Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ag Football Recaps: The Gauntlet Begins: Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, & Alabama

Ags Sneak Past Hogs in OT, 35-28

This was the first Arkansas game at Jerry's World that I've missed - in fact, it was the first game played in the state of Texas that I've missed since the last time we played in Lubbock.

The offense really struggled, although I will say that Arky's defense is stout, particularly up front.  They were the only unranked team in the SEC West - but frankly, they would be in the top 20 if they played in a different conference.

Arky took a 21-14 lead just before the half on a fake punt that was run 51 yards for a TD.  I have no clue how that happened - or at worst, how the punt returner wasn't able to tackle him.

Offensively, I feel like Kenny is regressing as the season continues - there were a few drops, but he was a little inaccurate until the 4th quarter when everything finally clicked.  He had 179 yards and 2 TDs in the 4Q (to bring his totals for the day up to 21-of-41 for 386 yards and 4 TDs).

We were down 28-14 in the 4th quarter when Kenny found Ed Pope for an 86 yard TD pass.  Pope finished the day with 4 catches, 151 yards and 2 TDs.

Frankly, I felt like we were lucky to win this game.  There was a huge TD negating penalty against the Hogs for tripping (it was a legitimate penalty, but didn't have any effect on the actual play) and then Arkansas missed a FG with 2:29 remaining.

Within 21 seconds of that missed FG, Kenny found Josh Reynolds for a 59 yard TD to tie the game up.  We took it into OT and Malcome Kennedy, who had been injured earlier in the game, snuck behind the defense and caught the game winning TD.  The defense did their job and stuffed Arkansas on a 4th-and-1 to end the ballgame.

Huge win on the road.  It was nice to see the team rally, although I would have preferred the offense have more success earlier in the game.

Also of note, Speedy Noil was back for this one after having his knee scoped following the Rice game (and the sloppy field conditions).

Ags Meet Their Match against #12 Mississippi State, 48-31

That final score was a lot closer than this game was - we were down 48-17 in the 4th quarter.

The Bulldogs came into this game off of a bye, following what is likely one of the biggest wins in school history as they went into Tiger Stadium (at night) and demolished LSU.

Dak Prescott is, through this point in the season, the best player in college football.  He is eerily similar to Tim Tebow, both in stature and ability.  I was very impressed with him in both the LSU game and against us.  He finished the game with 259 yards and 2 TDs through the air and 77 yards and 3 more TDs on the ground.

The key to this game was 3rd downs. We were miserable on both sides of the ball (5 of 17 on offense - that's 29% - compared to 5-of-11 on defense - 45%).

While Kenny didn't look great - what really hurt was the 11 catchable drops by the wide receivers.  It was a larger epidemic than this ebola virus scare that we're going through right now.  Malcome Kennedy did miss this game as a result of his shoulder injury against Arkansas, and he is a huge veteran leader, but he couldn't be the reason we were so lost, could he?

The shining glimmer on offense was Speedy's 3rd quarter TD catch at the pylon.

He is an incredibly gifted athlete.

The defense really struggled against the run as the Bulldogs averaged 5.7 ypc and had 5 TDs on the ground.  I don't see this trend stopping with the slate of opponents we have coming up.

Compounded with the stout wakeup call MSU gave us, we are also starting to see that our win over South Carolina isn't as impressive as it originally appeared.  They turned around and beat top 10 Georgia but then turned around and lost to Missouri and then Kentucky!?!

Next up is Ole Miss who is coming off the biggest win in their history with an upset against Bama.  Hopefully we catch them in the let down after a big win or we get the Mr. Hyde version of Bo Wallace, not the Dr. Jekyll version.

Thumped by #3 Ole Miss, 35-20

This game had all the pre-game makings of a monster showdown - two top 15 teams, Ole Miss coming off the biggest win in program history, the first night game at new Kyle Field, and the largest crowd to ever watch a football game in the state of Texas.

It ended up being the saddest group of 110,633 that you'll ever see.

As was the case against MSU, the score was closer than the game itself was.  Halfway through the 4th quarter it was 35-7.

Hill continues to look like he is regressing each passing week - he is not hitting his receivers in stride, which is crucial in this offensive scheme - and then on top of that he had a pick-6 and a fumbled that was run back for a TD.  That is 8 turnovers in the last 4 games (7 INTs/1 fumble).

I feel like he might be losing some of his teammates - at one point after a badly missed third down pass attempt in the red zone, OL Germaine Ifedi, turned towards him and angrily/emphatically barked something at Kenny.

Sean turned to me at one point and asked, "What happened to our hurryup, light speed offense?"  I didn't have an answer - we haven't run it at all this entire year.  I don't know if that is because of Matthews at center or Kenny's comfort in the system or if we're just not stressing it.

Playcalling was suspect for the 2nd weeks in a row - we didn't even attempt a down field pass until the 4th quarter and again, I was surprised that we didn't see any Kyle Allen, even in complete garbage time.

Malcome Kennedy was out again - but he can't be the missing magical piece.  One thing that is becoming more evident, is that this OL is not elite, as we thought it was going into the season.  They got beat consistently - again - and again the Rebels got pressure with just their four DLmen and didn't have to blitz.

The lack of blocking killed the running game - our RBs had 26 carries for a total of 59 yards (the long rush was 6 yards).  That is the biggest thing that we're missing from Johnny, is his ability to keep the defenses honest with the threat of a running game.  I thought our RBs could make up for that but they have not been able to.

The defense got shredded in the first quarter but I thought that at some point in the second quarter something clicked (whether it was scheme or something else) and I thought they played quite well for the final 2-1/2 quarters.  They gave up 1 offensive TD after the 1st quarter and forced 7 punts on Ole Miss's final 8 offensive drives (including 5 three-and-outs).

