Waking up the day after Texas A&M’s loss to App State game, I think I made it through the five stages of grief. I’m sure all Aggies are still somewhere on that scale. As a former player, you have the 24 hour rule, good or bad you have to accept the result and move on. So the question we’re all asking ourselves is, what does moving on look like? Where do we go from here?
First, let’s take a look back
To quote Coach Fisher, “Offensively, unacceptable.” Sadly, I’d say that would be the truth in all three phases of the game and even the 4th phase, coaching. This wasn’t a game that took a big swing in momentum from a turnover or big TD like most upsets you see, it was a long, drawn out butt kicking. We never held a lead at any point in the game and if someone was to watch this game with no prior knowledge of college football, they probably would’ve thought that we were the underdog coming into this game. Appalachian State was in control of this game from start to finish, which was apparent in the time of possession, a stat that A&M has traditionally dominated in the Jimbo era. Time of possession was 41:19 to 18:27 in favor of the Mountaineers.
Say what you want about the offense, but the defense had plenty of opportunities to get off the field and didn’t take advantage. Whether it was running or passing, we were dominated at the line of scrimmage and that set the tone. Time after time, the ball carrier wasn’t getting touched until he was a couple of yards past the line of scrimmage and the yards after contact was even worse. One of the most talented defenses in the country only forced two 3-and-outs compared to four drives of eleven plays or more. Fair or not, there are pretty high expectations for our defense and the personnel that we have, and they didn’t do the offense any favors to get in a rhythm. Fortunately, this was an uncharacteristic performance from the defense and I expect a quick turnaround.
Unfortunately, this performance seemed to feel like Groundhog Day from the 2021 season. Appalachian State had a great game plan on the offensive side of the ball and had an identity from the first snap. They had over 600 yards of offense against North Carolina and played at a much different tempo than we saw on Saturday. They knew to win they had to play keep away and the coaches adapted to put their players in the best position to be successful. I would say the opposite would be true for the A&M offense. We never looked like we had an identity and we didn’t put our players in a position to be successful.
I wrote last week that Jimbo needs to be more QB friendly with his play calling by moving our skill players around pre-snap and getting the ball to into their hands quickly in the screen game. It’s inexcusable for Achane to only get 11 touches and Evan Stewart to only have five catches. Also, the screen I’m talking about isn’t the same as the bubble screens we saw Haynes throw. Those are RPO plays and not designed to have additional blocking and he is still having to make a read on those plays. Sometimes you have to eliminate the quarterback’s thought process and just get the ball to the playmakers. On another note, turn on any football game this weekend and you will see pre-snap motions all over the place. Motion does a multitude of things for you. Most importantly, it allows the quarterback to identify what the defense is doing, as well as challenges the defense to communicate and potentially get out of position and create holes in the running game. We could also change the pace and incorporate some tempo. That’s another way to catch the defense off guard, which can help a struggling offensive line. Instead, we’re subbing every play, snapping the ball with one second on the play clock, and expecting a vanilla offense to work every play. This requires perfect execution across the board, which is a tall task for an unexperienced offensive line and wide receiver corps and a struggling quarterback. We’ve seen Nick Saban adapt his philosophies for the better of his team, and Jimbo needs to do the same with his offense or we’re going to continue to struggle.
The QB Situation
It’s often said that the head coach and starting quarterback get too much credit or too much blame. That’s just the reality of the situation and it’s easy to overlook mistakes when you win, but those mistakes are maximized in a loss, especially to an inferior opponent. Too often on Saturday, Haynes had poor pocket presence, was slow on his reads, and missed open receivers. His biggest misses came on his final two passes of the game to keep the drive alive for a go ahead touchdown or a closer field goal to tie. In the current landscape of college football, you’re judged by results. In three career starts, there hasn’t seemed to be enough improvement in King’s game and he has yet to face an SEC opponent. Not every school has the luxury of depth, but in this case, Jimbo has to take a serious look at the direction of the quarterback position. You have a guy in Max Johnson that has the clear advantage in experience and accuracy. Two things that could elevate the play of the inexperienced offense. He may not have the wheels of King, but we haven’t really seen that speed flash and Max is a capable runner. The case for Conner Weigman would be the “it” factor. What Conner lacks in experience, he makes up for in natural ability and moxie. He has the ability to extend plays like very few can and has an arm that most would die for.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I actually love that we play two of the top 13 teams in the country over the next two weeks. It’s put up or shut up time for this team and there’s no time to sulk over this loss. Technically, everything we want is still out in front of us. We didn’t lose an SEC game and we have the opportunity to take down a highly ranked non-conference opponent this week in the Miami Hurricanes.
There are two paths for this team moving forward. The players and coaching staff can allow this loss to bleed into the rest of the season and continue to not make adjustments. They can lose to teams they have no business losing to and waste one of the most talented teams Aggieland has seen in a long time. I’m hoping for the alternate path. The one where everyone looks themselves in the mirror, drops their ego at the door and does their part to help this team hit its ceiling. What the ceiling is remains to be seen, but serious changes have to be made going forward. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting to see different results. I believe the leaders of this team are going to step up and I look forward to seeing what product the Aggies put on the field this upcoming Saturday.