Some quick thoughts on our emotionally and mentally fragile cousins to the East.
The cousin who shows up to Nana's funeral in black jeans and a Dale Earnhardt t-shirt loudly proclaiming that Nana had always wanted him to have her ATV.
The cousin who affects a 1,000 yard stare when discussing his paramilitary service sodomizing freshmen and wearing a chestful of medals for Good Howdying, Nut Clench Efficiency, and Burning tu Hate.
The cousin who still endlessly forwards you apocalyptic e-mails with complete confidence despite having the last 33 consecutively refuted with Snopes.com links.
THERE ARE ALLIGATORS IN ALIEF'S SEWERS AND tu IS BEHIND IT! WHOOP.
The Aggie offense is legit. 40.9 points per game, over 500 per, and 6.3 yards per play is testament to that fact. However, they are prone to entire quarters of lassitude and general Aggieness, a state best defined as the ability to still fuck up a ham sandwich despite bread, ham, condiments, and a Quiznos employee offering to make it for you. They're one of the more balanced offenses in college football, but the absence of Gray and Michael pushes them into imbalance, like John Candy on a balance beam. This is good for us and bad for them. However, given that we cannot attempt a forward pass without evacuating our bowels explosively on the field turf, our passing game is hardly Don Coryell's Phoebe Cates fantasy.
Ryan Tannehill is an effective QB because he has multiple quality options to throw to and he has solid ability. The easier you make his pre-snap read, the more effective he is. When A&M goes to pure spread sets, Tannehill does a nice job of getting the ball out on time and he can spin the ball. Muddle up his early read and he's a pretty ordinary dude. If you want one primary reason for A&M's 3rd quarter and/or second half collapses, it's opposing defenses no longer conceding the initial read and throw and Tannehill's brain tilting to incomprehension. A 26-11 TD-INT ratio reveals that he's doing more good than bad, but a surprisingly low 7.2 yards per attempt paired with the Aggie offensive output tells you that the Aggie passing game is more about underneath volume than deep ball quality.
Tannehill is an effective runner (remember, he's a former 800+ yard WR) and he's fully capable of dropping a long run on your defense in the zone read or on a QB draw. However, A&M doesn't run him much. If Sherman wants to manufacture a running game sans Michael/Gray, he should start with Ryan.
The Warriors shot Cyrus! The Warriors shot Cyrus! Losing Gray is a blow for A&M on the heels of losing Christine Michael. They'll rely on Ben Malena and Will Randolph. I remember Malena from high school tape and he's basically a hard-running slowish squatty body who it's tough to get a clean hit on. I have no idea who Randolph is. However, A&M's OL is good enough to punish us if we underman the front, even if the ball is being carried by the sideline reporter. Zero doubt in my mind that he can be effective if we get too cute with personnel.
A&M likes to throw out of various spread looks and the reason is simple. They have a bunch of pretty good wide receivers. Most teams in this league have a good corner. A couple have two. Very few have 3 legit cover guys. When A&M's #3 WR is a 7.0 on a 10 point scale and your #3 cover guy is a 4 out of 10, problems ensue. Suddenly, you're shading safeties and putting your better guys on complete islands with no help or robbing your front to play coverage. We may be the only team in the league with three or four legit cover guys that don't drop off dramatically in quality past Dude #1. Vaccaro, Byndom, Diggs, Phillips. If you see Blake Gideon absent from that group, that's because A&M will make him their focus. See '09 Aggie game in College Station.
What's wrong with Jeff Fuller? And I ask that within the context of the fact that he's still their 2nd most productive WR. As best I can tell, he got dinged early in the season and then as his body improved, his mind degraded. He's in a strange petulant sulk, doesn't fight that hard for balls despite having four inches and 30 pounds on everyone covering him, and generally mopes around for a quarter or two of every game. However, Texas and national television coming to town may cure what's ailing him. In any event, he's a major red zone threat and he's an instant 3rd and 5 conversion when competing hard.
The Aggie WRs are diverse beyond Fuller. Ryan Swope - a guy I pretty much dismissed as a one trick pony speed guy out of Austin Westlake has turned into a 1,000+ yard, 11 TD wide receiver. Nwachukwu is a very solid #3 with good speed. Cyrus Gray is also a loss in the passing game as he was their 3rd down back. Hutson Prioleau seems to have won out at starting TE over the more talented, but less reliable Nehemiah Hicks and Hutson is a really solid blocker who's a more marginal threat in the passing game.
So how exactly is A&M's offense really productive? Well, the OL. Specifically, the best pair of tackles in the league in Joeckel and Matthews. They just don't allow many negative plays in the running or passing game. Drive killers come from (often unforced) A&M turnovers - not OL miscues. That's one area where Mike Sherman and his background have indisputably delivered. He can coach, identify, and develop OL talent. The Aggies have given up only 7 sacks all season on 448 passes. When 1.5% of your pass attempts end in a sack, you're operating one of the cleanest passing games in college football. That's why A&M's reasonably low 7.2 YPA figure is still productive - there are no hidden fees. In the running game, opponents have managed 51 tackles for loss. That's not as spectacular - namely because their interior OL is more workmanlike than badass - but it still speaks to their ability to prevent crippling plays.
Units don't play in isolation. A&M's awareness of the putridity of our offense will influence their game plan. They know that it won't take a lot of points to beat us. A slow start from our defense as we feel out their early passing game isn't something we can afford. We're the best pass defense A&M has seen to date and we have the ability to match-up across the board in coverage. I don't think we'll overload the line and let slip the dogs of war up front as we did against KSU. Expect us to play it relatively straight on any down not called 3rd and 11. If we can get pressure with 4 or 5 and squat on Tannehill's preferred short and intermediate routes, A&M's offense is in for a long day. If however, A&M can play a relatively clean, turnover free game utilizing a high percentage short passing game and some opportunistic exploitation of field position, they'll win their maroon Jihad and find life fulfillment.