If I were Kyle Allen, I would be furious at my offensive coordinator Jake Spavital.
After finally getting an opportunity to lead the Texas A&M offense and a chance to show that he could be the future at the position, the Texas A&M offensive playcalling pretty much decided to crawl into a fetal position. I am not bullshitting you when I say that the Aggie offense pretty much ran the same 3 or 4 plays for the entirety of the game, aside from 3rd and long situations. That's it. 3 or 4 basic plays the entire game. Texas A&M was either going to win the game by running these few plays, or lose doing it. And they almost lost to a Sun Belt team.
Mindset of the Offense Going into the Game
First, let's break down what Jake Spavital and the rest of the Texas A&M offense was trying to accomplish with their game plan going into UL-Monroe.
Texas A&M played a majority of the game in 2-1 personnel, or 2 tight ends and 1 running back. They would stay in this particular formation, with former offensive lineman and back-up center Ben Compton playing the role as the 2nd tight end/H-back. Occasionally they would sub in a third receiver for Cam Clear. There were two reasons why Texas A&M decided to use this formation on Saturday:
With this formation, the Aggies used a max protection several times over the course of the game. In this max protection, both of the tight ends and running back would stay in the pocket to help pass block for the quarterback. This meant that as many as 8 offensive players would be blocking for Kyle Allen, as seen above. 8 blockers! And if you do the math, 8 blockers + 1 QB only leaves you with 2 wide receivers in pass routes. That's right, a lot of the time on Saturday, Kyle Allen only had two (or three with the 3 WR sets) receivers actually running pass routes. While that seems silly, the emphasis was clearly on pass protection and keeping the jersey of Kyle Allen clean.
Blocking All Defenders on the Line of Scrimmage
While the above formation allowed for as many as 8 blockers in the pass game, it also meant utilizing 7 blockers in the run game. This was to make sure that every defender along the line of scrimmage was blocked. While ULM runs a 3-3-5 stack defense, a lot of the time they had as many as 5 defenders lined up on the line of scrimmage, and such is the case in the above image. With seven run blockers, we could block each of these 5 defenders, while also double-teaming the inside tackles. In our previous games, we have had a real big issue of allowing backside defenders to make the play on our running backs, as well as effectively blocking a double team assignment. With this scheme, we could try and correct both problems. On this 3rd and 1 play on the first drive of the game, the scheme was executed to perfection and how it should have looked all game. Cam Clear is 1-on-1 at the top of the image, there is a left tackle-left guard double team on one defensive tackle and a center-right guard double team on the other, the right tackle is matched in a 1-on-1, and Ben Compton as the H-back comes across the formation to block the backside defender. The double team blocks are executed well, and the center and left tackle come off their double teams to reach the second level linebackers. Brandon Williams will make this a 8 or 9 yard gain on 3rd down.
Use of Packaged Plays
Now I told you at the beginning of this article that we only ran about 3 or 4 base plays for the entire course of the game. How did we do that? Every single play we ran on 1st and 2nd down was a packaged play. We have discussed packaged plays in the past, but essentially every play is called as a run, with the offensive line blocking as if it will be a running play. However, the quarterback, based on the coverage the defense is showing, can elect to throw the ball instead. This is how Texas A&M used only a small number of plays for the entire game.
Now, you can spot one of these packaged plays fairly easy, and the tell is in the blocking of the offensive line. Normally for a called pass play, even a play action, the offensive line would not advance past the line of scrimmage. Here, as highlighted, an offensive lineman is engaging with a linebacker on the second level. Kyle Allen is reading the soft coverage given to Malcome Kennedy at the bottom of the image, and elects to throw the football to the flat.
Here on this play from the same drive, the left guard actually pulls on this play (highlighted). The running back is also opening up the bread basket to receive the handoff, but Kyle Allen has already made the decision to go to Speedy Noil due to the soft coverage given to him at the top of the image.
