Seeking some insight to Oklahoma's upcoming Cotton Bowl opponent, we break down the game film from the Aggies match-up against Alabama.
Okay, so here we go. We/I have been told how "This is the game you have to watch" or "You're an idiot, watch the Bama game." Of course, the idiot thing can apply really any time so it's difficult to take too much away from that comment. Evidently, there was one and only one game on Texas A&M's schedule where anyone seeking insight into the Aggies as a football team can watch to learn who/what they are as a football team. Somewhat coincidental and/or convenient that the one game they all point to is their lone quality win on the season.
Granted, it was a HUGE win but to insinuate that nothing (or very little) could be learned about this team outside of this Bama game seems ridiculous.
However, the time has finally come. Seeing as all that we've been told, I'm going to try and go a little more in-depth on this one. So bear with me as I hopefully do so without boring you all to death.
Before we get started, one last time for the reading impaired among us. As we've admitted in every single one of these film studies that we've done. Yes, we (OU fans) know that Oklahoma's front seven is not on the same level of Alabama's. We understand there will be differences between the two, at times quite significant, and that we cannot just look at what Alabama had success with and presume OU will do the same.
So, we good now? Yes? Okay, then here we go.
* I know we just kind of went over this, so I'll make this quick. We've talked about it in every one of these, but the difficulty here will be that Oklahoma runs a very different offense than Alabama and of course the caveat above.
* Just glancing at the box score, you can't help but notice that this A&M defense gave up over 300 yards passing to an Alabama offense certainly not known for their throwing prowess. I know we're just seconds into this one, but I do not expect to see anything to change my opinion that Landry Jones can throw on this Aggie defense. So long as the OU offensive line keeps him upright, something they've excelled at all year long, OU should be able to move the ball through the air.
* As good as Damontre Moore and as much attention as he gets (and deservedly so), another name for OU fans to know is Sean Porter. He's not the same disruptive pass rusher that Moore is, but he makes a bunch of plays for this defense.
* Alabama opens up on defense in a 4-2-5 formation (or at least something that looks very much like that), which is what we've maintained Oklahoma is very likely to do as well. The hope is one of the '2' in that formation is Frank Shannon considering the threat Johnny Manziel clearly presents as a run threat.
* It takes just two plays (a designed QB draw and a short pass) for A&M to get a first down, after which Bama appears to switch to a dime formation with just one linebacker. A&M recognizes this and immediately attempts to exploit it with another QB draw. However, Bama's front four prevents it from being anything more than a minimal gain. Doubtful Oklahoma can duplicate that kind of play.
* Bama struggling with the hurry up pace of A&M here on this opening drive.
* A&M goes right down the field and puts up six. That was impressive. Granted, most of it was just Manziel on sneaks, both designed and improvised. But still, to come right out like that, on the road, and put it in the end zone, impressive.
* Alabama is going with a three wide set, to spread A&M out defensively, and then just running power left/power right.
* Porter is really just in the right place at the right time on his first quarter interception. Credit the A&M safety for being there it make the big hit to separate the receiver from ball, but Porter is just johnny-on-the-spot (no pun intended). And it's a big play because the Aggies go down and put another touchdown on the board to take a 14-0 lead. If that's a harmless dropped ball, A&M is probably starting somewhere much closer to their own 20-yard line as opposed to Bama's forty.
* Really good play here at the 9:39 mark in the first quarter. A&M runs one of those fake QB sweep/option plays, sucks up the linebackers/safeties, then Manziel drops back to pass. He has a man wide open running up the seam, but Manziel's throw is a little bit out in front and the receiver has to make a really nice diving catch. If Manziel is on target there, the receiver walks into the end zone. Nitpicking on my part, admittedly.
* Wow. This Manziel touchdown pass is the perfect example of why he's so dangerous. You just cannot take a single thing for granted until he is lying on the ground. All of Manziel's receivers are covered initially, so he looks to do what he does and take off with it. Instead, the pocket collapses on top of him for what looks like a sure sack.
