Hop's MSU Game Analysis – Defense
Yes, put away the sharp objects and back away from the cliff. This was the first game of the season. Strange things can happen in week one as we saw yesterday across the NCAA football landscape. Just be thankful you are nowhere near the Great Lakes region this morning as Wolverine fans and the Fighting Irish faithful are searching for answers in the abyss. The Longhorns aren't exactly turning cartwheels after a lackluster 21-13 win over Arkansas State.
However, the fact that others struggled yesterday doesn't exempt the Aggies from looking at the mistakes of the Montana State game and learning from the exposed shortcomings. There were many positives from Saturday, including the performance of sophomore kicker Matt Szymanski and the kick return game. There were also some promising individual performances on defense and while the unit struggled overall, there were good plays made. In some cases, plays this unit couldn't have made two years ago. However, while Montana State is considered one of the best programs in DI-AA they are still a lower division program with lesser talent and fewer resources, and it should concern A&M fans that this team came into Kyle Field and grinded out more first downs (26), more yards (403), and controlled the time of possession (35:43) and number of offensive plays (85 to 58 for A&M). Those are the kind of numbers A&M dictated to opponents in 2006.
To have the Bobcats turn the tables on a veteran-laiden Texas A&M team is a concern, but hopefully it will provide motivation to clean some things up before a more talented and more dangerous Fresno State team comes to Kyle Field in six days.
If there's a positive, it's that the defense did slow the bleeding in the second half, and in the end when it counted, A&M kept the Bobcats scoreless after the opening game touchdown drive. The Aggies surrendered over 250 yards of offense in the first half, and allowed MSU to convert on 5 of 6 third down conversions in the first quarter alone. However, the defense stiffened to allow only 150 yards in the second half, and the Bobcats only converted on 2 of 13 third down conversions the final three quarters of the contest.
The defensive line was active and consistently got the push you look on the line. However, the unit was susceptible to counters and cutbacks vacating slots that MSU running back Isaiah Tiato quickly found. With that said, the defensive line did control the line of scrimmage and put pressure on the quarterback, but give the MSU quarterback credit for getting rid of the ball quickly and finding receivers in short routes. The defensive line recorded five tackles for loss and two sacks.
The biggest surprises were Chris Harrington who looked very quick and put the most consistent pressure on the quarterback. That's nothing new for Harrington, but given that he is still coming back from offseason shoulder surgery, it was a pleasant surprise that he looked this good this soon. He had nine tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble that thwarted an MSU drive.
Michael Bennett looked good early knocking down two passes early and getting in on four tackles, and I thought Lucas Patterson was a big surprise in the middle and certainly validates Coach Franchione's comments from practice that he's comfortable with what he has on the interior DL. Hopefully, Henry Smith will be a little more active next week, and Kellen Heard still needs to play more consistent but showed flashes.
At the end spot, Cyril Obiozor had some nice plays including a big sack with Patterson deep in Bobcat territory. He ended the game with five stops, but he also bit inside a couple of times and lost containment to the outside.
Overall, you can see the potential of this unit and they definitely had their moments, but they also let MSU's running backs slip through the first wave of defenders for consistent positive yardage.
Mark Dodge was the highlight at linebacker leading the team in tackles with 14. He also made the stops in front of him and tackled cleanly and efficiently, which was a problem for other LB's and the secondary at times. Dodge likely won't be that huge playmaker that offensive coordinators fear, but he's a solid, consistent player who will make the plays in front of him and won't make many mistakes.
Despite making six stops, Msi Tupe didn't tackle efficiently and missed on a couple plays that he should have stopped. He'll need to clean up his game because Matt Featherston is on his heals and playing well, getting six tackles, forcing a fumble with one tackle for loss in a reserve role. Anthony Lewis looked good on a blitz and closed nicely on a blitz that forced the MSU into a bad throw.
The unit needs to clean up some things, but a decent performance.
By Coach Franchione's own admission, the defensive backs were playing too far off the MSU receivers. On the opening drive where MSU drove the length of the field to score, the Bobcats converted two third down conversions through the air, and went 5-of-6 on third down passes in the first quarter and not one was over 10 yards. This has been a consistent issue for the A&M defensive backs in recent years and the problems persist.
On deeper routes the cornerbacks fared better, but the safeties struggled with their assignments on intermediate passes in the middle of the field. Had MSU's Derek Green not dropped a wide open 20+ yard third down pass at A&M's 40 yard-line on the Bobcat's second drive, the score could have been 14-3.
Jordan Peterson missed his man and also added a critical missed tackle on the opening drive that contributed to the touchdown. Danny Gorrer also gave up several catches, but the starting duo also had a couple of nice plays, including Peterson's excellent defense of a pass in the end zone against a much taller receiver. But overall, the starting corners played a little too loose in the first half.
I was pleasantly surprised by the play of second team corners Arkeith Brown and Marquis Carpenter. It will be interesting to see if there's a change in the rotation next week.
At safety, Alton Dixon had 10 stops in run support and closed very quickly and tackled very efficiently. Both Devin Gregg and Jordan Pugh played too loose and allowed several downfield completions in space and they were lucky a few balls were dropped by open pass catchers.
Overall, the secondary gave up 304 yards of passing and it could have been more if the MSU receivers were sure-handed. The coverage looked too much like previous seasons and must improve before the high flying Fresno State Bulldogs come to town next weekend.
OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE: C-
Special Teams - Coverage
We'll give the 12th Man Kickoff team a pass last night with the long return late. However, the first team coverage teams were as good as anyone could have expected especially given the new kickoff rules. Of the six kickoffs with the first team, MSU ‘s best starting point was their own 30 yard-line, and four drives after kickoff started at the 20 yard-line or less. The punt coverage team gave up just three yards in returns. That gets an A+ in my book.
Special Teams Returns
The return units were having a good day until Jordan Peterson fumbled away a punt. Kerry Franks had a productive day netting 82 yards on only two returns. Peterson had a solid outing until the fumble. Those can be killers against better opponents and it's the reason why the grade slipped from a solid A to a C.
Matt Szymanski looked like the kicker that was advertised leaving high school a year early. His leg looked verystrong on kicks and he reached the end zone or gioal line on every kick. His field goal and extra points were high, long, and straight…just the way you like them.
A solid 45.7 yards/punt average by Brantly with very little returns due to coverage and hang time. The only blemish was that ill-timed punt fake that left me scratching my head.
OVERALL SPECIAL TEAMS B+
Hop's MSU Game Analysis - Defense
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