Texas A&M Aggies: Kliff Kingsbury
- Missouri opened spring practice on Tuesday looking to build on the momentum of a 12-2 record last season.
- Spring practice got started at Vanderbilt, and with it the quarterback derby began as well. Presumed starter sophomore Patton Robinette looks to fend off redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary.
- Pro Football Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton has been compared to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and is among Johnny Football's many advocates, calling him "a quarterback savant."
- LSU's first day in pads revolved around the "Big Cat drill," and there was a minor scuffle between DE Lewis Neal and OL Josh Boutte. The Tigers expect to have stiff competition at guard this spring.
- The first of Alabama's two pro days is today. Injured players Anthony Steen and Vinnie Sunseri are aiming for the second pro day on April 8.
- One year after signing a three-year contract, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo gets a one-year extension.
- Auburn's message on Twitter about the now-tabled 10-second rule? "We're only going to get faster."
- Florida players are excited about the new offense that will be installed this spring.
- Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson chose not to go early into the NFL draft, and as a result he'll be facing greater expectations with the Vols.
- Former Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, now head coach at his alma mater Texas Tech, said he felt conflicted about his time in College Station, Texas.
- If you remember watching Auburn running back Stephen Davis star in the mid-90s, this might make you feel a bit older. His son, Stephen Davis Jr. is a 6-foot-3 safety who is -- surprise, surprise -- favoring the Tigers in recruiting.
- Many coaches favor some form of an early signing period in football recruiting. Georgia's Mark Richt, however, says, "Be careful what we ask for."
- Athlon ranked all 128 NCAA coaching jobs. Florida, Alabama, Georgia and LSU made the top 10.
- Recently engaged Gamecocks QB Connor Shaw is a busy man preparing for the NFL draft.
With the Crimson Tide coming to Kyle Field for a rematch with the Aggies, anticipation has built throughout the offseason. The Tide are again No. 1, defending their BCS championship from a year ago and the Aggies still have their linchpin, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who made his most compelling case for the trophy that afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
As the heavily hyped clash approaches, let's look back at some of the keys to last year's game and how they might affect the rematch.
1. Credit to the Texas A&M defense
When dissecting Texas A&M's upset of Alabama last season, many cite the Aggies' offensive explosion en route to a 20-0 first-quarter lead as one of the most difficult things for Alabama to deal with. And while the Aggies used creative playcalling and personnel packages, their fast pace and precision execution to score three touchdowns on their first three drives, the Aggies' defensive effort had as much -- or more -- to do with their ability to take that kind of commanding lead.
The Crimson Tide's next offensive drive started on a much better note for Alabama, with Lacy gaining 23 yards on his first two carries. But everything halted as the Aggies created a turnover when quarterback AJ McCarron tried to find Kenny Bell in the middle of the field. As a McCarron pass hit Bell in the chest, safety Howard Matthews delivered a hard, clean hit to Bell, who dropped the pass. Porter was there to intercept the pass, and that set up the A&M offense with great field position after a 16-yard return to the Alabama 41.
One of the key players throughout the day for the Aggies' defense was defensive tackle Spencer Nealy. A former defensive end who moved to defensive tackle at the start of the 2012 season despite lacking what would be considered "SEC size" for a tackle, Nealy played an integral role in the Aggies' run defense. Evidence of that was on display at the start of the Crimson Tide's third drive of the game.
On the first play of the drive, Alabama handed off to T.J. Yeldon on the left side and the 6-foot-5, 277-pound Nealy, who lined up at nose tackle on that play and for much of the day, used his quickness to beat center Barrett Jones and tackled Yeldon for a loss of 4 yards. The Crimson Tide went three-and-out on that drive as well as the Aggies forced McCarron's hand with a safety blitz and Matthews got into the backfield untouched, forcing an incomplete pass. The defensive effort by the Aggies forced McCarron to start the game 1-of-5 passing for 5 yards.
And even though the Tide were able to gather their bearings and make a strong comeback with some big plays on offense, the Aggies still found ways to make plays on defense. Matthews plugged a gap on third-and-2 when Yeldon tried to cut back for first-down yardage, holding the Crimson Tide to a third-quarter field goal. Safety Steven Terrell stripped Yeldon in the fourth quarter on the play after a 50-yard pass from McCarron to Amari Cooper. And of course, cornerback Deshazor Everett picked off McCarron on the Tide's final offensive play with 1:36 remaining.
