Hop's MSU game analysis - Offense

After every game this year, Aggie Websider's David Sandhop will analyze each side of the ball in-depth.

On paper, 262 yards rushing and 390 yards of total offense looks like a respectable day at the office. However, as much as we want to believe that Montana State is a powerful Division I-AA program, the fact remains that they are a Division I-AA program with smaller, slower athletes than most BCS conference schools.

But it was the first game of the year and the A&M coaching staff had very little knowledge about what Montana State would do on both sides of the ball, so a 31-point win isn't bad, but there are plenty of things to work on heading into this week's game against Fresno State.

For me, two big questions came out of this game on offense. First, why is Michael Goodson getting hit in the backfield and losing yardage on five of his 10 carries behind an experienced offensive line that has stacked its resume with incredible performances the past two years against great Sooner and Longhorn rush defenses?

Second, is the reluctance to throw down field a function of the offensive scheme and philosophy of Coach Franchione and the offense? Is it Stephen McGee's lack of vision and confidence to find his targets downfield, or is it a lack of receivers who can't get open down field?

The first question can be answered more easily I think. This A&M line is built for strength and to drive its opponent into submission. It's not built necessarily on quickness and agility, which is why the unit had its struggles with a much smaller yet quicker defensive front that sold out to shoot the gaps and stop the run.

When they guessed right, the defense stuffed the Aggie backs. When they missed, A&M ran for a long, long time.

That I can understand. The passing game is a different animal that remains a mystery. This team has arguably the best tight end tandem in the country, with Martellus Bennett already rated the No. 1 junior tight end by NFL draft guru Mel Kiper. The receiving corps is filled with former high three star and four star recruits, and Stephen McGee garnered national honors and made a habit of throwing touchdown bombs to former Burnet high school teammate and now Longhorn receiver Jordan Shipley.

But with all of those weapons, the first-team offense managed just 10 completions and 117 yards in the air in 55 minutes of play against Montana State. Of those 10 catches, only five went to wide receivers with the longest play totaling 17 yards.

Ironically, second team quarterback Jerrod Johnson matched the game's longest pass play with a 17-yard touchdown strike to Terrence McCoy in the waning moments of the game.

I'm having a hard time trying to figure out why this team just doesn't even try to keep the opposing defense honest with an occasional throw down the field to keep the defense on their collective toes.

It's the classic chicken or the egg argument that I'm struggling with here. Is the offense not opening up because McGee is having a hard time locating his targets down field, or is McGee not throwing it down the field because the offensive philosophy calls for conservative play calling that minimizes turnovers and controls the clock?

And are both of these arguments brought on by a lack of play making ability by the receivers? I think I've eliminated this last one.

The Aggies may not have USC-caliber receivers, but there is a lot of talent in the receiver corps and A&M's pass-catching athletes compare favorably to a majority of Division I programs, including those that are successful at throwing the ball.

As for the other two, that's the question I keep trying to figure out and frankly I'm still searching for answers. Coach Franchione keeps saying that he wants to throw down field, but was limited last year with the need to keep the defense off the field. After the fact, the staff and McGee admitted that he was limited in what he could do last year due to a torn tricep muscle, but that he's much stronger and healthy this season.

Perhaps it's just a matter of the A&M coaching staff holding part of its playbook close to their chest. Only time will tell.

I'll chalk this performance up to the first ball game and see where the passing game goes from here. I don't think anybody doubts that the running game is A&M's bread-and-butter, but there are simply too many weapons on this offense not to spread the ball across the field.

Quarterback
We've already discussed McGee and the passing game above, but McGee seems to get stronger and faster running the option. MSU couldn't stop the option, and had A&M wanted to run up the score, they could have run the option every play and probably score 55 points. McGee outran the Bobcat defense on his 65 yard TD run. He finished with 121 yards on only nine carries and two TD's. In the passing game, he was harassed early and he never got on track completing only 50 percent of his throws, compared to a 62% completion percentage last season. But it was his running that earned him a C+ for the week. Grade: C+

Running Back
On paper, it appeared the running backs struggled, combining for only 108 yards on 23 carries. However, considering the defensive missiles coming after Goodson in the backfield, those numbers are about as good as could be expected given the blocking problems up-front.

When he found daylight, Goodson looked better than ever and appeared to have added some speed as well. His 18-yard touchdown run was as good of a run as I've seen since Dante Hall's prime nearly 10 years ago. He hurdled a defender and then put on a zig-zag move that gave him the room to reach the corner of the end zone. Jorvorskie Lane had a fairly quiet, workman-like evening gaining 40 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown. He looked like he always does, a guy who is tough to bring down and will get you tough yards between the tackle. I'd still like to see the offense throw to Lane more out of the backfield.

Give these guys room, and they'll light up opponents. Grade: B

Offensive Line
I'll chalk this one up to the first game going up against a quicker, smaller defensive unit without much of a scouting report to study. These guys are just too experienced and have done it too many times to think this will be a persistent problem in 2007. Yes, they weren't good, and probably the biggest disappointment of the night, but they've earned a pass this one time. Hopefully, it serves as a wake-up call. Grade: D

Tight End
Was it me, or was Martellus looking a little frustrated out there on Saturday. He did catch three balls in a row on one drive and it's easy to see that he has the talent to dominate a game if McGee throws the ball to him and he builds some momentum. He can be a dominant pass catcher to compliment his great blocking ability. Pretty soon he'll be a star in the NFL, and we'll wonder how the time went by so quickly. This is a special resource that must be utilized. Grade: B

Wide Receiver
Yeah, there were dropped balls, but I come from the camp that thinks receivers struggle if they don't get chances and aren't allowed to get into a rhythm. If they get only one or two opportunities a game, they tend to tense up when the time comes and that leads to drops. Still, the production just isn't there, and the drops don't help. In all, there were only five completions to wide receivers for 55 yards. To be a somewhat balanced offense, these weapons need to be utilized more, and they need to deliver when their number is called. Grade: D

OVERALL GRADE – OFFENSE: C-




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