Wow, this is a very hard game to analyze. On the one hand, the Aggie offense executed almost to perfection its first three drives of 69, 57, and 77 yards that resulted in two touchdowns and a missed short field goal.
The Aggies established a very potent ground attack out of the I-formation, running effectively for 116 yards in these first three drives. While A&M focused more on the run, there was success through the air as Stephen McGee completed four passes for 46 yards including a crucial 13-yard completion to freshman Jeff Fuller on a third down and 10. The Aggie offense got the ball a final time in the first half with two minutes remaining and promptly moved the ball 28 yards to the ASU 33 yard-line.
Facing fourth and 1, A&M tried a sweep to Michael Goodson that was bottled up for a one –yard loss. It was the first time that the offense showed a crack in the armor, and in retrospect was the turning point in the game. Ironically, the Aggies would not find the end zone again.
So despite only scoring 14 points, the offense had a relatively good first half moving the ball. They did not have to punt. The unit did not commit one penalty all night. They ran the ball for 124 yards and passed for 65 yards. Those aren't eye-popping statistics, but considering they had the ball for three full drives and a two minute drill, 190 yards is a respectable first half.
However, what started out as a workman-like effort in the first half turned disastrous in the second half due to a combination of costly turnovers and poor execution in all phases of the passing game. The tone was set on the first play from scrimmage of the second half when McGee was flushed out of the pocket and after scrambling backward and not dumping the ball, he was sacked for a devastating 17-yard sack. From that point on, the offense just never seemed to get on-track.
Most of those struggles were a result of turnovers. While the Aggies had the ball for only four possessions in the first half, the offense initiated seven drives in the second half. Four of those drives ended due to a turnover. Two ended in a punt, the only two punts of the night, and then there was the second missed field goal. Due to the turnovers, no drive in the second half was longer than six plays.
While turnovers certainly kept the Aggies from establishing any momentum, the offense also appeared to bog down and seemed to press as ASU's defense tightened up and dared the Aggies to stretch the field. It was a dare that A&M could not take advantage of which was a concern for observers heading into the 2008 season.
The numbers prove that point. It's shocking to note that of the 11 completions for 134 yards generated by the receiver position, 107 yards of that came from the team's second and third string quarterbacks and last year's third string QB. In terms of receivers who were actually recruited and given a scholarship to catch the ball, the numbers are paltry with four completions for 27 yards.
True freshman Jeff Fuller had three grabs for 22 yards, and then Howard Morrow caught that one pass for five yards that resulted in a fumble. That's it. Thus, of all the veteran receivers on the roster, the combined production was one catch, five yards, and a critical fumble.
The coaching staff knew they had a problem at receiver, which is why you saw two backup QB's playing at the spot and generating most of the production. It's simply amazing that a major college football program is THAT void of developed talent at a featured position in the sport.
Overall, the offensive results were a mixed bag. We saw what this offense can do when it's clicking, and what it can do if the defense is playing honest and not crowding the line of scrimmage. However, it's the offense's job to back-off the opposing defense and occasionally stretch the field to keep the defense off the line. And that was the disappointing factor for most A&M fans. With the ASU sneaking in on every play in the second half, everybody in the stadium was waiting for the big long play that would catch the Red Wolves out of position. It never happened. With the lack of a big play, those dump offs to the backs were minimal and not in space and this offense needs space.
This has been an ongoing problem with A&M's offenses going back years. If the defense doesn't respect your ability to beat them down field, they will compress toward the line of scrimmage and make it more difficult to do anything at the point of attack. That fact, along with four turnovers and an offense that seemed to panic late in the game resulted in zero points and 113 yards in the second half against a Sun Belt Conference team at home.
Needless to say, that's not good.
If the Aggies can't find a way to stretch the field and keep defenses honest, it will be a long 2008 season.
The 17-yard loss to open the second half set the tone. You simply can't take that loss. That was a freshman mistake made by a senior. McGee had some nice moments in the first half, but the lack of big plays and the interceptions in the second half were a killer and overshadowed his 19-27-170 yard effort.
Running Backs C
The running backs had a solid game, although there were no big plays. Still, Goodson established his presence in the first half and eventually rolled up 124 yards. Cyrus Gray and Bradley Stephens had nice carries in limited action. You have to wonder what would have happened though had Goodson not hesitated and headed up-field quicker on that fourth-and-1 that in effect became the turning point in this game. The fumble was also a critical mistake.
Wide Receivers D-
Well, if I grade strictly the wide receivers on the roster that were actually recruited as receivers, then that group gets a big goose egg. Add in the accomplishments of the quarterbacks, then the grade squeaks in with barely a passing grade. I may have graded too much on a curve though, as the lack of explosiveness really hindered this offense in the second half.
Tight Ends D+
Jamie McCoy had one nice catch for 12 yards, but his blocking was average at best. McCoy had been more of a factor in fall practices, but as we found out Saturday night, there's a big difference in practice and game time.
Offensive Line C-
The offensive line had a good start opening up plenty of holes for Goodson and providing enough time for McGee to complete some nice passes in the second quarter. However, as the ASU defense crowded the line of scrimmage in the second half, the OL struggled. With A&M on the two-yard line and seemingly ready to punch it in, the line gave up a critical sack up the middle that was followed-up by a missed field goal. In all, they gave up four sacks and McGee was harassed most of the second half.
Offensive Coaching C-
I thought the offense opened up the game with a great game plan and it was executed as designed. The complaint will be that they didn't stretch the field, but that is due to the limitations at wide receiver. There's just nobody on the roster that can stretch the field and be a reliable pass catcher. You can draw up a play to go deep, but if the receivers can't gain separation and the quarterback can't find those receivers when they do get open, it doesn't matter what you call in the huddle.
As far as execution, you have to give the staff credit because the offense did not get flagged once all game, which is quite remarkable for an August game. Also, there weren't any issues with getting the plays called and no problems with delays or timeouts wasted because the clock was running down. The turnovers were a big problem though, and they will need to focus on protecting the ball this week.
OVERALL OFFENSIVE GRADE D+
Hop's ASU offensive report card
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