Texas A&M Football: Aggies' Late-Season Struggles Are Cause for Concern
The Texas A&M football team lost the last two games of the regular season to finish with an 8-4 overall record. The late-season swoon is an indication that some changes need to be made in Aggieland.
With head coach Kevin Sumlin locked down for another six years, the foundation of the program is rock-solid. However, Sumlin needs to make some tweaks here and there to keep the program running at an optimal level.
The Aggie coaches had the luxury of taking over a senior-laden team in 2012. When defensive leaders like Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart graduated, the defense struggled immensely in 2013.
A thumb injury transformed Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel into a mere mortal in the last two games. His inability to be special exposed some weaknesses in the Aggies' play-calling.
This is a look at why Aggie fans should be concerned about the team headed into the 2014 season.
When Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel injured his knee, the offense went from otherworldly to just average. The Aggies scored 31 points combined in their losses to LSU and Missouri.
Compare that to a season average of 43.6 points per game. The offense averaged 339 total yards per game in their last two games compared to its season average of 538 yards per game.
It is obvious that Aggie offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney has been leaning too much on Manziel's playmaking ability. When Manziel became mortal, the offense fell apart.
Texas A&M sophomore receiver Mike Evans had four receptions for eight yards against Missouri. He entered the game with 61 receptions for 1,314 yards during the first 11 games.
When you are incapable of scheming to put your playmakers in the best position to be successful, you need to question who is calling the plays. McKinney inexplicably only ran the ball six times against LSU.
There is no justification for letting talented a talented running back like Tra Carson languish on the sideline without any carries in a game. Trey Williams only had three carries against LSU.
McKinney appears to be over his head as a play-caller. Sumlin needs to consider finding someone else to call the plays in 2014.
Lack of Size on Defense
One of the main reasons the Texas A&M defense struggled so much in 2013 was simply a lack of size. Many of the Aggies' best defensive players are freshmen who are simply not physically developed enough to compete with their upperclassmen opponents in the Southeastern Conference.
Darian Claiborne is the Aggies' starting middle linebacker as a true freshman. He has tremendous instincts and is currently tied for the team lead with 89 tackles on the year. He could become the first freshman to lead the Aggies in tackles since Dat Nguyen accomplished the feat in 1995.
Claiborne is 6'0" and weighs 225 pounds. When the Aggies faced Mississippi State, Claiborne met the Bulldogs' 6'2", 230-pound quarterback Dak Prescott in the hole on a couple of occasions, and the result was that Claiborne got run over.
At 225 pounds, Claiborne is one of the Aggies' biggest linebackers. That is simply not big enough to compete with the larger quarterbacks and running backs in the SEC.
True freshman defensive end Daeshon Hall is the Aggies' best natural pass-rusher, but at only 243 pounds he was swallowed up by the larger offensive linemen in the conference.
The freshmen will add some much-needed weight and strength in the offseason conditioning program. This season was a learning experience for the Aggie coaches. You need to recruit more size if you want the recruits to play early in the SEC.
Not Enough Depth on DL
When Texas A&M senior nose guard Kirby Ennis was lost for the season to injury, the defensive line lost its only proven veteran defensive tackle on the team. The loss of Ennis contributed greatly to a defense that was one of the worst against the run in the nation.
The Aggies also struggled to get pressure on the passer in 2013. The defensive line produced a total of eight sacks in 12 games.
The Aggie coaches signed six defensive linemen in the 2013 class. Four of them played as true freshmen while two of them redshirted. That experience should help in 2014, but there are still some major concerns when it comes to depth.
The Aggies only have one defensive tackle committed in the 2014 class. It would behoove the Aggie coaches to go find some junior college defensive linemen who could help the team immediately.
You need to be three-deep to compete at the highest level in the SEC. Right now the Aggie defensive line is nowhere close to that. If any of the members of the 2013 class do not pan out, then the Aggies are going to have depth issues at the position.
Issues at Safety
The safety position was a mixed bag all year for the Aggies. Kameron Miles was supposed to step in as a true freshman and help contribute in 2013.
A preseason injury prevented him from participating in fall camp, and he never caught up, which resulted in a redshirt for the year. Without Miles, an injury to starter Floyd Raven resulted in Clay Hunnicutt starting at safety for a couple of games.
Hunnicutt is simply not an SEC-caliber safety. His poor play, coupled with Howard Matthews' inconsistency, resulted in a tremendous weakness on the back end for the Aggie defense.
It was a common occurrence throughout the year to see busted coverages result in touchdowns as the safeties failed to pick up receivers that the cornerbacks left for them.
Miles should be healthy in 2014, and the Aggies are bringing in Dylan Sumner-Gardner to add depth at the position. Victor Davis and Jonathan Wiggins should offer more size against the bigger SEC running backs and receivers.
The Aggie coaches need to get the safety position sorted out. They cannot afford to give up so many big plays in 2014 if they want to compete for the conference title.