Film Study: Better not let Texas A&M discover a power run game
I can almost guarantee if you polled the top coaches in the Southeastern Conference, to a man, all would agree that if Texas A&M University somehow developed a potent ground attack, it would pretty much be curtains for the rest of the conference.
Well, to a certain degree; the name of the game is defense in our beloved conference, however, the normally porous Aggie defensive unit is beginning to look extremely stout along the line of scrimmage — thanks, in part, to the potential in-and-out wizardry of all-world defensive end Myles Garrett and freak tackle recruit Daylon Mack.
Moreover, the Aggies have pulled a fast one on the Western Division of the conference and pulled in, perhaps, the best defensive coach in all the land, “Chief” John Chavis — formerly of Louisiana State.
But on the offensive side of the ball, A&M head man Kevin Sumlin has brought not only the most multiplicative passing attack the conference has witnessed since the Hal Mumme/Mike Leach era at the University of Kentucky, he’s done so with offensive line talent normally seen at the University of Alabama and LSU.
But despite the talent up front, the Aggies have often trotted out a rushing attack even a place like Texas Tech University would laugh at.
Nah, actually, that’s going too far as Tech is softer than toddler’s butt. But the Red Raiders would marvel at how they aren’t the only team normally allergic to chewing up yards between the tackle.
But one must ask oneself the question: Is the Aggies’ putrid run game because of scheme or personnel?
Or, ever worse, both?
Let’s be clear here: No team with Sumlin as coach will ever be some type of rushing juggernaut. However, the minute he starts to favor a little more balance, the Aggies style of offense will be virtually unstoppable.
Whenever I think about the Aggies I’m always reminded of how much they resemble their Eastern Division counterparts, the Tennessee Volunteers. Both are deeply rooted in a spread-to-pass philosophy and are at their best with a quarterback who’s capable of manufacturing first downs with the space this type of offense provides.
But where they differ is in the fact that Vols’ coach Butch Jones is not afraid to lean on the run game and has even taken the necessary steps to bring a power-run attack to Knoxville.
But he’s just now gathering the parts to make that happen.
Conversely, Sumlin usually has all the parts in tow to be effective in the between-the-tackles rushing game: a plethora of NFL-caliber offensive linemen and running backs.
Now it seems as though Sumlin is finally ready to bring a consistent ground approach with the addition of one of my favorite coaches of the past decade, former University of Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christensen — who will serve as the run-game coordinator/offensive line coach under much-maligned OC Jake Spavital.
Schematically it’s a great fit as all parties involved, Sumlin, Spavital and Christensen, have backgrounds deeply rooted in some form of the spread offense; there’s no substitute for continuity, conceptually.
Spavital spent a season under Auburn University head coach Gus Malzahn — when the pair were at the University of Tulsa — which undoubtedly helped to develop a decent amount of his run concepts.
Christensen achieved a lot of ground success under Mizzou’s Gary Pinkel, and he did so with the use of “12 personnel.”
Together they should be able to replicate a lot of the concepts we saw when true freshman quarterback Kyle Allen took over for a suspended Kenny Hill.
Here we see a Pistol aligned strong-side toss to the “field” side of the formation out of “21 personnel,” which could also be labeled “12 personnel” depending on what you refer to lead blocker Ben Compton (No. 86) as.
In what is synonymous with the Sumlin-Spavital outfit, you get some serious zone-blocking action with a host of athletic linemen moving in lockstep. But with Compton and tight end Cameron Clear sealing the edges with kick-out blocks and “pin” downs, it turns a normally finesse scheme into a spread-you-on-the-grass-like-fertilizer jaunt.
The use of two versatile tight ends makes a ton of sense for a scheme based on the hurry-up, no-huddle approach to pace. On one play they could be used as blockers in the run game or in pass-protection, but then they could also be deployed as receivers in “00 personnel.”
One coach who seems to always be on the cutting-edge of offensive wizardry is former Sumlin OC Dana Holgorsen, the current head man at West Virginia University. The Holgorsen-Spavital connection runs deep as Spavital was under him in some capacity for the better part of five years — and at three various stops.
Holgorsen has transformed his version of the “Air Raid” into one with an extremely potent, physical rushing attack through the use of “12,” “21,” and even “30 personnel;” the Aggies could replicate these type of concepts with relative ease.
Check out this formation out of “30 personnel.” West Virginia uses a tight end and another running back to get downhill on this inside-zone run. Being as though it’s being ran out of the “Pistol” formation we already have natural downhill running lanes. Imagine what the Aggies could do with Clear and another tight end leading the way?
Similar situation here with the same personnel being deployed slightly differently; the use of tight ends and blocking backs on an on-going basis would do wonders for the Aggies’ rushing attack, and it would still mesh with the principles of the passing game.
Moreover, strength concepts like “Power O,” an off-tackle run completely equipped with a pulling guard from the back-side of the formation, will be readily available — and functionally more effective — for the Aggies to wear down stout SEC defenses (among other Power concepts).
The Aggies have a potential breakout star in 6’0″, 230-pound senior running back Tra Carson who runs with a purpose and deserves to be the bell cow back in a scheme designed at chewing up physical, downhill yardage.
But it’s up to the Sumlin-Spavital-Christensen trio to go outside of what they were taught as young coaches and actually call a more balanced game, which is something I know other teams in the SEC are fretting over.