Saturday, July 17, 2010

State of the Program

(originally posted on January 13, 2010 at my old website:

Thank goodness the 2000s are over because it was not a good decade for our Ags. Our overall record was 63-59, we appeared in six bowl games (winning 1) and our best season was 2006 when we finished 9-4.

It was my first decade of football as my freshman year started with the 2000 season. Over the 10 seasons I attended 81 games including 68 of our 70 games at Kyle Field (missing '04 OU and '05 TxSt).

I don't think anyone can say that 2009 was a good season but I think we saw good things from it. In my season preview had us pegged with a 6-6 regular season, which we hit, but we lost our bowl game giving us a losing record for the second season in a row (for the first time since '79-'80).

This season I made it to 11 of our 13 games (missing tech and KSU), which was a personal single season high. I did the math and I traveled over 5,300 miles to see our Ags play this season. At 16 miles/gallon, plus food, lodging, tickets....I hope my wife doesn't read this.

And it's still worth it.

I do think that we made improvements and some nice strides towards next year. We played a school record 18 true freshmen and another 6 red-shirt freshmen. Those 24 freshmen accounted for 57 starts and 249 appearances. Six of them started seven or more games (Mangan, D.Harris, EZ, B.Jackson, P.Lewis, J.Stewart) and project to have long career for us. Lewis was named to's All-Freshman 2nd team while Mangan, EZ, and Christine Michael were all named 3rd team.

I've probably said it 10 times on this site but Christine Michael is going to be a complete stud.

A&M OL Starts v. W-L
2003 20 v. 4-8
2004 62 v. 7-5
2005 87 v. 5-6
2006 79 v. 9-4
2007 119 v. 7-6
2008 21 v. 4-8
2009 56 v. 6-7

[note: 2005 is out of whack because we had Aldo De La Garza and Jamie Hightower, both experienced seniors but both playing the same position -- Hightower was beat out by Yemi Babalola (freshman) at tackle so he moved to guard and split time with Aldo -- that is, until Dominique Steamer ended up beat'em both out after our 5th game. Going into 2005 Aldo & Hightower had 51 career starts between them and they started a combined 5 games in '05]

Michael and sophomore Cyrus Gray ran behind an offensive line that was certainly in transition for the first portion of the season. Coming into 2009 we had a total of 56 offensive line starts returning, mostly from guys that were first time starters in 2008.

        LT      LG      C      RG     RT    RYds Sck
======= ======= ======== ===== ====== ========
UNM Baker Shumard Matthews Allen Grimes 245 2
UtS Shumard Eike Matthews Allen Grimes 251 1
UAB Shumard Barrera Matthews Allen Baker 236 1
Ark Barrera Shumard Matthews Allen Grimes 113 2
oSu Barrera Lewis Matthews Allen Grimes 109 4
KSU Shumard Allen Matthews Lewis Grimes -13 6
tt Shumard Lewis Matthews Eike Grimes 321 1
ISU Shumard Lewis Matthews Eike Grimes 267 1
CU Shumard Eike Matthews Lewis Grimes 132 1
OU Shumard Eike Matthews Lewis Grimes 59 4
BU Shumard Eike Matthews Lewis Grimes 375 1
tu Shumard Eike Matthews Lewis Grimes 190 3
UGA Shumard Eike Matthews Lewis Grimes 109 2

We struggled mightily trying to find the right mix of players (rushing for a total of 209 yards and giving up 12 sacks in our first three "real" games) but once we re-inserted Evan Eike and added freshman Patrick Lewis at the guard positions things started to click more often. Everyone made a big deal out of us being 0-7 on TV and 6-0 when we weren't televised, but I think the fact that we were 0-7 when we ran for less than 200 yards had more to do with it than the bright lights of Hollywood.

                      PrevExp  2009  Into2010
======= ===== ========
M.Allen (Jr).......... 0/0 8/6 8/6
D.Baker (So).......... 10/1 13/2 23/3
S.Barrera (Fr)........ 0/0 9/3 9/3
E.Eike (So)........... 12/12 13/8 25/20
L.Grimes (Sr)......... 20/12 12/12 32/24
J.Hyde (Fr)........... 0/0 8/0 8/0
P.Lewis (Fr).......... 0/0 12/9 12/9
K.Matthews (Sr)....... 21/12 13/13 34/25
M.Shumard (Sr)........ 29/17 12/12 41/29
B.Thomas (Fr)......... 0/0 12/0 12/0
J.Villavisencio (So).. 2/1 0/0 2/1 (RSed in '09)
V.Williams (Sr)....... 12/1 3/0 15/1

Next season we lose our three more experienced linemen in Kevin Matthews, Michael Shumard, and Lee Grimes and we will only return 42 starts but we bring in what looks to be the best OL recruiting class we've scored in the last 15 years. We also get to see the highly touted red-shirt freshman Rhonte Scales. I've said before that the offensive line was a weak link for us and it probably will be until 2011 but if anyone is going to bring it to where it needs to be it will be Mike Sherman - and he is on his way to doing that.

