Needless to say, the offensive momentum of the past month hit an abrupt wall on Saturday. Then again, this was the best defense A&M has faced all year and it's not even close. The reported demise of the Sooner defense was a bit premature to say the least. OU was supposed to struggle in run defense, but the running game managed just 70 yards (that's not counting sack yardage subtracted). The pass defense was supposed to be susceptible over the top, yet the OU secondary held Jerrod Johnson to just 11 completions for 162 yards. The Aggies finished with 278 yards, far below the 400-500 yard efforts in recent weeks. Certainly, the offense revolves around the offensive line, and despite some key injuries, the Sooner front seven had their way with an A&M line that is lacking both in talent, depth, and health. That's a bad combination. So how bad was it? Well, of the Aggies' eight first half drives, seven lasted under two minutes and 17 seconds and five of those were under two minutes. Included in those drives were three three-and-outs and until the 5:11 mark of the second quarter when A&M scored on its longest drive (75 yards) of the game, they had managed only 35 yards of offense on six drives.
It's pretty simple. When you can't block, you can't run. When you can't block, you can't pass. Against lesser opponents, Coach Sherman and Coach Turner held together the offensive line enough to execute the offense. On Saturday, there wasn't enough chicken wire and duct tape to keep the Sooner pass rush out of the backfield, and the Aggie offense suffered.
Jerrod Johnson has faced the best two defensive fronts of the season, and his numbers have suffered. His completion percentage that was between 60-70% all season has plummeted the past two weeks to 42% including a miniscule 35% against OU. Johnson showed his youth for the first time on Saturday, as he panicked and buckled against the Sooner pressure. He does well when he can step-up in the pocket and has time to find his man, but the fast OU defense did expose some weaknesses and limitations in Johnson's game. He's not nearly as fast or elusive as some pundits think. In fact, he's pretty sluggish and rarely escapes pursuit and containment. Also, his arms are so long that he has a very slow release, and add that to his lack of quickness with his feet, he's a sitting duck for an athletic defensive front like OU.
I think the rush got in his head a little, and that was reflected in a few times where he threw the ball away and/or grounded the ball prematurely. And he got too comfortable throwing the ball away. That's effective occasionally on plays that break down, but a quarterback and an offense can't give up on so many plays.
In all fairness, I'm not sure if any QB could have succeeded under the OU pressure Saturday. Johnson has had an incredible first season and he deserves a lot of credit for what he's done with an inferior offensive line. However, I think Saturday also shows that Johnson doesn't have this job nailed down for the next two years. He'll need to show improvement in his mechanics and the speed of his release. He'll also need to compete with Ryan Tannehill at QB, who fought neck-and-neck with Johnson for the backup spot in August.
Running Back D+
It's hard to grade the running backs when they have no holes. I do think Michael Goodson was a bit rusty after missing the past several games. However, I do think he did miss a couple of seams that could have sprung him for some nice gains. For me, the biggest news was Cyrus Gray who looks better and better with each passing week. While he did most of his damage on kickoff returns, I like his quickness and his cutting in traffic on running plays and I'm feeling much better about his future as the signature back at A&M for the next 2-3 years. Still, in the scheme of this game, the backs were not a factor at all.
Wide Receiver B-
This unit still gives me the most hope for the future of this offense and this team. With game time scratches to Jeff Fuller and Terrence McCoy, the receiving corps had to rely on veterans Howard Morrow and Pierre Brown. Morrow has slowly worked himself into the end of the rotation and he's starting to fulfill the promise he showed when he arrived as a heralded four-star receiver. He led the teams with six catches for 78 yards while Pierre Brown had five catches for 49 yards and two acrobatic catches. Thee guys have their limitations and nobody is going to confuse them for Fuller, but they did produce when called upon, and in Morrow's case there's even more hope that next year's receiving group will be both deep and productive. Ryan Tannehill once again showed on his 55-yard catch and run that he's as good of an athlete as any on this roster.
Tight End C+
Jamie McCoy caught a nice 20 yard TD that tied him for the all-time lead in touchdowns (5) in a season by a tight end. He has become a valuable weapon for Johnson and his hands have become very reliable. He still has some troubles with blocking the bigger, more talented defensive ends and linebackers that OU put out there, but the staff knew it would be a trade off with McCoy on the field.
Offensive Line D-
I'm not going to spend much time talking about the obvious. This was a severe weakness from day one, and it continues to be the offense's Achilles Heel today. There's nothing that can be done this season. Hopefully, the redshirts blossom in spring practices and some of the heralded OL recruits will be ready to contribute in 2009.
Offensive Coaching C-
I've been very optimistic and complimentary of the offensive play calling in 2008. I do have one small question about Saturday. We know that Johnson has a slow release and very average speed coming out of the pocket. So why do all play action passes involve Johnson rolling out to his left and having to throw against his body. For a QB with little time, this is easily the hardest throw in football and A&M called this play 5-6 times on Saturday. Other than that, there's not much you can do in terms of plays and schemes if your opponent is stronger and faster, and completely dominates an outmanned line and controls the point of attack.
OVERALL OFFENSIVE GRADE D+
Hop's Offensive Grades
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