Saturday, January 5, 2013

Cotton Bowl Aftermath

For a couple of reasons, I want to quote someone else to start off this piece. First, because of his level of authority on the subject of top-level college football, and second, because it won’t be me saying, “I told you so.” So once again, I give you Sam Montgomery, decorated defensive end for LSU.

To the Oklahoma Sooner fans, a few brief notes.

First, I acknowledge up front that this game could have gone the other way very easily.  OU scores a TD on both – or maybe even one – of their first two drives, and it would have been the Aggies having to take risks to get back into the game. And in part, it was OU having to take those risks that led to such a large margin of victory.

Second, we’re pretty happy with the way we’re playing, but most Aggies I know who pay attention to college football recognize you had a really good team this year, and there is not value – or accuracy – in rubbing in the size of this win (see above).  Yes, we won the game. And we have every right to be proud of that. But there is a line between “we were better on the day” and some of the dumb things that bandwagon fans for any sports team have been known to say. Just sayin’.

Lastly – now do you understand why we should we had a team that can do some damage against any team we play? That is isn’t just blind Aggie faith? It wasn’t any disrespect to the history of Sooner Football or the Big XII – it is just a fact. Like Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M is nothing to play with.

Now, to the Aggies and other college football fans.

In my last article, I mentioned how big that game was. Clearly, a statement was made. Texas A&M is a current football powerhouse. That isn’t braggadocio, it is a simple fact. Personally, I’d love to see A&M play Oregon or Notre Dame. It would be great football and I think A&M would have a great chance to win. But that isn’t the system we play in, and it won’t happen. So we’re left with the memories of what is one of the best – if not THE best – seasons in Texas A&M football history.

As for my predictions from yesterday, I was wrong about the OU running game. They in fact tried to get it running, and it flat out failed. That put all the pressure on Jones and the wide receivers, and to quote a football legend, “Three things happen when you pass, and two of them are bad.” The Sooners became too one dimensional and couldn’t stretch the Aggie defense.

I was wrong about needing to get to Jones. At least, not to the level I had in mind. The Aggie D basically played in straight up, rushing three and getting enough pressure that after the first half, the Sooners weren’t able to string together drives. An argument could be made that flags in the first half extended drives that might have skewed the success of the OU attack, but they had enough success on their own that I don’t personally buy into that.

Luckily for TAMU, none of the special teams strengths for OU or Aggie weaknesses were much of a factor. The A&M coverage unit did a phenomenal job, as did the kickers for the kickoffs and punts, so that OU’s terrific return units were neutralized.

On offense, A&M was all that and a bag of chips. I mean, what else could they have done other than run up the score unnecessarily? Manziel was his incredible self, and all of the offensive players shined at various times.  It was brilliant.

Luckily for the Aggies, they matched the one turnover they had with a pick of their own, and found a way to make OU pay for theirs.

Let’s talk about some specific units and individuals. I said the x-factor was Johnny Manziel. A tad obvious, no? Well, he was what he is, and it was flat out amazing.

The defense? Bend but don’t break in the first half, and just shut it down to start the second half. No team this year shut the OU offense down more than this group.  Not Kansas State. Not the vaunted Notre Dame unit.  No one.  That is called a statement.

The offense as a whole? Talk about complete involvement. Swope was insanely good, and the guy making the big, tough plays over the middle as usual. But so did Mike Evans. Nwatchukwu was very dangerous and got on the scoreboard. Junior Ben Malena and *freshman* Trey Williams ran rampant.

But for me, the unit that deserves the most credit? The coaching staff. College football is often about halftime adjustments. Second half score – 27 to nil/nada/zilch/absolute-zero. Any questions about who won the halftime adjustment battle?

So for me, the MVP of the game wasn’t the obvious Johnny Football. It was the defense – the guys who executed the game plan and halftime adjustments to a level that OU hadn’t seen all year. JFF is going to get his. The question in this game was which defense was going to find a way to slow down the opposing offense enough to make a difference. The Aggie defense put the Sooners in cold storage for the entirety of the second half. End of line.

So, that leaves us to look to next year. Lot’s of points here, starting with the overall theme in terms of what the game meant, and how it was going to impact recruiting. Not sure how much clearer a statement could have been made. Sumlin already had a good recruiting effort out there before Manziel won the Heisman, and now you add in that and the Cotton Bowl victory? There isn’t a recruit in Texas that the Aggies can’t go after and have a good chance of landing.

Key losses for this team? The seniors all played a part, and we know the Aggies are losing Moore. The question is whether they also lose Matthews and Joekel. Frankly, they should – both deserve to go in the NFL draft. But if they choose to stay to help A&M build on this success, watch out. I’m going on the assumption that they will do what is in the best interest of their career, and that is to declare for the draft. Sumlin has some talent that can fill those holes, but how well and how soon? That will have a big impact on determining the level of success this team has in 2013.

The schedule is mostly favorable. Eight home games. Two Massive Games against ‘Bama and at LSU. Other challenging games such as at Ol’ Miss and against a resurgent Vanderbilt, and possibly at Arkansas and at Missouri. Unlike this year, they have two games before they have to play a major SEC foe, but what a foe it is.  Alabama. Talk about story lines….. The swap of Florida for Vanderbilt helps.

The loss of Kliff Kingsbury to Texas Tech didn’t seem to have an impact last night, but there is a difference between continuing a game plan that the team has been executing well all season and preparing for a new year where every team will work overtime to find ways to try to disrupt this offense. The new offensive coordinator should have more than enough weapons at his disposal.

But as it often did this year, next year will also bottom line with Johnny Football-Heisman-Manziel. Going back to the Montgomery quote that started this article, he mentions that you have to make Manziel a pocket-passer. Well, if you were watching last night, you saw what Pocket-Passer Johnny Manziel looks like. AND he IS going back to Cali again this summer. Opposing defenses – be afraid. Be very afraid.

Aggie fans, get ready. 2013 will be a season like no other, and we need to be ready. If we take the 12th Man seriously – and we all know we do, as does Sumlin in case you missed his post-game interview during the Cotton Bowl Trophy presentation – then we need to challenge ourselves the same way that Manziel is challenging his teammates. The team has put us in the top echelon of college football – we need to be ready for it.

Gig ‘Em!

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