Let's be honest. The fact that A&M's QB, who is an inexperienced redshirt freshman who routinely scrambles all over the field carrying the ball like a bread basket, had not committed one turnover in the season's first four games was fortuitous at best, and likely just plain luck. It was just a matter of time, and that time was Saturday night in the cold and rain at Oxford. While Johnny Manziel was credited with three turnovers on the night, in my mind I have him with only two turnovers. The first interception was a pass on third down and long where Manziel threw it up for grabs where it was picked-off inside the Ole Miss 20-yard line. It was as effective as a punt. But the other two really hurt. The first one was inside Rebel territory and after being sacked the previous play, Manziel scrambled out of the pocket to his left and he tried to throw back across his body to the middle of the field and the ball floated into the awaiting arms of a UM safety. It was a bad pass, and it also exposed his arm strength. Again, Manziel ‘s arm strength isn't a factor when he can stand in the pocket and step into his throws without much stress.
He's good on quick timing routes where he's asked to float the ball over the top. Case in point was the fade to Ryan Swope that won the game. That was a beautiful pass laid in perfectly over the top. It doesn't get any better than that throw. Even more impressive was that it came at the most critical time. But as Coach Kingsbury and Coach Sumlin have said many times, Johnny has his strengths and his weaknesses. It's pretty obvious now what defenses want to do. They are willing to give him time in the pocket as long as they can contain him and keep him from scrambling for big yards. However, while that works most of the time, in the end Manziel is too quick and too fast for these front seven guys and he'll eventually break containment and run for a long time. Now, that journey to break containment can be dangerous and we saw that when he stumbled during one of his Houdini tricks in the backfield and fumbled.
By and large, the better and faster the defense, the more stress Johnny will be under and the odds of committing turnovers goes up. It's like playing craps. You can easily win big hitting a couple of big numbers with a big pay day. You can also go through a stretch of 7-outs and lose your bankroll in a blink of an eye. That's how I view this offense. It can be an amazing unit to watch when Johnny can find that open lane in a scramble, or find that receiver in broken coverage after scrambling out of the pocket after six seconds in the pocket. But it's a high risk, high reward offense right now. The better the defense, the higher the risk…but there is always that big reward that can hit at anytime , anywhere. We saw that on Saturday. We saw the risk, and then we saw the reward….and then we partied! As far as the grade of "C", it doesn't matter how many exciting plays you make, if you turn the ball over three times, you aren't getting above a C in my grade book. Amazingly, A&M still wins with Johnny Getting a C.
What can you say that hasn't been said about the transformation of Ben Malena from a third string warm body that was overweight to a chiseled SEC starting running back who finished No. 2 in the conference in rushing on Saturday with 142 yards. The once "slow" back from 2011 burst into the secondary on the game's first drive and no Rebel corner or safety could catch him over 60 yards. The middle was open all night. When the Aggies ran right behind Patrick Lewis, there were huge holes. When they went horizontal and allowed the speed of the Ole Miss defense to come into play, it didn't work out well for the Aggie ground game. What brings the grade down this week is the fumble by Christine Michael. He's done that way too much in his career and it will cost him playing time the remainder of 2012 and it will cost him in the NFL Draft. But you can't play a fumbler at this level of football.
Certainly, the highlights of the game for the receivers was the big third down catch by Mike Evans to extend the first scoring drive of the fourth quarter, and then the over the shoulder fade catch for the go-ahead touchdown by Ryan Swope. The receivers have been getting good marks and mostly A's in recent weeks, but I can't give out a top mark to a unit that fumbles and loses the ball after a big gainer in the red zone, and that's exactly what Swope did earlier in the game that forced the Aggies to make a miraculous comeback in the game's final minutes. A senior should know better. Overall, I'd like to see Evans start going up-field immediately. He had some early success stepping back and fighting through the corner for a few extra yards, but it has become a habit and a bad one at that. He may squeeze out an extra yard but when he does this he gets stood up and he's susceptible to being stripped. Sometimes, it's good for a receiver to get down and live to fight another day if he's not close to the first down marker. The tight ends were surprisingly quiet in this game.
It's amazing hearing the people around me at the game. On one side, an Aggie fan is complaining that the offensive line is playing poorly. On the other side, an Aggie fan is praising the OL for the amount of time Manziel had in the pocket. Well, I'll meet those two in the middle. The offensive line did a solid job of protecting Manziel, even in situations where Ole Miss rushed four or when they occasionally blitzed. Granted, the times Johnny had 5-10 seconds back there, that was by design with Ole Miss rushing three and basically there to contain him and not really to pursue and sack him. I thought the inside running game was there. From where I was in the corner, the seas parted behind Patrick Lewis on a couple of those long Malena runs. But anytime the run play went out to the tackles and took a little longer to develop, the running back was swallowed up quickly. On the ill-fated third down-and-goal toss sweep, Michael Lamothe got out there and sealed his man, but Jake Matthews simply missed his assignment and it was his man that made the stop. Had Matthews put up some resistence at all, Malena would have scored. Still, that doesn't excuse the poor play call in that situation. You are a foot away and your center has been blowing his man off the ball all night. On top of that, you have Johnny Football. Sneak that sucker into the end zone.
Offensive Coaching C-
Twice Coach Kingsbury had a critical third down and less than a yard, and both times he tried to get cut and go outside. I'm sorry, when your offensive line outweighs the opponent's defensive line by 40-50 pounds a person and you've had some success running right at them, I don't try to get cute. I leverage my strength and go right at them.
OVERALL GRADE – OFFENSE B-
After scoring on their first drive, the offense didn't reach the end zone again until the six minute mark of the fourth quarter. For this offense, that's not good. Still, when the chips were down, they scored and won the game.
Hop's Offense Report Card - Ole Miss
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