Ags Run Out of Time
I walked out of Kyle Field on Saturday with a hoarse voice, a sunburn, and a big, goofy grin on my face. The “Game of the Century” certainly lived up to expectations. It came down to the final seconds, and is an instant classic in my opinion; by far one of the most exciting games I’ve ever been to. The atmosphere was incredible. The Aggies traded blows with No. 1 ranked and two-time defending national champion Alabama, but came up short in the college football game of the year, 49-42. While winning would have been huge, there are a lot of positives to take away from this game.
Johnny Manziel is one of the greatest college football players of all time, and he proved that to the world on Saturday. He threw for 464 yards and 5 touchdowns and ran for 98 yards against Alabama. Manziel’s 562-yard performance ranks as the second highest ever by an SEC player. Guess who is first and third on that list? Johnny Manziel. Last year, he broke Archie Manning’s 1969 record of 540 yards by putting up 557 against Arkansas. Two weeks later, he ripped Louisiana Tech for 576 total yards. All impressive performances, except the most recent one wasn’t against a sub-par defense, it was against the best defense in the country. Manziel may never win a national championship, but he has put himself in a very good position to become only the second person ever to win two Heisman trophies.
I thought Mike Evans was going to have a big game against the Crimson Tide. I did not think it was going to be to the tune of seven catches for 279 yards and a touchdown. Evans absolutely abused the Alabama defensive backs, and they simply had no answer for him. He put his talents on display in front of the world and in front of several NFL scouts who were in attendance at the game. After Saturday’s game, Evans is likely to be a first team All-American, is the front-runner to win the Biletnikoff Award (the award for the top college receiver), and may even garner a few Heisman votes at the end of the year. It is very probable that he will go in the first round of the NFL draft whenever he decides to leave Texas A&M. My hat is off to this young man.
The Aggies scored over 40 points on the Crimson Tide, which was just the second time a team has done so against Alabama during Nick Saban’s tenure there. They also put up 628 total yards, the most yards given up in a single game by an Alabama team EVER. Saban probably wasn’t pleased with his defense, but he was certainly relieved when the clock finally hit 0:00. When he and Kevin Sumlin shook hands at midfield after the game, Saban said, “You took 10 years off my life.” This offense has the firepower to keep A&M in any game they play this year. It’s the defense that worries me.
Before we talk about the defense, take a moment and say a prayer for Texas A&M’s Isaiah Golden. Golden, an 18-year old true freshman defensive tackle, lost his two-month old daughter early last week. Losing a child is every parent’s biggest fear. Say a prayer for the big man as he deals with this awful tragedy.
The Texas A&M defense was a lot worse than what I expected to see. I was cautiously optimistic that they would be able to force a few more stops, or at least hold Alabama to field goals on a few drives, but they just got straight up whipped. Here’s an embarrassing statistic: the Alabama running backs averaged 3.8 yards per carry BEFORE contact. That means that they were getting at least four yards before an A&M defender laid a hand on them, which is unacceptable. It starts up front with the defensive line. In the run game, the defensive linemen need to control the line of scrimmage and keep the offensive linemen off of the linebackers so they can make plays. A&M’s D line got pushed around all day. When the Aggie linebackers were free to make plays, they oftentimes took bad angles, or let the ball carrier get a few extra yards before finally bringing them down. In the passing game, the defensive line was never able to get a pass rush. On some plays, the coverage was good, but A.J. McCarron had all day to throw. McCarron may have been touched twice the entire game. If you let any quarterback sit back there for that long, they will torch you all day. On some plays, the coverage wasn’t so good, and McCarron is good enough to make you pay if you leave guys open. The A&M defenders bit on the play-action every single time, leaving Alabama receivers wide open. You can’t win that way. Alabama won on first and second down, which is exactly what A&M couldn’t let them do if they wanted any chance of stopping them.
When it comes down to it, Texas A&M just doesn’t have the horses on defense right now. Alabama is deep, talented, and experienced at every position on the field. Whereas A&M has really talented guys on defense, but they were at their senior prom five months ago. These guys are going to be really good one day, maybe even this year, but you can’t trot out six or seven true freshmen defenders against Alabama and be competitive. A&M has a couple of easier games coming up with SMU followed by Arkansas, and I think you’ll see them move some guys around play a lot freshmen in these games to get them some experience. You may even see some of these freshmen start the rest of the year. It depends on how they play. A&M brought in a lot of talented kids in the 2013 recruiting class, and more help is on the way in next year’s class. The defense is about a year away from being good, and about two years away from being great.