In addition to C-Mike, I'm also a big fan of freshman Uzoma Nwachakwu who led the team in receiving yards with 708 yards. His three 100 yard performances tied the school record and set the freshman record while his 6 TDs was the second most ever by a freshman and 7th most overall. He didn't add to either of those achievements in the last 7 games of the season though (after the KSU game). Another thing I noticed was that he had a ton of yardage on defensive off-sides where we had free plays and JJ just took a shot deep to him. I'm curious why we saw such a big drop in production. Clearly Fuller coming back played a part and maybe teams got enough film on us and schemed him out of the game during Big 12 play or maybe his route running or ability to get separation against Big 12 opponents reflected his freshman inexperience. We'll have to keep an eye on that over the next few years, but I have a feeling he's going to be a good one.

2008            G-GS No Yds TD
R.Tannehill.. 11-6 55 844 5
J.Fuller..... 11-8 50 630 9

2009 G-GS No Yds TD
R.Tannehill.. 13-0 46 609 4
J.Fuller..... 9-7 41 568 7
U.Nwachukwu.. 13-12 40 708 6

EZ isn't the only great WR we have on the roster. I think that the current WR corps will be the best we've ever had. When we had Bethel Johnson, Jamaar Taylor, Terrence Murphy, and Greg Porter we were pretty stout but by the time the current group is gone I think they will have them trumped.

Jeff Fuller has 16 career TDs and is only three shy of tying the school's career record (19 by Bob Long in the late 1960s). Tannehill, even with his much limited snaps this year to keep him healthy as the backup QB, is only eight TDs behind Fuller and is already 7th on the school's all-time receiving yardage list with 1,453 (T-Murph is #1 with exactly 2,600).

Fuller and Tannehill were just sophomores this season.

One of the reasons our WRs are so good is because of their QB, Jerrod Johnson, who re-wrote the record books this season. In my season preview I wrote the following:

I think that Reggie's junior season of 2004 was THE best passing season we've seen but I think that as a sophomore JJ was more polished than Reggie was at that point in his career (read: his sophomore year - 2003) so I'm kind of excited to see if he can take the big leap as a junior as well.
We can say that Jerrod's junior season of 2009 was THE best passing season we've seen.

G-GS Cmp-Att-Int Yds Pct TD Avg/G
2007... 5-0 2-7-0 50 58.0 2 10.0
2008... 12-10 194-326-10 2435 59.5 21 221.4*
2009... 13-13 296-497-8 3579 59.6 30 275.3

(*JJ played some QB in 11 of our 12 games but I want to note that
the YPG stat kept by the school did not take that into account when
dividing his season total of yards by the number of games played.
They used all 12 games he appeared in to calculate his YPG at 202.9.
He came off the bench at WR in the Arkansas State game and did not
play any QB & he started at WR in the Army game but did play some QB)

He was named 2nd Team All-Big 12 and I posted earlier this season on his achievements and I'll update those numbers now:

  • Threw for 30 TDs in 2009 shattering his own single season school record of 21 (he set last season)
  • Broke Kevin Murray's career record of 48 TD passing finishing his junior year with 53 career TDs (he tied Murray on his 741st career attempt which was 185 fewer than Murray's 926 career attempts)
  • Broke Reggie McNeal's single season school record with 3,579 yards (besting McNeal by almost 800 yards)
  • His career 6,064 passing yards is only 928 yards shy of McNeal's school record
  • Currently has career completion percentage of 59.3% (492/830). That sits as the second highest in school history by .2% (S.McGee is at 59.5%)
  • He threw 8 INTs on 497 pass attempts in 2009....that is 1 every 62 pass attempts
  • Set Big 12 record for single season consecutive pass attempts without an INT (225)
  • Set Big 12 record for consecutive pass attempts without an INT (242 - from '08 BU to '09 KSU)
  • Had the fewest INTs and most TDs by a Big 12 QB in 2009
  • His six 300 yard passing performances in 2009 was a single season record (Dustin Long had three in '02)
  • His eight career 300 yard games is a school record (Dustin Long had three)
As a matter of fact, we can probably start getting used to the idea that he is the best QB we've ever had roll through here. Of course, JJ detractors are going to point to our record and say, "He didn't win. All the numbers in the world wouldn't match what Kevin Murray/Bucky/Pullig did for this program."

Here is what I say to that: Jerrod doesn't have a defense. Think about this:

  • During Murray's career, only once did we have to score more than 40 points to win a game. We lost that game.
  • During Bucky's career, only once did we have to score more than 40 points to win a game. We lost that game.
  • During Pullig's career, only once did we have to score more than 40 points to win a game. We lost that game. Actually, during Pullig's career we only had to score more than 30 points twice (we went 1-1)
  • During the last two seasons, we have given up 40 points TWELVE times. In 25 games.
Unless Jerrod can bookend with Von Miller on the DL and create pressure on our opponents QB, our W-L record isn't in his hands.

