I'm just now about to watch the replay. From watching it live, I thought the storyline was the mismatch between the A&M receivers and the MSU secondary that resulted in nearly 450 yards passing, 5 TD's, and four receivers with more than 75 yards receiving. But sticking on the offensive side of the ball, I was shocked that MSU's defensive front manhandled the A&M OL. A&M running backs had just three rushes go for more than 4 yards all game...and it was a game the Aggies never trailed from start to finish. So it's not like A&M fell behind early and had to abandon the run. No, the staff abandoned the run because they couldn't run the ball. Manziel was sacked three times for 35 yards and he was constantly being harassed by a Bulldog defensive front in many non-blitz situations.
On the flip side, the A&M defensive front rarely pressured the MSU QB and the unit gave up a whopping 299 yards on the ground and 556 yards overall. There were a few coverage breakdowns, but for the most part the QB was comfortable in the pocket and had all day to find a receiver come open.
I realize that A&M is playing catch-up along the line of scrimmage, but the fact that a lower division SEC team physically won both sides of the line with relative ease should be a splash of cold reality for A&M fans. We know the proverbial cavalry is coming in the form of some highly-touted freshmen and an incoming class rated No. 1 with some potential difference makers along that DL, but Aggie fans may need to swallow some pride and acknowledge that Johnny Manziel has propped up a program in transition that was supposed to get beat-up in these first couple of seasons in the SEC.
But I'm not going to put A&M's defensive struggles all on just being pushed around in the trenches. In fact, when A&M actually played a traditional four-man defensive front (four DL's), they had some success slowing down the run in the first three quarters behind the excellent play of veteran Ivan Robinson. He's been a big surprise these past 2-3 games. However, I think Mark Snyder got way too cute with his packages. On many of MSU's big running plays, the QB read that A&M was in a nickel 3-3-5 package (with Robinson out) and exploited it numerous times. As poor as A&M's rush defense is in the nickel package, I'm not sure I ever go to that scheme with anything less than 3rd and 10. Snyder went to it on 2nd and long and 3rd and medium (4-5 yards). In one sequence, he was in a nickel rush package on 3rd and 2 and quickly called a timeout. He also stayed in the soft nickel packages in the fourth quarter and basically "gave" MSU many of those yards and a couple of scores.
That's one of the issues surrounding A&M's fourth quarter defensive collapses. I think the other thing that has been mentioned previously is the lack of rotation in the DL. A&M scores at such a fast rate that it:
a) allows the opposing team to run a lot of plays
b) the unit has little time to recharge after they get off the field
Even though A&M is moving the ball and scoring, from a time/rest standpoint, its as if the offense is going three and out on every series. MSU ran a whopping 85 plays and the Aggies rotated about six guys for four spots, and somebody like Gavin Stansbury rarely comes out at all. If you look at the pros, the good teams constantly rotate fresh bodies throughout the game. Like I said, it's not the only reason why A&M gives up more yards and points in the fourth quarter, but you can't overlook this factor as a possible contributor to the problem.
But in the end, A&M won again and while there were a few tense moments along the way, the Aggies remained in the lead after an early 7-7 tie in the first half. If you take away Manziel's two INT's in the red zone, it would have been one of his best performances of his career. He was sensational...except for those three INT's. Malcolme Kennedy is becoming the Ryan Swope of 2013...dependable, productive, and Johnny's go-to guy. Yeah, Mike Evans gets the big shots and the highlight moments worthy of all-American honors, but Kennedy quietly gets open and makes big catches in situations where he must do the dirty work in the middle of the field. He finished with 8 catches for 96 yards and two TD's. He will be a critical piece of the offense next fall as this unit starts to transition into another era.
Other than a few Floyd Raven penalties, the special teams continues to make a big difference both in returns and coverages. And now, in blocking punts and kicks. They made three game-changing plays (Williams kick return, blocked punt, blocked FG) when usually a special teams coach would be happy with one.
So there were plenty of positives and the biggest one is that A&M won the game against a solid SEC opponent. But, losing the line of scrimmage tonight is a big concern moving forward as A&M still must face what may be the two best offenses they will face this season. There's a big difference between finishing 10-2 and 8-4. Can both lines hold the rope and rise to the occasion for two very tough road games? We'll see.