Texas A&M didn’t lose this game solely because of the defense; they lost it for a number of reasons. If you lose the turnover battle when playing a great team, you lose the football game more often that not. Manziel threw two interceptions, and really, neither of them can be blamed on him. When A&M was down on the goal line in the first half, JaQuay Williams ran a bad fade route and stumbled in the end zone, and Alabama was able to intercept the pass. If he runs a good route and keeps his feet, the pass is incomplete at worst. A&M would have more than likely ran the ball on the next play and may have gotten a first down or scored. A field goal attempt should have been the worst outcome of that drive. Instead, Alabama got the ball and went down and scored. On the other interception, Manziel’s pass to Travis Labhart bounced way up in the air off a defender’s helmet, and Vinnie Sunseri got it and took it back for a score. Brandon Williams fumbled a kickoff out of bounds at the 2-yard line, giving A&M horrible field position. On that same drive, Mike Evans was flagged on a questionable offensive pass interference call, which killed a drive when the Ags could have gone up 21-7. After pulling within a touchdown in the 4th quarter, Taylor Bertolet kicked the ball out of bounds, which is a penalty, and gave Alabama great field position. You can’t pick one play and say, “this play is the reason Texas A&M lost.” Football is a team sport, and Alabama’s team beat Texas A&M’s team.
The TV rating for Texas A&M vs. Alabama was a 9.0/21, the highest rating an afternoon regular-season college football game has had since Miami vs. Notre Dame in 1990. One thing all of those viewers couldn’t experience was how crazy Kyle Field was. After the game, Alabama left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio said in an interview that Kyle Field was, “the loudest crowd I’ve ever seen.” That’s coming from a guy who has played several games at Alabama’s Bryant-Denney Stadium, and played at LSU’s Death Valley. Several sports personalities had great things to say about the atmosphere, with the highest praise coming from ESPN’s Samantha Ponder. During the game, Ponder tweeted, “Not for or against A&M, but I’ve been to all the “big time” stadiums & Kyle Field is my #1 recommendation…” The atmosphere was top-notch, and several of the nations top recruits were there to experience it. As great as Kyle Field is now, it is set to undergo major renovations starting this offseason and will likely be one of the nicest college football stadiums in the country. And finally, I am dang proud of this football team and the mentality they have. After being down 21 points in the second half, they fought back and went toe-to-toe with the top-ranked Crimson Tide, falling just short of pulling off the upset for the second year in a row. One thing is for sure; this team doesn’t have any quit in it. All of these things put together, combined with the fact that Texas A&M will be playing in games of this caliber each year, make me very happy to be a Fightin’ Texas Aggie.
Let me put an interesting thought in your head: Texas A&M could play a rematch with Alabama in the national championship. Crazy things happen every year in college football, and if Texas A&M can manage to win out, things will get very interesting.
After the loss to Alabama, the Ags fell to No. 9 in the Coaches Poll (one of the polls that factors into the BCS poll). Now, the BCS poll is the one that matters, and the initial BCS poll doesn’t come out for a little while. As of right now, there are seven undefeated teams ranked in front of Texas A&M excluding Alabama. Those teams are Oregon, Ohio State, Clemson, Stanford, Louisville, LSU, and Florida State. History shows that it is better to lose early, because if a team loses late, they get jumped by teams that lost early that have the same record as them. In order for there to be a Texas A&M/Alabama rematch:
1. Texas A&M needs to win the rest of their games.
Toughest games: @Ole Miss, @LSU
2. Alabama needs to win the rest of their games.
Toughest games: Ole Miss, LSU, @Auburn (rivalry game), SEC Championship.
3. Oregon needs to lose.
Toughest games: @Washington, UCLA, @Stanford, PAC 12 Championship.
4. Clemson needs to lose.
Toughest games: Florida State, @South Carolina, ACC Championship.
5. Ohio State needs to lose.
Toughest games: Wisconsin, @Northwestern, @Michigan, Big 10 Championship
6. Stanford needs to lose.
Toughest games: Arizona State, Washington, UCLA, Oregon, Notre Dame, PAC 12 Championship.
7. LSU needs to lose.
This one is obvious because A&M needs to beat LSU to win out. It would be preferable if LSU lost only to Alabama and A&M.
Toughest games: @Georgia, Florida, @Ole Miss, @Alabama, Texas A&M
8. Louisville might need to lose.
I say, “might” because they have a ridiculously easy schedule. I don’t think they play a single team in the Top 40. I think a one-loss Texas A&M would jump an undefeated Louisville.
Toughest games: Rutgers, UCF, @Cincinnati
9. Florida State needs to lose.
Toughest games: @Clemson, Miami, @Florida, ACC Championship Game.
10. Keep in mind that there are undefeated teams ranked behind Texas A&M, and they would also need to lose, but there are too many of them to go into detail about right now.
Is this very likely to happen? No. Is it within the realm of possibility? Yes. Is it way too early to even be talking about this? Yes, but I figured I would let you know anyway. In 2011, the chips fell perfectly to set up a rematch between undefeated LSU and one-loss Alabama in the title game. Most of the country was upset with this because they had already seen that game and it was boring. However, this is different because I think everyone in the country not named Nick Saban would LOVE to see Texas A&M and Alabama play a rematch for the national championship. Again, it is extremely early to think about this happening, but it’s just something to file away and keep an eye on throughout the year. Until then, sit back and enjoy the college football season.
Thanks and Gig’em.