He spins out of it to his left and suddenly has nothing but open field in front of him. The freaking ball even pops out of his hands, but he manages to recover and not even skip a beat. However, he doesn't run with it because the Bama defense has completely lost Ryan Swope in the back of the end zone. At the end of the day it looks like an easy touchdown pass, but all credit goes to Manziel for keeping the play alive to even have the opportunity to make that throw.
* It's legit scary just how easy it is to get even a step or two over committed against Manziel and just how easily he makes you pay for it.
* Still four minutes to go in the first quarter and Alabama looks helpless on defense.
* It's only one quarter, but outside of that one up-the-seam throw we mentioned earlier and one very poorly thrown overthrow every single throw from Manziel has been within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
* Another play where Manziel should have been sacked by two different Alabama defenders, but he finds a way to escape both to find Swope yet again.
* I wouldn't necessarily expect anything differently, but it certainly appears as if A&M is simply giving Manziel one, maybe two, reads and then make something happen with your legs. It's a pretty common occurrence amongst freshman quarterbacks, especially those as athletic as Manziel.
* To be fair, you could say this about a lot of defenses but the encouraging thing in this game is when Bama gives A.J. McCarron time in the pocket he's not having a lot of trouble finding open receivers.
* Almost nothing I've seen from the A&M corners in these three games that we've reviewed has impressed me. They almost always play soft coverage, which means there should be plenty of underneath routes for Landry and company.
* Eddie Lacy is a man. That is all.
* A&M with the first offensive possession in the second half and they open up in a four wide set as Bama counters with their dime package. We've seen Oklahoma employ a similar defensive scheme at times this year, but it has not been successful because they lack the front four to (1) generate pressure on the quarterback and/or (2) hold up on their own in the run game.
Texas A&M has used three, four, and five wide receiver sets all season long to spread defenses out and to create run lanes for Manziel. They are sure to do the same against Oklahoma, how the Sooners defend that could very likely be the difference in the game. It's a double edged sword - Do you leave an extra linebacker on the field and risk a mismatch with a wide receiver? Or do you go with a package that hasn't worked much this season and left yourself vulnerable to mobile quarterbacks gashing you on the ground?
* A noticeable difference from this Alabama defense on A&M's opening drive. You can tell Saban reamed them at halftime about not being disciplined enough in that first half. Two of the first three plays are of the variety where Manziel burned them in the first half for being too aggressive. Not this time and the Aggies go three and out.
* The Alabama offensive line is holding like crazy, like wrap their arms and turn you around kind of crazy, and I'm fairly certain they haven't been flagged once.
* Mike Evans just physically manhandles an Alabama corner, shoving him a couple yards backwards giving him plenty of room on a slant route. However, he's so much bigger and stronger than his defender that he actually gets called for offensive pass interference.
* Alabama gets a big sack on Manziel at A&M's one yard line, but it wasn't the result of anything special. They were in a three man front and brought just one extra guy on the blitz. He made it through the line untouched, but Ben Molena was there in the backfield to pick him up. However, Malena misses his block badly and hangs his quarterback out to dry.
* Seeing a lot of this A&M defense in that 50-front formation Bob Stoops was talking about them liking so much in his presser last week. Not sure how much they'll have a chance to do so against Oklahoma with as many three and four receiver sets the Sooners will run out there.
* Credit the Aggie defense for a huge stop on 3rd and 2 with about five and a half minutes to go in the third quarter. Alabama had been running it down their throats on that drive, but they bowed up and stuffed them on that run. Forcing Bama to settle for a field goal instead of potentially taking a 21-20 lead and who knows if A&M can recover from that momentum swing.
* One thing is for sure, A&M is not afraid to pull out the trick play. And after a month plus to prepare for this game, you can rest assured they'll have more than their share ready for this one. As a defense, you can't really prepare for that. You just have to remain disciplined in your approach, but I'd be lying if I told you I'm not worried something like that could be the difference in the game.
* I'd bet you this corner covering Evans is still having nightmares about this game.
* Alabama has been constantly shuffling defenders on and off very late trying to account for whatever formation A&M is using on a respective play.
