A couple of years ago, every time we turned on an Aggie football game, we were worried about “style points.” Although, some style points sound nice right about now, I think we’re all thinking like Al Davis and his famous, “just win baby” motto. Good, bad or ugly, we all would take wins the past two weeks after the App State game, no matter what they looked like. As we continue into SEC play, there’s no hiding that the offense is holding this team back from taking the next step. After listening to Jimbo’s weekly press conference, there are three keys for the offense moving forward that can be the difference between a 10-win season or a let down.
1. Balance and consistency
Two things that have been lacking in the A&M offense going back to last season. This past weekend, it felt like we saw two completely different offenses. There was the 1st quarter offense that averaged around 2 yards per play and didn’t get a 1st down, but there was also an offense that had the defense on their heels at times and was very very close to breaking the game open. The Alabama game last year seems to be the only complete offensive performance that we’ve put together in a long time. Jimbo used motions, got the ball out quick, and used certain formations and plays to help set up other plays later in the game. I started to get a hint of those things in the Arkansas game and feel like it’s just a matter of when, not if, this offense starts to gel.
Everything is going to start with the run. Just like Achane sparking the offense and entire team against Arkansas, the run game needs to continue to be the driving force. That doesn’t mean we always have to start with the run. Defenses will be watching for #6 at all times, which presents good opportunities for play action and quick screens. Max is hovering right around 50% as a passer these past two games, but every throw is some sort of downfield concept. We aren’t and will never be a tempo offense, but mixing in some tempo with some easy screens/quick game to our dynamic play makers can present chances to bust big plays. Max has also proven over these last two weeks that he’s a more than capable runner and if the defense wants to play heavy in the passing lanes, he will make them pay. We’ve all been dying to see the TEs more involved and Donovan Green was the leading receiver this past week. His role will only continue to expand and as we’ve seen in years past, a productive TE in this offense puts the defense in a real bind.
Jimbo harped on execution over and over in his press conference. He said they’re playing super hard, but now they need to play smarter and not harder. This starts with smart play-calling to put your guys in position to be successful and ends with the players doing their part and making every play the most important play.
2. Stay on schedule
This might be the biggest key to me. On 8 out of our 10 drives last game, we faced a 2nd and 10+ or were in a 3rd and medium to long situation. What happened on the two drives that we stayed on schedule? Touchdowns. There are multiple causes to our inability to get drives going and keep drives alive.
Penalties are a huge issue right now. Just in the 1st quarter, there were two different illegal shifts and a delay of game. If you take away the penalty yardage, all three of those drives would’ve ended in a 1st down. I understand that the players should have a good grasp of the offense by now and discipline is a big factor in avoiding penalties, but Jimbo could also help the problem. Too often it seems like the players are overcoached and have to overthink which results in penalties. He said it himself, that they are trying to be too perfect, but you don’t see the same issues happening with other offenses around the country. Demand more from them to get the play and get lined up quickly so the ball isn’t being snapped with minimal time on the play clock every play.
1st down play calling is another factor. There’s a time and place to take shots or run a play that can hit when the defense is worn down, but to start a drive and the game, there needs to be more low risk/high efficiency play calls. Eliminate the side to side runs that can cause penetration. Hit more downhill runs, combined with play actions to get Max out on the edge. Spread out the defense and take some quick hitters to avoid sacks. You can see the offensive line getting better every week, but they are still considered the weakness of the offense right now. Keep them out of 3rd and long situations that allow the defense to pin their ears back and hurry the QB’s thought process.
Clock management is another part of staying on schedule. Let’s start with the fact that we had to waste our timeouts in the 1st half because we had to avoid penalties, not because we were trying to save time. We were presented with one of the best opportunities in all of football the other day. Score going into half and then get the ball back and potentially go score again. If you were to go look at the goal boards of most offenses around the country, you would see something along the lines of scoring to start and end the half because it drastically increases your chances of winning.
