In 867 Vikings landed in Scotland. Reputations preceding them, the Mother Superior of a monastery on Scotland’s southeast coastline ordered the nuns under her watch to disfigure themselves, hoping to make them unappealing to the Viking raiding party. She cut off her nose and upper lip, and her nuns did the same.
That story is the origin of the phrase "cut off your nose to spite your face."
The story of Texas A&M and the SEC isn’t written yet, but it will probably also involve brutal sexual torture (metaphorically). Is it possible that Texas A&M climbs up into the national conversation alongside Alabama and Florida without big brother looming over them? Sure. Is it likely? Not so sure.
There are several interesting factors that will influence the story. Some are worth discussion, some aren’t. We can knock a couple out very quickly after the jump.
- The defense is probably going to stink. There isn’t much talent and they lost the guy that held it all together with duct tape and glue. Texas A&M lost four double digit leads last year, and a nine pointer to Texas. Turnover and luck played a role, but the biggest factor is that it’s much harder to fool a team for 48 minutes than it is 24. Tim DeRuyter was a magician but even the best tricks get figured out eventually.
- The Air Raid can work in the SEC. I know this because it has (video below). The scheme isn’t a mystery and can be tailored to any need. It’s not a chuck and duck system anymore.
- New defense, new offense, new QB, lost three NFL-quality players on offense . . . this is not going to be a good football team. No matter where they are sitting in ten years, this season will likely be forgettable. They play 10 D1 teams and will be lucky to take four of those.
This post will focus on the offense, the next on recruiting. Those are the interesting aspects to me.
Kentucky had two things going for it in 1998. One was Mike Leach, one of the best teachers in the game. If you want a laugh, try and find old message board threads where confident Tech fans tell other people how they’ll run the same offense as Leach and will suffer no drop off. Yeah, it’s good times.
Second was future Cleveland Brown Tim Couch, one of the great NFL tragedies. Good thing Longhorn fans don’t have to worry about that awful franchise squandering QB talent.
Anyway, any pass heavy spread offense puts a million pounds of pressure per spare inch on its QB. Make the right read, make a good throw and don’t throw INTs or we lose (if Cyrus Gray is healthy and Tanny doesn’t have to do everything for that team, maybe the rivalry ends differently).
The problem now for Aggie fans is that there isn’t any experience on the roster, and no proven throwing talent, as every single one of the kids in contention is a dual-threat type player. I have no idea what Mike Sherman was planning here, and it’ll be interesting to see what a pass-happy head coach does with a bunch of running QBs on offense whose best player is a RB.
Your guess is as good as mine as to what happens here. Kenny Hill and Kohl Stewart are both better fits for Sumlin’s offense, but neither is done with puberty yet.
Christine Michael is good, although he’s a big downgrade from Cyrus Gray. He’s tough, quick and a good receiver, but has had two seasons in a row cut short by major leg injuries. Ben Malena is just good enough to get you beat. I expect Sumlin to work Trey Williams in immediately because his offense is the exact kind that can turn a back like Williams into an absolute bitch to deal with.
Between the three of them, A&M will have an SEC-capable backfield, all of whom are decent fits in a shotgun spread offense IF the pass offense is any good. None of these guys are win-this-game-for-us players, although Williams has a chance to be.
The Aggie OL is what it looks like when OK athletes are really well trained. Good footwork, excellent hand placement, great with punching and controlling defenders. None of them are super quick or strong, but all five starters last year played with good technique.
I expect this to be the case in 2012, especially since Air Raid OLs are usually asked to back up and catch whatever defender runs into them. It’s a simple system and this is a well-trained group, even if some of that training may not carry over to the new system.
Luke Jeockel is the best at LT, although strong DE’s can push him around. The weakness of the OL is at guard, who lack quickness to deal with the better DTs. As the Air Raid as evolved over the years, it’s started to attack downfield more and more, asking its OL to hold up for longer and longer. I suspect Conference USA foes and the Aggie defense in the spring will do nothing to dissuade Kevin Sumlin on his ability to strike downfield, so it will be interesting to see just how the OL holds up early on.
Sumlin, like Leach, will mitigate this with draws and screens. The OL is mobile and no stranger to open field blocking, so expect to see a strong screen game, especially from Trey Williams.
There are three categories of WR: guys you don’t need to cover, guys you need to cover with one person, and guys you need to cover with two people.
Jeff Fuller was a two person job, the only one of his kind on the roster (his injury kept A&M from winning those 1-on-1 battles on the outside against Texas and played a big part in the loss). Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu are both fine when running unopposed through the seam, but are effectively mitigated by man coverage, something that is much more prevalent in the SEC than here.
A&M move to a full-time spread will help these guys, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin Sumlin learned the same lesson Urban Meyer did, that 4-wide offenses don’t work when you don’t have anyone that can beat man coverage (Meyer also learned to love the fullback).
A&M has a few guys in the pipeline that can be that guy, but until one develops, it’s going to be slow going.
Mike Sherman spent most of the Texas game with 3 WRs and 2 backs in the game, which should tell you all you need to know about how he felt about the position (it would be fair to classify the FB as an H-back in that game, but most of his job was blocking).
Sumlin probably won’t have much use for one anyway, but it’s always nice to have somebody who can play James Whalen for you. You can’t bubble screen and draw yourself to a championship (exception: OU in 2000. They averaged just under 20 point per game after RC Slocum showed the world how to slow them down, but has such a good defense that it didn’t matter).
There isn’t a lot of be excited about in 2012, but there are a couple of freshman I really like. As mentioned, Trey Williams should be a killer in this offense, and Kohl Stewart should be a suitable Case Keenum redux. Both lacked the arm to be high draft picks, but Aggies need wins and he’ll be plenty good for that. I also like Kenny Hill, a QB comfortable in a system who also lacks an elite arm but makes up for it with his mobility. One of those two should be the answer eventually.
Thomas Johnson is a bright spot at WR, even if flaky WRs make me nervous. There is nothing on his high school highlight reel that shows us if he can run a route, but the talent is definitely there. Sumlin is a strong teacher so it’s reasonable to expect Johnson to develop into at least a competent starting option.
Nobody else inspired fear, awe, or even words. Somebody will take to the coaching and the system and become a good player, but they’ll need more than what they have to become competitive anytime soon.
Oh, and if you’re wondering what happened to the nunnery, the Vikings burned it to the ground.