Texas A&M Offense: Identifying the Issue
- Updated: December 14, 2015
The 2014 Texas A&M Defense was only slightly better than the 2013 unit, which was downright atrocious. Kevin Sumlin and company responded by firing 3 year Defensive Coordinator Mark Snyder. The Defensive Coordinator search that followed saw a surplus of high-roller candidates’ names pop up. Report after report came out linking the likes of Will Muschamp, DJ Durkin, Bud Foster, and Pat Narduzzi among others to the job search. Eventually names started to dwindle down. Auburn hired Muschamp, Pittsburg hired Narduzzi, Michigan hired Durkin. The search for a coach to revamp the Aggie defense started looking more and more like a dead end.
Then came John Chavis.
Granted, the possibility of Chavis leaving LSU seemed unlikely to not only LSU fans, but also A&M fans. But Chavis was reportedly not happy with LSU, and A&M swooped in at the perfect time with $1.7 million a year and plucked the longtime Tennessee and LSU coach away from the Purple and Gold. It was as big of a Home Run hire as one could be.
Pairing one of the best defensive minds in SEC History with the Air Raid Mastermind in Kevin Sumlin looked to be a nightmare matchup for all teams across the SEC. No way this team can be stopped, right?
The roles completely switched. The defense became the dominate unit (in everything but run stopping), while the offense absolutely fell apart after starting 5-0 for the second consecutive season.
There are many areas to place the blame. The Offensive Line play, Kyle Allen’s injury, the lack of depth at RB…but most of the blame needs to be placed on the offensive coordinator: Jake Spavital.
Don’t get me wrong, Jake is a great guy and a fantastic recruiter. But, he is a terrible Offensive Coordinator. Under Spav, the offense was miserable to watch at times.
That's five out of 12 games this year that A&M offense played 60 minutes and crossed the goal line just once.
— Billy Liucci (@billyliucci) November 29, 2015
A&M turns it over on downs, which is like the 25th nail in this coffin.
— TexAgs (@TexAgs) November 29, 2015
So what’s the problem?
Really, it all starts in 2012 when Spav was QB coach at West Virginia. Geno Smith was at the helm and all was well. West Virginia started the year 5-0. Geno was an early lock to win the Heisman Trophy.
Then came the 2nd half collapse.
West Virginia proceeded to lose its next 5 games in a row. The center of the stuggles? The regression of Geno. Geno averaged 400 yards passing in the 1st 5 games of the season with an average of 5 TD passes a game. In the remaining 8 games, he averaged 276 yards passing with 2.3 TD passes a game. That’s 125 passing yards and almost 3 TD passes less in the 8 games that followed the 1st 5 games.
Who does the blame fall upon? The QB coach or the OC?
Fast forward to 2013. 1st Year Co-Offensive Coordinator Jake Spavital gets to work with one of the best players in College Football: The one and only Johnny Manziel.
However, instead of using Manziel’s improvisation skills and duel threat abilities to his advantage, Spav tries to do away with it completely by attempting to force him to stay in the pocket. This strategy results in Manziel passing for 400 more yards and 11 more TDs. However, it also wipes out almost 700 yards of Rushing Totals and 12 Rushing TDs, so in actuality he lost 300 total yards and a TD.
Not too terrible…at least not yet.
Now enter Kenny Hill. In his 1st Collegiate Start, he breaks Manziel’s school record for passing yards in a game with 511, and proceeds to continue to light up the defenses he faces. Once again, a Spav unit starts off strong with another 5-0 start to the season with an early Heisman candidate at the helm.
Here comes the next 2nd half collapse, arguably more brutal than the first.
Kenny struggles started in the Arkansas game and they continued for his rest of the time as starter. He had an absolute meltdown against Alabama, and that officially puts an end to The Kenny Hill Era at Texas A&M as he transfers out to TCU at season’s end.
Enter Kyle Allen. Kyle starts the rest of the season, and does exceptionally well for a True Freshman, even knocking off #3 Auburn in his first SEC start.
That all but locked him into the starting spot for 2015.
Then a young kid comes in from Allen (Irony) High School. Some kid named Kyle(r) Murray. Allen and Murray have a “QB competition” but Allen wins as expected and puts on a show. In the Inaugural Year of Chavis, A&M dominates and wins the 1st 5 games for the 2nd straight season. This season has to be different though, right?
