There's no question that Johnny Manziel was better at recognizing opportunities and anticipating openings in week two. I thought his best play was the touchdown pass to Ryan Swope. The safety was well off the line from Swope, but Manziel knew the outside linebacker would drop to block that quick slant at the snap. But Manziel realized he could beat the LB to the spot and quickly threw it before the LB could cut off the throwing lane. So because of his recognition of the coverage, that was a short easy throw that went for a 29-yard TD.
Manziel and Swope are starting to click. I thought the best pass plays were these quick shots over the middle to Swope. Manziel is starting to trust the senior, so I think you'll start seeing Swope's numbers go up from here on out.
Manziel is still having some difficulties finding targets in the pocket. For the most part, he had plenty of time to go through his first couple of reads. Other than the designed deep timing passes down the sideline to Mike Evans and Malcolme Kennedy, and the couple of quick hitters to Swope, Manziel didn't pull the trigger until he exited the pocket. It resulted in several explosive plays including the TD passes to Uzoma Nwachukwu and Kenric McNeal . That's the beauty of Johnny Football. Last week I discussed the lack of explosive plays and that a productive offense must have big plays to put a lot of points on the board. Manziel emphatically answered that with the first four TD scores of 29, 48, 26, 42 yards.
However, here's the bottom line. This A&M offense will score when the unit stays on down-and-distance and Manziel can create explosive plays with his feet….whether it's a long scramble or extending a pass play. When the A&M offense gets off-schedule like it did in the first quarter, the Aggies will struggle. In that first series, Kingsbury called an end-around that was snuffed for an 8-yard loss. A&M tried to get some short gains on first down in the first quarter, but the quick horizontal screens were well-covered. For those plays to work, the A&M offense must complete some first down passes downfield and back off the linebackers. When that happens, the screens and the horizontal quick hitters will become more effective and will give the offense more down-and-distance options with 2nd and 5 as opposed to 2nd and 13. The same can be said of the run game. If the opposing defense is worried about downfield passing on first down, the run game will open up. First down efficiency is critical for consistent success in this offensive system.
Overall, I thought Manziel had a great Johnny Manziel game where 80% of the offense was generated on broken/extended plays. It's exciting and it was effective on Saturday. Over the long haul though, you heard Coach Sumlin say it….Johnny will need to stay in the pocket more and take advantage of the offensive system. It's great that Manziel can break from a play that's not working and spin straw into gold, but at some point you need a QB that can run what the coaching staff is calling.
I thought Jameill Showers looked solid in a back-up role. It's refreshing to see after Showers took a step-back in practice immediately following the announcement that Manziel was named the starter. It's a long season against a murderer's row of physical SEC defenses, so A&M will need a No. 2 guy who can step-in and be effective if Johnny gets dinged-up.
Hard to argue with 124 yards rushing and 294 yards passing and involved in six touchdowns. That will get you an "A" on the report card.
I was disappointed that the running backs were unable to create any explosive plays. The longest run from scrimmage was just 16 yards. Overall, the running backs managed just 98 yards on 26 attempts. Some of the issues revolve around the opposing defenses crowding the box and pulling in the safeties and daring the Aggies to go over the top in man coverage. A&M tried to take advantage of it, and were successful once on a long ball to Mike Evans. Otherwise, the strategy paid off by the Mustangs and that allowed them to bottle up the run game for most of the game. With Christine Michael suspended, that allowed Trey Williams to be the feature back, and I thought he ran too horizontal most of the game. A&M runners need to quickly get through the hole north and south and then cut horizontally. Otherwise, the eight in the box will string out the pursuit all the way to the sideline….and that's what happened to Williams and the A&M running game most of the day.
I mentioned Ryan Swope's progress with Manziel above. Those two seem to be getting on the same page, so I expect a lot more production from the senior going forward. I think you'll see Swope becoming Manziel's favorite target along with Mike Evans. Last week, I thought Evans had a solid game, but he needed to be more aggressive and take the action to the defensive backs. I think he did just that on Saturday, taking advantage of man coverage and beating his man deep on several occasions. He also looked more explosive after the catch. He's starting to get comfortable out there, and that means big things in the future. I do think Manziel has his top two targets, and a QB needs that. He needs to know he can rely on a couple of receivers and look for those targets. Swope and Evans combined for 11 catches totaling 193 yards and a TD. Also, there were some questions about who will emerge as the other outside receiver. Nwachukwu certainly put himself in the mix with his two scores, but I really liked what I saw from Thomas Johnson when he was playing the outside later in the game. Keep an eye on Johnson. He's coming on.
After watching the game again, I thought the offensive line did a pretty solid job in pass protection. Obbuehi and Matthews miscommunicated in the first quarter and allowed Margus Hunt to sack Manziel in the game's third series. Other than that, the line provided a pocket for Manziel, and usually Johnny went through a couple of reads before taking off.
The offense obviously struggled to open up running lanes for the backs. Part of that was the defense stacking the box with 7-8 defenders. Look at the numbers. It's hard for five linemen to block seven defenders regardless of who you are and how well you block. In addition, in this zone blocking scheme, I think the running back, the offensive line, and the entire offensive unit must be more coordinated. I think the running backs are improvising and going wider than expected and not following the design of the zone blocking schemes. This run blocking scheme is finesse and timing, and there's still work to do because 98 yards on 26 carries against SMU is not going to cut it with the teeth of the SEC schedule ahead.
OVERALL GRADE – OFFENSE B+
Hop's Offensive Report Card - SMU
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