Tiger Opponent Preview: Texas A&M Aggies

On Saturday (6:30 P.M., SECN), the Missouri Tigers (7-2, 4-1) travel to College Station to take on the Texas A&M Aggies (7-3, 3-3) in a SEC cross-division match-up.

On Saturday (6:30 P.M., SECN), the Missouri Tigers (7-2, 4-1) travel to College Station to take on the Texas A&M Aggies (7-3, 3-3) in a SEC cross-division match-up.

Texas A&M is coming off a 41-38 road win over Auburn, while Missouri is coming off of a bye week following a 20-10 win over the Kentucky Wildcats.

“Kyle Field is a great place to play,” said Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel. “And, Texas A&M is a very, very good team. Kevin Sumlin’s done a great job of building that program.”

“(Texas A&M)’s got a lot of firepower,” said Coach Pinkel, speaking of the Texas A&M offense. “They have great wide-receivers, you know, guys that make a lot of plays. An offensive line. They’ve just got a lot of things in place. And certainly, their continuity got back, and they got back on track.”

Although it more closely resembles the Texas Tech offense than it does the Missouri offense, the Aggies up-tempo offense features a lot of the same plays that Missouri runs. Texas A&M runs a lot of screens; wide receiver screens, and screens to their backs. But, they also throw the football very effectively into every quadrant on the field, including down the field.

“They’re a very good screen team,” Coach Pinkel. “They run a bubble screen, all different types of screens. And, (they) stretch the field. And then, they vertically stretch the field, also.”

Two weeks ago, Texas A&M Head Coach Kevin Sumlin named 6’3” 205-pound true freshman Kyle Allen as his starting quarterback. That promotion seemed to coincide with the announcement that 6’1” 215-pound sophomore QB had been suspended for a violation of team rules. Hill has since served his 2-game suspension, and he is available this week. But it now appears that Allen’s promotion was maybe independent of Hill’s suspension.

Hill had put up some very impressive numbers early in the season. But as the season went along, he struggled. On the season, Hill is 214-321-8 (66.7%) for 2649 yards (8.25 yards/pass attempt) and 23 TDs through the air (passer efficiency rating = 154.65). And, Hill is a little more of a threat with his feet than is Allen.

“We’ve got to be prepared for Allen (at QB),” said Coach Pinkel. “But I think we’ll be prepared for both (QBs), because you never know what’s going to happen.”

Earlier this week, Coach Sumlin said that Hill is available to play this week, but that for this week, Allen will be the starter.

“I don’t know why he wouldn’t start? Since he was named the starter two weeks ago,” queried Coach Sumlin rhetorically. “He played pretty well last week.”

"Pretty well" included 19-29-1 for 277 yards and 4 TDs passing in the Aggies’ 41-38 win at Auburn. On the season, the true freshman is 55-95-4 (57.9%) for 647 yards (6.81 yards/pass attempt) and 8 TDs (130.47).

Two weeks ago, the Aggies pretty significantly paired down their offense for the true freshman in his first start. They ran the football, often out of a two-tight-end set, and they controlled the clock in their 21-16 win over Louisiana-Monroe. But at Auburn, the Aggies opened up their full offensive package, at least in the 1st half. Up three scores in the 2nd half, Texas A&M went away from their up-tempo pace, and the Aggies tried to run the football and the clock. So really for the first time since Coach Sumlin brought his fast paced air raid type offense to College Station, and with a new true freshman QB at the controls, he has shown a willingness to slow it down.

But Allen is not just any true freshman QB. Coming out of Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale (AZ), Allen was the #1-rated QB in the 2014 recruiting class. And, he possesses all the talents that would be expected of such a highly-rated QB prospect, including "tremendous arm talent".

“There’s no glaring difference, in terms of their offense,” said Coach Pinkel, speaking of preparing for the potential of facing two quarterbacks at Texas A&M. “They have their system they run. They believe in it. They’ve been very successful in it. It’s the same thing they did with Johnny Manziel.”

And, Allen really has a lot of talent around him. The Aggies may have the most-talented receiving corps in the country.

Texas A&M’s top four receivers on the season are their current starters, including 6’5” 235-pound red-shirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones (43 receptions, 423 yards, 4 TDs), 6’0” 205-pound senior Malcome Kennedy (42 receptions, 504 yards, 3 TDs), 6’4” 190-pound sophomore Josh Reynolds (40 receptions, 621 yards, 10 TDs), and 5’11” 185-pound freshman Speedy Noil (37 receptions, 477 yards, 4 TDs). Noil’s back-up, 6’4” 180-pound sophomore Edward Pope, has 27 receptions for 436 yards and 4 TDs. And, 6’0” 197-pound sophomore Boone Niederhofer has 26 receptions for 232 yards and 1 TD. Twelve different Texas A&M wide-receivers have at least 1 reception on the season. Noil is also the Aggies’ leading return man.

“They’re very talented,” said Coach Pinkel, speaking of the Texas A&M receivers. “They’ve got some really talented players. You know, they can make plays, and great catches, and certainly yards after their catches.”