The drawback for Texas A&M in the rematch is that many of the above names are gone. Nealy, Porter, Terrell and other key players -- such as defensive end Damontre Moore and linebacker Jonathan Stewart -- have graduated. They've been replaced by younger, more inexperienced players who have taken their lumps in the first two games. The Aggies also haven't had their full complement of defensive players because several served suspensions in the first two games. Saturday will be the first opportunity for all of their key guys to play together this season.
Lacy is gone for the Tide, as are several offensive linemen. The Tide struggled in that area in their season-opening win against Virginia Tech. So there will be adjustments on both sides with the differences in personnel.
2. Finding the "Y"
Manziel went to receiver Ryan Swope, the "Y" receiver who lines up in the slot on the right side of the offensive formation, early and often against the Crimson Tide. Early in the game the passes were of the short, quick variety, hitch routes that gained incremental yardage, almost like running plays.
Swope graduated as well, but look for the guy who made the catch on the play after Swope's 42-yard reception -- Malcome Kennedy -- to be a factor. Kennedy caught a 24-yard touchdown pass on the next play and having experience in a game like that can only help him this Saturday. The question is, can Kennedy bring the kind of consistency that Swope did in catching 11 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown against Alabama?
And should he be healthy for the game, 6-foot-5 freshman receiver Ricky Seals-Jones could be a factor at that position as well. Seals-Jones missed the Sam Houston State game last Saturday with a knee injury.
3. McCarron can scramble, too
While Manziel is known for his scrambling, McCarron showed he has good mobility as well.
McCarron isn't nearly as fleet of foot, but he did show the ability to escape pressure and make quality throws. On two instances in the Crimson Tide's first scoring drive, he evaded the Aggies' pass rush and found Cooper for a first-down completion.
In the second half, McCarron scrambled and tried to find Cooper. He avoided an interception from Everett (who was ruled out of bounds on the catch), but nevertheless, scrambling is a tool McCarron can use if the Aggies dial up extra pressure Saturday.
4. Defending Manziel on the ground
But the Tide did a much better job containing Manziel in the final two quarters. In the second half, he finished with 10 rushing yards on nine attempts.
This season, Manziel is making an effort to improve as a pocket passer without taking away his playmaking ability. The Aggies have a new offensive coordinator and playcaller (Clarence McKinney) and a new quarterbacks coach (Jake Spavital). It will be interesting to see how much running Manziel does Saturday and how Alabama handles it.
5. Big plays in the Alabama passing game
Cooper, now a sophomore for the Tide, had a huge game in last year's matchup, catching six passes for 136 yards.
He had a catch of 50 yards and a 54-yard touchdown reception, both in the fourth quarter. The first came on an out-and-up, when he beat Everett one on one. The next one came when the Aggies sent Everett on a cornerback blitz and Cooper beat Matthews deep for a touchdown.
The Allen (Texas) High School quarterback led his team to a Texas Class 5A Division I state championship and has seen several schools begin to pursue him in recruiting. To date, the 2015 prospect has five scholarship offers.
In addition, he's in the middle of a baseball season, with his Allen team sitting in first place in its district on the doorstep of the state playoffs as of Monday. Though an accomplished quarterback, Murray has also been successful on the diamond, hitting .372 with 20 stolen bases this season for the Eagles while manning second base.
It's been quite a year for Murray.
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- As college football's first freshman Heisman Trophy winner, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has navigated uncharted territory since accepting the sport's most prestigious individual award in December.
His new position coach, Jake Spavital, is also breaking ground.
Texas A&M's co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach is facing first-time challenges, and has been handed the task of tutoring a sophomore Heisman winner while also being one of three new additions to the staff of a likely preseason top-10 team.
Fortunately for the Aggies, the man who will guide Johnny Football in year two might be as prepared as anybody could be for the challenge.
All of that has played a role in the 27-year-old's rise up the coaching ladder, which has put him in this unique position.
A former college quarterback at Missouri State, Spavital had no doubt he wanted to coach football. His grandfather, the late Jim Spavital, was an All-American at Oklahoma A&M [which is now Oklahoma State] and coached at multiple levels, including collegiately and professionally in the NFL, CFL and the World League. Jake's father, Steve Spavital, is a longtime high school coach who currently heads the program at Broken Arrow (Okla.) High School. His brother Zac is the defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator at Houston.
