Up or Down for the Aggies without Manziel?

News came out this past weekend that Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin named a starter at quarterback:

Coach Kevin Sumlin announced Saturday that sophomore Kenny Hill will be the starter when the Aggies take the field at South Carolina on Aug. 28 at Williams Brice Stadium.

Hill beat out true freshman Kyle Allen in an offseason competition to become the heir apparent to Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Hill, a product of Southlake (Texas) Carroll High, played four games in a reserve role last season, completing 16-of-22 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown. His start on Aug. 28 will be his first as an Aggie.

First off, I’m very, very happy that Johnny Manziel now plays for the Cleveland Browns.  Johnny Football is a polarizing figure for sure, especially off of the field, but the guy could flat out play football.  He gave Alabama fits and I’m glad he’s moved on to greener pastures.

So from that perspective, it’ll be interesting to see who gets the honor of taking the place of a legend.

But there’s also another reason to watch this position change:  this will continue to tell us how good of a coach Kevin Sumlin is.

Sumlin is, in my humble opinion, already a good coach, so here’s the rub.  He has been a head coach for six seasons (Houston and Texas A&M) and for five of those six seasons he’s teams have been successful.  In those five successful seasons, he’s had two incredibly prolific quarterbacks for his teams, Case Keenum at Houston and Manziel at A&M.  The lone season that wasn’t so successful was a 5-7 year at Houston in 2010 when Keenum suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third game of the year.

Keenum finished his career in 2011 as college football’s all-time leader in total offense and touchdown passes.  Manziel won the 2012 Heisman trophy as a redshirt freshman.

Again, Sumlin is a good coach.  He’s proven he can successfully run a program and he’s proven he can recruit very well.  He’s also known as an offensive guru.  We’ll find out in 2014 how his team plays without the likes of Keenum or Manziel.  Will this season turn out like 2010’s 5-7 mark or will Sumlin uncover another once-in-a-generation type player?

 

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Horse Collar Revisited

Interesting picture used by AL.com to highlight their story on Jake Holland and Kris Frost…

This one may have been better to use…

 

Hey, I’m no fan of the horse collar tackling rule.  I’ve been watching football for almost 40 years, and I don’t recall seeing a single player being injured by this kind of tackle.  But, hey, if you’re going to have a rule, you might as well enforce it.  I’ve certainly seen worse horse collaring calls.

 

“Alabama has been stewing for a year dude”

I think this sums it up:

Asked if distractions from the saga of allegations that surfaced this week surrounding D.J. Fluker and potential improper benefits would be a problem for Saban and the Tide, Pollack had this to say: “Alabama has been stewing for a year dude,” he said. “If A&M beats them, it ain’t because they’re distracted. Nick Saban is a task-oriented guy.”

Keeping Manziel in the Pocket

Back in August, ESPN did a piece on some things Johnny Manziel was working on related to actually playing football:

The area in which he can make serious strides this year is his pocket presence.

“That’s what we focused on throughout the spring because we know what Johnny can do when he’s outside the pocket, running the ball,” Spavital said. “I try not to let him scramble in practice and he gets frustrated at times and you’ll see some pretty wild plays out there, but he’s been staying in the pocket, going through his progressions, and I think it’s making him a better pocket passer.”

At first glance, this doesn’t make sense as we noted back then:

Um, okay.  Let’s review here.  Last year, Manziel passed for 3,706 yards, second only to Georgia’s Aaron Murray (though Murray had one more game). But…and that’s a big but, he also rushed for a conference-best 1,410 yards and 21 scores.  That’s more touchdowns than Cam Newton had in 2010, and almost as many yards in one less game.

I’m so smart (sarcasm) that I finally figured out what this is about.  What it isn’t is Manziel working on becoming a better pocket passer so he will be a better NFL quarterback.  And it’s not necessarily about preventing an injury to Manziel.  No, what it’s about is addressing what the Aggies think other teams will do this year to defend against Manziel:

Part of that preparation was devising ways to stop Manziel, who was simulated in practice by backup quarterbacks Luke Del Rio and Cooper Bateman. Surely, Blake Sims, a former receiver turned quarterback, played the part of Johnny Football as well.

Saban said the goal won’t necessarily be to turn Manziel into a pocket passer, but to tighten up the containment around him and negate the potential for big gains. Treating him like a normal quarterback won’t work. If the defense does, another 20-0 hole could be in Alabama’s future.

“I told our players, I said, ‘There’s a lot of NFL games on Sundays. You want to watch the quarterback, go watch those games. But if you start watching this guy in our game, you’re going to get busted,’” Saban said. “It happened in our game last year. We’ve got people covered pretty well, you look back at the quarterback and their receivers do a good job of extending the play and getting away from it. He finds them and makes big plays.”

There you have it: “tighten up the containment around him.”  If you want to see what “failing to tighten up the containment around him” looks like, check below…

Keep That Trap Shut

Trash talking has always been a part of sports and I suppose it always will be.  Heck, I even participated a bit back in the day.

But the reality is – for several reasons – it really doesn’t need to be a part of the game and for most ‘Bama teams under Nick Saban, it hasn’t been:

“It’s never a part of our game,” Saban said. “I mean, we tell our players there’s no circumstance where you need to talk to another player. And there’s been very little of that with our team.”

That should be especially true when Texas A&M is your next opponent:

On multiple occasions Monday, Saban called Alabama’s approach to Saturday’s game “business-like.” If Crimson Tide players are exchanging verbal jabs with Texas A&M players and letting their emotions get the best of them, their focus probably isn’t where Saban wants it to be.