The Aggies list a trio of co-starters at tailback. Trey Williams got the start a week ago. The 5’8” 195-pound junior is Texas A&M’s leading ball carrier (62 carries, 377 yards, 6.1 yards/carry, 5 TDs), as well as their leading receiver out of the backfield (10 receptions, 64 yards). The other co-starters at TB are Tra Carson (81 carries, 375 yards, 4.6 yards/carry, 5 TDs) and Brandon Williams (72 carries, 348 yards, 4.8 yards/carry, 3 TDs). Trey Williams also returns kickoffs, and he appears to be the most dangerous of their TBs.

Most of the time, the Aggies line up with four wide receivers rather than replacing one of their very talented wide receivers with a tight end. And, they’ve rarely thrown to a tight end.

Of late, the Aggies have used 6’4” 300-pound back-up offensive lineman Ben Compton as their blocking back. And during their bye week a couple of weeks ago, Texas A&M made adjustments up front in their run game. It appears to me that once Coach Sumlin made the decision to go with Kyle Allen at QB, the Aggies retooled their offense in support of the true freshman to rely a little more on the run.

This week, the Aggies will be without 6’5” 325-pound sophomore OT Germaine Ifedi. Ifedi’s absence means that 6’4” 330-pound senior Jarvis Harrison will move out to left tackle, and Texas A&M’s regular left tackle will take Ifedi’s spot at right tackle. So with Ifedi out, the Aggies will have three offensive linemen playing at a new spot up front. But make no mistake. The Aggies are very talented along the offensive line, and they’re one of the larger offensive lines in the country. Texas A&M averages 6’5” and 309 across the front.

Texas A&M is averaging 36.9 points/game, which ranks fourth in the conference. And, their 482.2 yards of total offense /game also ranks fourth in the SEC. The Aggies have the SEC’s top-ranked passing offense, at 329.6 passing yards/game.

On the other side of the football, Texas A&M hasn’t fared as well. It’s a little perplexing, too, because the Aggies have tremendous talent on the defensive side of the ball, as well. Operating primarily out of a 4-3 base, the talented Aggies rank near the bottom of the league in most defensive categories. They’ve allowed 27.1 points/game overall, and 39.3 points/game in conference games. The latter is the worst in the league. And in conference games, they’re allowing a league-worst 499.7 yards/game of total offense.

What they do best defensively is get after the QB. The Aggies are among the league leaders in sacks, and if not for Shane Ray’s record-setting season, Texas A&M’s 6’5” 255-pound true freshman DE, Myles Garrett, would be leading the conference in sacks (11). He’s just really too good, with 46 total tackles, 12.5 TFLs, 11 sacks, 9 QB hurries, and 1 pass break-up. And his back-up, 6’6” 260-pound sophomore DE Daeshon Hall is really good, too. On the other side, 6’4” 265-pound junior DE Julien Obioha (35 tackles, 4 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 PBU) is making plays, and he has also emerged as one of Texas A&M’s team leaders. But, a closer look reveals that 20 of Texas A&M's 31 sacks on the season have come against their 4 non-conference opponents.

By the way, if you don't appreciate Missouri's out-of conference strength of schedule, check out who the Aggies played out of conference: Lamar, Rice, SMU, and ULM.

The Aggies are talented in the middle, as well. But they may be without one of their best run stoppers. Coach Sumlin said earlier this week that they may not have 6’3” 290-pound senior DT Ivan Robinson for the Missouri game. But, one of Texas A&M’s more productive players, 6’4” 296-pound junior DT Alonzo Williams, is playing. On the season, he has 43 total tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, and 3 QB hurries.

Texas A&M is very talented in their back seven, as well. Their best LB is 6’2” 231-pound senior Justin Bass. He’s been on the field a lot, and on the season he’s made 51 total tackles.

Four of the Aggies’ top five tacklers play in their secondary, including 6’0” 193-pound senior corner Deshazor Eve (59 tackles, 6 PBUs, 1 INT), 6’2” 210-pound senior safety Howard Mathews (58 tackles, 7 PBUs), 6’0” 214-pound junior DB Davonta Burns (49 tackles, 1 PBU), and 5’11” 190-pound freshman safety Armani Watts (48 tackles, 5 PBU, 2 INTs).

For as talented as they are, Texas A&M has certainly under-performed on the defensive side of the football.

As I looked at Texas A&M, there were a couple of things that stood out to me. First, as I look at their Depth Chart, I recognized a lot of the names as players that Missouri recruited. Twelve of the thirty players listed on their offensive two-deep are guys of whom I’m certain Missouri offered. And of the thirty players listed on their defensive two-deep, I immediately recognized at least half of them as former Missouri offers. So if Missouri offered them, they were talented prospects.

The second thing that I quickly noticed has to do with some recent adjustments that the Aggies have made to their high-powered, up-tempo, air-raid offense. In recent weeks, it looks a little less like a Mike-Leach, Texas Tech-type offense, and is a little more balanced, a little more like Missouri’s offense. I’m not suggesting that Texas A&M is copying what Missouri does. Maybe it’s been to help a young QB stay out of shoot-outs, or maybe it’s been to help their beleaguered defense, which has had the ball run down their throat and has been lit up through the air, stay off the field a little, but they’ve slowed down their pace a little, and it appears to me that they’ve migrated toward a little bit more balanced approach.

More specifically, the Aggies have slowed it down some of the time. They also speed it up. But it hasn't been full throttle all the time. Their time of possession has increased, and they're running the ball, or throwing screens that functions as extensions of the run game, a little more.

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