Steve remembers young Jake idolizing his grandfather and scripting his own plays in grade school.
"They're the ones that decided not to play us. We get to decide when we play again. I think that's fair," he said.
Another old Texas A&M rival from the Big 12 has struck a different tune, though. Texas Tech wants to play Texas A&M, and it doesn't sound like it'll be too long before it happens.
"I would think soon,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal of the renewal's timeline. “(Athletic director) Kirby (Hocutt)’s excited about it. I’m excited about it, so hopefully we can come to an agreement and get that thing rolling. I just think it’s a great thing for the state. It’s a great rivalry, a great football game and it would be great for Texas."
He added that he'd "love to be a part of that again."
At last week's Big 12 basketball tournament, Hocutt expressed a desire to resume the series in a meeting with media.
"We would welcome the opportunity to play Texas A&M in every sport," Hocutt told reporters. "It was a fun rivalry, a good rivalry and one in the future that we can begin again."
Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman doesn't sound like he's standing in the way of the renewal either.
"We would entertain anything," he told the Dallas Morning News.
It's great to hear talk like that, and just like the Texas series, A&M's rivalry with Texas Tech will be a great game to get renewed. It's not the crown jewel like the Thanksgiving tradition between the state's two biggest football rivals, but it's a step in the right direction for sure.
Texas A&M and Missouri's 2011 exit to the SEC, less than a year after the Big 12 momentarily stabilized with 10 teams, inspired plenty of bad blood across the Big 12, but those feelings shouldn't stop rivalry games that helped make college football great from happening again. Texas Tech isn't Texas A&M's chief rival, but both programs love beating the other, and it can only help marquee rivalries like Texas and Texas A&M and Missouri and Kansas to resume before long.
Kingsbury, who took the head coaching job at Texas Tech after just one season as Texas A&M's offensive coordinator, joked that the Red Raiders should wait to schedule the game until Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel packs his bags and leaves A&M's campus.
The Red Raiders open spring practice on Friday, and Kingsbury met with reporters after throwing out the first pitch -- he says it was a strike -- at Texas Tech's baseball game against Arizona State on Tuesday.
The Journal noted that Hocutt spoke last fall of beefing up the nonconference schedule, but that it wouldn't be a possibility until 2015 of 2016, when the schedule was a bit clearer.
That would be fine with me, but the sooner Texas A&M gets to take the field against its old rivals from the Big 12, the better.
The pair first crossed paths in the late 1990s. McKinney was a young, budding offensive coordinator at Houston's Booker T. Washington High School, while Sumlin was an assistant at Purdue, coaching wide receivers and serving as recruiting coordinator.
"We were hanging out one day, and he told me at that time, that if he ever had an opportunity to hire me, he would," McKinney said.
About 10 years later, when Sumlin was putting together his first staff as a head coach at Houston, he lobbed a call to McKinney, who at the time had worked his way up the ladder in Houston coaching circles and was a successful head coach at his alma mater, Jack Yates High School, which sits literally across the street from the University of Houston campus.
Sumlin was making good on his word and offered McKinney a position as an assistant.
"He made the phone call and without hesitation, I asked him when I needed to show up for work," McKinney said.
The pair have worked together the last five years and had marked success, first, for four years at Houston and now at Texas A&M, where the Aggies put together a memorable 11-2 campaign that included a Heisman Trophy winner. Now, McKinney -- who started his college coaching career as Sumlin's running backs coach at Houston -- is now the man who will call the plays for the Aggies as their offensive coordinator in what is one of the most anticipated seasons in school history.
There’s no point in trying to sugarcoat this for Texas A&M: The Aggies have become the hunted.
A year after the real training began for their official move to the SEC from the Big 12, the Aggies enter spring practice with loftier expectations and more eyes fixated on them. They can no longer be considered the supposed ragtag group that was expected to struggle for relevance in their new home.
After shocking their new conference mates with 11 wins, including one over eventual national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa, A&M enters spring figuratively glancing over its shoulder.
"Now that we know for a fact that we have enough talent and a new group of guys coming in, we know that this year we have a target on our back,” rising senior running back Ben Malena said. “The workouts have stepped up even more. The work ethic of the team collectively has stepped up even more. Coach [Kevin] Sumlin, he's let us know that last year's success was last year's success, but this year's success is gonna be even harder because now you have a target on your back."
