What’s happened to our defense? Gary Darnell (who, throughout his career, has only been demoted once during the course of a game) seemingly made tremendous strides with the nationally feared 4-2-5 alignment in 2006, his first season post insurance sales. Same alignment, relatively the same personnel, more experience in the system, a struggling Big XII; Perfect recipe for continued success, right?
So far, that hasn’t held true. In the 2006 season, A&M was ranked 46th in total defense, allowing 322.62 yards per game. Through the first six games of 2007, A&M is ranked 63rd in total defense, surrendering 377.50 yards per game. At the beginning of the season, the coaching staff was confident that our defense was now comfortable enough in the new scheme to continue to improve and help us make a run at the Big XII title. Obviously, our defensive stats have slipped considerably, and we haven’t even stepped onto the field with the five best teams on our schedule. What caused this precipitous drop?
Last year, the NCAA instituted a number of new rules aimed at reducing college football game length. The rules worked. After numerous complaints from fans, coaches and talking heads, the rules were abandoned after only one season in favor of the previous clock rules. Good for fans. Good for college football. Very bad for the Ags.
In 2006, the Ags averaged 59 defensive plays a game. They allowed 5.47 yards per play. Throughout half of this season, the Ags are averaging 70.17 defensive snaps a game. They’re allowing 5.38 yards per play. In other words, per play the Aggies are better defensively this year than last. The 54.88 difference in yards allowed between ’06 and ’07 is almost exactly the same amount you get when you multiply the difference in number of plays (11.17) times the average yard allowed per play.
The Aggies used their Run ‘N Scoot attack last year to chew up clock and keep their defense off the field. When the dust cleared on the 2006 season, the Aggies were ranked first in NCAA DIA in time of possession, holding on to the ball for over 33 and a half minutes per game. This is the kind of football Franchione likes. His plan is to chew up clock with a methodical ground game and keep his defense off the field so that they 1) don’t gas; and 2) don’t allow the other defense to get in a rhythm. Don’t believe me? Remember, this is the same coach that lamented the fact earlier this year that his offense was scoring too fast. Not surprisingly, Franchione thought last year’s clock rules actually hurt A&M. Excuse me while I find an ice cream scoop to forcibly remove my genitalia.
This does not bode well for the Aggies for the remainder of the 2007 season. After facing a relatively cake schedule, A&M has been able to give up roughly the same amount of yards per play they did throughout the entire 2006 season. The obvious problem at hand is that A&M has yet to face the sips and a juvenated Kansas team at home while traveling to Mizzou, OU and Nebraska. All of those teams are potentially much more dangerous offensively than anyone we have faced to date. Unless something drastic happens, our poor defensive stats are about to become molested granny fugly. The only thing saving this defense is a time machine to the 2006 schedule and clock rules.
The opposite holds true for our bemasked bretheren of the high plains. Last year, Tech was 6th in overall offense, averaging 447.85 yards per game. In 2007, Tech is 1st nationally in total offense, averaging a blistering 590.17 yard per game. Additionally, Tech averaged 32.46 ppg (13th nationally) in 2006 and 52.50 ppg (2nd nationally) this season. Leach counts on scoring on damn near every possession and counting on the fact that his opponent won’t be able to execute well enough on offense to hang with him. Obviously, it is a disadvantage to Tech to limit the number of offensive possessions they have. Not surprisingly, Leach was a tad disappointed with last year’s NCAA legislative changes. After last year’s game against A&M, Leach gently opined on the 2006 rule changes: “I hate the new clock rule and that is one of the stupidest pieces of legislation ever. This season really kind of needs an asterisk beside it because it changes the entire dynamics of the game. Quite frankly, I don’t even respect the people who disagree with me on it.” So that’s why Fran spoke out against the 2006 changes. He didn’t want to be on the business end of a Leach-wielded cutlass.
In summary: 2006 clock rules good for us, bad for Tech. Revised 2007 rules bad for us, good for Tech. We’re playing in Lubbock, where we haven’t won since 1993. Yikes. Methinks our poop decks are in danger of being forcibly swabbed Saturday. Thank Poseidon that it’s at least not a night game this year.