Anatomy of Momentum: Replying Against A&M

Context

Momentum is a fickle mistress, willing to switch sides at the drop of a hat, to follow the most recent success, to abandon at the first sign of distress, cresting and surging along with a raucous home crowd and abandoning the poor road team in distress. However fickle, though, our lady is, perhaps more than anything, she is ready to abandon a mentally fragile team, whether they are playing at home or not, whether they are going against a meaningless non-conference patsy or playing in the most heated rivalry game. Yes, a fickle mistress indeed.

The Longhorns took a 35-21 lead midway through the third quarter and it looked like momentum was on the side of the road team, with the notoriously fragile psyche of the young Aggie team appearing ready to collapse at any moment. A methodical drive into Texas territory re-energized the crowd and gave the A&M offense confidence again, but an Earl Thomas interception in the end zone threatened once more to swing momentum firmly to the side of the visiting Longhorns, who had a chance to blow the game open. An incomplete pass by Colt McCoy, however, followed by a short run and a sack, killed the Texas drive and gave the ball back to the Aggies. No momentum swing after all.

This time, Jerrod Johnson gashed the defense with his feet on the first play for 38 yards before the Longhorns stiffened to hold the Aggies to a field goal. Three incomplete passes by McCoy on the next series gave the ball right back to the Aggies with great field position, while the home team caught a break by recovering Jordan Pugh's fumble on the return. With the Longhorns defense coming back onto the field after only a short break, momentum was firmly back on the Texas A&M sideline, no doubt ready to make out with a goofy member of the Corps with a bad haircut -- so yes, just about any one of those silly, homely, wanna-be members of the military.* Christine Michael took advantage of poor tackling by the Longhorns to finish the drive with an 18-yard touchdown run and Ryan Tannehill easily beat the coverage of Blake Gideon to convert the two-point play, bringing the Aggies to within 35-32 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. And that would be our fickle mistress getting tongue thrashed on national television by a redneck who was made to drink his own urine the night before as part of ritualistic hazing. And that would be people of taste all over the country vomiting up their turkey onto their living room floor.

After all that, Marquise Goodwin returned the kickoff 19 yards to the Texas 22 with 13:38 left in the game.

*Note: if you want to be like someone in the military, join the military -- dressing up is for little girls.

The Plays

1st and 10 Texas 22

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Texas comes out in an empty set on first down with five wide receivers and the camera angle makes it difficult to see who is on the field. Regardless, A&M shows blitz at the line of scrimmage, with six defenders against the five Texas offensive linemen.

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McCoy reads blitz prior to the snap and probably decides at that point to go to his hot read, Jordan Shipley on a quick out. Perhaps because the offensive line knows the hot read is to the right side, the protection slides in that direction, leaving the backside defender free, even though A&M drops two of the defenders who showed blitz into coverage in an attempt to take away any hot reads by McCoy in the middle of the field. The backside defending coming free forces a quick and inaccurate pass from McCoy, as the ball hits near Shipley's feet.

2nd and 10 Texas 22

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It wasn't a great decision by Greg Davis to start the drive in an empty set that allowed A&M to show blitz and force the quick throw, so Davis takes out a receiver and puts Tre' Newton into the game at running back. Notice that the Aggie defense is still spread out and has only one safety deep in bracket coverage on Malcolm Wiliams at the top of the screen, with the defensive back over Shipley in the slot showing blitz, then retreating into coverage.

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The weakside linebacker comes on a delayed blitz, while McCoy drops back showing pass.

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McCoy sells the pass well, something he doesn't always do well on quarterback draws, then heads towards the line of scrimmage, while Chris Hall and Charlie Tanner release upfield to block. Michael Huey can't maintain his block and the defensive tackle appears to have a play on McCoy.

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Huey ends up releasing his defender just long enough to avoid a holding penalty, then gets him to the ground as McCoy goes by. Chris Hall cut blocks a linebacker in the open field, leaving McCoy with only a defensive back to beat to make a big play.

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MCoy takes a glancing blow from the defensive back as three other Aggies converge on him -- perhaps the most underrated part of McCoy's game right now is his combination of strength and balance. There aren't many ways in which comparisons between McCoy and Vince Young are valid, but McCoy's ability to pause and gather himself for a minute to use an opponent's momentum against him is positively Vince Young-esque and it makes McCoy extremely difficult to take down in the open field, as the Aggies learned on Thursday night. Notice as well the fine blocking of Malcolm Williams at the top of the screen.

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As McCoy escapes the group of Aggie defenders, there is nothing but open field in front of him for 25-30 yards or more.

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Unfortunately, Malcolm Williams works too hard blocking on the play, catching Justin McQueen in the back relatively unnecessarily. On the broadcast, Chris Fowler notes that Williams didn't need to block McQueen at all on the play because he wasn't going to catch McCoy, but that is questionable. In the end, it isn't a terrible block in the back by Williams, as he has one hand on the front of McQueen's shoulder and his other hand barely in McQueen's back -- a good call, but a close one. McCoy gets inside the 25 yardline on the play, which would have made it a 54-yard run by McCoy, but the penalty brings the ball back to the Aggie 45, reducing it to a 43-yard run by the Texas quarterback.

1st and 10 Texas A&M 45

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The Longhorns bring EBS onto the field in their 11 personnel package to do what he does best -- provide that nice blocking surface. Of course, bringing him onto the field at this point also telegraphs a run.

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The Aggies don't necessarily anticipate the run though, as one of the two deep safeties sells out down the field without even reading his keys. The Longhorns run what looks like the power play (though it isn't blocked like most power plays) they've begun using in recent weeks but that familiar, oft-bumbling duo of Hall and Charlie Tanner rear their ugly heads, as both miss badly on their blocks, leaving two free defenders in the backfield. Newton avoids Tanner's man, but gets forced outside where the pursuit of the Aggie defense stops him for a two-yard loss.

