This is a strange game to grade. On the one hand, this was the first game where the Aggies leaned heavily on the Legion of Doom in the middle of the field and it paid off handsomely on some key plays including the athletic 42-yard catch and run by Martellus Bennett. That play alone makes many fans want to pull their hair out wondering what could've been had the coaching staff properly utilize its only 5-star recruit. The tight ends ended the day with seven receptions for 83 yards.
In all, the offense had three big passing plays and those plays kept the Aggies in the football game on the road against a Top 10 opponent. In addition to Bennett's touchdown, Stephen McGee connected with Kerry Franks for 60 yards and a tipped 43-yard pass to Michael Goodson really got the offense kick started.
Those three plays covering a combined 145 yards is a great example for why big strike vertical plays are so critical for offenses, and why the grind-it-out three yards and a cloud of dust offense ultimately fails in the long run. A big play can change the momentum of the game and puts the defense back on its collective heels. A 6-7 play scoring drive with some big gains downfield is a lot more feasible than a 14-play, 70-yard drive where the odds of a fatal mistake (penalty, fumble) along the way is much higher.
But while the offense finally utilized its passing weapons downfield, the struggles in the running game still remain a mystery. The Missouri defense isn't that good, certainly not to limit this offense to 133 yards and a longest run of just 13 yards. The running backs don't have the time and space to make things happen which is extremely disappointing given the accomplished experience up-front. At the end of the day when an autopsy is performed on this season, the leading cause of death will be the sub-par performance of the running game, particularly the offensive line.
On defense, I'm almost at a loss for words. I could've sworn I was watching the game from four years ago in Columbia when that A&M defense couldn't tackle either. Is it the turf, or the slippery black uniforms (yes, that's a joke)? Whatever it is, you'd have thought this defensive unit had never practiced the art of tackling. There were several plays where it took 6-7 Aggies after three missed tackles to finally corral the ball carrier. Most noticeably was the 82-yard catch and mainly run by Jeremy Maclin right before the half that was a dagger to the heart. It should've been a 15-yard gain, a 25-yard gain, or a 40-yard gain depending on which missed tackle you wish to use. Even worse, some of the missed tackles weren't even missed tackles by definition, they were simply misses altogether where defenders took poor angles to the ball and simply missed a receiver going straight line down the sideline.
The missed tackling ruined what I thought was a well-schemed game by Gary Darnell and company utilizing a 3-3-5 package for most of the game. In many cases, players were in position to make plays, and occasionally they did. However, the poor execution in tackling really took its toll. Still, I thought the front line did an excellent job of putting pressure on Chase Daniel at times.
McGee had his moments with three passes over 40 yards, and he was accurately and timely hitting the tightend over the middle seven times. He finished with a respectable 247 yards through the air, but it was his Hail Mary interception at the end of the first half that led to the devastating 82-yard Missouri TD pass.
The running backs again didn't do much on the ground, with Goodson and Lane combining for just 98 yards. Goodson finished with 115 combined yards thanks to the 43-yard tipped pass, but overall the running game was marginally effective against an average Missouri defense.
Take away the one big 60-yard pass play to Kerry Franks, and the receivers were basically non-existent in the passing game. But the 60-yarder was a big play and briefly shifted the momentum of the game at the time. Again, you have to ask yourself if the lack of production from this unit is based on the lack of ability in the personnel or the system. I'm still leaning heavily toward the system, as there are good athletes at this position.
It was one of the most productive games offensively by the Legion of Doom. Joey Thomas made several critical catches to move the sticks, while Bennett showed us what he can do with the ball in his hands. Watching a 6-foot-7, 250-pound athlete maneuver a full speed spin move to rid himself of one tackler and race for the end zone was a thing of beauty. It also begs the question why this offense has not utilized its greatest weapon over the past three years. It's simply a travesty.
I've addressed the OL performance in the game summary above, and you've seen me discuss it in previous grade reports. At this point, I'm at a loss for words for what has happened in this area.
OVERALL OFFENSIVE GRADE: C
I know a lot of people have gotten on the defensive line for the defense's problems this year, but I'm not one of them. For the most part, I think the line has played solidly. They've certainly improved the pass rush in recent weeks. Chris Harrington did a good job early of flushing out Daniel a couple of times, and I personally think he'll stick with an NFL roster next year. Von Miller had a big sack, and Cyril Obiozor had a big tackle for loss. Michael Bennett, playing several positions on Saturday had a solid game. In fact, the defensive line combined for five tackles behind the line of scrimmage. That's the most I can remember since writing these grade reports over the past 5-6 years.
With Mark Dodge at his grandmother's funeral and the Aggies going to a three linebacker set a majority of the game, guys like Matt Featherston and Anthony Lewis saw a lot of action on Saturday. Overall, I thought they had a few good moments but the missed tackles hurt. Ironically, Michael Bennett may have been the best linebacker on the field. That speaks volumes.
It's hard to say this, but the one player who actually came ready to play in the secondary was also the same player who was eventually kicked out of the game. It's hard to praise Alton Dixon because ultimately he hurt his teammates with his personal foul ejection and it will prove costly as he must sit out the first half of the Texas game, but he was the only DB playing with any emotion and any life. He was making plays. The others didn't. The others couldn't tackle and took bad angles to the receivers. If there's a unit that has disappointed on defense, it's been the defensive backs.
OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE: D+
With the exception of field goals, special teams has been solid for most of the season and Saturday was no exception. Unfortunately, field goals for this team are very important, and Matt Szymanski has had several critical misses this season, including a 36-yarder on Saturday early in the fourth quarter that could have pulled the Aggies within two points of the Tigers with all the momentum. Instead, an impressive drive is wasted and the momentum switches back to the Tigers who go down the field and score.
OVERALL SPECIAL TEAMS GRADE: D+
Hop's Report Card
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