Eight weeks ago, the Vikings were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in DVOA. Now they're 6-6 and probably done. What went wrong?
10 Sep 2012
by Matt Hinton
For Texas A&M, Saturday's season opener was all about celebrating the turning over of a new leaf: The first game of a new season, under a new head coach, in a new conference, against a new conference rival -- Florida, which A&M had faced in the regular season exactly once, 50 years ago. There was a new starting quarterback, redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel; a new offense, the "Air Raid"; and a new sense of forward momentum after a solid decade of mostly stagnation and disappointment. Alas, in the second half against Florida, the 2012 Aggies picked up in the SEC right where they left off in the Big 12, with an all-too-familiar swoon in the second half.
A brief refresher is in order. If you'll recall, the 2011 Aggies kicked off with at least as much optimism as the current edition, and probably more. In fact, thanks to a virtually intact lineup from a team that had rallied to a share of the Big 12 South championship in 2010, they carried a top-10 ranking into the season. Then they proceeded to blow games in the most excruciating possible fashion: a series of fast starts and faster fades. Against Oklahoma State, A&M led 20-3 at the half, only to lose 30-29; a week later against Arkansas, a 35-17 lead at the half ended in a 42-38 defeat. Against Missouri: A&M leads 28-14 in the second quarter, loses 38-31 in overtime. Against Kansas State: A&M leads 31-21 with six minutes to play in the fourth, loses 53-50 in four overtimes. Against Texas: A&M leads 16-7 at the half, loses 27-25 on a Longhorn field goal as time expires. Coach Mike Sherman was sent to the guillotine within the week, a noble martyr to near-perfect mediocrity.
What makes that trend really excruciating, as opposed to merely disappointing, is that persistent failure of that variety also requires persistent success. There is considerable evidence that this team actually is -– or can be –- pretty good, if only they could curb the killer mistake or run a few more sprints at the end of practice or something. But there is no way to distinguish the beginning of potential being fulfilled from the beginning of another reenactment of Lucy pulling the ball away from Charlie Brown at the last second. On his first three possessions, Manziel certainly looked the real thing: Riding primarily on his untested arm and legs, A&M marched 66 yards on its first possession for a field goal, followed by two extended, efficient, rousing touchdown drives covering 81 and 79 yards, respectively, setting Florida on its heels with a 17-7 deficit and the raucous crowd at a fever pitch.
You know what's coming next. Texas A&M's second half possessions amounted to five punts, four three-and-outs, three first downs, and a turnover via fumble. Florida did just enough offensively to go ahead 20-17 and milk every last millisecond from the clock. The Aggies took it to the Gators with their best shot, gave a perennial SEC power the real what-for, and still left as just another 0-1 outfit trying to get over the hump. If the goal is to "compete" in its new digs, A&M has already arrived. But if "competing" means actually winning against the league's upper crust, the distance remains the same as it ever was.
1. Alabama (2-0). Left Western Kentucky's carcass intact, out of consideration for the families.
2. LSU (2-0). Any night in which you finish with more sacks (four) than points allowed (three) is a good night, especially against an offense with as much potential as Washington's.
3. USC (2-0). A little wary of the closer-than-expected call against Syracuse. In its current state, the Trojan defense will be a liability in Pac-12 play.
4. Oregon (2-0). Ducks don't need much defense, but they'll miss senior tackle machine John Boyett, out for the year to a knee injury.
5. Ohio State (2-0). Braxton Miller is who we thought he was.
6. Florida State (2-0). Demoted a spot for (literally) only playing three quarters.
7. Michigan State (2-0). Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin bandwagons have already been derailed; Spartan hype can begin in earnest Saturday with a win over Notre Dame.
8. Georgia (2-0). Macho SEC pride may prevent them from admitting it, but Bulldog fans spent the first three quarters at Missouri with their stomachs in knots.
9. West Virginia (1-0). Mountaineers took the weekend off after backing out of a game at Florida State earlier this year, thus facilitating the Savannah State debacle. Feel like they should take some kind of hit for that.
10. Virginia Tech (2-0). Date with Austin Peay on four days' rest went much better than the last time the Hokies had a quick turnaround following a tight Labor Day game.
11. Oklahoma (2-0). Predictably easy win over Florida A&M doesn't do much to ease concerns after the rough opener at UTEP.
