With the short turnaround week and with everybody in Miami mode already, I decided to provide an abbreviated grade analysis of the Louisiana-Monroe game. Basically, the Aggies accomplished what they needed to accomplish which was win the game quickly and easily, and in the process rest the starters and give the young backups 20+ minutes of valuable game experience. After a hot and brutal three overtime slugfest against Fresno State and a five-day preparation and travel week, this team needed an "easy" game leading into the program's most important game of the season on Thursday.
Also, the Aggies wanted to show off their ability to pass, not just to quiet the skeptics, but to show the Hurricane defensive coordinator that he indeed must worry about A&M stretching the field.
Stephen McGee completed 19 of 33 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown. McGee connected with playmaker Martellus Bennett on six catches and senior Kerry Franks on five grabs. In fact, 17 of the 19 completions were to wide receivers or tight ends down the field.
However, the biggest development on offense was the re-emergence of Michael Goodson after a very sluggish game against Fresno State. Goodson put on a show with some incredible Reggie Bush-like moves and cuts, and his acceleration through the point of attack reassured A&M fans that Goodson is a special running back who can carry this team to some big plays in 2007.
The defense didn't have the dominant performance that the offense put on display Saturday, but at the end of the night a good ULM offense chalked up only 14 points. Still, the ULM offense did have success moving the ball both on the ground and through the air, especially in the first half when they racked up 215 yards. Luckily, the defense came up with two big interceptions in A&M territory to thwart several scoring drives which firmly established the Aggies in control of the game by early in the third quarter. The defense did stiffen after halftime, with the War Hawks' offense generating only 133 yards in the final two quarters.
The 215 rushing yards right into the teeth of the Aggie defense is a little concerning, but ULM does have an experienced offensive line and Calvin Dawson extended his 100-yard game streak to eight with 126 yards on Saturday. Still, the A&M defense will need to play stronger in the middle if they expect to stop the Hurricanes' power running game, which is definitely the key to victory Thursday night.
But in the end, the Aggies took care of business efficiently and effectively and that's what matters. Now, let's get ready for Miami.
McGee looked improved as the team consciously looked to throw the ball against arguably one of the worst pass defenses in the nation. Not taking anything away from McGee and the offense, but doing it against ULM is one thing, doing it against an ACC powerhouse defense is something else. McGee still tends to stare down his primary target and is a beat slow in finding the open man. Physically, he's a good, accurate passer. If there is an issue, it is his timing and ability to locate the open man quickly before the defensive coverage can close the cushion. Still, he performed well Saturday.
I've already talked about Goodson, but you also have to mention Cornell Tarrant who came in the game with a vengeance and laid out a War hawk defensive end with a punishing blow as he carried the ball through the ULM defense. Not only did he do it with power, but he showed some major jets turning the corner for big gainer on two runs. He finished with 69 yards on only four carries.
Here's hoping to Cornell working on the little things in practice like blocking, because his running ability and speed is just short of special. Overall the backs generated 312 yards rushing. You can't ask for more than that.
Yes, wide receivers do reside in the Aggie roster. Senior Kerry Franks had a big game and hopefully this performance establishes him as McGee's go-to guy, much like Chad Schroeder was last season.
With McGee still trying to improve on his downfield vision, it will make his life much easier and the passing game more effective if he starts connecting with Franks and relying on the talented veteran to get open down the field on every pass play. In all, wide receiver caught 11 passes for 134 yards.
The Legion of Doom has always played a big part in this team, especially in blocking. However, Martellus Bennett was THE go-to guy for McGee. Bennett finished as A&M's leading pass catcher grabbing six passes for 98 yards. The 33 yard seam route completion brought a tear to the eyes of most Aggie fans, but it was Bennett's yards after catch that are so valuable. On one third down, Bennett caught the ball several yards behind the first down marker with a defender in his way yet fought for the first down and saved the drive. We've said it before, but Bennett is a weapon A&M must utilize. He's just too good.
I thought the line did a pretty good job protecting McGee in the pocket. He usually had plenty of time to throw, and that certainly contributed to the successful 237 yard passing night. However, many observers expected this line to physically dominate up-front against a suspect ULM defense. Still, the yards between the tackles were tough to generate. Lane only had 34 yards on 11 carries and the Aggies had a difficult time punching the ball in the end zone inside the five yard line. Lane eventually got two short yardage touchdowns, but it definitely wasn't easy. The line will need to play much better on Thursday if A&M expects to dominate the point of attack and control the possession time, something they will want to do in Miami.
OVERALL OFFENSE GRADE: A-
I know ULM had juniors and seniors across the line, and a potential NFL running back in Dawson, but 215 yards rushing is a lot anyway you slice it, especially against a Sun Belt Conference team. The interior line needs to step up, and hopefully veteran leader Red Bryant is that man on Thursday. The defensive end spot is playing solidly, although too many times the side opposite Chris Harrington gets sucked inside and loses containment on runs that bounce to the outside.
Otherwise, I think they are doing pretty good. I was very encouraged with the play of Paul Freeney, who has risen from the depth chart to become another useful asset on the defensive line.
I thought the linebackers did a solid job, but still could be more physical at the point of attack. There were still a couple of missed tackles that linebackers need to make. On the positive side, Msi Tupe had a great interception coming underneath and picking off a crossing route. The ULM quarterback never saw him and Msi timed it perfectly.
On paper, the 133 yards passing looks like a great night for the secondary. However, ULM's pass drops and miscues really saved the secondary. On the War Hawks' first drive, at least two open wide receivers dropped passes, and later a ULM halfback option pass play had a receiver 15 yards behind Marquis Carpenter yet they couldn't execute it. Better passing teams would have easily capitalized on these coverage mistakes. Still, the secondary did make some good plays and delivered some nice hits converging on the ball. Jordan Peterson had a nice interception and return at the goal line to stop a ULM scoring threat.
OVERALL DEFENSE GRADE: C
Matt Szymanski continues to be the special teams story, especially with his high and deep kickoffs. The longest return on the night was just 23 yards. He also nailed a strong-looking 45-yard field goal early in the game. There were no punts, which is probably something else I should have included in my offensive analysis.
OVERALL SPECIAL TEAMS GRADE: A
Hop's report card - LA-Monroe
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