Are you ready for some football? I sure am. It’s been a very long offseason. Why is it that the college football offseason seems to get longer and longer each year? The only thing I can think of is that it’s because the anticipation grows each year.
Well, here we are, on the cusp of another season. It’s Week One and that means it’s time to look at this week’s opponent: Texas A&M.
Let’s begin our look at the Aggies with a preview of the Texas A&M coaching staff and special teams.
They say everything is bigger in Texas and football coaching hot seats are not immune from that. While Texas head coach Charlie Strong may be the only one in the vast state of Texas whose seat is hotter than Kevin Sumlin’s as the season starts, it doesn’t change the fact that Sumlin needs to win this year to save his job.
Things certainly haven’t gotten any easier for him either. At the end of last month, two A&M assistant coaches gave an unbelievably sexist presentation which had been billed as a "Chalk Talk for Women."
For his part, Sumlin claimed that he didn’t know what these coaches were doing and that he was "meeting with donors." The coaches were suspended for two weeks, meaning they missed the beginning of training camp. Big deal.
Sumlin supporters will be quick to mention that he has won 36 games in four years. That’s more than any Aggie coach in a four-year span since 90s when R.C. Slocum was head coach. For some reason, that has a very familiar ring to it.
John Chavis is in his second season as the Aggies’ Defensive Coordinator. Before joining A&M last season, Chavis previously spent six years at LSU and 14 seasons as the DC at Tennessee. According to his A&M biography, he has "a reputation for aggressive play, a commitment to physicality and a history of defenses that play with a certain swagger." He believes that there is no substitute for speed. His teams have contributed to 18 bowl wins, 11 10-win seasons, 6 appearances in the SEC Championship Game and one national championship.
At Texas A&M last season, Chavis’ defense was fourth in the nation in passing defense and in the Top 25 in both sacks and tackles for loss. In other words, he will have his defense ready to play come Saturday.
Now, perhaps because Sumlin is on the hot seat, the Aggies have a new offensive coordinator.
Yeah, you know who that is. It’s our old friend Noel Mazzone, "Mr. I Call the Same Five Plays Over and Over" himself. Of course, everyone associated with UCLA is familiar with Mazzone.
While Bruin fans were elated to see him go, the fact of the matter is that Mazzone’s offenses set Bruin single-season records for passing, scoring and total offense. Of course, we could probably guess many of the plays Mazzone will script for this game because he has certain tendencies. For instance, look for the Aggie offense to throw the ball deep at least once on their opening drive. Simultaneously, our DBs may need to cheat up a bit to guard against the infamous Mazzone Bubble Screen.
On one hand, I don’t think that it takes a genius to say that Mazzone will change things up to be less predictable. That would be the smart thing to do. Facing UCLA in his first game with the Aggies may force Mazzone to call plays he might not normally because he’ll recognize that the Bruin defense is pretty familiar with his offense. If UCLA was the seventh or eighth game of the season, that might not be the case, but it’s the first one. Even Noel Mazzone should be figure out that he needs to be a little different than normal to play off the tendencies of the UCLA defense.
For instance, a few days ago, UCLA defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes talked about how, if he sees a big lineman in the backfield he would yell, "Panda! Panda! Panda!" But, if you’re Mazzone and you know that Vanderdoes is expecting you to give the big man the ball, wouldn’t you fake it him and get it to someone else? Of course, you would. Will Mazzone make those kind of adjustments? History says no, but my gut says, for this game, he will. I do think that, as the game continues, Mazzone will fall into his "five play" comfort zone in the second half.
Let’s turn to Special Teams.
The Aggies lost both their first-string kicker and punter after last season. As a result, they will have guys with limited experience handling these duties.
Daniel LaCamera takes over as the placekicker for the Aggies. LaCamera is a true sophomore who saw very limited action last season. He made three extra points and kicked off four times.
Punting duties will be handled by Shane Tripucka, the nephew of former Notre Dame basketball player Kelly Tripucka. He’s a redshirt junior whose two punts last season were 46 and 42 yards.
Aggie WR Christian Kirk will handle punt returns. Kirk is the infamous "dangerous return man" who scored two touchdowns on punt returns last season. He averaged 24.4 yards per return with a long of 79.
Kick returns will probably be handled by DB Justin Evans and Oklahoma RB transfer Keith Ford. Christian Kirk could potentially end up returning kicks too after averaging 19.3 yards per return last season, but the Texas A&M depth chart doesn’t have Kirk listed as one of the team’s top 3 kick returners.
That’s going to wrap up our look at the coaching staff and special teams.