That leads me right into my next topic....the defense.

It's really bad.

         RushD        PassD          TotalD          ScoreD          3DC
======================================================== ========
2003 225.1 (112)* 206.42 (40) 431.50 (96)* 38.8 (115)+ 2003 44%
2004 142.5 (55) 244.25 (93)* 386.75 (63)* 23.3 (47) 2004 44%
2005 139.2 (38) 304.64 (117)+ 443.82 (108)* 31.2 (96)* 2005 48%
2006 132.1 (44) 190.54 (44) 322.62 (46) 20.5 (44) 2006 29%
2007 160.9 (65) 254.85 (92)* 415.77 (83)* 25.9 (50) 2007 46%
2008 219.3 (114)* 242.67 (93) 461.92 (113)+ 37.4 (114)* 2008 55%
2009 171.6 (90) 254.69 (106)* 426.31 (105) 33.5 (105)* 2009 38%

*Indicates that at the time it was one of the three worst
seasons in modern Aggie history (post-1950)
+Indicates the single worst season in modern Aggie history

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that defensive coordinator, Joe Kines, has decided to retire. I'm still not sure how I feel about Kines. I mean, I really liked the guy, he has a great personality, and he clearly knew how to coach - as evident from his decades of success prior to A&M - but just couldn't get it done in Aggieland. I can't be angry at him - he came in after Reggie Herring bolted on us in the 11th hour knowing that we had nothing on the defensive side of the ball. I appreciate that Kines did us a huge favor by taking a job that was, to almost any other defensive coordinator, career suicide. However, part of me still struggles with the fact that we were SO bad defensively.

Now that we have some talent starting to become infused at different positions this job is certainly more desirable than it was two years ago - although it doesn't mean that the new defensive coordinator is just going to walk into a great situation like Will Muschamp did over in Austin and we're going to be a top 5 defense before August is over. With our offense we don't have to have the best defense in the country to win at a high level, but it has to be better than 105th.

The defense wasn't 100% doom and gloom. We saw some great improvement from a handful of players. Garrick Williams is starting to look more like a Big 12 LBer....I thought Jordan Pugh had his best season and improved dramatically with the ball in the air....Terrence Frederick is turning himself into a very nice little cornerback....and of course Von Miller turned himself into an All-American.

Von was named 1st team All-American by both Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News and 2nd team by the AP and was a finalist for the Hendricks Award. He became one of the top rush ends in the country and led the nation with 17 sacks, which put him second in A&M single season history (Jacob Green with 20 in 1979). After leading the team in sacks for the second straight season he moved into 7th place all-time with 22.5 career sacks.

Even with Von's big decision to return for his senior season, our defensive line is the weakest link of our football team so we'll have to see what transpires personnel-wise - and coaching-wise as DL coach Buddy Wyatt joined Turner Gill's staff at Kansas....under their new defensive coordinator, CARL TORBUSH! WOW!

Besides the DL it was our special teams that did us in time after time this season which was brought to a head in the Georgia game. Special teams mistakes are always huge, game changing events and when you have a lot of them you're not going to win football games. ST coach Kirk Doll is in a tricky spot. He was hired by Reggie Herring to be the LBer coach (which is what he has had success at) but when Herring left and Kines came in, Kines took the LBer spot and Doll moved to special teams. We'll have to see if he is retained by the incoming defensive coordinator at LB coach. Regardless, I expect a new face to be heading up the special teams.

The punting was either rugby style, which was canned mid-season, or INCREDIBLY slow to develop. I don't know how we didn't have more punts blocked.

Kicker, Randy Bullock, seemed to get hit with a nasty case of sophomore slump. The field goal kicking was a step down from 2008.

FIELD GOALS         FGM-FGA  Pct 01-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-99 Lg Blk
2008 Bullock, Randy 6-7 85.7 1-1 2-2 2-2 1-2 0-0 46 0
2009 Bullock, Randy 12-19 63.2 0-0 3-4 5-7 3-6 1-2 50 2

I think the thing I struggle with even more than the drop off in FG kicking is the inability to kickoff into the endzone.

I'm ok with our kickoff returners, Cyrus Gray and Ryan Swope and Linnis Smith but our punt returning disappeared on us to the point where I was just happy when we just maintained possession on a punt return. Special teams has a long way to go before it's "special" again.

Coach Sherman has a big month here in January. He was able to bring Von Miller back but he still has to make the hire at defensive coordinator that will make or break his career in Aggieland and he has to hold the clamps down on our excellent recruiting class (we're currently sitting at #11 per Rivals and #15 per Scout).

For the first time in a long time I feel like things are swinging in the right direction for Texas A&M football. Like I said at the top of the page, it wasn't the best season but it was a step in the right direction. Let's keep on moving that way.


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