November 3, 2011

Under the Hood: Texas A&M

This weekend Oklahoma and Texas A&M will meet up in Norman with the Sooners trying to start a new winning stream at home. The Aggies came into the season with some feeling they were a darkhorse national title contender and perhaps the biggest threat to Oklahoma's intended repeat Big 12 title, however three second half collapses later and the Aggies find themselves on the outside looking in at the top 25. Below we break down the Aggies and just what the Sooners are looking at based on A&M's 38-31 loss at home to Missouri on October 29, 2011.

1st and 10
Run - 57 percent (21 times)
Pass - 43 percent (16 times)
2nd down
Long (7 yards or more)
Medium (4-6 yards)
Short (1-3 yards)
Run - 45 percent (9 times)
Run - 60 percent (6 times)
Run - 25 percent (1 times)
Pass - 55 percent (11 times)
Pass - 40 percent (4 times)
Pass - 75 percent (3 times)
3rd down
Run - 0 percent (0 time)
Run - 14 percent (1 time)
Run - 45 percent (5 times)
Pass - 100 percent (6 times)
Pass - 86 percent (6 times)
Pass - 55 percent (6 times)
1st down
2nd down
3rd down
I-formation - 8 percent (3 times)
I-formation - 6 percent (2 times)
I-formation - 8 percent (2 times)
I-formation with tight end - 17 percent (6 times)
I-formation with tight end - 3 percent (1 time)
I-formation with tight end - 12 percent (3 times)
Offset I with Tight End - 3 percent (1 times)
Offest I with Tight End - 3 percent (1 time)
Offset I with Tight End- 4 percent (1 times)
Offset I - 3 percent (1 time)
Offest I - 9 percent (3 times)
Offset I- 0 percent (0 times)
One Back with four-wide - 14 percent (5 times)
One-back with four-wide - 6 percent (2 times)
One-back with four-wide - 4 percent (1 times)
One Back with Tight End - 16 percent (6 times)
One-back with Tight End - 14 percent (4 times)
One-back with Tight End- 4 percent (1 times)
One Back with Double-Tight End - 8 percent (3 times)
One-back with Double-Tight End - 9 percent (3 times)
One-back with Double-Tight End- 4 percent (1 times)
One Back with H-Back - 0 percent (0 times)
One-back with H-Back - 3 percent (1 time)
One-back with H-Back- 0 percent (0 times)
Pistol one-back - 0 percent (0 time)
Pistol one-back - 6 percent (2 times)
Pistol one-back - 0 percent (0 times)
Pistol one-back with Tight End - 0 percent (0 time)
Pistol one-back with Tight End - 3 percent (1 time)
Pistol one-back with Tight End - 4 percent (1 times)
Pistol one-back with Double-Tight End- 3 percent (1 time)
Pistol one-back with Double-Tight End- 3 percent (1 time)
Pistol one-back with Double-Tight End - 0 percent (0 times)
Shotgun Empty - 5 percent (2 times)
Shotgun Empty - 6 percent (2 times)
Shotgun Empty - 21 percent (5 times)
Shotgun one-back- 11 percent (4 times)
Shotgun one-back- 9 percent (3 times)
Shotgun one-back- 17 percent (4 times)
Shotgun one-back with tight end- 11 percent (4 times)
Shotgun one-back with tight end- 17 percent (6 times)
Shotgun one-back with tight end- 17 percent (4 times)
Shotgun two-back with tight end- 3 percent (1 times)
Shotgun two-back with tight end- 6 percent (2 times)
Shotgun two-back with tight end- 0 percent (0 time)
Shotgun two-back- 0 percent (0 times)
Shotgun two-back- 0 percent (0 time)
Shotgun two-back- 4 percent (1 time)

Against the Red Raiders, Kansas State rushed for 183 yards on 46 attempts (3.8 yards per carry) and completed 35-of-53 passes for 315 yards (5.9 yards per attempt).