Nope. Here we go again.
Another 2nd half collapse.
Long story short, Allen played hurt when he shouldn’t have, leading us to two consecutive embarrassing losses. It led to him losing his job (one he would later regain once healthy) to Murray and, as announced only days ago, Allen has also decided to transfer out of Texas A&M.
Murray had unrealistic expectations for a True Freshman QB due to his success in High School. Murray did what was asked of him, and performed how one should expect a True Freshman to perform.
But it wasn’t enough. The offense faltered early and often after the 5-0 start. It became an embarrassment. An offense with as much fire power as Texas A&M’s should never fail.
So the blame falls on Jake Spavital. It would be different if there was the possibility that this result was a fluke. But, as I touched on earlier, 3 of the last 4 Spav-coached teams started 5-0 to start the season only to have a major collapse in the 2nd half. The only year this trend didn’t take place? 2013, with Johnny Manziel at QB. The only season where the QB didn’t lose his starting job? 2012 at West Virginia with Geno Smith.
Doesn’t look like a fluke.
So what does Spav do, or in this case, refuse to do, that leads to these kind of results?
Well for starters, Spav doesn’t incorporate the middle of the field when passing. He plays it safe and very seldom has any of his receivers running routes over the middle. Texas A&M has one of the best, if not the best, Wide Receivers group in the country. When you have 4 guys who can all handle a pass over the middle, and you tend to have good success passing over the middle, the refusal to do so is extremely frustrating.
Second, Spav doesn’t play to his QB’s strengths. It’s when he tries to fix what isn’t broken that the problems start to come up.
For example: Kyle Allen is a pocket passer. Johnny Manziel and Kyler Murray are both duel-threats. What Spav likes to do is try to make Allen a mobile QB and have him make a lot of throws on the run. Allen by no means is a statue, but Allen has shown that he can’t consistently throw the ball well on the run. This is where the offensive line comes into play. Now, even when he is in the pocket, a once elite line can’t hold back the rush, and Allen is forced out.
For Manziel and Murray, however, Spav would make a huge emphasis on learning to throw in the pocket and not having to rely on scrambling, the same scrambling that makes them so hard to defend. A scrambling QB adds another aspect to the offense that a pocket passer just simply doesn’t bring to the table. Basically Spav would take a Pocket Passing QB and try to make him into a Duel-Threat QB and take a Duel-Threat QB and try to make him into a Pocket Passing QB. If Spav just allowed his QBs to play to their full potential instead of trying to transform them into an entirely different QB, the offense realistically could’ve been 20 spot higher in Total Offense in 2015.
Third, and this kind of hits more on the 1st reason, Spav’s play calling was and is downright shameful. Like I said before, Spav would not incorporate the middle of the field, but that is just the starting point when we look at all the holes in the play calling.
One problem that we would see very often was extremely predictable play calling. There would be times when his play calling would form a pattern and become so easily detectable that even an average football fan could know when to expect a run or pass. When that is the case, you better believe the oppositions’ defensive units and defensive coaches are picking up on the exact same thing.
Spav also had a habit of calling certain plays that would leave you anywhere from scratching your head in confusion to ripping your hair out in rage (It’s not like I speak from experience or anything). A couple that come to mind: running up the middle on 3rd and 20, throwing a deep ball on 4th and Inches, passing to the flats (really at anytime) and an excessive amounts of read options which only really work when you use the correct QB. Spav’s success on these plays typically were somewhere between 5-10%. That kind of production from a so-called “high-powered offense” is unacceptable.
So where does Texas A&M turn from here?
2016 is a make or break year for A&M and, specifically, Kevin Sumlin. Sumlin’s seat can be described as lukewarm at the moment, but he needs to win at least 10 games in 2016 to keep A&M from looking for another Head Coach. The first step in preventing that from happening needs to be cutting ties with Spavital. The Aggies are too talented offensively from being held back any longer, and as long as Spav is around, the offense will never reach its full potential. Especially now that Texas A&M will have to rely completely on Murray next year, we can’t afford to have Spavital ruin anymore QBs.
To be a true contender for a College Football Playoff spot, both units need to be playing to their full potential for the entire season. That obviously won’t happen while Spav is employed at Texas A&M. That means Sumlin needs to go out and find his offensive version of Chavis to avoid anymore disappointing seasons. His job could depend on it.