New QB Same as the Old One

The OBC got 50 hung on him last night and this little ditty came to mind:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

But I digress. The story really isn’t Steve Spurrier. As last night showed, Spurrier is old news. The story is Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin and his new quarterback, Johnny Manziel’s replacement, Kenny Hill. All Hill did in his first game post-Manziel was throw for over 500 yards.

Spurrier lost his offensive genius title years ago, but he had built a program that had won 11 games for three years running. At South Carolina, or heck, anywhere, that’s incredibly impressive. Last night’s shellacking at the hands of Sumlin, however, proved there’s a new genius in town.

Now, now, I realize I may be late to the party here. Sumlin’s offenses have been putting up huge numbers for years. So what changed? Quarterbacks, that’s what has changed. Previously, I passed over some of Sumlin’s success because of two guys named Case Keenum and Johnny Manziel. But now I’m thinking that maybe it was the offense that made the players, rather than the other way around.

Last night’s beat down of South Carolina in Columbia proved that Sumlin and his Aggies are for real. And it may have also been the shove that pushes the OBC toward that good night.

A&M Post Game Thoughts

It wasn’t supposed to feel this way.  Payback, that is.

Nearly a year after the Texas A&M Aggies ruined the Tide’s perfect 2012 season and almost derailed their title hopes, heading to College Station and beating Johnny Manziel and the gang was supposed to feel a lot better.

Instead, after giving up a school-record 628 yards of offense to the Aggies, after allowing Manziel to throw for five touchdowns and 464 yards, and after watching Mike Evans blow by our secondary en route to catching seven passes for 279 yards, instead it feels more like Rocky did after one of his epic bouts.  We won, but we’re staggering around and our speech is slurred.

Yeah, yeah, I know we racked up 568 yards ourselves and effectively punched out their lights with a time-draining drive late in the fourth quarter, but…WOW…giving up a school record number of yards?  There’s not way I would have combined that stat and winning.

To start the look back, let’s take a look at what I thought it would take to win and then what actually happened…

1) Stop Texas A&M’s running game.  

Pre-game: “You probably thought the first comment would be “stop Manziel” or something like that.  That’s important (read on), but THE most important thing for the ‘Bama defense is to make A&M one dimensional.  It doesn’t matter if the Ags run the Hurry Up No Huddle.  It’s still football and the D needs to stop A&M’s running game to force them into second-and-long and third-and-long.”

Post-game: The Tide gave up 164 yards rushing to the Aggies, 98 of which came from Johnny Football so, no, we didn’t stop their running game.  A&M’s running backs were never really a factor in the game and you could argue that we did, in some respects, make them one dimensional, but the Aggie’s operated pretty well in that dimension.

2) Have a better pass rush than last year.  

Pre-game: “Call it a mush rush or a delayed rush or whatever you want, it just has to be more effective.  And by effective, I mean two things:  1) don’t allow gaps in the pocket whereby Manziel can escape; and 2) don’t let Manziel sit in the pocket forever.  Our defensive backs, though pretty good, can’t cover the Aggie receivers all day.”

Post-game:  The rush was better related to no allowing gaps in the pocket (though Manziel did rush for 98 yards), but we never really touched Manziel in the pocket.  He had FOREVER to throw the ball and was accurate when he did.

3) Get off the field on third down.  

Pre-game: “I don’t believe we’ll totally shut down the Aggie offense, but we do need to get off the field on a regular basis, something we couldn’t do during the first half of last year’s game.  Stopping the running game is important and so is having a better pass rush, but at some point we have to have folks step up, make plays and get A&M off the field.”

Post-game: Third down conversions weren’t as much of a problem because the Aggies rarely got to third down.  They racked up 31 first downs (as did ‘Bama), but only had eight conversion attempts.  First and second downs were working pretty well for them, I’d say.

4) Don’t turn the ball over.

Pre-game: “Duh.  We had three turnovers last year and all three led to destruction.  If you’re trying to reverse last year’s outcome, playing better on defense isn’t the only place to look.”

