This has been the discussion of the weekend. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the tale of two halves. Midway through the second quarter, Johnny Manziel was consistently moving the offense up and down the field with a combination of short passes and opportunistic third down scrambles. A&M outgained the gators 269-101 yards in the first half, but managed only a 17-10 halftime lead. With an offense that took small, pragmatic steps in front of an athletic Florida defense, both units managed only four drives in the half. Manziel engineered drives of 66, 81, 79, and 44 yards and ran 47 plays. In the second half, Muschamp instructed his troops to crowd the line of scrimmage and jam the receivers to force Manziel to beat them with his arm and not his legs. It worked…with an exclamation point.
The Aggie offense initiated six drives in the second half and could manage no more than 9 yards until the game's final drive that stalled after 22 yards. Until that final possession, no drive lasted more than 1:49 on the clock. And finally, Manziel and the offense managed just 65 total yards and could not cross their own 40 yard-line. The Aggies didn't shoot themselves in the foot by mistakes. Florida figured out the unit's weakness in the first half, made appropriate adjustments, and dominated a stunned offense.
That takes us back to the question of the weekend from disappointed A&M fans. Why did this happen? Was it poor play calling by Kliff Kingsbury? Was it Manziel's lack of experience? Was it Manziel's lack of arm strength that limited the game plan? Was it simply that Florida is damn good, and once they had a chance to figure out what A&M was doing on offense they did what they do best…conquer?
We can rule out a few of these…at least I can in my opinion. I reject the argument made that the lack of experience and the lack of playing that first game against Louisiana Tech was a huge factor. I disagree. To Manziel's credit, I thought he came out with poise and attitude. You could see it coming out of the tunnel. He lived up to the moment and had the crowd in the palm of his hand by the end of the first half. Yes, it was very Bucky-esque. However, what we learned on Saturday is that the SEC isn't just about moxie and grit. At this level, physical presence and skill set is what determines who succeeds and who doesn't. In other conferences you can equalize the opponent with creative play calling and a little swagger and attitude. You need all that AND the physical ability to compete with the best collegiate athletes in the country.
As a redshirt freshman, Manziel isn't there yet to compete with the elite defenses in the SEC. He simply doesn't have the size, confidence, and arm strength to stand in the pocket and pick apart a defense. That was clearly evident on Saturday. He will have to develop and adapt…with a focus on develop. But I'll say this, had you asked me five months ago if I thought Johnny Football could ever be the starting quarterback at Texas A&M, I'd say no. Well, you did ask, and I said no. However, he recognized his weaknesses and he revamped his mechanics, and he showed up for fall camp a new and improved college quarterback. So I do expect Manziel to improve over the next couple of weeks and I do think he'll continue to improve his overall skill set in the long term. But we do need to realize that Manziel has physical limitations that will force him to adapt his entire career. We can all debate the power of his arm, but I think we can all agree that it is average at best and certainly not the strength of his game. He is also 6-foot, and it does appear he struggles to find his targets from the pocket with an OL that averages almost 6-foot-5. That's not changing, so he must adapt. And where I can see him making the greatest improvement is in throwing on the run, and also utilizing more play action passes. Right now, Manziel is not going to beat upper-division SEC teams from the pocket. If Manziel and the offense play with the same style they did on Saturday, they will be lucky to gain 100 yards of offense against LSU and Alabama. No offense is going to score on these defenses 5 yards at a time. It just won't happen.
I do think Manziel matches up much better with SMU and S. Carolina St., so I expect big numbers from him. But that doesn't change the fact at hand, and that's succeeding against upper-division SEC teams. I'll even say this. I watched the replay of ULM and Arkansas last night and the Hogs' linebackers were shockingly slow. I think Manziel can torch the suddenly vulnerable Piggies under temporary management. But the rubber will meet the road in games versus LSU, Auburn, Alabama, and even the underrated Mississippi State Bulldogs on the road.
There were some good things on Saturday, but just as many question marks. Does Manziel, Kingsbury, and Sumlin have the ability to adapt to Johnny Football's unique strengths and weaknesses? If so, the A&M offense can be solid and I still think a 7-8 win season is a clear possibility. If not, the staff needs to go find another solution because the status quo will not work. It took Muschamp 30 minutes to figure it out, and every other SEC team now has the blueprint to stop what A&M served up on Saturday.
I'll tell you this up-front. Ben Malena's run over that Florida linebacker at te 5-yard line shifted the grade up a letter. Man, that was my play of the game. At the time, it was also a symbolic statement to the SEC that A&M isn't some weak Big12 team that plays chuck-and-duck. Watching the replay with the commentary from Brent and Kirk, the narrative of A&M not backing down and being the punisher was powerful at the time especially when watching the linebacker on his back in pain. I'll be the first to say that I thought malena would be lost in the shuffle when Trey Wiliams and Brandon Williams hit camps, but give the young man credit, he revamped his body, replaced some baby fat with muscle and has become a more explosive running back…and he has an attitude. With Williams out, he'll be a life saver this season especially with C-Mike already hobbling after game one.
Some thought Michael looked a little slow, and I'm not sure I'll go that far. That's a great Florida defensive line and there wasn't much space between the tackles. I do think he ran low and maximized his rushes. That was a very nice TD run as there wasn't much there and he ran under the tacklers to hit the goal line. There were a couple of other runs that he created 2-3 yards when it looked like he would get nothing.
Trey Williams seemed so close to breaking a couple of long runs/screen passes and just missed. |He definitely hits the hole quicker than C-Mike, but that's not where A&M should use him. Even hitting the holes quickly, he couldn't get significant yardage between the tackles. His damage will come in space, and he showed that in the screen pass that went for good yardage. But, I will say that I don't know if he's your work horse at this point. If C-Mike is hobbled, then it needs to be Malena with Williams put in motion and moved around the field to find open space for him. If there is one offensive player that has the ability to take one to the house, it's Williams in space.
I thought the receivers did a solid job. There were receivers open downfield. You can't blame them for the ball not being thrown their way. The receivers were sure-handed. I didn't see one blatant drop. I do think Mike Evans and the outside receivers need to be more aggressive on the fade routes in the end zone. They need to jump into the ball and try to get their hands on the ball before the defensive back can get a hand on the ball. On both fades to Kenric McNeal and Evans, they got both hands on the ball, but their momentum was carrying them away from the ball and they didn't jump to the ball and in front/above the DB. Evans is too big not to be a little more physical and aggressive in those jump ball situations.
Otherwise, the receivers and the tight ends did their job and made catches. Thomas Johnson had a couple of nice catches and the spectacular one-handed grab on the sideline. Evans was Manziel's most reliable target. The only other question is how to get Ryan Swope more involved in the game…and the answer is locating him downfield. His strength is not the short screen pass and run. He's fast….not elusive.
Yeah, I thought the offensive line could have opened up a few more running lanes in the first half when the Gators were playing straight-up defense with two safeties in coverage. C-Mike averaged a pedestrian 2.5 yards/carry and Williams 3.5 yards/carry, so there were issues up-front in the run game. But it wasn't necessarily bad. A lot of good OL's in this league will have a paltry rushing average against this Gator defense. So I think we need to put it all in perspective, especially knowing that Florida was crowding the line of scrimmage in the second half. A total of 154 rushing yards isn't all bad given the competition. I thought the pass protection was pretty good, especially in the second half when I thought Manziel had plenty of time to throw the ball without much harassment in the first 3-4 seconds.
OVERALL OFFENSIVE GRADE C
The offense received an A- for the first half and an F in the second half.
Hop's Offensive Game Day Grades - Florida
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