After two weeks of the season, the main thing we have learned about the A&M football club is that we haven't learned all that much. Two coasting victories over Stephen F. Austin and Louisiana Tech lend themselves essentially to more talk about how good the Aggies will be when the season actually starts. With A&M vs FIU looming as this weekend's clash of titans, we're not likely to get a much better picture for another while yet. In fact, we haven't actually been able to watch them play at all yet because their games have not exactly been desirable for northeastern television broadcasts. But, the games do provide actual stats and a better sense of Mike Sherman's squad than mere practices, so let's have a peek at where Little Brother is and where he's trying to get.
Offense: The stats are good, but the Ags aren't happy yet. It's pretty standard early-season, cream-puff stuff: major program coaches struggle every year to get their charges to take these games seriously and be sharp, and it's clear that the kids really try hard to heed the call. But once you know you can and should beat a team even without your best effort, it's hard to un-know that.
Still, the point of these early season games is to work out the kinks and A&M appears to be taking advantage of the opportunity. If they can shake the turnover bug, this offense may in fact be as good as advertised. The problem is, the turnover bug was huge against La. Tech: the Ags fumbled five times, losing four (two were on special teams). The good news in Aggieland was that all four of the turnovers came in the first half, and the offense got definitively crisper as the game moved along. The fumbling could well be another symptom of a superior team simply losing focus against a joke opponent; of course, the danger is that after three "contests" against the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Ags will have developed bad habits that they can't shake once the real season starts for them.
As usual, Jerrod Johnson drove the offensive train. The star quarterback threw for 349 yards and four touchdowns--and, also as usual, he threw no interceptions. More than anything, Johnson is scary because of his intelligence and decision-making. Our Aggie season preview noted that when he doesn't throw a pick the Aggies are very tough to beat, and he often doesn't throw a pick. He was also efficient, though not overwhelmingly so at 25 for 38 on the day. All in all, the story remains the same for Johnson: as he goes, the offense goes.
Elsewhere on the offensive side of the ball, Jeff Fuller tied the all-time Aggie record for touchdown catches at 19 when Johnson found him for a three-yard score in the third quarter. Fuller also had another 157 yards through the air for a great day at wideout. Christine Michael was the leader out of the backfield, carrying the ball 14 times for 109 yards. The Aggies ran a platoon at tailback in accordance with preseason indications, with Cyrun Gray getting 13 carries but only 43 yards; in fact, Johnson was the second-leading rusher with 61 yards on eight attempts. The total damage done to Louisiana Tech's pride was to the tune of 565 yards of total offense.
The numbers do look good; but it's important to note that the mighty Grambling State Tigers managed 4.2 yards per play against this same La Tech defense in an underwhelming 20-6 season opening win for the Bulldogs. So the overall outlook for the Aggie offense, as long as you;re not looking through maroon-colored glasses, has to be described as "cautiously optimistic." They have done what they are supposed to do against lesser opponents; the jury will remain out on how good they really are until they play a real football team.
Defense/Special Teams: New defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter has to like what he's seen so far. The Aggie defensive unit turned in a strong performance for the second week in a row. A&M allowed only 269 total yards and forced seven fumbles--though they only came up with two recoveries. They had two interceptions and recorded three sacks. Junior linebacker Garrick Williams was the leading tackler for the second week in a row with five solo and four assists. It is also worth noting that La Tech's final tally of 16 points includes a touchdown that the defense can't take any of the blame for: Terrence Frederick fumbled a punt on the Aggies' own one yard line in the second quarter. And to the defense's credit, it took the Bulldog offense all four downs to finally punch it in.
By way of comparison, Louisiana Tech managed 336 total yards against Grambling. It's clear that Louisiana Tech's offense is not good, even by Louisiana Tech standards. So once again, it's difficult to say whether this version of the Aggie D is a major improvement over last season's debacle--but at least it's too early to say definitively that it isn't.
Mike Sherman said that the recovering Von Miller played about 35 snaps against La Tech and recorded two assists. Damontre Moore, Miller’s replacement, made seven tackles, including two sacks, and had three tackles for a loss.
As for special teams, Frederick's fumble obviously hurt--and Aggie consternation only grew when Ryan Swope immediately fumbled the ball back to La Tech on the ensuing kickoff. A&M was fortunate to escape that mistake by forcing a return fumble three plays later, but that doesn't change the fact that the Aggies absolutely cannot continue making such major mistakes on special teams. That is the kind of play that can completely change the game against a conference foe.
Dustin Harris provided a bright spot with a 54-yard punt return for a score. Randy Bullock missed a 35-yard field goal attempt early on, but was on target from 40 and 22 in the second half. Overall, though, special teams is currently a liability for Little Brother and Mike Sherman has to be concerned that it will steal a win or two from him if he doesn't get it corrected.
Next Up: The Ags welcome Florida International to Kyle Field at 6 PM CDT Saturday. The Golden Panthers come in at 0-1 after a season-opening loss at home to Rutgers. Once again, there is no TV for the game. But you can follow it on Gametracker. So that's nice.