During the summer of my freshman year of high school, my junior varsity baseball team had exhibitions against other teams from around the area--usually much smaller and less talented squads. The games were boring to say the least. The scores varied from 18-1, 23-2, 16-0, etc. Because of our youth and immaturity, we usually took that time to try to bat with the opposite hands or attempt Barry Zito’s eephus curveball. I don’t believe we really got better or learned anything from that summer of goof-off baseball. Am I really about to compare my JV baseball team to Texas A&M football? You bet I am, because Saturday the Aggies face the same dilemma with South Carolina State.
A&M could play their backups the entire game and would still win by a large margin. They could commit 54 penalties and 13 turnovers and still have a 25-point victory. It’s pretty safe to say that the only way A&M could lose is by forfeit. But does that make this game any less meaningful? It all depends on A&M handles such a cupcake matchup. No matter what bulletin board material one may have, no matter what speech Coach Sumlin may give, it’s difficult to get amped up for a FCS opponent that is already mediocre in its own division. With a young squad still learning new offensive and defensive schemes, facing a team such as SCSU presents a risk of creating bad habits and doing things that may work with an FCS school, or SMU, but not the SEC.
Once more, all eyes will be ever watchful of quarterback Johnny Manziel and his ongoing progression. Against SMU, he did nothing but set A&M freshman records. This Saturday, he may break more. But will these highlight reels he creates do more harm than good come SEC play? A common response is he can’t pull the SMU spectacle off against an LSU/Alabama (evidence: the 2nd half of the Florida game). A risk against SCSU could be Johnny Football making more high school-esque scrambles and not even attempting to develop any pocket presence. It will certainly be tempting. Against SMU, on a few of his runs—including his second rushing touchdown—Manziel could have safely stayed inside the pocket rather than scramble. Whether the alternative would have been more successful, we’ll never know. Time will tell whether Johnny Football’s running ability will hurt him in conference play. Running quarterbacks have been successful in the SEC. Cam Newton did it so well he won a Heisman Trophy and now his NFL team is catering to his abilities.
Along with Manziel’s progression, the offensive line will need to use Saturday to work out some kinks they’ve yet to solve. Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury’s new scheme brought a little bit of transition from Mike Sherman’s NFL style to the no huddle spread. The Florida and SMU games showed signs of concern from allowing pressure on Manziel and a lack of success in the run game. Though the offense gained over 200 yards rushing, most of it came from Manziel’s scrambling rather than designed run plays. Now it seems one of A&M’s biggest strengths coming into the season is turning into a question mark. Saturday will be an opportunity for the line to improve on their assignments while getting a confidence booster by dominating what will be a smaller and inferior opponent.
Defensively, the Aggie D looked rather Wrecking Crew-ish against Florida and SMU. The biggest bright spot--outside of Demontre Moore’s gradual ascent out of Von Miller’s shadow--has been the defensive’s ability to handle adversity. Against Florida, much was asked of A&M’s defensive when the offense flat lined in the second half. The result? A&M remained within one score of beating the Gators. Some may focus on how Florida ran out the clock in the final drive, the defense’s performance that day was truly extraordinary and a hopeful sign for SEC competition. Even against SMU, the defense was burdened yet again in the first quarter while the offense shook off the cobwebs. The result? Well, you know what happened. What Moore has provided that Von Miller did in his time as an Aggie is he’s made the blitz unnecessary.
Every sack in the SMU game, and many of the quarterback pressures, came from a 4-man pass rush while the linebackers and secondary stood back in coverage. Obviously, the less people you have to rush the quarterback, the more you have to defend the pass. If Moore and the defensive line can keep up the momentum, there’s no telling how good they can be. Read that again. There’s something to be excited about on defense, the biggest area of concern A&M had before the year began. I feel bad for South Carolina State.
If A&M rightfully punishes the Bulldogs of SCSU, it will be two weeks in a row a real dominant competition heading into conference play. If the Aggies take the opportunity to improve and work out some kinks, Florida may become a distant memory and Arkansas may be A&M’s real introduction to the SEC.