12. South Carolina (2-0). Crushed East Carolina even with the starting quarterback on the bench.
13. Clemson (2-0). Tigers balled hard in a blowout of Ball State.
14. Florida (2-0). For now, the comeback in College Station is as good a win as Gators have earned since Tim Tebow was en tow.
15. Arizona (2-0). I'll say it: I'm already starting to think of Matt Scott and Ka'Deem Carey the way I used to think of Pat White and Steve Slaton.
16. UCLA (2-0). Given the fates of Bruins' last half-dozen starting quarterbacks, Brett Hundley should be wheeled around campus packed in styrofoam padding.
17. Texas (2-0). Not much to say about wins over Wyoming and New Mexico, which is exactly how it should be when Texas plays Wyoming and New Mexico.
18. Tennessee (2-0). Season takes on an entirely different hue Saturday with a home win over Florida.
19. BYU (2-0). Season could be made or broken the next weeks on back-to-back trips to Utah and Boise State.
20. Kansas State (2-0). Blowout over Miami was of an entirely different stripe than last year's scrappy, skin-of-the-teeth routine.
21. Oregon State (1-0). Beavers, 3-9 last year, debut with the best win of the weekend.
22. Stanford (2-0). Reassuring thumping of Duke after an opening day scare from San Jose State.
23. Louisville (2-0). Doubtful we'll know much about the Cardinals before November, at the earliest.
24. Mississippi State (2-0). Bulldogs made Auburn's Kiehl Frazier look like the worst quarterback in the SEC, if not the country, though it may be too early to say that he isn't.
25. Notre Dame (2-0). Brian Kelly turning to much-maligned quarterback "Turnover" Tommy Rees to lead the game-winning drive over Purdue may endure as the greatest fan-trolling move of the year by any coach.
- - -
In: Arizona, UCLA, Kansas State, Oregon State, Mississippi State.
Out: Nebraska, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Oklahoma State, North Carolina.
1. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia. UGA was down three defensive starters at Missouri due to suspension, but in the span of minutes in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs' reigning All-American effectively throttled Mizzou's offense all by himself. First: Georgia leads 27-20 midway through the fourth when Jones steps in front of an ill-advised throw by Missouri quarterback James Franklin, returning the pick to the goal line; the offense punches it in on the next play to extend the lead to 34-20. Next: Three plays into the Tigers' ensuing possession, Jones tracks Franklin down for his second sack of the night, knocking the ball loose in the process; a teammate pounces on the fumble at the Mizzou 5-yard-line, and two plays later Georgia leads 41-20. That's how it ended, presumably because Jarvis decided there was no need to run up the score.
2. Oregon State's Front Seven. It takes a team effort to get a coach fired after his second game, and the Beavers' effort against both Montee Ball and the Wisconsin offense as a whole was the best anyone has mounted against the Badgers in years. The individual play of the night, though, belongs to defensive end Dylan Wynn, who nullified a special teams gaffe that set Wisconsin up in good position by forcing a fumble on a sack of Badgers quarterback Danny O'Brien. Another Beaver recovered, thwarting the only scoring threat of the night prior to the Badgers' final, desperate drive of the game.
3. Jeff Baca, OG, UCLA. Baca, a fifth-year senior, has been a part of some truly dreadful offenses in his time, but suddenly finds himself as the grizzled old man in the center of a very good one: The Bruins' other o-line starters against Nebraska were a true freshman (Simon Goines), two redshirt freshmen (Jake Brendel and Torian White) and a sophomore (Xavier Su'a-Filo) in his first year back from a two-year Mormon mission. To pound out 344 yards rushing on the Cornhuskers, the senior in that lineup has to be pulling more than his own weight.
4. Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State. Brown began his career as a blue-chip recruit in Miami, but failed to make a dent in the depth chart there and decided to transfer back to his home state after two fruitless years. Saturday, he led the charge against his old team in a 52-13 massacre, finishing with a team-high 10 tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack. For the game, Miami netted 55 yards rushing with a long gain of ten.
5. Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M. The Aggies were eventually overwhelmed, but not before a spirited round of "Bull In the Ring" with Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel in the role of a very meek bull. Moore had in a hand in four separate sacks, two of them solo and two of them assists.
8 comments, Last at 10 Sep 2012, 6:23pm by Rickford