The thing that strikes me about this A&M offense is that in a 31-point showing at home against Missouri two offensive deep threats like Jeff Fuller and Uzoma Nwachukwu combined for 91-yards receiving. As far as pure talent goes Fuller is as good as anyone in the Big 12 and Nwachuwku is an elite athlete who can stretch defenses with his vertical speed yet somehow the two had 11 catches that barely averaged eight per. That's just not going to get it done against offenses that can score point and have comparable skill position talent to the Aggies impressive offensive line-up. There is so much to like about the personnel that Mike Sherman runs out on the field with probably at least five skill guys who will have more than a cup of coffee in the NFL and an offensive line with a pair of future draft picks as sophomore tackles.

As I went through the game I'm not sure I remember any true shot up field to Fuller, a potential NFL first round draft pick, with the exception of one forced throw from Ryan Tannehill late in the fourth quarter in which Fuller was well covered by two Tigers defenders. In all, it just seems some new ideas are needed as A&M has plenty of ability in the short game but isn't threatening defenses vertically, or at least they didn't against Missouri.

That being said the Aggies do a nice job of mixing things up and being unpredictable as far as play-calling in relation to down and distance. It wasn't until midway through the third quarter that the Aggies ran on a third and short and though they did so somewhat regularly from there on out it did seem to keep Missouri a bit on their heels in what would seem to be obvious run situations. However, at times the Aggies could be seen to fall into rhythm particularly seeming to like to run out of any variation of their I-formation sets through the game. Late they began to ran more play-action and perhaps that was the plan from the start but in the first half there were clearly some telling runs where I-formation was almost invariably a run.

Unlike so many teams that Oklahoma has faced so far this year the Aggies aren't trying to fool you with what they do, they'll use some motion and run a few quick plays to keep your defense off balance but they aren't going to try and overwhelm you mentally. Watching the A&M ground game it seemed that a big part of what they were doing was simply trying to outflank a defense. If they feel they have the edge outside, they'll use their talented tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews and quickly check into a toss sweep allowing their equally talented, and speedy, backs Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray to get outside and create plays in space. It's not necessarily a big play run game but the Aggies are rarely caught behind the line of scrimmage.


I didn't come in expecting a lot from the A&M defense and all apologies to them, I wasn't really disappointed. There were flashes of a unit that was, at times, last year really dominant but they struggled to get any type of consistent pressure and mixed with some missed tackles in the secondary and you have a recipe for some problems. Now certainly some credit must be given to the Missouri offensive line who also did a pretty decent job with Oklahoma in late September.

I will say there is no doubt that when you watch it's the Aggie linebacker crew that really reminds you of some of the great units of years past. Obviously the absence of Von Miller is going to lessen the star power of this group but as a unit they are clearly a strong group led by seniorSean Porter. Porter, one of the nation's leading sack men is a guy that you don't have to focus on to see him, he pops up over and over again through the course of a game and has done a nice job softening the blow of Miller's graduation. However, he isn't the only standout as Jonathan Stewart also was involved in plenty of plays from start to finish.

The issue for the Aggies this year has been that Miller's replacement, Demontre Moore hasn't quite lived up to some of the hope that many Maroon faithful had before the year. So far Moore has collected just 2.5 sacks and against Missouri was rarely involved. Interestingly, that may have a lot to do with what Missouri did to both he and Porter but we'll touch more on that in what Oklahoma might throw at the Aggies below.

The unit is unanimously a three-man front but just doesn't seem to create the same level of disruption as they did on their run that started with the big win over Oklahoma in College Station last year for whatever reason connection between the defensive line and cornerbacks just doesn't seem to be as clean as it was that night and for much of the second half of A&M's 2010 season. If they, again, find their form against the Sooners there is talent on this defense but so far it just seems to be a bit lost in the shuffle as offenses have begun to spread the unit thin.


Eddie Brown (Senior - DT) - If there was one defensive lineman who looked capable of applying some pressure it was Brown lined up directly over the center. When you consider that he could be going up against Ben Habern fresh off the injury table you can bet this is a match-up that A&M will at least be probing early in the game. Brown showed off some impressive bullrushes against a solid Missouri offensive line in spite of long being thought of as a bit out of water in a two-gap defensive system.

