, to be honest, far too time consuming and while I enjoyed it and found it useful, a lot of the info was duplicated in other places on the internet, and it was also turning into too much information to sift through.
One other reason for moving away from that (though there are things I will still chart and bring up once more games have been played) is that the game has really changed. My idea when first charting was to find hidden trends within each personnel group, each formation, etc. and to point out which which of those things (and which types of plays) A&M was most successful with.
But the days of the pro-style offense giving away such clues are somewhat gone. In its place is the no huddle offense that only uses a few formations and tries to win with tempo, execution, and deception rather than quantity. So rather than spend hours looking at numbers and charts, let’s look at pictures and videos. If I could learn how to Instasnap these to you I would.
As we review the first two games for A&M, I want to focus on a couple areas. One is execution. A&M has played two opponents with vastly different talent levels, but generally speaking, execution is the name of the game. The second area we’ll focus on is just looking at the core concepts A&M uses each game (some of which change from game to game). We’ll kind of bounce between the two.
When it comes to execution, the Aggies are off to a somewhat sloppy start, if I may say so. This isn’t criticism, just analysis. Throughout the course of a game, there are times when the play you have called is the right call to attack that particular defensive alignment. On these plays, if the offense simply executes the plays, it is going to work.
You only get so many of these “freebies” per game, so each one missed is an opportunity wasted. Forgive me for starting out on a negative note, but let’s look at some examples.
On the first play of the game against UCLA, the Bruins give the Aggies a favorable matchup on the outside. As you can see, UCLA plays press man on the Z receiver up top with a safety over him, and keeps six defenders in the box, leaving just three defenders over A&M’s trips formation, one of which is a safety who is 15 yards away from the nearest Aggie.
This basically gives the Aggies freedom to gain at least five yards. They can throw a bubble screen or another quick pass and as long as they execute it on a very basic level, it will be successful. A&M runs a simple quick out to Ricky Seals-Jones but the pass falls incomplete.
In the second quarter, A&M runs the exact same play (mirror image though). The defensive alignment is slightly different (see the circled linebacker) but still advantageous. This time, Knight has a choice of receivers and does execute.
On the first drive against Prairie View A&M, the Aggies had similar execution issues. Unfortunately I don’t have all the video of that game, but on the first drive alone, there was bad and good.
Early on, Knight made a quick read to throw into the flat to the running back. But he missed the simple throw and ball actually went backwards and out of bounds for a six yard loss.
On the very next play, Knight this time made the simple throw the running back and Keith Ford gained 40 yards. And let’s stop and talk about this play. Here it is, the famous “snag” concept. Mazzone loves to run this two-man snag into the boundary. The play is designed to attack the Will linebacker, circled below.
The great thing about the snag route is that if the defense plays zone, the quarterback simply reads the circled defender. If that defender widens to chase the running back, you throw it to the X receiver at the hash mark. If the defender drops to that zone, you just throw it to the running back and let him gain yards outside.
But the play also provides an answer if the linebacker blitzes, as he does here. There’s a built in quick throw for the quarterback, and Knight sees it and executes it.
After that play got A&M into scoring position, the Aggies failed to execute on second and third down, first missing a block on a screen pass that should have been a touchdown and then missing the receiver on a quick out that again should have been a touchdown. Those plays were there to be made but a lack of execution prevented points from being scored.
Going back to the UCLA game, let’s look at a couple times where again, the defense lines up in a way that practically gives guaranteed yards to the Aggies, provided they make the simple play. This time, Knight gets it done.
On this play, A&M uses a stack formation. One benefit of that is that it helps at least one receiver get a free release. In this case, UCLA is playing so far off that both receivers have a free release, and A&M simply throws the quick out route versus air, something they do 100 times a week in practice.
There are plenty more I could show but in the interest of time, let’s look at some other interesting things A&M did.
The Aggies are using a few very traditional things in their quick passing game and a couple very modern things in their run/pass option game.
First, when we look at the quick passing, there are a lot of route combinations that fit into this. When re-watching a game, you can really start to see what the game plan was. For A&M, the main quick package they used against UCLA was out of a 2x2 formation, where the slot receivers both run pivot routes and the outside receivers both run go routes.
The Aggies did this multiple times. Most likely, Knight will pick a side before the snap and just drop back and confirm that no one is flashing into the passing lane and fire the ball to the slot receiver. It’s a very hard route to defend.
A&M successfully ran this to both Christian Kirk and Ricky Seals-Jones. I mentioned that the only danger is a potential underneath defender getting in the passing lane. On this example, the way that A&M protects against that is by running a play-action look which keeps the linebacker’s attention on the running back and allows Knight to make the throw to the short side of the field.
On this next example though, Knight does a good job of seeing that the linebackers (on both sides, actually) are looking for the throw and would likely intercept it.
Knight chooses to work to his left, but he quickly sees that the linebacker is watching for this exact throw and makes the decision not to throw it. Smart play.
Now for the run/pass options, the RPOs. A&M and Mazzone took a page out of the Auburn playbook and ran this three or four times.
As you can see, Knight has the option to hand off, keep, pass to the outside receiver, or pass deeper. He used all of those options throughout the game.
And this might be my favorite kind of RPO. This is what they call a “third level RPO,” the third level being the secondary (the line of scrimmage would be first level, and the linebackers would be second). So third level RPO means it’s a run/pass option and the quarterback is reading a third-level defender, in this case the safety.
The offensive line blocks as if it’s a run play. The quarterback simply reads the safety. If the safety stays deep in coverage, it’s a hand-off. In this case, the safety actually comes down into the box before the ball is even snapped, giving Knight a pre-snap clue. But it works the same even if the safety waits until after the snap to come down. The quarterback pulls the ball and throws to the X receiver running the post into the area that was vacated by the safety.
So beautiful it makes me cry.
Other notes and neat-o’s
Check out Josh Reynolds making a veteran move here. He’s running a slant and does a great job of using his hands to avoid getting jammed and still allow him some space to run his route. This was the first play of overtime.
Here’s A&M running another version of the snag concept described above.
You think this is something Mazzone has drilled his quarterbacks on? Look how quick Knight makes this read and fires the ball when he sees the Will linebacker widen out with the running back.
As soon as he saw that Will linebacker turn his hips to go outside, the ball was gone. Perfect execution there even into a small window.
As the conference schedule starts, A&M will need to execute at a high level. Check back next week as we look at whether or not the Aggies were able to do it against Auburn.