Six months ago, if you stopped at one of those palm readers on Highway 49 between Jackson and Hattiesburg and were told you would spend about four hours watching an Ole Miss/Texas A&M game featuring two probable lame duck coaches and a pair of teams brawling to get to Shreveport, you would’ve nodded your head in agreement. The only inaccuracy would be that one team can’t get to Shreveport, but maybe Birmingham.*
*YOU STUPID BEARSHARK, YOU AIN’T GOIN’ TO NO BOWL ‘CEPT THE TOILET BOWL LOLOLOLOLOL
(runs to go vomit in some Ole Miss person’s Twitter mentions)
Even though the things happening off the field for both teams are way more interesting than the game to be played, the game still must be played because of contracts or something? Ugh, COULD THIS BE ANY MORE BORING.
Given that the game will go on, I suppose we should look at the one part of it that could be fairly interesting. Will Ole Miss be able to continue its high-scoring ways against a defense that is a little better (58th S&P+) than those of Vanderbilt (66th) and Kentucky (88th)?
Earlier this week, Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo discussed the importance of winning one-on-one matchups against Texas A&M. He mentioned the entire offense, but the primary focus of today’s exercise is Ole Miss’ receivers getting opportunities to beat Texas A&M defensive backs, who will have very little help along the way.
In looking at video of A&M’s defense, I locked in to their failure at UCLA for a couple of reasons. One, as so many said when that game happened, it captures the best and worst of the Aggies in one convenient spot.
And two, while UCLA’s offense and Ole Miss’ are nothing alike in scheme, they both are pass heavy and relatively close in S&P+ (Ole Miss is 6th, UCLA is 16th). Ole Miss has attempted 378 passes and 299 rushes, while UCLA checks in at 413 pass attempts and 304 rushes.
Texas A&M will not attempt to defend Ole Miss in the same way it did against Alabama, Auburn, or Mississippi State, all of which are run-dominant teams. With that in mind, you’re only going to see screenshots from the UCLA game, which feels like it happened 12 years ago, you age-accelerating jerk, 2017.
We begin on UCLA’s first drive and, as you can see in the down and distance, the Bruins are already struggling to run the ball. Texas A&M crowds the line with six defenders in an attempt to confuse UCLA as to which players will blitz.
Surprise! John Chavis wants to play a soft zone?
As the outside receiver works to get between the layers of the zone, one of the bunch receivers flashes in front of the three dropping players to limit the depth of their retreat.
It works out pretty well for UCLA.
By my calculations, the UCLA receiver is roughly where Atlanta is.
That was also the last time Chavis went with a three-man rush. As noted prior to their game against Auburn, A&M blitzes on 41 percent of all plays (ALL PLAYS), which, as you can guess, is tops among SEC and Power 5 teams.
In setting that pace in game one, the Aggies play zone coverage again, but send six because obviously that’s way more fun.
Initially, UCLA’s protection holds up, but no receivers have gotten open.
And just as I type that, the protection breaks down, forcing Josh Rosen to run right, which cuts the field in half. His receiver over the middle is surrounded, and though his outside receiver is covered, he’s seconds away from getting open.
But does Rosen have enough time?
He does not.
One of the things Texas A&M loves to do is blitz from the edge via a defensive back. While this can cause confusion in pass protection, it also means a safety or linebacker will have a one-on-one matchup with a receiver or tight end. And because a defensive back is rushing the passer, it means all other cornerbacks are going to be in one-on-one coverage, with a lone safety helping deep.
Here, we see the first of many such scenarios to come.
Rosen ends up throwing away from the pressure, into tighter coverage, but you can see the advantage the receiver has on the safety.
The next play, A&M brings a defender off the edge, which creates more individual battles.
They are saved by two UCLA receivers running to the same spot.
In the second quarter, A&M tries something that gave Ole Miss fits at Cal and Alabama. Multiple people threatening to rush, but WHO SHALL ATTEMPT IT?
A&M’s three down linemen rush, and are joined by yet another defensive back.
How did things go for UCLA with this particular A&M pressure?
Right before halftime, A&M fires up another blitz off the edge from a defensive back. Again, what this means is a linebacker or safety is now matched up with a wide receiver, and no other defensive back has help.
The most important takeaway is that UCLA’s running back doesn’t stay in to protect, but drifts into the flat, which is unguarded due to the defensive back blitz and everyone else locked in man coverage.
Fortunately for A&M, the defensive back batted the ball down, preventing a decent gain for UCLA. BUT REMEMBER THIS PLAY, FRIENDS.
Who knows why (COACHES GONNA COACH), but it wasn’t until late in the third quarter when UCLA finally started thrashing the one-on-one matchups. Once again, A&M comes with pressure off the edge, meaning a linebacker is isolated on the tight end, which creates the one-high safety look and individual matchups for every eligible receiver.
I feel like this might be bad for A&M. Is it bad for A&M?
THE VERY NEXT PLAY, A&M wants to find out if a safety can cover the tight end in an individual matchup, created by blitz from the short side of the field.
Rosen misses his target, but it’s obvious at this point that the Aggies’ safeties and linebackers do not need to be in one-on-one matchups. Did that stop John Chavis from asking them to perform in those situations? IT DID NOT.
Here’s a wonderful decision to call for a cornerback to blitz from five yards deep, and the strong side of the field.
The cornerback blitz, combined with the linebackers buying into UCLA’s play action while down 27, means A&M’s safety is in a world of trouble. He has two receivers running in his direction and he, being one person, can only cover one.
Pray tell, how did that go for UCLA?
After working Texas A&M over with the tight end for plays on plays, UCLA says, well, you know, I think they might be keying on our guy, so let’s hit ‘em with someone else. The Aggies are still concerned about the tight end, which plays into UCLA’s STRAT.
The linebackers drop, including the cornerback, which gives the Bruins’ receiver room to operate underneath.
Because John Chavis learns nothing, he keeps up the hilariously terrible strategy of isolating his safeties, who can’t stop anything. I wonder what this cornerback is going to do?
You would not be shocked to learn this was an easy throw for first down.
Finally, UCLA burns Texas A&M over something they did earlier in the game. Remember 48 screenshots ago when A&M blitzed with a defensive back from the edge and gave no regard to the running back who might be slipping out of the backfield?
Well, UCLA certainly did.
In fact, A&M sent seven pass rushers, while UCLA leaked out one receiver they couldn’t cover.
One play later:
If Ole Miss can protect the quarterback and establish a smattering of a running game, there are opportunities available for the wide receivers and FORT KNOX. As Phil Longo said, when presented with the multitude of one-on-one matchups from Texas A&M, whether it’s a safety, linebacker, or cornerback, Ole Miss has to win almost all of those to score enough to overcome the avalanche of points allowed by the defense.