Barrett Sallee from Bleacherreport.com recently released a power ranking of the most dangerous offenses in the SEC, and surprise! Texas A&M came out ranked #1, just ahead of Auburn and Alabama (?; Kiffin'd, LOL). That got us thinking -- just what will the Texas A&M offense look like in 2015, and will it in fact be the most dangerous in the SEC?
Here is a quick refresher on how the Texas A&M offense ranked in 2014.
|Category||Stat||National Rank||SEC Rank|
|Points Per Game||35.2 ppg||26th||5th|
|Yards Per Game||455.4 ypg||30th||5th|
|Passing Yards Per Game||305.5 ypg||12th||1st|
|Rushing Yards Per Game||149.9 ypg||82nd||12th|
|3rd Down Conversion %||40.8%||63rd||8th|
Now those aren't terrible numbers, but the truth is the Aggie offense was pretty dysfunctional at times in 2014. As horrendous as the defense was, one can make the compelling argument that it was the offense that cost us at least games against Missouri and LSU to end the 2014 regular season, and had the offense been somewhat consistent against Mississippi State and Ole Miss, who knows how those games end up playing out.
But one thing caused most of the troubles for offensive coordinator Jake Spavital and company -- a poor running game. Just look at how the Texas A&M rushing game has regressed since Kevin Sumlin took over in 2012.
|Year||Rushing Yards Per Attempt||Rushing Yards Per Game|
Now, some of those 2012 numbers are inflated due to one Johnny Manziel. However, I don't think it's a coincidence that this Texas A&M offense has appeared less physical and less dynamic as the running game has become less of a factor. In 2014, the running stats ranked only ahead of Tennessee and Vanderbilt in the SEC! That's not how you build a SEC title contender.
Most of the 2014 struggles revolved around the offensive line. Yes, the first-round departures of Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews finally caught up to the group, and we were a little naive in thinking we could just plug-and-play guys like Cedric Ogbuehi at any position. The group last season was just a hodgepodge of warm bodies with little technique or direction. Besides Ogbuehi needing 85% of the season to adjust to playing on the left side, the interior of the line was extremely weak as well. Poor play on the inside just couldn't create enough of an inside push to generate a between-the-tackles running game. With an inexperienced Ogbuehi on the left side and Cam Clear refusing to set the edge as an end-of-the-line tight end, we really couldn't run to the outside as well. Part of the issue also included poor running back coaching.
The poor offensive line play cost B.J. Anderson his job, and now inserted into the equation is former Wyoming head coach and Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. Christensen is familiar with running a power running game out of the spread -- his Utah squad ranked 39th nationally last season and 3rd in the PAC 12. The offensive line under Christensen has focused on technique this spring, and are even adjusting their stance pre-snap, using more three-point stance rather than the constant two-point stance that was seen under Anderson. But it isn't just about technique -- the Aggies will see two JUCO transfers play this fall in Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor, who were considered the best in the country in the 2013 signing class. The incorporation of those two talents along with returning starters Mike Matthews, Joseph Cheek, and Germain Ifedi could actually solidify the unit, even though the 2014 line will lose two NFL draft picks in Cedric Ogbuehi and Jarvis Harrison. It's a strange concept, but even if the group is less talented, having the players play in their proper position that suits their strengths could make all the difference.
But what does a solid running game do for the rest of the offense? It completely changes its look. Because of the inability to gain consistent yards on the ground, our passing game turned horizontal at times, with numerous short passes along the line of scrimmage. This wasn't necessarily because offensive coordinator Jake Spavital fell in love with the wide receiver screen game; rather, it was due to making our short passing game an extension of our running game. With a solid running game to complement, Spavital will have the passing game going more vertical in 2015. Sure, Spavital will still call the occasional screen pass to set up some of the his calls over the middle of the field he likes to pair together, but overall Kyle Allen or Kyler Murray will be looking beyond 10 yards to distribute the football. And the most exciting thing is that the Aggies have the wide receivers to make big plays all over the field -- Speedy Noil, Josh Reynolds, and Ricky Seals-Jones all return along with Ed Pope and newcomers Christian Kirk and Damion Ratley. The Aggies can put out a lineup which features 4 receivers over 6'4" (Seals-Jones, Reynolds, Pope, and Frank Iheanacho) or a quicker, more agile group of Noil, Kirk, Ratley, Sabian Holmes and Jeremy Tabuyo. All the passing game really needs is for the opposing defenses to commit a safety just halfway into the box to give away their coverage and give our offense the edge before the ball is even snapped. That's when the Texas A&M offense truly becomes the most dangerous in the SEC.
Another aspect of the offense that could be intriguing in 2015 is the incorporation of the zone read. Last season at Utah, Christensen ran the zone read with QB Travis Wilson. One play breakdown can be seen here from mgoblog.com. The Aggies have even shown a few of these looks this spring with Kyle Allen. But how often will we see them this fall? I don't think very often. Maybe a couple of times per game, just to keep the defense off-balance. Instead, we may see some of the zone read concepts manifested off of the packaged plays we have been known to run over the past three years. Instead of true Kyle Allen give-or-keep plays, we may see Kyle Allen give-or-throw plays, were Allen is reading a linebacker or inside secondary defender to either give the ball to the running back for an inside run, or throw it to a slot receiver depending on how a linebacker or safety reacts to offensive line blocking off the snap or the action in the offensive backfield. Specifically, the offense will want to utilize concepts like the stick-draw off of zone read looks, like we did to beat Alabama in 2012.
Continuing to utilize schemes like these, along with the backing of a solid between-the-tackles running game, will continue to open up the Texas A&M offense and lead to an even more consistent offense in 2015. And that's really all we need -- consistency -- to become the most feared group in the SEC.