Yesterday we looked at the Defense and Special Teams. Clearly, John Chavis and the team have done some real work. It is impressive to see such a sea change from a group. There is still work to be done, and we have a better feel for where the ceiling is on some of the units are now, but overall, this is a defense that will keep the Aggies in games more often than not - certainly not something you could say the last two seasons.
The Special Teams are in many ways fantastic. Only long field goals are really lacking at an "A" level.
But now we need to turn to what should be the strength of the team and look real hard at where it is and is not what it needs to be.
Offensive line – running game – B-
For a unit that is learning new techniques, this is a group that has had some success. In fact the running game has actually been hampered more by the lack of availability of James White than anything else as Spavital has to be cautious not to overwork Tra Carson. In two games against Power 5 teams, the Aggies have been able to move the ball, and the offensive line has done enough to make sure that happened.
Considering this was a point of emphasis for the team in the offseason, this is a big improvement. Frankly, between this and the defensive improvement, Aggie fans should feel very good about the foundation of this team.
Offensive Line – Passing Game – D
Here is where the unit has done enough to stay in games, but clearly there is work to be done. In fact, if this team is to win any games that will elevate them above repeating last season’s 7-5 record, this is one of the units that is going to have to get it together.
For now, the coaches have done things like design some runs for both quarterbacks, as well as bootleg the signal-caller, to give the passing game more time to develop, which has helped, but at the end of the day, this unit needs to find a way to straight-up protect the quarterback.
Running Backs – Running Game – B
The only thing holding this group back is the injury to James White. Once he is healthy, this is going to be a real strength of the team. As it is, Carson has been doing well in this phase of the game. He can’t do it all season, so White needs to get back as soon as possible. The team catches a bit of a break as they have but one game remaining before their bye, and it is one that they should be able to win at Kyle Field. But after the bye, they play Alabama and they will need White for that game and beyond.
Running Backs – Passing Game – C
To the extent that Carson has had to block, he has struggled along with the offensive line. On the other hand, as a receiver option, he has been good to very good. Again, White is needed here.
Quarterbacks - B
As Greg McElroy said on Paul Finebaum on Monday, Kyle Allen did amazing things last year as a true freshman. And while there are surely things he needs to improve on, he surely has held his own for most of his time running the offense this year. See the WR section for the discussion of some missed throws as I think that is more on them than the quarterback. Overall, Allen’s decisions have been good to great, and when he has needed to get somewhere with his legs, he has done it.
We are nowhere near his ceiling and he is really just now getting to his 10th game as a starter – not even a full season. But the thing that really impresses me is the composure he has had with Kyler Murray injected into games. I think most people would understand if Allen let the situation get to him some, but unlike the OSU situation, Allen has not only handled the transition well, it has in some ways made him better. Certainly in the Arizona State game, when he came back in after Murray got injured, he seemed more focused, although in a way, so did the whole team.
Speaking of Murray, what a spark plug! Without saying he is JFF, he sure has that elusiveness and awareness of where the sticks are. In fact, he actually seems more focused on exactly what the situation dictates than Manziel usually did. Surely there are things he needs to learn, and he probably has to work on his throws as well, but that aggressiveness, that competitiveness is there.
Bottom line – you have two extremely talented young quarterbacks that are pushing themselves to be their best for the team. Frankly, it probably isn’t fair, although long term it will bear watching as we get into next year and possibly the year after. For now, though, enjoy the riches of two top shelf players.
Wide Receivers – A/B/Inc/C/C
Christian Kirk is an A. Josh Reynolds is a B. Speedy Noil is an Incomplete and Ricky Seals-Jones is a C. The remaining receivers have been good enough and can be counted on to help out on the perimeter, but really can’t step into the starters’ spots.
No description of Kirk is really needed, is it? I mean, he might have a little more he can bring to the table, but he has been really good in just about every game. Josh has been effective. Noil needs to get healthy but has been effective at times when in the lineup. Frankly, I think the Aggies can survive the State game without Noil, but after the bye, he, along with White, needs to be back and ready to contribute in a big way.
Ricky Seals-Jones has been an enigma for me - I keep hearing good things about him, but then do not see it in games. The comments this week make it seem like the team still feels good about him and that he will be more involved as the season progresses. That is great, but until we see the actual production, it is hard to give him more than a C.
Along with the OL pass protection, this is where the Sumlin offense is sputtering at times and is not the juggernaut that it needs to be. Remember, in Houston and in Sumlin’s first two years, scoring first was a regular occurrence? Remember how opponents came into games knowing that they were going to give up points and had to find a way to keep up?
Well, while the Aggie offense has found ways to score, it is not as prolific as it used to be, and it seems that the flow between the quarterback and the wide receivers has been off. And while Kyle Allen probably has some to do with this, I look at how smooth he throws to Kirk most of the time and Josh a lot of the time, and that makes me think that the issue is more with the route running. Granted, last year was a bit of a wash for Noil, what with the whole thing with Kenny Hill, and RSJ has had a variety of challenges.
So again, the team is 4-0, so what happened to this point is water under the bridge. But between the OL and the wide receivers behind Kirk and Reynolds, things have to change if this team is going to be better than last year’s 7-5 regular season record.
The good news is that the wide receivers have continued to do a good job of blocking both in the running game and after a catch has been made. This is definitely an important aspect that will help separate the Aggies from average offenses.
Overall - B+
Considering that this team came into the year with big questions about a soft defense and a faltering offense, and that they up front admitted they wanted to beef up their overall physicality, run the ball better and play better defense, you have to feel good about what the team has accomplished.
Certainly, the running game is better than last year and something the team can use as an effective tool, even though they have been short-handed at the running back position since the first game. And the improved discipline and tackling alone from the defense makes it better, let alone the effective pass rush. The back end of the defense is clearly better than it was in past years, as the the line. Really, it now comes down to the front seven against the run, and it is hard not to trust John Chavis to continue to improve that.
Looking around the SEC, this team has a chance to cement themselves as the top of the middle tier, with the ability to make the top tier earn their victories, and start to work on being elite on a consistent basis.
It will certainly bear watching how other SEC opponents develop through the course of the season, but for now, it should be safe to assume the team will be at least 8-4 or better, and if certain units can improve more than incrementally, a shot at 10-2 or better is possible.