You simply can't spot a team that good 14 defensive points like we did with the pick-6 and the fumbled returned for a TD.

The backbreaker of the game was a huge punt return by Speedy that got called back due to a bogus block in the back penalty.  It was about a 60 yard penalty so instead of it being 1st & 10 from near Ole Miss's 30 yard line with a legitimate chance to cut the lead to 21-14, it was 1st & 10 from our own 20.  The air went out of the stadium, the offense went 3-and-out and Ole Miss scored to put the game out of reach, 28-7.

Well, that and the defensive TDs we gave up.

The highlight of the game was some commentary between Sean and I as we impersonated Eric Hyman as a bear.  He was on the field handing out some sort of honor and we pretended he had just awoken from a long winter hibernation, completely confused about everything that has happened in the program over the last 10 months.  We were crying up in the third deck all by ourselves.

Late in the game, I must admit that I really enjoyed watching Speedy play.  He was fired up and seemed like the only guy on the field who wanted to play.

The players that become legends aren't just the players who are simply great, they are the ones who are as passionate as the fans.  Think about it - Bucky, Johnny, Dat, Von, Cyrus, Jerrod, McGhee, Spencer Nealy - they were all clearly passionate about playing football for Texas A&M.  Based on what we saw from Speedy in the 4th quarter, he will join this list quickly.

In other news, MSU knocked off #3 Auburn for their third win over a top 10 team in as many weeks - leapfrogging them into the #1 ranking in the country.  Ole Miss held steady at #3.  The Egg Bowl is going to be crazy this year.

Wow, 59-0 at #7 Alabama

Head in hands.  

I had an obligation on Saturday so thankfully I was spared the full brunt of however you want to classify this game.

I got home and turned it on at halftime and just about fell out of my chair - it was 45-0.  I had to text Sean to find out what happened...
"How many turnovers has Hill had?"
"Have we had a bunch of fumbles or special teams TDs?"
"Nope.  Neither.""
-- silence --
"I'm not even sure how a team scores 45 in a half with no turnovers"
At that point we both said some things we shouldn't have.

Here's how this happens.  Going into the season I had us pegged at 7-5 or maybe 8-4.  We'd lose at South Carolina, at Alabama, at Auburn, and against LSU and I had the Ole Miss game as a tossup.  In week one we dogstomped the #9 team on the road and get thrust into the top 10, completely changing the expectations of the entire season.  The idea of 7-5 or 8-4 became ridiculous - if we can beat the #9 on the road that convincingly we could concievably compete for the conference title.

Only, we didn't beat the #9 team on the road, we beat a bad team that the experts had ranked entirely too high.  We can see that now, but the expectations don't temper down - those are real feelings we had and don't want to give up.

We then went on to beat 3 cupcakes - some of our weaknesses were seen but overlooked as a whole because we were winning.  Then conference play kicks back in and those weaknesses have been exploited.  If you flip SC and MSU in the preseason projections, we are pretty much who we thought we were.  The problem is that it hurts so much more now because our expectations rose so high that the fall is a lot steeper.

I think that in most conferences, unless you're the doormat team, there aren't enough truly elite teams to expose you week after week after week.  Sure you might run up against one team or maybe two in a season that you struggle against but you still play 10 other winnable games.  It's part of what I love about the SEC, but it definitely has a flip side.

Starting back with Arkansas, everyone we've played has been able to get pressure with 4 down linemen and could drop all their backers into covereage.  Bama went so far as to run nickel and dime packages all day long and our OL wasn't able to keep pressure off of Kenny or allow for the running game to have a chance.

Against Bama we didn't cross midfield until the third quarter.  Over our last four games we have scored a combined total of 5 TDs in quarters 1-3 (12 quarters total).  That is abysmal.

Malcome Kennedy was back, so we can scratch him being out off the list of reasons why things went badly against the MS schools.

The playcalling hasn't been good, but I'm not sure what difference it makes when you can't run the ball or give the QB time to allow the WRs to get into their routes (Kenny was sacked 5 times).  Then the times that the QB does have time, he cannot miss like Hill has - turning receivers backwards around and overthrowing them

We did finally get to see Kyle Allen came in the game at the start of the 4th quarter - FINALLY - but we went 3-and-out on both of his drives accumulating 5 yards on 7 snaps.

I can get over losing but I can't get over quitting.  There were a lot of guys who didn't fight - but I will point out that I thought that Speedy and Armani Watts both stood out as playing hard until the final whistle.

I can handle losing but what I can't handle is the thought of this recruiting class falling apart because the recruits can't handle losing.  "Trendy" cycles really fast in the world of 18 year olds, especially when they have options all across the country, like the athletes in this class do.

Moving forward, I'm ok with a QB change, but I don't think we're going to see Kyle Allen step in and light the world on fire.

I'm also on board for a defensive coordinator change.  Our opponents have lit up this defense, one that should have been at least a little bit better than last year's squad.  After 5 games, we are giving up 483.2 yards per game in SEC play.  Rice put up another 481 on us.  That is BAD.

This is the first time in Sumlin's career that he's lost 3 games in a row - granted, 95% of the country would have gone 0-3 against the three teams we just played - but it is still a bitter pill to swallow because of the way we have just shriveled up and not punched back in these games.

The current AP Poll has four SEC West teams in the top 5 (#1 MSU, #2 FSU, #3 Ole Miss, #4 Bama, #5 Auburn).  That's nuts.

We have a bye this week before hosting Louisiana-Monroe.  Hopefully, that time will allow for the ship to be righted, or at least patched and steadied. 

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