Cyrus Gray (Senior - RB) - I've long been a guy that thought Michael was the better back for the Aggies and this year, and to the point this game, haven't changed my mind at all. Gray has a lot of burst and good talent but at times he struggles to make the correct read and will dance around rather than getting north and south to let his speed work it's magic. Gray is a capable receiver and a talented back but with an offensive line as solid as he is he simply needs to get to the second level more quickly.

Sean Porter (Senior - LB) - Already talked a bit about him above but I just like this kid's game a lot. Not the huge prototype outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme but the guy is just always involved and you can bet he'll make a big play against the Sooners somewhere along the way.

Ryan Tannehill (Senior - QB) - Tannehill is a guy that has been getting a lot of buzz and on some levels I can see why, he does better with pressure than many due to his athleticism and perhaps being a bit unfettered as a quarterback - meaning he isn't quite as dogmatic as some might be in their reaction to pressure. He is a bit of a wild-card and honestly looks at his best on the move and when ad-libbing.

Nehemiah Hicks (Sophomore - TE) - The Aggies like going double tight end and working Hicks up the seam and as is required for that play he shows off the ability to quickly react and take the ball with his hands. Hicks is a definite player and you can bet they'll challenge Oklahoma similarly.

Ryan Swope (Junior - WR) - Of all the Aggies, this is the guy that I have trouble not talking about as I watch them play. Swope, out of high school, was a speed running back who was overlooked by just about everyone. He has come to A&M and become a possesion receiver who still has the ability to be a big-play threat if he is allowed to get into open space. That being said, Swope is just one of those guys like you see around the Big 12 from year to year that is just a killer of three and outs. More than once the Tigers seemed to have Tannehill contained with almost no option but the throw away and then out of nowhere, there is Swope collecting an Aggie first down.

Jake Matthews (Sophomore - OT) - While I like both of A&M's offensive tackles it was Matthews that really stood out in this one. He may be a bit of a notch down from his counterpart Joeckel as a pass protector but Matthews as a run blocker is one of the best you'll see anywhere, particularly for a guy in his second year on a college campus. Fundamentally he is nearly impeccable and shows a great understanding of the Aggie offense allowing defenders to take themselves out of plays and realizing when it will, and won't slow down the goals of the play.

IF I'M Oklahoma, I…

...offensively there would be a lot I'd take from what Missouri did in College Station. They repeatedly spread out the Aggies and forced them to cover five receivers along with All-American tight end Michael Egnew. This forced the Aggies to put more defensive backs on the field and pull back the reins a bit on their blitz packages. Now of course being able to do this is at least somewhat reliant on the ability to run the ball and stay in good down and distance situations so, as ever, that will be a huge part of what Oklahoma will need to do.

When you consider the space that Oklahoma's receivers were often working in and the reality that James Franklin is not the equal of Oklahoma's Heisman trophy contending quarterback one would think there will be some joy found in spreading the Aggies out and letting Ryan Broyles and co. work in space. Now the difference is that Jones isn't the run threat that Franklin is so the Aggies won't have to respect that in the same way they had to worry about Franklin, who rushed for over 100-yardsa and had a touchdown run for the ages in the first quarter.

On the defensive side of the ball I really like this match-up for the Sooners unless A&M makes some very drastic changes to what they are doing with the field. They are doing a great job spreading the field laterally but did little to stretch the Tigers vertically. If Oklahoma can be allowed to have players like Tony Jefferson and Javon Harris closer to the line of scrimmage the running lanes for Gray and Michael will be closed more quickly and perhaps be much tougher to find. The question will be whether Oklahoma's defensive line, which had some struggles against a less talented, but perhaps more disciplined Kansas State line, when the Wildcats got physical with them. Oklahoma will need big efforts from their group of defensive ends as the Aggies run game is built of off tackle.

As the Aggies might try and go a bit at Ben Habern (as mentioned above) the Sooners might have a look at A&M's left guard situation with Jarvis Harrison and Cedric Ogbuehi. The Aggies have a strong unit but that left guard spot was responsible for a boat load of penalties and with Ogbuehi being an elite talent, but a definite perimeter player, the Sooners might find some luck with some run blitzes to the left of center.

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