Post-game: Basically, this was the difference in the game.  Manziel’s ill-advised throw to the end zone allowed ‘Bama to break their serve and gave the Tide offense an opportunity to get going.  Vinnie Sunseri also made a huge play and scored on another interception.  Alabama’s lone turnover was a T.J. Yeldon yack near the goal line that probably cut my life expectancy.

5) Score and score some more.  

Pre-game: “In my mind, I don’t think the defense could play much worse than they did last year, but I do think it’s possible for A&M to score more.  The bottom line is the offense needs to be ready to score in the high 30s.  Last year’s first quarter wouldn’t have happened if the offense could have stayed on the field.  This year, the gas pedal needs to be to the floor from the first snap.”

Post-game: I have to say this was right on.  This game wasn’t over until the end and if the Tide offense had gone into a funk after being up 35-14 we would have lost.

Some other thoughts…

* The college football Nazis need a breather.  The almost ejection of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was ridiculous.  The penalty on the A&M defender who made a tackle sans his helmet was ridiculous.  The horse collar penalty is ridiculous.  It’s a dangerous game and people get hurt.  I hate that.  If the game continues this trend, I’m sure flags are right around the corner.

* I didn’t handle the first quarter very well.  That’s all I have to say about that.

* The biggest play of the game, in my opinion, was Cyrus Jones’ pick in the end zone.  Manziel had Evans on Fulton on the other side of the play – a combination that obviously worked well all day, but went for the more open receiver on the left.  The pass was his worst of the day and it cost the Aggies.

* Freshman O.J. Howard showed up huge yesterday.  His fourth quarter reception of 26 yards set up the Tide’s last score and was simply a clutch play.  This guy will be a star.

* Once we were up 35-14, the question to my game day texting buddies was “is this enough and, if not, how much do we need?”  I really felt like 35 was enough, but A&M came up with the perfect fourth quarter as Gary Danielson noted.

* Again, it’s just hard to fathom a Nick Saban secondary (and a Saban defense) giving up this many yards.  The performance by the secondary was ridiculous, but not entirely their fault.  As noted above, we had a more disciplined pass rush, but letting Manziel sit in the pocket all day is an extremely bad idea and, ultimately, didn’t work.  We don’t have a dominate pass rusher and that’s kind of a big deal.

* I liked the running back rotation yesterday.  T.J. Yeldon obviously had a big day stat wise, and Jalston Fowler and Kenyan Drake made for a nice trio.  Fowler is a load running north and south and Drake wasn’t much of a drop off from Yeldon.

* I’m a little concerned about the play of Amari Cooper.  For the second straight game, he barely made the stat sheet and looks to be whiffing on balls he would’ve caught last year.  I’m interested in knowing if defenses are playing him differently or if he’s just off to a bad start.

* Other than perhaps preventing us from changing defensive calls, the hurry up offense run by A&M was pretty much no problem.

How to Beat A&M

It’s funny what one game will do.

Since the beginning of the 2008 season, Alabama is 62-7 and has won three national championships and two SEC titles.

Yet some of us act like beating Texas A&M is impossible.  “Can we beat them? or Can we slow them down?” we ask, like there’s some magic formula that Nick Saban and his coaching staff hasn’t – or can’t – figure out.

The reality is that we have the better team.  We have the better coaches.  We have a better program.  And though the Aggies beat us fair and square last year, there were many oddities in last year’s game that are statistically very unlikely to happen this year.  Bobbling the ball and throwing for a touchdown?  Probably won’t happen.  Starting the game completing 21 of 23 passes?  Not likely.  An interception on the goal line while en route to the game winning score?  Don’t believe so.  And we know for sure this year’s game doesn’t follow an emotionally draining game like last year’s last-second win over LSU.

But, there’s also this reality…Johnny Manziel is one of the most talented players in college football (if not THE most talented).  And talented players like Manziel not only play at an extremely high level, but they also raise the play of others around them.  Manziel also brings another special element to him that we haven’t seen since Cam Newton…he plays at such a high level that his team’s defensive play (or lack thereof) becomes a non-issue.  That’s right, his offensive play is so spectacular, it really doesn’t matter whether A&M’s defense is good or bad.  If they can keep from getting blown out (which hasn’t happened during Manziel’s tenure), the team has a chance to win.

