From the film room: Breaking down Texas AM

Lately, it has been frustrating times for Longhorn fans and the UT defense. Another outstanding defensive effort wasn't enough for the futile Texas offense that once again rotated quarterbacks against Kansas State in UT's 17-13 loss last week. Are the Horns going to be able to attack the A&M defense in a way that fits their strengths? The UT defense should put together a strong effort, but a talented A&M offense is going to be tough to handle. takes you to the film room for a look at Texas A&M in its 42-38 loss to Arkansas earlier this season.
Against Arkansas, Texas A&M recorded 628 yards of total offense including 381 on the ground on 54 carries (7.1 yards per carry). Quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 25-of-35 passes for 247 yards (7.1 yards per attempt) with no touchdowns and one interception. In addition to the interception, the Aggies also lost one fumble.
Portions of Texas A&M against Kansas State was also watched as well, and those thoughts are included
What some people that don't watch Texas A&M might not realize is that it likes to play fast. Even with the pro feel to the running game that Mike Sherman brings to the offense, this is still a group that has a lot of spread principles, including the speed at which it plays.
Similar to Kansas State, the Aggies do a good job of throwing a lot of different formations at the defense, but they don't really tip tendencies based on formation except for one, which we'll get to. Also similar to Kansas State, the Aggies don't implement a lot of motion in their offense. What you see is basically what you're going to get pre-snap. The Aggies will make adjustments at the line of scrimmage occasionally based on the defense presented, and against Arkansas there were multiple times when Texas A&M adjusted from an ace formation into a shotgun.
If there is one formation that tips off what the Aggies are doing, it's one of the shotgun, one running back looks the Aggies use. When the running back is positioned behind the quarterback, or very close to the quarterback in a way that resembles a pistol formation, the Aggies love to run the football, and almost always went with the zone-read play. Because of the positioning of the running back, it makes for a very smooth transition from the snap of the football into the zone-read thanks to the spacing.
Against man coverage, the Aggies worked the sidelines with the passing game a ton, and used the deep hitch route the most. With the talent A&M has at receiver, the chances for separation are definitely there. That being said, A&M really didn't stretch the field a lot vertically; it was a very controlled, short passing game that also included out routes thrown from the far hash to the other sideline by Tannehill.
There were only a few instances when Texas A&M pulled a lineman. Normally, the running back was able to hit a hole and make a move based off of the straight forward activity from his offensive line.
When Ryan Swope gets matched up on a linebacker or a safety from a slot position, the football is likely to go his way. Texas A&M is good at moving him around in order to try to create mismatches for him and force man coverage for Jeff Fuller on the outside.
Against Arkansas, A&M ran the football physically with a lot of success. Most of the running plays were designed to go between the tackles, but there were stretch running plays tossed in as well.
The pressure brought by Arkansas from the linebackers wasn't very successful, but that was mostly because of strong offensive tackle play combined with Tannehill getting the ball out of his hands quickly. However, the Razorbacks had success with unique pre-snap looks and defensive backs coming off of the edge instead of linebackers. The speed of the rushers seemed to bother the A&M offensive line, especially the interior, and caused problems for Tannehill.
Like the offensive side of the football, the Aggies will show a ton of different looks on defense. However, unlike the offense, the defensive unit will move all over the place before the snap. When you play A&M, expect to see as many different 3-4 looks as a defense can offer.
In early down situations, the Aggies liked to bring heat. If it looked like a running formation on first down without many receivers in the formation, the blitz was probably coming. On second down and long passing downs, the blitz was coming. Surprisingly, on third down and long situations the Aggies were a lot more likely to drop seven and sometimes eight into coverage instead of bringing the heat.
Because of the high amount of blitzing, the screen game and draw game worked well.
On defense, the coverage always seemed to roll a different way for the Aggies. It was like the deep middle and middle of the field were cleared out against the spread offense because the coverage rolled to the sidelines or to the deep thirds.
Texas A&M used three-man down fronts with a standup end, some two-man fronts with standup ends, and the occasional four-man front that was rare. Against Arkansas' spread attack, the linebackers were rolled out into coverage against the receivers and the middle of the field was bare.
