First off, I want to apologize for the quality of the images in this post. Due to you guys being lazy and not posting replays of the game yet to YouTube, as well as the terrible quality of WatchESPN's video player, I'm left to take pictures of my TV screen at home to make this post. But it's game 11, and everyone is hurting at this point in the season. Sometimes you just gotta toughen up, rub some dirt on it, get out there, and get the job done. At least someone should tell that to our defense.
Offensive Line Struggles Again
Before we talk about the defense, I want to quickly point out that once again our offensive line just did not perform. This group has encountered some real peaks and valleys this season. I would have said the Auburn game was a peak. The group, without Germain Ifedi, played great in the upset of the #3 team in the country. But against Missouri? They came crashing back down into another low. There is just not much consistency with this group.
Jarvis Harrison was facing a tough task on Saturday night against Missouri's athletic defensive ends. He struggled at times in setting the edge in the run game, and at other times was dominated in pass protection. He certainly showed why he is better off inside than playing tackle, at least against the quicker defensive ends which Missouri fields. But it wasn't always the quickness of the defensive end that got to him. It was the mental lapses at times, too. On this particular play, Harrison will totally ignore the blitzing linebacker that is highlighted, giving him a free path to quarterback Kyle Allen.
While Harrison played a very poor game, it wasn't just him. I thought once again both guards played below average games as well. Just watch right guard Joseph Cheek just totally whiff on his assignment here, trying to work up to the second level linebacker.
I think at the end of the season, the Texas A&M coaching staff is going to look back at their decision to redshirt both Jermaine Elumunor and Avery Gennesy and realize they shouldn't have. We all thought this group would be a strength at the beginning of the season, but the guard play has really let us down. We'll discuss this more in the offseason, but the group we are playing now has probably cost us at least one win on the season. It all starts up front, and the lack of consistency keeps this offense from reaching its real potential.
Failed Running Back Rotation
By now, Brandon Williams' 3rd and short carry near the goal line on the final offensive series of the game has been much discussed and criticized. We have mentioned the running back rotation here before. I only have one quick comment to make about this. If you don't know, the rotation and which running back is in the game is determined by the position coach Clarence McKinney, and not offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. In fact, the offensive coordinator has little say or knowledge of who is in the game. Here we are, in game 11 of the season, and this is still an issue. At some point, the head coach HAS to step in and ask, "what the hell are we doing guys?". Kevin Sumlin can't be responsible for everything, but the head coach is responsible for coaching his coaches and making sure they are doing their job. This is a situation where the head coach should have stepped in long ago to correct the situation, because the offensive staff is incapable it appears of getting it right on their own. I'm in disbelief this issue is still occurring, but here we are. At this point, it is not unreasonable to point fingers at the head coach and ask why he allows this problem to continue.
Poor Linebacker Play
Here is another issue that we have talked about before -- poor linebacker play. You know, sometimes I feel like we keep talking about the same problems week after week, but they aren't being corrected and there has been little improvement since September. That is troubling, and it makes you question whether or not this group of coaches are capable of developing football players once they arrive on campus.
Well, I want to show you first what the future holds for the Aggie defense. This is what linebacker play is supposed to look like. Otaro Alaka, a freshman, is going to school the upperclassmen on how you should play the position. On this play, the right tackle will pull, but Alaka takes on this pulling lineman in the hole to clog up this running play for no gain. Just watch as the linebacker fills his gap and lets the defense clean up the rest of the play.
Later in the game, when both Alaka and another true freshman linebacker Josh Walker have left the game due to injury, these type of plays disappear. Instead, the pulling linemen for Missouri are allowed to get past the line of scrimmage to execute their blocks. This is due to the reserve linebackers (who were starters at the beginning of the season) failing to do what these two young freshman could.
Baffling Defensive Alignments
Of course, players have to be put in the right positions to be successful. A lot of the time on Saturday night, I was left scratching my head with how our defense was being aligned to stop the Missouri run game.
I want you to look at where are linebackers (Justin Bass and Shaan Washington) are lined up on this play. Bass is lined up wide, covering the inside slot receiver on the trips side of the formation. Washington, the second linebacker, is lined up on the end of the line of scrimmage, just outside of the defensive end. So who is covering the middle of the field since no linebackers are? A safety, Howard Matthews. That is who was left to defend the middle of the field. Not a linebacker, but a safety.
The alignment actually works on this first quarter play, as Matthews makes a good play on the ball carrier for little gain.
But it won't work as the game progresses. Here is that same defensive alignment in the 3rd quarter.
This time, due to the defensive tackles not being able to take on double teams correctly, Missouri's blockers will reach the second level and Howard Mathews can't win that matchup.
These are the positions we put our defense in.
Unable to get off the field on 3rd down
As bad as the 3rd quarter seemed, our defense put Missouri in numerous third and long situations, but they couldn't get off the field. Part of the reason was a poor pass rush, and the other was the secondary just not challenging the Missouri wide receivers and thereby allowing them to get clean into their receiving routes.
Here is the first 3rd down of the 3rd quarter. Here we send a blitz to try and get to Maty Mauk, but because Deshazor Everett doesn't jam the receiver at the line and doesn't even really contest his route at all, a simple comeback route at the sticks is enough to get the 1st down. Had we actually tried to press the receiver and disrupt the route, maybe the pressure actually gets to Mauk, and the defense gets a 3 and out to start the 2nd half.
Of course, then there was this freebie given to Missouri. Look at the cushion Nick Harvey is giving the slot receiver on this play. If you are Maty Mauk, where are you going with with football? It is a simple pitch and catch.
The very next play would go for a touchdown.
Without Myles Garrett, Texas A&M's only true pass rusher, the defensive line needed assistance to pressure the quarterback. That assistance could have either been provided by more rushers, or by the secondary disrupting the wide receiver's routes, giving the pass rush more time to get to the QB. We did send extra blitzers at times, but our secondary never once really contested any route a Missouri receiver ran. Due to this, it was fairly easy for Mauk and the Tiger offense to convert, keeping Missouri drives alive in the 3rd quarter that would lead to touchdowns.
Yes, injuries along the defensive line and to linebackers Josh Walker and Otaro Alaka put the defense in a bad position in the second half of this game. Texas A&M was playing pretty much with a second string defense. However, even that group was decent enough to put Missouri in 3rd and long situations. It was scheme that let them down. Once again, I feel like the core of our defensive problems are players not put in positions that allow them to be successful. I felt like numerous times in the second half the play was won for Missouri before the ball was even snapped. You can't blame that on player execution.
There are talented (young) players on this Texas A&M roster. Missouri didn't bring better players to Kyle Field. They brought better coached players. Youth and injuries are just excuses and fail to get to the root of the cause. Maybe a 100% healthy Texas A&M defense wins this game due to talent alone. But when players start going down and reserves have to step in, good coaching shines. Our coaching effort was just as miserable as the weather on Saturday night.