Teams don’t lead the SEC in scoring (44.5 points per game), rushing (242.1 yards per game), passing (316.5 YPG) and total offense (558.5 YPG) in their first season in a new conference without feeling the heat in Year 2. And this league intends to bring more than just the heat to the Aggies.
If A&M is going to make strides in 2013, it has to push for conference supremacy. It'll have to be better than it was in 2012, and it'll have to pursue dethroning the mighty Crimson Tide. It's a tough job, but it really is the next step.
To do that, Sumlin and his crew will have to work even harder than they did last season. Players will have to be willing to sweat, bleed and push even more as the Aggies enter spring shorthanded once again.
Defensively, five starters from the front seven are gone, including All-America defensive end Damontre Moore and top-notch linebackers Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter. Dustin Harris and Steven Terrell must also be replaced in the secondary.
“We got a lot of young guys -- a bunch of new guys,” defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said of his defense.
And those youngsters need to learn quickly because the injury bug attacked the defense this spring, especially up front. It’s a necessary evil, but getting young players these kinds of reps excites Snyder because it helps with depth, which the Aggies need.
Not only did A&M lose two valuable linebackers but a wide receiver was moved to the position this spring and linebackers coach Matt Wallerstedt was replaced by Mark Hagen, giving the Aggies even more change to deal with.
"There will be some challenges there,” Snyder said about the new faces on defense, “but that's what makes spring ball fun."
What will also be fun is finding out who the new leaders are.
Senior Toney Hurd Jr., who is battling for a starting safety spot, has been pegged as one of those new leaders. He’s always led by example, and Hurd knows younger players are looking up to veterans like him. He’ll have to come through because, although the talent might be there, inexperience needs guidance.
"I wouldn't say I'll be this year's Sean Porter, but I'll be this year's Tony Hurd Jr.,” he said. “I'll give the vocal leadership when needed.”
Some interesting months lie ahead for the Aggies, as they look to make more upward moves in 2013. But before A&M can worry about challenging Alabama -- or anyone, really -- Sumlin needs his team to get better. He needs youngsters to take advantage of more reps and he needs the veterans to evolve on the field and in the locker room.
It sounds clichéd, but it's true.
To be elite again and embrace this new-found target on its back, A&M needs even more resolve and toughness in Year 2. And to Sumlin, it’ll be quite an uphill battle.
"We're nowhere near that stage,” he said. “I've said that from every standpoint, from every aspect of this program, we're still playing catch-up to everybody in the SEC.
"From my standpoint it's always a new team, it's always a new personality. As coaches, what you're trying to do is figure out where you are, who can do what and put them in the best position to try to win games."
OFFENSE: Remember how the Aggies' offense was supposed to struggle without Ryan Tannehill running things and a redshirt freshman replacing him at quarterback? Yeah, that really worked out. Thanks to the minds of Kevin Sumlin, offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury and a Heisman Trophy winner in Johnny Manziel, the Aggies ran over most of their new opponents in 2012 with the SEC's top offense. Texas A&M averaged a league-high 558.5 yards per game (third nationally). The Aggies also led the SEC in rushing (242.1), passing (316.5) and scoring offense (44.5). A&M registered more than 400 yards in 12 games and more than 600 yards in seven games. Johnny Football became the first freshman to ever win the Heisman and broke the SEC record for total offense with 5,116 yards (3,706 passing and 1,410 rushing). He also totaled 47 touchdowns and led the SEC in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns (21). Manziel had a special year, but he also got help from a dynamic receiving duo in freshman Mike Evans and senior Ryan Swope, who combined to catch 154 passes for 2,018 yards and 13 touchdowns. Uzoma Nwachukwu only caught 26 passes, but he added seven more receiving touchdowns. When Manziel wasn't darting past or slipping by defenders, A&M's running game mostly went through running back Ben Malena, who finished the year with 808 yards and eight touchdowns. Christine Michael added 12 more rushing touchdowns. A&M was also equipped with one of the top offensive lines in the country led by Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. Grade: A+
