Well, we’ve had a night to sleep on yesterday’s game and try to make sense of it. It hasn’t helped much. As Chuck pointed out yesterday, context is everything, so without context, these sound pretty good (or at least, not awful):
Total offense advantage: 480 to 309
Rushing yardage advantage: 179 to 93
Turnover margin: +3
First downs: 27 to 17
And so forth. But with context, with the pesky sequential details that assemble this puzzle into the whole baffling picture, we get the drastic deficits between the first and second half (negative 20 rushing yards at halftime!). We get the costliness of the turnovers (muffed punt and interception deep inside our own territory). We get this:
This chart pretty much sums up the bizarre nature of the entire game in one handy image. It’s almost a direct inverse of the tailback depth chart. The best player finished with negative yards. The punter made it on there. There’s a big ol’ chunk of miscellaneous negative yardage (the dreaded “TEAM”) thanks to the what...four? five? errant snaps that went sailing over Mond’s head.
Come to that...how many players popped in at center to execute those snaps? Two? Three? Hopefully we can get that position sealed up and aren’t rotating players in next week against a well-rested and pissed-off Arkansas team. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
That’s the number here. 72 yards lost rushing. The team managed to improve greatly in the third quarter and finish the game with an almost-respectable total of 179. But when you put that in context, Tulsa rolled up 424 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns on the Cajuns just one week ago. Tulsa also lost to Toledo yesterday. Tulsa outperformed A&M by 250 yards rushing against a common opponent. The offensive line looks confused, tentative, uncomfortable, and worst of all, soft. Many of the problems plaguing this team can be somewhat forgiven: a true freshman QB growing up, a slew of injuries at skill positions, replacing a pair of dynamic pass rushers, etc. But a group of talented offensive linemen under the tutelage of a veteran respected coach like Jim Turner should be performing better than this against a Sun Belt team. Far better. Again, Arkansas will give us almost no wiggle room if the OL comes out looking this flat again.
Now to the numbers:
2. Interceptions by Armani Watts. He also had eight tackles, 2 TFL, rushed the passer, etc. etc. etc. When he got dinged up the collective blood pressure in Kyle Field spiked noticeably. When he came back into the game the collective relief was palpable.
5. Forced turnovers. One returned for a TD. The ability to create turnovers has saved this program from even more angst this season.
9. Tackles for loss. Distributed among eight Aggie defenders. Two of them were sacks.
11. Players with a reception. This includes a pair of running backs and even a [consults dictionary] tight end. Mond is beginning to look slightly more comfortable in the offense.
21. Points in the second quarter allowed. All three of the Cajuns’ drives in this quarter went for touchdowns. The first two drives? 12 yards and 37 yards, thanks to turnovers. Brutal.
48.8. Punting average for Tripucka. He’s quietly amassing a very solid season. Two of his four punts went for over 50 yards, and he dropped one inside the 20. He just forgot to pitch the ball on the fake FG option. We would say he’ll remember next time, but we doubt there will be a next time.
76. Longest pass play. At last, a vertical passing game. Didn’t quite score a touchdown, but we’ll work on that. He may not be a Josh Reynolds, but Damion Ratley does seem to want to be the guy to step up and help out Christian Kirk as one of the few other veterans in the WR group.
2179 days. That’s how long it’s been since Arkansas has beaten Texas A&M. If you don’t think Bielema, another coach backed into a hot-seated corner, is going to have his team amped for Saturday’s matchup, you haven’t been paying attention. Arkansas may have had their own struggles recently, but they are big, they are strong, and they are not afraid to pounce on any perceived area of weakness. If that weakness is an actual aura of weakness like the Ags showed in the first half, it’s going to be a very long morning in the hollow, clinical confines of AT&T Stadium.