It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Sorry, I couldn't resist but the Aggie offense took the Aggie faithful on a roller coaster ride on Saturday. The Aggies took their opening drive and marched down the field for an opening touchdown and it looked like A&M was in for a very good day. That first drive is everything Aggie fans have been hoping to see. It was a long, sustained drive that mixed in the run and the pass. Stephen McGee converted a 3rd-and-10 with a 13 yard pass to Martellus Bennett.
Jorvorskie Lane went through a hole the size of a Mack truck and took out a couple of Bulldog defenders at the goal line for good measure. It was a picture perfect opening drive.
For the next 46 minutes of the game, the offense sputtered and looked like the shell of a unit that choreographed that first scoring drive. And it wasn't like the unit was backed up deep in A&M territory and couldn't get out of trouble. In fact, the following two drives started at the Fresno State 41 yard-line after a Devin Gregg interception and at the 49 yard-line after a punt.
Both drives quickly stalled and resulted in a missed field goal and a blocked field goal. While it appeared harmless at the time, that's where the Aggies lost control of this game. Granted, they eventually scored a touchdown on another short field set-up by a third Fresno State turnover, and with a safety moved the lead out to 19-0, but this game could and should have been put to bed in the first half when the defense was creating turnovers and limiting the Bulldogs to just a mere 100 yards of offense.
In the second half, Fresno quickly scored after a Stephen McGee fumble on a sack and all of a sudden a leisurely stroll in the park turned into a ball game. The offense had no answers until the last drive of regulation when the Aggie offense went to the only thing that works consistently – the option. And from there, it was nothing but zone reads with Lane and McGee. With the game tied at 22-22 and six minutes left, McGee hitched the team to his back and ran the option to an 88-yard scoring drive. Nothing fancy, and no passes.
In the first overtime, it was Lane and McGee and no passes. In the second overtime, it was Lane and McGee and no passes. In the third and final overtime, it was Lane and McGee and no passes. And on the two-point conversion that eventually was the game winner, it was Lane up the middle and no passes.
A&M proved three things on Saturday. They can rise to the occasion with the veteran leadership and get it done when they have to with the zone read option. Second, they are good enough with the option execution that they can win playing this one card, and this one card only. Third, they don't like to pass. When it came down to crunch time, they wanted nothing to do with the forward pass.
Remember that next time you ask why McGee and the team didn't throw more. They are an option running team with McGee and as long as they aren't forced to pass and the game is on the line, they won't. There's nothing wrong with that. For some reason, the option has become a four-letter word in football these days, but it works for A&M. Now, it makes for very close games and as we saw last year, a team can lose its share of close games. That's the caveat with this offense. Nothing will be easy.
Stephen McGee is the definition of old school quarterback. The guy is a team player and just wants to win, and win badly. When the Aggies were tied and desperately looking for answers, McGee strapped the offense on his back and took off running and taking some vicious hits along the way. You can't ask for a better teammate or person to lead this team.
However, the reality of the situation is that for whatever reason, McGee has become gun-shy with the downfield pass. There are a million theories why that is, but the result is quite clear. He's not comfortable identifying his receivers downfield. In fact, even on shorter routes, he's staring down his target and that's attracting a crowd on defense and minimizing the yards after catch. That's also why the longest pass completion was a mere 13 yards, and that was on the opening 80-yard scoring drive.
I think we all recognize how much better this offense can be with a legitimate downfield threat, but that's easier said than done. If he's not comfortable throwing downfield now, that's not going to get solved in game week preparations. Basically, what you see is what you get. The Aggies will need McGee's legs to win, not his arm.
McGee gets an A for guts, but a D- for the passing game. That's averages out to a C-.
What can you say about Jorvorskie Lane? Some say he's too fat, yet he carries the ball on 23 grueling, punishing runs in 100+ degree heat index, and destroys the opposition. His two yard run inside the five yard-line on third down was a thing of beauty and it saved the game. He was stood up behind the line of scrimmage, shrugged off the first defender, ran straight into defenders two and three and with the help of the Legion of Doom, pushed across for the first down. He scored on the next play.
Michael Goodson finished with 69 yards on 23 carries and a long run of only nine yards. Goodson had a tough day, and while he was stuffed on many runs, he also let some big yardage opportunities slip away as he missed the running lane on a couple of carries. Still, on most plays, there simply wasn't anywhere to run and it's hard to fault him for that.
Four receptions for 22 yards in a 47-45 three overtime shootout. Need I say more? Well, yes. While McGee's inability to find a target downfield rests mostly on his shoulders, you could tell the receivers were getting discouraged and on several occasions quit their routes and didn't do a good job of getting open. However, early on, both Kerry Franks and Pierre Brown were open downfield a few times, but the ball never got there.
Martellus finished with five catches for 35 yards to lead the receivers. However, it was the last minute backside push from the Legion of Doom (both Bennett and Joey Thomas) on Lane in the third overtime to get him across the first down marker on third down that set up the winning touchdown. You can always count on this unit to block and get it done.
I personally think this unit gets too much of the blame for the breakdowns in the passing game. Last week, it was deserved. On Saturday, the line gave McGee time to throw on the few passing plays called. Also, it's hard to finger the line for the struggles of Goodson between the tackles when the Bulldogs are selling out and swarming the middle because they aren't worried about the downfield pass. However, you figured they could spring Goodson for something longer than 9 yards on the day.
OVERALL OFFENSIVE GRADE: C+
Hop's report card - Offense
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