1. If you want to look at the single most important statistic this season, just look at third down conversions. On Saturday, the A&M offense converted an incredible 12-of-16 attempts. Conversely, Missouri converted on 5-of-14. That's been the storyline in almost every game. The biggest factor in A&M's third down success is Johnny Football who extends plays and finds a way to move the sticks. This stat is every bit as important as Johnny's 439 total yards that the pundits will talk about this week.
2. It was Thanksgiving weekend and A&M's opponent wasn't Texas and wasn't that sexy. The students returned 4,000 tickets two days before kickoff and Missouri didn't come close to filling its allotment. Yet, Kyle Field was full to the brim with over 87,000 fans. Please tell me again why the new stadium should only be 93,000.
3. With the uncertain status of Thomas Johnson and the graduation of Swope, McNeal, and Nwachukwu, I know a lot of people are hoping that a couple of the incoming freshmen committed for the 2013 class will immediately contribute. And while I agree that some new blood will need to step up and play, don't overlook Derel Walker. He's quietly getting more and more reps and he's getting very close to being a tier I college receiver. He's come close to breaking some big plays, and he had the one long play called back by penalty a few weeks ago. I like his size and he's starting to get open and he's finally adjusted to D-1 competition. He looked like a lost cause in the first two weeks of fall practice but he's made steady improvement ever since...and that's usually the trajectory of most JUCO prospects. It takes about halfway through their first season to finally adjust to the speed, and then they break out their second season. Let's hope Walker follows the same path.
4. When Johnny receives his Heisman in a couple of weeks in New York, he needs to bring his offensive line with him. Johnny is an incredible athlete who has developed into a great quarterback, but as a freshman there's no way he does all of this without this line that I think is the best I've seen going back to the mid-1980's. Yes, Manziel extends plays, but on many occasions he also gets 4-5 seconds in the pocket before he improvises. You only need to look at what happens when the second unit OL enters the game to truly appreciate how well the starting line is protecting the program's most valuable commodity.
5. Athletic director Eric Hyman has been on the job for several months now and we really haven't heard anything from him. When he was introduced, he said he wanted to lay low and observe in the short term before putting his stamp on the athletic department. He has certainly stayed quiet...almost too quiet for my tastes. It would be nice to get a state of the program address or something that reflects his thoughts so far. But, it's time to get to work. Everything that could go right has gone right in this inaugural SEC football season. Hyman has more demand than capacity at the stadium. Not only does he have the best QB in the country, but Johnny Football is marketing gold that dropped into the athletic department's lap...and he's here for three more years. Hyman also has a first year coach that is the hottest thing since sliced bread and a young offensive coordinator that will be a valuable commodity on the open market. All of this in the middle of the athletic department's most important capital project in the university's history. Over the past 6-8 months, internal sources have been "concerned" with the funding of this $400-500 million stadium. Well, what better backdrop to raise donations and secure major sponsorships (naming rights, etc.) than a Heisman Trophy winner and a Top 10 team.
Excitement is at an all-time high, so the best way to keep this momentum and bring in dollars is to make a bold move to keep this staff together for at least the next three years. I say this because it's only a matter of time before Kliff Kingsbury is tabbed as a head coach. I think he's too young and too green for a major D-1 job, but I do see a mid-major coming after him. Thus, Hyman needs to be proactive and lock up the football brain trust for at least three years. First, Hyman should sit down with Coach Sumlin next week and basically say, "we want you here for the rest of your coaching career. We want you to be the face of our football program for as long as you coach football. What can we do to make that happen for you?" Lock up Sumlin, and then sweeten the pot significantly for Kingsbury and Snyder. The pitch for Kingsbury is to stick around for the next three years of Johnny Football and at age 36 he'll be one of the top candidates for a BCS conference head coaching job. By that time, the program will be established and the pipeline of talent fully stocked. A great OC will jump at the chance.
6. I know many of you will never let me forget my concern over Johnny's arm strength and his high risk, high reward playing style. But if you recall I was also "concerned" over the lackluster fall practice performance of Howard Matthews and I was close to writing him off. But in this case, I wasn't alone. In fact, going into the season opener, Coach Snyder said that Howard Matthews wasn't in their plans and that he needed to improve his work ethic and focus if he wanted to enter the rotation. Well, he's now a starter and while he may have had one broken assignment, he was excellent on the other 60 plays. He finished with a team-leading 13 tackles. That's not a complete surprise as run support is his strength. But he also had a couple of impressive pass breakups and has greatly improved his coverage skills. While I wish he was a tenth faster, he has developed into a very credible D-1 safety. Here's another case where a player proved me wrong and I'm happy to admit it.
7. I'm still not worried with the defense giving up second half points. I know we all want to see a dominant Wecking Crew-type of performances for all 60 minutes, but defense is about playing with urgency and that's hard to do when the team is up 42-0.
8. I wasn't spotlighting Steven Jenkins, but it seemed he was always around the ball last night. He finished the game with eight tackles and several of those stops were critical at the time. I thought it was one of his best efforts of his career. He's another JUCO prospect that started his career slowly, but he's steadily improved and has come on strong since mid-season of 2011. The fact that he's a JUCO with three years of eligibility is crucial. As opposed to finishing his career just as he was peaking as a typical two-year JUCO, he will now go into spring practices as the leader of a young unit and he will be asked to carry a heavy load. That's why you are starting to see so many D-1 coaches recruiting mid-term JUCO's and these with three years of eligibility. Regardless of talent, these JUCO's need some time to adjust to the speed and discipline of the D-1 game.
9. As far as bowl games go, I know many Aggie fans are hoping for the Cotton Bowl because of location and the ability to travel to the game. There's also some dreaming of a rematch with Texas. I'm not thinking that way. This journey into the SEC has been exciting because of the new experiences, new teams, new campuses, new travel locations, etc. I traveled to Oxford and Tuscaloosa, and both were great experiences. Granted, the Cotton Bowl will save me some money and time. The Alamo Bowl was a great event because of cost and spending the weekend with my friends from San Antonio. I secretly enjoyed the Independence Bowl trips and hitting the craps tables at the El Dorado Casino in Shreveport. But, in this new era I'm thinking Orlando and the Capital One Bowl. I wouldn't even mind the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta. I want something different, and I want to destroy a Big 10 team. Can you imagine a slow Big 10 defense trying to stop A&M's offense?
10. Man, what could've been without the injuries and a little more effort in his blocking. I'm talking about Christine Michael. When he is healthy and motivated, he's the most exciting A&M running back since Dante Hall. Unfortunately, we only saw flashes of his potential greatness like we did in the first half last night. I assume senior night had him jacked up, and he immediately made an impact on that first drive. When motivated, he shoots out of a cannon and hits the hole before defenders know what happened. With Manziel down with an apparent knee injury that looked serious at the time, C-Mike took inspiration from the situation and in one of his most impressive runs as an Aggie shot through the hole into the secondary and threw a powerful stiff arm to the helmet of an oncoming safety and bounced right off of him and into the end zone for a 40-yard scintillating jaunt. But as quickly as he impacted the game, he seemed to disappear (with an apparent hamstring strain)...and that is a microcosm of his A&M career. Oh, what could've been....
Hop's Ten Random Football Thoughts
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