Even though the Aggies hit the quarterback a ton in the game against Arkansas, they didn't sack him enough. A&M gave up 510 yards through the air and that's because the short, quick passing game against the heat torched the Aggies. When A&M brought the pressure, Arkansas was able to hit the quick hitters all over the field. When A&M didn't, Arkansas pushed the football down the field with success, and really capitalized on A&M's inability to cover the middle of the football field.
When Arkansas lined up in power run formations, the predictable run was tough for the Aggies to stop because they simply weren't as physical. In short yardage situations, the 3-4 A&M was using wasn't built to stop the physical game.
A&M will allow its talented corners to play man coverage, but those are the only player that showed the ability to play it decently.
Ryan Tannehill (senior - QB) - He can make all the throws with plenty of arm strength. Plus, don't sleep on Tannehill's ability to rip off a large run out of a zone-read play because the former receiver has some wheels. If you force Tannehill out of a quick rhythm, he can start to force the issue, but this is a very talented quarterback that can lead an offense to a lot of points.
Cyrus Gray (senior - RB) - Gray is an explosive runner that can run between the tackles and also has the burst to get on the edge to break off a long run. If he's able to play, he'll likely be the focus of the defense because of how much A&M runs early to set up the pass.
Ryan Swope (junior - WR) - Texas A&M puts him all over the place in formations, and he is a nightmare for a linebacker to try to cover in a slot. Plus, Swope could make an appearance in the running game, and is the guy that goes across the middle of the field for the tough catches. When Tannehill has to check down, it's usually Swope that he finds.
Jeff Fuller (senior - WR) - At times he looked disinterested, but Fuller is a downfield passing threat that is as good as any in the conference. Plus, his ability to create separation in intermediate routes is impressive. His big, strong hands allow him to make the tough plays against tight coverage.
Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews (sophomore - OTs) - Both big men move extremely well for tackles, are polished, and are tough to get around in the passing game because of their feet.
Sean Porter (junior - LB) - With his quickness off the edge, Porter has the ability to be the best pass rusher that A&M takes the field with. He'll get the quarterback throughout the course of the game at least a couple times.
Coryell Judie (senior - DB) - He plays bigger than his 5-11 listed height, and has the tools to be left on his own on an island in man coverage.
* Christine Michael also stood out but he is lost for the season due to injury
Defensively, a lot of this depends on Gray's ability to play or not. We likely won't know if the talented running back can give it a go until the opening offensive possession for the Aggies. If he can go, will he be effective? Who knows, but Gray being on the field means that A&M can still go with its running game that it loves to use on first down and short yardage situations.
If Gray is playing, the Horns need to sell out to stop the run on first down and force the Aggies into as many third and longs as possible.
If Gray can't go, the Aggies likely shift to a pass first football team in order to open up some things in the running game. That would likely mean Tannehill would go to the quickly passing game, which would mean Texas should counter with defensive backs near the line of scrimmage with man coverage or disguised zone coverages in order to take that quick passing game away.
No matter what, the Horns have to disrupt Tannehill's rhythm, and the offense's rhythm. If he gets into a groove with the short passes and A&M is allowed to play at its quick speed, that's going to be a problem for UT. If Texas can confuse Tannehill enough to all those talented defensive linemen to apply some pressure, the Aggies' signal caller will make mistakes.
Texas can't fall asleep on the zone-read play out of the shotgun.
Offensively, it's more about what the Horns can do rather than what they should do. That being said, they should try to punish the blitzes on first and second down with the usage of draws, screens and quick passes. No matter who is at quarterback, the Longhorns have to take advantage of the voids left in the middle of the field by the Aggies and the cushion given against the blitz. That can allow Texas to get into situations when it's physical running game can possibly overpower the 3-4 built for the spread, or get into running downs so that the play-action can be used with max protection.
The quick passing game is the best way to attack the Aggies. The accuracy from the quarterback position will probably make or break the Longhorns on offense.