The saying goes that if you win the battle of the trenches, you're likely to win the game. If you do so against Texas A&M and its ground-based offense, then the chances of victory are even higher. Play turnover-free football as well, and a win is virtually assured. In fact, it's amazing that the Aggies actually had a chance to tie the Jayhawks on the final two plays of the game.
On the other hand, the Aggies did make mistakes with untimely penalties, a fumble, and a shanked punt. Ironically, possibly the biggest mistake came on the fourth play of the game. The confident Jayhawks elected to receive the opening kickoff and thought they could set the tone for the contest with a sustained opening game drive.
However, the Aggies immediately made a statement of their own opening the game with two sacks and backing the KU offense to its own nine yard-line. On third down, the defense again held strong snuffing out a short pass for a yard gain and forcing the Kansas punter to kick from his own end zone against a slight breeze. However, a yellow flag dropped near the feet of KU quarterback Todd Reesing's feet where Red Bryant had just laid him out on a late hit personal foul. Instead of the Aggies making a huge statement on defense and giving the offense field position near midfield or better, the Jayhawks found new life and continued the drive. They eventually punted, but not after a couple of first downs and backing up the Aggies to the 18 yard-line.
The other big momentum changer came in the second quarter with the Aggies in the red zone and looking for six points. On fourth and a yard, Franchione decides to go for it, and who's to doubt that decision? With short yardage extraordinaire Jorvorskie Lane and the meat grinders up-front, short yardage is this team's specialty. Well, the stout KU defense stuffed Lane for a one yard loss to keep the game scoreless at 0-0. And while the scoreboard showed the game very much in doubt, that play signaled to the Aggies that the Jayhawks could not be pushed around and certainly weren't going to be run on in this game, and they were right.
From that point in the second quarter until Stephen McGee's 15 yard scramble with under a minute remaining in the game, the Aggies racked up 1 yard on the ground. That's not a misprint. A team with a top 10 rushing attack and the previous week on the road accumulated over 350 rushing yards against Nebraska could manage but one yard total from mid-way through the second quarter until the last minute of the game. When you think about it, you have to wonder how in the world A&M was throwing to the end zone for a potential tie on the game's final two snaps because A&M was dominated at home in almost every facet of this game.
There were some bright spots, such as freshman Roger Holland's incredible touchdown catch in the back of the end zone while taking a head shot from the KU safety. Kerry Franks has quietly become one of the best and most consistent kickoff returners in the Big 12, and you have to give this team credit for not giving up and finding a way to possibly tie the game at the end. However, the reality of the loss is evident. Even though the Aggies still hold their own destiny in their hands with three games to play, the KU game was arguably the easiest of the murderer's row schedule of four straight Top 20 opponents. Now it's back on the road to play arguably the two best teams in the Big 12, OU and Missouri.
Don't let the final numbers fool you. By A&M standards, McGee had a lot of yards passing and completed a lot of balls. However, much of that was in the final two desperation drives. Take away that final flurry, and the offense was inept. On A&M's first nine drives, the result was seven punts, a fumble, a failed fourth down conversion, and zero points. Even after stumbling in the first half, the game was knotted at 0-0 and A&M certainly had a chance. However, McGee and the A&M offense went backwards in the third quarter when KU took control of the game. McGee finished the quarter 1-of-5 for 3 yards and a 15 yard grounding penalty as well. But give McGee credit for battling back and making a late, desperate run at the Jayhawks. However, it was too little, too late.
I don't care how good the opposing defense may be, but for Texas A&M running backs in this offensive system to net just 57 yards will not get the job done. Michael Goodson has gotten into the habit of running more east-west versus north-south. And while the holes were few and far between, I do think that there were a couple of cutback opportunities that were missed when he strung it out to the sideline. About the only highlight was the nice pass over the middle to Chris Alexander that got the Aggies into the red zone in the second quarter.
Earvin Taylor and Michael Corey had several nice third down catches to extend drives in the first half. However, the receivers received the week's highest grade because of the emergence and play of freshman Roger Holland. The two-star receiver that the major recruiting networks ignored had a spectacular 32-yard touchdown reception as he was nailed by an oncoming safety in the back of the end zone. He also had two other catches and had a nice reverse run negated by a holding penalty. Mr. Holland was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing game, and his future is bright.
The Legion of Doom typically receives some of my highest grades, but not this week. While both tight ends combined for 10 catches for 97 yards and their biggest offensive output of the season, it was the constant false start penalties that put this offense behind the eight ball on several drives. This offense can't handle penalties, period. Call it frustration or a lack of concentration. Whatever it was, the false starts were a killer.
All preseason the talk was about the veteran, dominant offensive line that would carry this team by winning the point of attack. Well, on Saturday they didn't. When that happens, this team has a hard time finding a way to win football games. When this offense rushes for under a 100 yards, the offensive line didn't do their job.
OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE: D-
Actually, I thought the defensive line had a pretty solid game. Henry Smith has quietly become A&M's best defensive lineman and had a very good day. The ends got pressure on KU's QB Todd Reesing as well. The defensive line had eight tackles for loss, which has to be a record for the Franchione era. However, Red Bryant's late hit on Reesing on the game's first series was one of the most important turning points of the game. That one play dropped the DL's grade significantly.
Msi Tupe and Mark Dodge combined for 20 tackles, and Tupe's sack on the opening play of the game set-up what should have been a big momentum-changing stop deep in KU territory had Bryant not gotten the late hit personal foul call. However, despite the tackles and big play, I felt the tackling was poor from both the linebackers and defensive backs. There were way too many yards after contact and the Jayhawks rode the missed tackles to 227 yards rushing.
See above on the missed tackling. I thought the safeties did a horrendous job of tackling and general run support. The only thing that saved the grade from being an F was the two excellent breaks on the ball from Arkeith Brown who was a step away from taking the ball the other way for six, and Jordan Pugh who broke on a pass headed for the end zone and a sure touchdown. As with Brown, he broke up the pass, but was a few feet short of actually stepping in front to make the interception with a lot of open field in front of him. This sounds fairly routine, but I'm trying to think of the last time an A&M DB actually made a great break on the ball. So to see it twice in one game is noteworthy.
OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE: C-
The coverage teams have been very good in recent weeks, and Kerry Franks has become a weapon on the kick return unit. Chris Harrington kept the Aggies tied in the first half with a blocked field goal. The one major blemish was Justin Brantly's shanked punt in the third quarter that set up KU's offense for the backbreaking score.
Hop's Report Card - Kansas
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