So given all of this, what does ‘Bama need to do to bring a win home?  Here’s what I think…

1) Stop Texas A&M’s running game.  You probably thought the first comment would be “stop Manziel” or something like that.  That’s important (read on), but THE most important thing for the ‘Bama defense is to make A&M one dimensional.  It doesn’t matter if the Ags run the Hurry Up No Huddle.  It’s still football and the D needs to stop A&M’s running game to force them into second-and-long and third-and-long.

2) Have a better pass rush than last year.  Call it a mush rush or a delayed rush or whatever you want, it just has to be more effective.  And by effective, I mean two things:  1) don’t allow gaps in the pocket whereby Manziel can escape; and 2) don’t let Manziel sit in the pocket forever.  Our defensive backs, though pretty good, can’t cover the Aggie receivers all day.

3) Get off the field on third down.  I don’t believe we’ll totally shut down the Aggie offense, but we do need to get off the field on a regular basis, something we couldn’t do during the first half of last year’s game.  Stopping the running game is important and so is having a better pass rush, but at some point we have to have folks step up, make plays and get A&M off the field.

4) Don’t turn the ball over.  Duh.  We had three turnovers last year and all three led to destruction.  If you’re trying to reverse last year’s outcome, playing better on defense isn’t the only place to look.

5) Score and score some more.  In my mind, I don’t think the defense could play much worse than they did last year, but I do think it’s possible for A&M to score more.  The bottom line is the offense needs to be ready to score in the high 30s.  Last year’s first quarter wouldn’t have happened if the offense could have stayed on the field.  This year, the gas pedal needs to be to the floor from the first snap.

Yesterday, I picked the Tide to win 35-28.  I’ll stand by that, but I’d like to think we wouldn’t give up 28 points.

Roll Tide!

 

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.

Back Away from the Ledge, Please (OL Version)

It’s fun to analyze and talk about stuff.  It’s part of being a fan.  It’s why we do things like blogging about college football.

But in our race to analyze things, we can, at times, lose our perspective.  Take last Saturday’s win against Virginia Tech, for example.

The offense, without a doubt, looked horrible and the offensive line, in particular, didn’t play well.  One big question for the off season was how we were going to replace Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones and D.J. Fluker.  During Saturday’s game, the answer became very apparent: we haven’t replaced them yet.

But it’s not time to fire the line coach and it’s not time to bench the starters in question and find new ones.  If you’re up on the ledge, keep these things in mind:

* We were up 7-0 before taking our first offensive snap.  A quick three-and-out by the defense forced a punt that Christion Jones took to the house.  Those quick scores often times hurt more emotionally than they help on the scoreboard and I’m sure that was partly the case here.

* We scored on our second drive.  An 11-play, 49 yard drive capped with a score by T.J. Yeldon put us up 14-0 and the game, for all intents and purposes, was over.

I think we entered the game with a limited offensive plan and once the contest was not in doubt, we for sure didn’t get fancy.  Yes, Va Tech stunted and slanted, but I think maybe the coaches were more interested in seeing how the OL handled the adversity than in being creative.

Nick Saban and Doug Nussmeier know what this offense can do and know where we stand.  Beating Texas A&M by one is much more important than beating the Hokies by 40.  Something tells me we’ll be dialed-in and ready to go against the Aggies.

Aggies Name Manziel Starter at QB

Kevin Sumlin has a surprise for us:

In any case, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin announced Wednesday evening that redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel will be the Aggies’ starting quarterback for the season opening game against Louisiana Tech over sophomore Jameill Showers.

“Johnny has performed the best at this stage and we will proceed until the season opener with him getting the first-team reps,” Sumlin said. “My policy is simple really; the best player plays. Competition is a great thing and we need more competition at all of our positions. All of our quarterbacks have competed well, and I expect them to continue to push Johnny.”

If you’re an Aggie fan is this good news or bad? Maybe it’s good if they are both playing well and Manziel beats Showers out. I guess it’s bad news if Showers unwhelmed and forced Sumlin to make a change.