DEFENSE: The Aggies ranked seventh or lower in the SEC in the four major defensive categories, including ranking 12th in pass defense (250.7 yards per game). Teams scored 36 touchdowns on the Aggies and averaged 21.8 points per game. The Aggies surrendered 20-plus points in seven games, including allowing 57 points in a back-and-forth win over Louisiana Tech. A&M might have had some issues when it came to slowing down the yardage and points, but in its two losses, the Aggies allowed just 20 and 24 points. The Aggies gave up 390.2 yards per game and grabbed just 16 takeaways. Defensive end Damontre Moore became a real star. He was one of the top defenders in the country, tying for eighth nationally with 12.5 sacks and seventh with 21 tackles for loss. He also led the Aggies with 85 total tackles and nine quarterback hurries. The defense, which was relatively young in the back end, might have had a little more bend than the coaches would like, but it rarely broke down and held an Oklahoma offense to just 13 points in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Grade: B-
OVERALL: The Aggies were supposed to struggle in their first year in the SEC, but flourished instead. Johnny Football was a major reason why, but Sumlin instilled an extremely tough personality during spring ball that carried over to the season. Alabama might have been crowned college football's national champion, but after a 41-13 beat down of Oklahoma, the Aggies made a solid case for being the nation's top team -- and A&M was the only team to top the Crimson Tide with a 29-24 win in Tuscaloosa. The defense needed to be bailed out by the offense at times, but even with no bye week during the regular season, the Aggies never seemed to slow down. If not for the opener against Louisiana Tech being postponed, the season might have been even better with a game under the Aggies' belt before taking on Florida. A&M wasn't as sharp against LSU, but was in serious contention for a BCS bowl game late in the year. Grade: A
On Dec. 10, 2011, Texas A&M officially chose Kevin Sumlin as its next head football coach.
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The Aggies went into camp with an open competition and based on the first day of workouts, one might assume that the starter would be Jameill Showers [Showers took snaps with the first team on the first day of camp].
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Drew (Colleyville, TX): So with Jake Matthews coming back does this mean he will be moved over to LT? And if so who do you think will be the RT next year? And who do we have on the C depth chart that can take over? Thanks for the chats!
Sam Khan Jr.: Drew, yes, Matthews will be moved to LT. That should be a good transition for him and I think he'll do well. As for right tackle, I think you're looking a few possibilities: redshirt freshman Joseph Cheek, who backed up Matthews and played in the "unbalanced line" power running formations could be an option. True freshman Germain Ifedi, who was on the two-deep, is an option. And I wouldn't rule out moving someone out to right tackle that's already in the lineup (maybe RG Cedric Ogbuehi?). As for center, Mike Matthews, the younger brother of Jake Matthews, will be the heir apparent to Patrick Lewis. Matthews is the favorite to start and was the backup this year. Look for him to be a possible three-year starter at C for the Aggies.
The source also said that McKinney will be the Aggies' primary play-caller. Former West Virginia quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital will serve as the other co-offensive coordinator and will coach quarterbacks, the source said. CBSSports.com earlier reported the hiring of Spavital.
With McKinney calling plays, the Aggies registered 633 yards of offense and 28 first downs against the Sooners. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel also set a bowl record for total offensive yards (516).
McKinney has been with first-year A&M coach Kevin Sumlin since 2008, and will help keep some familiarity within the offense after former offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury left to become the head coach at Texas Tech. There will likely be some tweaks, but nothing major.
The thing to watch is how McKinney and Spavital interact with Manziel during games. Kingsbury did a very good job guiding Manziel through games. He was extremely patient with Manziel, who had a thirst for improv during games. He's obviously growing, but I doubt any coach will be able to get rid of Manziel's off-the-cuff mentality. But being able to teach Manziel as he goes is something Kingsbury was really good at, and now Manziel will be learning from two other people.
The three-star receiver, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 175 pounds, tweeted, "Had to do what's best for me..." from his Twitter accounted on Sunday evening. Cedar Hill coach Joey McGuire confirmed the news of Adeboyejo's decommitment to GigEmNation.
Adeboyejo originally committed to the Aggies on March 8 along with teammate LaQuvionte Gonzalez. The pair was recruited by receivers coach David Beaty.
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TAMU Asst. Tops Recruiter Power Rankings
TBD Temple Vanderbilt TBD Texas A&M South Carolina 8:00 PM ET Boise State Ole Miss
TBD Arkansas Auburn TBD Idaho Florida TBD Clemson Georgia TBD Tennessee-Martin Kentucky TBD South Dakota State Missouri TBD Southern Miss Mississippi State 3:30 PM ET West Virginia Alabama 9:00 PM ET LSU Wisconsin