Texas A&M's 56-23 rout of the Ball State Cardinals last Saturday contained very few surprises after the opening drives from each team. Ball State's first drive was the only successful one against the Aggie defense in the first half, as RB Darian Green tore off two big runs for 47 and 27 yards to setup their only points, a field goal. The A&M defense corrected their issues afterwards, and pitched an almost perfect game alongside a Kyle Allen led Aggie offense that scored a touchdown on 6/7 drives. Questions from the press this week centered around player rotations, the absence of WR Speedy Noil, and the reaction to the performances of key players during the game.
As pointed out earlier this week, the absence of Speedy Noil in weeks 1 and 2 has been noticeable due to the electrifying performances he fielded in 2014. It was speculated that his limited snap count could be due to off-season disciplinary issues, but Texas A&M coaches cleared it up by discussing the injuries Speedy has been dealing with through both Spring and Fall camps.
"[Speedy Noil] has been — out of the 28 practices in fall camp, I bet he practiced six of them. He's been nursing an injury, came into the first game a little bit and practiced more that week of the game. You saw a better version of him last week as he's getting healthier. He's coming along, health-wise, and that's why you saw the preseason SEC first-team or second-team kick returner not back there on the first play of the year. - Kevin Sumlin
"I think he's great. The injuries have nicked him up. He didn't practice much in fall camp, but he also didn't practice much in spring ball. He's still the same old Speedy, we've just got to get him healthy and keep him coming along because he's a special talent ... still very explosive, we've just got to get him more reps and get him playing at a higher level." - Jake Spavital
Christian Kirk has proven himself to be as deadly of a kick returner as Speedy was in 2014, and as Head Coach Kevin Sumlin pointed out today, the plan is to put both "Thing 2 and Thing 3," as he called them, in as kick returners going forward.
After Ball State was able to rip two big runs off of the Aggie defense on the first drive, the squad adjusted to make a goal line stand from the 1 yard line and shut out the Cardinals for the remainder of the half. Defensive Coordinator John Chavis attributes the defense's confidence to regroup and adjust to positive-reinforcement coaching:
"I've said this before - you put young men in situations where they can have success. You give them the tools and put them in situations where they can have success, when they have success they get confident.
You have to be positive. Coaching can be a negative thing, but you have to make sure you're not beating kids down. You hold them accountable, but we don't beat them down. They're somebody's son, they're our football players, and we have to treat them that way. Have high expectations, show them how to get it done, and they'll get it done for you." - John Chavis
The defense gained some much needed depth with the return of LB Otara Alaka to the rotation. That depth will continue to build as DTs Julien Obioha and Zaycoven Henderson, as well as LB A.J. Hilliard, make their way back into playing time this week. Coach Sumlin states that "A.J. is back and we'll wait and see on Zaycoven," regarding their current standing with the team after being suspended for the first two games of the season.
Brandon Williams, making the transition from RB to DB this season, has "made [A&M] a better secondary already," according to John Chavis. Offensive Coordinator Jake Spavital's statements today made it clear that Williams' defensive reps are more important than those at RB, and intimated that he will only be used at RB in emergency situations - sharing third-string duties with RBs Brice Dolezal and Kwame Etwi. Williams is still a bit rough around the edges at the DB position, but Coach Chavis believes his system allows DBs like Williams and De'Vante Harris to play the position without the burden of developing too many techniques:
"Even though we have a package that is multiple, we keep the technique the same. If you can master five techniques in the passing game, you'll play well. We won't ask you to play 15, 20 techniques. They're going to line up confident and put their cleats in the ground and be able to play football." - John Chavis
"We're still trying to figure out who we are offensively," said Coach Spavital regarding the changes and improvements on offense from week 1 to week 2. While the game against Ball State showed improvements in both offensive line and running back play, "I was not pleased with the amount of times we put the ball on the ground," said Coach Sumlin about the number of times the ball hit the turf on Saturday. At this point, the team's biggest need is consistency, and it's best source for it on Saturday was 2nd year QB Kyle Allen.
"I thought he played great. I believe we gave him seven drives and he scored on six of them. He looks very comfortable back in the pocket and he's composed. He's playing very well right now. He's making good checks and playing very smart right now. Very comfortable with where he's at right now." - Jake Spavital
The Aggie coaches have hinted at the possibility of playing multiple QBs in games this year, with QB Kyler Murray rotating in for Allen, but Saturday's game told a different story. While Murray did get playing time in the blowout win, throwing 9-of-14 for 65 yds and TD, he wouldn't come in for Allen until the final drive of the first half - leading to speculation that the focus was on Allen to get almost all of the meaning reps and minutes with the starters as possible. "From the standpoint of just running the offense, he got better," Coach Spavital said of Murray's performance, "and I'm very pleased with how he's starting to operate the system."
A backup that did make the most out of meaningful minutes on Saturday was RB Brice Dolezal, a walk-on who was put on scholarship last year due to his commitment and on-field performance. Dolezal accumulated 83 yds and TD on 17 carries, carries that Coach Spavital says are a right that he's earned:
"He's earned that right. He does everything right. In the Arizona State game when James got hurt and Tra's helmet popped off and he had to come out, I felt comfortable putting Brice out there because he knows what he's doing. ... It was fun watching him go out there and paly meaningful minutes, and I thought he ran the ball well." - Jake Spavital
Asked about his confidence in the offense, Coach Sumlin gave the room a smirk before stating that his confidence has never wavered:
"What is my confidence level? I'm pretty confident. Are you saying you're not confident? I had confidence in our offense after Game 1, going into Game 1. What we're doing is trying to set a standard for play on both sides. We were not perfect on third down in the first half offensively and not perfect on third down defensively.
We played a lot of people, played two quarterbacks in the first half, Jordan Davis caught a touchdown, we got a lot of people involved. Koda Martin got in at tight end. We were a little more creative than in the first game, played younger guys, got more blocking surfaces. The offense is expanding week by week." - Kevin Sumlin