There was 1:45 on the clock on our own 32 with the potential to take the lead going into halftime. On the 2nd play of the drive, Max hits Evan for a big gain to get into Arkansas territory. Moose was called with a 50/50 penalty, but we still had all of the momentum in our favor. When Evan got tackled there was 1:30 left on the clock, instead of getting a quick play in to snap the ball right after the whistle, we took our time with the play call and didn’t end up running the play until there was 1:15 on the clock, 15 seconds wasted. Max makes a poor decision 2 plays later and completes a dump off pass with no room to run and keeps the clock running. This causes the receivers to have to hurry back and we snap the ball without everyone being set, we’re now down to just 26 seconds and the clock will start on the whistle. Once again, there is too much conversation going on and the ball is snapped with 15 seconds left on the clock. Max throws a deep ball to Ainias which gets called for PI, but now there’s only 8 seconds and no timeouts. The defense played the sidelines on the next play to avoid any gained yardage and the offense was never able to get in FG territory. A drive that could’ve ended in a touchdown, never even made it to FG range because of a lack of clock management. Jimbo has to make this a focus for the offense moving forward because if it wasn’t for a missed Arkansas FG, we would have been in another two minute situation to have to win the game.
3. Big plays
There’s no substitute for big plays in today’s era of football. Jimbo said himself that the momentum swings that they cause can really help out his team because of how young they are. Achane’s run in the 2nd quarter clearly got us going, but there were plays that were left out there that could’ve swung the game completely in our favor or even put it away.
The missed post to Moose was a bittersweet moment. It’s great to see us opening up the offense and for Moose to get behind the defense, but it was a perfect throw and the receiver has to keep running and make that play. Not only does it put you up two TDs, but now you’ve taken all momentum and sucked the life out of the other team. The following series, Max made a poor read when he threw the post to Chris Marshall. He had one on one coverage, but Ainias had slipped out of the backfield on a corner route and by reading Jimbo’s lips, if the corner cleared out, the ball should have gone to Ainias. He probably didn’t have anyone within 20 yards of him and either walks into the end zone or at least gets us to the red zone. Two plays later we got stopped on a critical 3rd and short which led to Arkansas making it a 2 point game. Not only does this affect your offense, but it seemed to tighten up our defense as well by always putting the game in their hands. At some point in the season, it’s going to come down to the offense making a big play to win the game.
Big plays are usually defined as runs of 15+ yards and passes of 25+ yards. With the way we run our offense, there are a couple different ways to get these.
- Getting Achane in space is the easiest way. Jimbo has to have a unique game plan for him every week to make sure he’s getting the touches he needs because 6 can turn into 6 at any moment.
- Find one on one matchups on the outside. We haven’t given our guys very many chances to just go up and make plays. We have a lot of talent, but a lot of inexperience and the more opportunities they get, the more comfortable they’re going to be in the big moments. Those deep throws can typically lead to penalties as well. Evan got one on the first play of the 2nd half and Ainias got one to end the 1st half. Those penalties kill a defense, especially on 3rd downs.
- Get our guys the ball in space. I think it’s clear what Evan Stewart can do with the ball in his hands, especially with Ainias being out, we need to get his touches up around 8-10 a game. We often think of big plays and think of long throws, but that isn’t always the case. 2 plays really stick out to me from last week. The first was a 3rd and 4 pass to Yulkeith Brown. We ran a nice little concept to get him one on one in the flat and he makes a guy miss and is off to the races. That kid is electric and will continue to make big plays moving forward. The next was 2nd and 30 and Max checked it down to Ainias. Most importantly, he threw an accurate ball that allowed Ainias to turn upfield, but just taking what the defense was giving him allowed us to pick up 30+ yards on a simple play. I’d like to see us get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands a little bit faster, that way the line doesn’t have to constantly sit in for 3-4 seconds and our top playmakers can get in a rhythm.
Look for these three keys to show themselves in the coming weeks. The offense is facing huge challenge losing their top playmaker over the past couple of years, but that just opens up opportunities for new guys to step up and new wrinkles to be added. This week is the first true road game of the year and how we execute in these three areas will be a good indication of the final score and the offense’s direction moving forward.
How optimistic are you that A&M’s offense can improve?
This poll is closed
I have my doubts
I’m in the Arby’s drive-thru line right now