I'm a little surprised that the coaches gave Kyle Allen that much freedom in his first career start to run every 1st or 2nd down play as a packaged play. That is putting a lot of faith into the young QB to make the right read on every single play. And it almost backfired, too. Fast forward to the end-of-game situation where Texas A&M can run the clock down against ULM to a little more than a minute left without picking up the first down. The first play is a pass play to Speedy Noil. Bad play call. But the 2nd play call was not called a pass by the coaching staff -- it was a packaged play. Kyle Allen elected to throw the ball instead of handing the ball off, because he sees the same coverage being played on Speedy Noil as in the above two images. The pass falls incomplete, and now Texas A&M gets into the situation where they have to run the ball on 3rd and long and ULM can stop the clock with their last time out, giving ULM a chance to drive down the field and win the game. We can complain about that 1st down play call all we want, but I wouldn't rant about Jake Spavital on the 2nd down play call. It's debatable whether or not you put Kyle Allen in the situation where he has to make the run/pass decision, but Allen should have had enough awareness to know the situation and hand the ball off. Again, debatable, but one thing we did was put a lot of trust in Kyle Allen in his 1st start.
Where it went wrong
Missed Blocks by the Offensive Line
It all comes down to execution. Even if we were given only 5 plays for the entire course of the game, our players should be expected to execute those plays and let their dominant talent over UL-Monroe win you the game. Saturday's game once again showed how poorly our players execute the simplest of game plans.
Here is one of those situations were Cam Clear was subbed out of the game for a 3rd wide receiver. This play is no different than the first running play I showed you, except everyones blocking responsibility is a little different because Cam Clear is not in the game. Instead of Clear blocking the end man at the top of image, it is the left tackle. The left guard-center combo instead of left tackle-left guard. Right guard-right tackle also combo. But here is the dilemma. Once again ULM lines up 5 players on the line of scrimmage. So far I've only listed blocks against three of those players. Ben Compton is performing his same cross block as before, but now he has to choose between two unblocked defenders on the backside of this play, instead of the usual one. Compton will choose to block the defender marked #2, leaving the inside defender marked #1 unblocked, and he will end up making the tackle on our running back.
So who is to blame here? Honestly I am not sure anyone in particular is to blame, but it is the failure of the offensive line unit as a whole. I won't blame Ben Compton because he was probably coached to block the most outside defender. Should Germain Ifedi not participate in the double team and block #45 1-on-1? Seems logical, but I really don't know the answer here. But one thing is for sure -- it's the same play run perfectly on 3rd and 1 previously, with the same defensive look, and the only thing that changes is there is one less blocker for Texas A&M, and we cannot block this play. I'll say that's failure by the entire group, including the position coach.
Missed Running Lanes By the Running Backs
First, let me set this failed drive up for you. On the first play of the drive, it is once again a packaged play, and Kyle Allen elects to pass to Josh Reynolds. It's a poor throw by Allen, and the pass goes over Reynolds' head. Now, here is our second down play. We elect to go with a stretch play, with Tra Carson as the running back. Now, the offensive line has taken a lot of heat the past few weeks, and deservedly so. But the running backs have also not hit the designed hole on a lot of our running plays, and instead have elected to try and bounce these plays to the outside, where the pursuing defense can make the tackle. Here is a good example.
This stretch play is actually well blocked by our offensive line. There is really nothing here I can complain about other than once again the backside defender is running down the line to make this play. But hey, we never run any plays to keep these backside defenders honest, so why wouldn't they run down the line like this? Anyway, Tra Carson has a clear cut-back lane here on this stretch play that is highlighted for you. The running lane is right there! If Tra was Arian Foster, he would have stuck his foot in the ground and quickly gotten north-south in this highlighted lane and picked up several yards. Instead, Carson will try and stretch this play all the way to the sideline. He won't have anywhere to run, and is tackled at the line of scrimmage for no gain.
So after a poor 1st down throw by Allen, a poor run read by Tra Carson, we now once again leave our offense in a 3rd and long situation with a QB making his first career start. That's not the situation we want to be in. Kyle Allen will attempt a sideline pass on that 3rd down near the sticks that will fall incomplete because the pass is behind the receiver instead of in front, where he could have made the play. A 3 and out for the Aggie offense, and it's not due to scheme, but execution by the QB and RB.