* The clock is just about to expire on the third quarter and Manziel is 21-23 through the air. And I don't say this to discredit that statistic, but when you look at that and the 159 yards he has on those 21 completions it kind of makes my point from earlier. He hasn't really been asked to make any throws down field in this game. Admittedly, he hasn't really needed to because he's made so many plays with his legs but A&M fans getting uber defensive at my assertion that he's an average pocket passer seems somewhat disingenuous.
Manziel is essentially running the Texas offense under Vince Young and Colt McCoy that OU fans are so familiar with. Dink-and-dunk, one maybe two reads, then take off and make something happen. Nothing wrong with that, it's obviously proved to be very effective, just don't go making it out like he's revolutionized the quarterback position is all I'm saying.
* The fact ESPN was ever pushing McCarron as a Heisman candidate is an absolute joke. He's an average quarterback who benefits immensely from Bama's running attack. He's every bit the game manager so many want to deny him very obviously being.
* Okay, only fair that I single this out as Manziel just made a perfect strike to Swope probably about 25-30 yards down field. On a rope in between two defenders. A lot of credit has to go to Swope for even hanging onto the ball as he took a big shot, saw it coming in fact, yet held on. That said, perfect throw from Manziel for a big gain. Clutch throw.
* Christine Michael must be mathematically challenged as he just ran the ball for six yards on 2nd & 10, then got up and emphatically signaled as though he had just run for a first down.
* Opportunistic defense comes up with another big turnover to kill what had all the look of an Alabama scoring drive. Key word being opportunistic in that I don't believe they do any one thing all that well, outside of Moore getting to the quarterback, but they continue to make plays when they need to.
* Proving the one from earlier wasn't a fluke, Manziel finds Swope again down the sideline for another big gain immediately flipping the field and putting A&M in position to score. Really impressive job by Swope to beat not one, but two defenders and get behind the defense.
* Sounding like a broken record now, but once again Manziel with another nice pass down field this time for the touchdown. He puts just the right amount of air under the ball to allow his receiver to run under it just as he crosses the goal line.
Not even going to front, he looked every part of the Heisman trophy winner on that drive.
* On cue, the A&M secondary gets torched for a long touchdown as they fall asleep and let Amari Cooper behind them for a 54-yard score.
* Oklahoma hasn't even played him yet and I'm already infuriated by how many negative plays Manziel finds a way to escape from. There is certainly a level of respect there, albeit a hateful respect, but respect nonetheless.
* No clue what the A&M defense could have possibly been thinking allowing an Alabama receiver behind them yet again, this time up only five. Simply horrible defense. Actually, if Cooper comes over and even makes a halfhearted attempt at a block his teammate walks into the end zone and Bama has the lead. Really poor effort there on his part in my opinion.
* As bad as their defense was in allowing Bama to even be in this position, credit A&M for one hell of a goal line (ish) stand to keep the Tide out of the end zone.
Well that was, as expected, certainly the best game of the three we reviewed. I wouldn't go so far as to say it drastically changed my opinion on Manziel as a passer as I felt so many A&M fans seemed to imply. What was it, a handful (four, if memory serves) of impressive throws for him in this game?
Again, a couple of those were in really big spots only adding to the credit he deserves but that's not enough to redefine him as a passer in my opinion. I suspect that won't be nearly good enough for A&M fans, but if this is the only part you remember reading spare all of us the wasted brain cells of having to digest your comment about how stupid I am. Scroll up and read any number of my comments, however many times it takes for them to sink in, heaping praise on your boy.
All that said, not sure how much has really changed since even before we began this exercise. OU still needs to try and keep Manziel in the pocket, which is going to be incredibly difficult to do. They need to limit the number of plays he his able to extend and/or make with his legs, also going to be very difficult. And I still believe OU can have a great deal of success against this Texas A&M defense.
I'd like to think this wasn't a complete waste of time or exercise in futility, but I suppose ultimately that is up to all of you. I know I enjoyed it and if nothing else I'll be much more familiar with the team lining up against our Sooners on January 4th.
Until then we'll continue to bring you any and all coverage we can and are very much looking forward to game week. Hopefully this can hope to tide you over in at least some small way.