2nd and 12 Texas A&M 47

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After the failed running play, the Longhorns bring Dan Buckner back onto the field in an obvious passing situation. Annoyingly, the bottom receiver is not on the screen once again because of the poor angle the cameras have at Kyle Field. Notice that the Aggies have only two down linemen, with Von Miller and another Aggie standing at the line of scrimmage. Notice as well that the linebackers are playing only three yards off of the line of scrimmage.

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The reason for the linebackers' proximity to the line of scrimmage becomes immediately apparent -- they're both blitzing. The Longhorn offensive line does a good job of picking up the blitzers, as does Tre' Newton, but the two Texas tackles do a poor job with the speed rushers off the edge, particularly Adam Ultatoski matched against Von Miller, who gets by the big senior before Ulatoski can really even get his hands on him.

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McCoy steps up in the pocket and attempts to deliver the pass to Shipley as he gets hit, but the pass comes out just as Shipley is coming out of his break -- too late on this play. Had McCoy read the depth of the linebackers at the snap as a blitz look, he might have made the adjustment with Shipley to run his route with less depth. Instead, it's third and long for the Longhorns.

3rd and 12 Texas A&M 47

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The Longhorns stay in their 10 personnel look, with Dan Buckner remaining on the field for this crucial third down. Notice that A&M once again has their linebackers extremely close to the line of scrimmage, signaling another blitz.

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This time, Ulatoski gets his hands on Miller and the rest of the line does an equally good job of picking up the blitz. Tre' Newton deserves special mention once again for his effort. McCoy has time in the pocket to scan the field.

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The good protection allows McCoy to hit a relatively slow developing route -- a seven-yard in by Kirkendoll, who has one defender, known on this play as RAS #1 -- Random Aggie Scrub #1 -- to pick up the first down

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Since McCoy hits Kirkendoll on time and in stride, he allows his receiver to make a spin move up the field and elude RAS #1, who apparently thinks he is playing flag football and tries to grab Kirkendoll's towel. Unfortunately for RAS #1 and all the military wanna be's out in the crowd, RAS #1 is not playing flag football, but rather football of the tackling variety. Oops!

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Kirkendoll takes the edge against RAS #2, seen here trailing the play, while RAS #3 tries to cut off his angle as the Longhorn receiver heads inside of the Buckner "block." I'm using the term block here loosely.

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RAS #3, seen here convingly playing the role of a slow white linebacker, flails about helplessly against the much faster player as RAS #4 tries to catch Kirkendoll flat-flooted. Hmm, doesn't look like he has the hips to be a cornerback. Oops!

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Having left nearly half the Aggie defense, random scrubs all, in his tracks, Kirkendoll has an easy jaunt to the end zone to complete his 47-yard touchdown catch. One thing though, Kirk -- could you throw your horns up when you score a touchdown instead of just pointing at people/things?

Final Totals

Five plays, 78 yards, 1:34 expired. One of three passing for McCoy for 47 yards and a touchdown, with both incomplete passes intended for Jordan Shipley and neither one catchable. One catch for 47 yards and a touchdown for Kirkendoll, along with four Random Aggie Scrubs beat on the play. One carry for a loss of two yards by Tre' Newton, who also had two excellent blitz pick ups on the drive. One missed pass block each for Adam Ulatoski and Kyle Hix. Two good blitz pick ups by the interior line and good pass blocks from Ulatoski and Hix on the same play. One missed run block apiece by Chris Hall and Charlie Tanner. One good cut block in space by Chris Hall.

Final Verdict

As mentioned in the lengthy Context section, this was an extremely important drive for the Longhorns. Not only had the Aggies roared back from the earlier 35-21 deficit, but the Longhorn offense had struggled in the second half with the exception of the second drive on which Texas ran every play. On the other three drives, the Longhorns had been stopped on downs and had two three and outs. Not good enough.

The major point here is that Texas responded, giving themselves some breathing room and, though they didn't allow the defense much of a break with such a short drive in terms of time elapsed from the clock, it did give the defense more margin for error, which they quickly proved they neeed.

In terms of playcalling, the run on first down was obvious after bringing in Greg Smith and the empty set on the first play begged the Aggies to bring a blitz and force a quick pass -- the empty set doesn't seem to have any advantage over the 10 personnel package with Buckner in the flex tight end role, especially since Tre' Newton does so well picking up the blitz. Ditch it. The quarterback draw was an excellent playcall, however, and caught one linebacker bailing out in coverage and the other an a blitz.

The touchdown pass to Kirkendoll was certainly an effective call, but the offensive line and Newton deserve most of the credit on the play for picking up the blitz and giving McCoy a perfect pocket from which to throw. As expected given the time, McCoy delivered the pass perfectly and Kirkendoll showed yet again why the coaching staff did an excellent job challenging him after the Oklahoma game with his benching and forcing him to earn his playing time. Challenging him, along with switching him to his more natural position outside, has lit a fire under Kirkendoll and has led to the break-out performances over the last several games that everyone expected much earlier in the season. The junior from Round Rock is now a serious threat and McCoy's confidence in him seems to grow every week -- that's extremely encouraging for the offense moving forward.

Combine that with emergence of Malcolm Williams as a downfield threat and this offense is hitting on just about every cylinder right now, although the struggles early in the second half illustrate that there is still room to grow with more than a month of practice left to do so. If Alabama and Florida fans aren't a little bit scared by that thought, they should be.

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