Offensive Line Whiffs in Pass Blocking
Now we will go back to criticizing the offensive line, but this time in pass protection. We made it a focus in this game to protect Kyle Allen at all costs with max protection, yet we still let Allen get pressured. That was due to just some horrible whiffs by the offensive line.
Here is what I think is the first ever running back screen called in the Sumlin era. It was actually a pretty good call on 3rd and long. I mean from this camera angle, there isn't a lot of white in the field of view. However, two things go wrong. The first is another bad throw by Kyle Allen that is too high for the RB. The second is the whiff by Cedric Ogbuehi, who many NFL Draft twitter experts consider to be the top offensive line prospect in the upcoming NFL Draft. He hasn't played like it and it shows here. Look at the lack of effort here in blocking this one defender. If Cedric makes this block (and the pass isn't high), the running back has a LOT of room to run and it could be a huge play. But he whiffs, and the running back was about to be blown up by the defender. That's inexcusable, especially for someone who is supposed to be the best in the country.
Then there was this play, which may have been one of the worst I saw from Saturday. Texas A&M is driving in the second quarter, and is almost inside the redzone. That was before this sack on 1st down.
On this 1st down pass, Texas A&M will have seven pass blockers to defend the four down Warhawk lineman, and a 5th rusher, the linebacker that is highlighted. This linebacker will come in on a little bit of a delayed blitz after the snap. The Aggies should win this seven-on-five battle easily, yet we let this linebacker come in free on Kyle Allen.
Now the right guard begins blocking the defensive tackle who is rushing to the right. However, the tackle quickly changes his rush to the inside, opposite of the incoming blitzing linebacker. With the center essentially blocking no one, this is what should have happened: because the DT switches his rush to the inside, the right guard should have handed off this rusher to the center, and engage the blitzing linebacker. But the right guard doesn't do this, and instead tries to follow the rush of the DT.
When the right guard realizes that he screwed up and should have blocked the linebacker, it's too late and the linebacker has a clear line to Kyle Allen and records the sack, leaving the Texas A&M offense in a 2nd and 23 and takes them out of field goal position. This play totally kills the drive.
So there it is. The coaching staff came into ULM and said, "guys, we are only going to win with these 5 plays, but we must execute them to perfection." But the Texas A&M offense failed to execute and almost lost the game to a Sun Belt team. Let me say it again: This offense could not even execute a few simple plays that we ran over and over. I don't know what else to say. Maybe the coaches went into the bye week after Alabama and said "hey guys, let's get back to fundamentals," like I hoped they would. But God bless them if they did focus purely on fundamentals, because this offense once again lacked them. It really just comes down to effort, and right now this offense doesn't give hardly any.
Some people want to blame Jake Spavital's playcalling -- but how can we blame that when the offense can't even execute 5 simple plays consistently? It's baffling that we can't even get that right. But at the same time, if I were Kyle Allen, I would be furious with Spavital because he has put me in a terrible position heading into Auburn on the road. There is no way we try and do this same thing against Auburn next week. No way. We'll get humiliated. An Auburn graduate assistant probably had all of our 7 or so plays from Saturday charted by lunch on Sunday. It was an easy day for him. There is literally no way we can go into Auburn and plan to be even competitive with what we tried to pull off against UL-Monroe. We will have to once again run our usual offense, and guess what? Kyle Allen, a QB going into his 2nd career start, got no experience running our true offense in his first start against a Sun Belt team. We missed a perfect opportunity to get Kyle Allen comfortable in our system against an inferior opponent. Now we will expect him to run our full offense for the first time against a Top 3 team on the road? It just doesn't make any sense.
Best of luck to you, Kyle. Your offensive coaching staff has put you and the rest of the offense in a pretty impossible situation for Saturday, in front of a national CBS audience. No pressure.