Texas A&M (7-2, 3-2) has gotten back on the fast track after a loss to Auburn, and come into this week ranked 11th by Associated Press and scored 15th in the BCS standings. A conference title is out of realistic reach but the Aggies still have excellent opportunity for another BCS bowl berth.
A fun formula of out-scoring anyone and everyone doesn't just make A&M an ideal bowl game guest. They are as difficult a defensive scouting assignment as Collins will draw this season. Beginning of course with reigning Heisman Trophy holder and uncontainable quarterback Johnny Manziel.
What do you see different in Manziel from last year, if anything? "Well the biggest thing, I don't know if everyone knew who he was at the time. You know, when we played him he'd had a coming-out party against Louisiana Tech, right before us. And he played really good against us and went over to Tuscaloosa and won that game. So I think people started to find out who he was right around the time we played him. I don't think there's any secret right now who he is, he's a big-time quarterback, a big-time leader, and he's got some weapons that he can throw the ball too and he can hand the ball too."
Who do you use on scout team to emulate him? "We've got a couple of scout team quarterbacks. Josh Hand, Sam Cowart, and then Gabe Myles was out there running around a little bit. I know he's a Starkville legend and he's really fast, he's really athletic. So he tried to his best to simulate what their quarterback does."
With his running how important is discipline, for players to not get out of position? "Essentially we've seen this offense three times this year. But the difference is the plays that this kid can make with his feet. You have the routes covered, you have the rush lanes fit, and all of a sudden he improvises and makes a spectacular play. So our job is to try to limit those and make sure we do a great job covering but also make sure we maintain our pass rush integrity, too."
Against Mike Evans, can you take anything from what you did well or not well against LSU's wide receivers? "Well, he is a completely different player. He's 6-5, he's 220 pounds and he's freakishly fast and can jump out of the gym. Those two guys are completely different even though they're great in their own right. He's just a completely different animal than we've been used to seeing, he's a great player, a great kid from what everybody says. So the challenge is there for us to be able to match up with him."
Manziel doesn't just run now but is completing 71% of his passes? "Right, I think all the work that he's done in the off-season has improved his accuracy, you can tell that he has a greater sense of where his reads are, if they feel open, if they don't feel closed, flat defender and all those kind of things. He has great control of all those things, and he can still improvise. So that's where his development has been the most impressive."
What do you take away positive from South Carolina, with the most three-and-outs they've had this season? "The thing that was upsetting, you watch the tape; two of the runs that they had were missed tackles in the backfield. So you take away two of those runs, it's even a better performance. But the big thing is whatever situation we get into or put ourselves into we've got to respond, we can't let them in the end zone. That's the big challenge for us."
"And the other thing is creating turnovers. We've got one turnover in the last three weeks, two in the last four; and that's just kind of leaving everybody with a little bit of bad taste in their mouths. Make sure we're trying to do everything we can to get the ball. Forcing three-and-outs is great, getting off the field on third down is great. But letting people in the end zone, not creating turnovers are things that we have to improve on."
A&M has scored every time on their first drive, how important is a good start especially on the road? "Absolutely, you've got to start fast. Because it's such a high-powered offense, and trying to get some semblance of confidence early is huge for us. It's going to be a great environment in that stadium, I've had the pleasure of coaching in that stadium and it's a big-time environment, big-time SEC football stadium, fans are great. So we just have to make sure we're ready to handle that kind of adversity and start fast."
With some coaches having health scares, how as a coach do you not let stress affect you? "The big thing, the room that I'm able to spend every day in; Coach Townsend, Coach Turner, Coach Hughes, Coach Mullen, we genuinely like each other's company. And you spend the days with those guys, you coach with those guys, you have a lot of fun. And this group of guys that we get to coach, they make it fun. Then, this is my dream, to coach in the SEC. So don't stress about it, just go out there and have fun. You've playing big-time offenses every week-in and week-out, so have fun doing it!"
Coach Mullen allows dads to be dads on weekends, do those things help? "Yeah, and the nice thing too, this is the first staff I've been in that all wives get to every away-trip. So though I might not get to see my wife all the time during the week, on those Friday nights before the games on Saturday she's there with me. So that helps alleviate the stress, or the boredom! Or the anxiousness that could come."
Defending Manziel what decisions do your guys have to make before the snap? "One of my favorite books is by Malcolm Gladwell, ‘Blink'. It's all about pre-cognitive thinking. So we've got to get our guys to act and respond and go ahead and cerebrally play the game before it ever happens. Because this offense is going so fast that all the indicators we might teach on…well it's such a blur that if you're not operating at a pre-cognitive level you're not going to be able to process all the information that's getting thrown at you. So that's kind of my job, trying to get the linebackers, get the defense to be able to play and recognize things without being able to think about it."