“People who get emotional sometimes don’t make the best decisions,” Saban said. “We need to make good decisions in this game so that we put ourselves in the best position to have a chance to be successful against very good players.

“That part of the game, I have no use for. And you’ve seen very little of that from our team. That’s not going to be our approach going into the game.”

If you’re the champ, the chumps are always looking for another way to knock you out.  Getting you to run your trap and do stupid things is one of the easiest ways to get you off your game.  It’s kind of like the old trick of taking a scrub and having him pick a fight with your best player – and then both players get ejected.  Rice and Sam Houston State – given their decided underdog status – had nothing to lose and probably baited Johnny Manziel a bit with their tongues.

The other reality is, when you’re playing A&M, especially if you’re a defender, you better worry about getting lined up and getting the play call instead of running your trap.

And, hopefully, as the old saying goes, the scoreboard will do the talking.

Johnny Football on 3rd Down

ESPN has a very good article up entitled “Examining the value of Manziel’s Scrambles” which highlights some rather amazing statistics related to last year’s Heisman winner:

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Manziel was the best in the country at converting third downs via the pass, doing so 51.6 percent of the time (the FBS average was 37.3 percent). Of course, his scrambling ability was also critical on third down as he ran for 28 first downs, 19 of which came with 5 yards or more to go. That also was best in the country, as no other quarterback had more than 12 first-down runs on third-and-5 or longer.  [Emphasis added]

That scrambling ability accounted for a 857 rushing yards, 60.7 percent of his season total. If you combined the rushing yards on scrambles of Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller from 2012, it still comes up 30 yards short of Manziel alone. Fifteen of his scrambles gained at least 20 yards, which was also the best in the SEC.

You can say what you want about Manziel’s off-the-field antics, but when he’s on the field you can’t get him off of the field.

Earlier this week, we discussed how to defend the hurry-up-no-huddle (HUNH) offense.  While some would point to faking injuries and hybrid players as the answer, I contributed this:

Once your just playing football, defending the HUNH is no different that defending any other offense:  control the line of scrimmage and get the offense off the field as quickly as you can.

It’s not just running the HUNH that creates havoc and it’s not just the pace of the offense.  The killer – the thing that multiplies the effectiveness of the HUNH – is being able to convert on third down.

For some perspective, let’s review the top third down converting teams in the SEC over the last few years:

2012 – Texas A&M – 54.87%

2011 – Alabama – 46.43%

2010 – Auburn – 53.09%

2009 – Florida – 49.15%

2008 – Florida – 51.55%

These teams, obviously,  have several things in common: three national championships (2011, 2010, and 2008), three Heisman winners (Manziel, 2012; Cam Newton, 2010; and Tim Tebow, 2009 and 2008, though he won the trophy in 2007) and four of the teams played in the that year’s SEC championship game.

Though only two of these teams ran a version of the HUNH (A&M and Auburn), there’s one enduring memory from all of them:  you couldn’t get them off of the field.  Third and four for Tebow was a given – from anywhere on the field.  Ditto for Newton.  And having Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy in the same backfield wasn’t a lot easier to defend, either.

Manziel’s team didn’t win or play for a championship, but they were awfully close.  A couple of turnovers late in the first half against LSU spelled doom, but a loss to Florida in the first game of the year ultimately kept them out of the SEC title game.  And this was all because of Manziel and his offense’s ability to convert on third down.

So as we head into the 2013 season, keep your eye on third downs.  The SEC team converting at the best clip may be playing in Pasadena on January 6, 2014.

 

Manziel the Pocket Passer?

After months of off-the-field news, ESPN.com put up a piece on Sunday about Johnny Manziel’s on-field performance:

So, how do you tell the Heisman Trophy winner to do better?

“All you have to do is watch video,” Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said.

What does the video reveal?

“You saw him progress as a quarterback as the year went on,” quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said. “Those first five games or so, he was just freelancing and doing his own thing.”

Sumlin has noted several times in the past year that Manziel was a better quarterback in the second half of the season. His grasp of the offense and ability to throw downfield have improved.

The stats support that assessment. In the final six games, Manziel had a better completion percentage (73.4 percent, compared to 63.8 percent in the first seven), more yards per attempt (9.31 vs. 7.95), a better touchdown-to-interception ratio (12-to-3, compared with 14-to-6) and, as a result, a better passer rating (169.5 vs. 144.5 to 169.5).

That’s all fine and good, but this next blurb caught my eye:

The area in which he can make serious strides this year is his pocket presence.

“That’s what we focused on throughout the spring because we know what Johnny can do when he’s outside the pocket, running the ball,” Spavital said. “I try not to let him scramble in practice and he gets frustrated at times and you’ll see some pretty wild plays out there, but he’s been staying in the pocket, going through his progressions, and I think it’s making him a better pocket passer.”

Um, okay.  Let’s review here.  Last year, Manziel passed for 3,706 yards, second only to Georgia’s Aaron Murray (though Murray had one more game). But…and that’s a big but, he also rushed for a conference-best 1,410 yards and 21 scores.  That’s more touchdowns than Cam Newton had in 2010, and almost as many yards in one less game.

And now the Aggie coaches want Manziel to be more of a pocket passer?

Sorry, folks.  I just don’t buy this one.  Manziel isn’t the tallest of quarterbacks, but he is one of the quickest.  Sitting him in the pocket would be a defensive coordinators dream and it ain’t gonna happen.