The play that has made Heisman Trophy candidates out of West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Kansas State’s Collin Klein and Oregon’s DeAnthony Thomas is called the Zone Read. It is THE THING on all levels of football. I’ve spoken of it in previous articles. It is the staple running play of the shotgun offense.
Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez is credited with inventing the Zone Read play while coaching at West Virginia. His quarterback, while running the “Sweep” hand-off during a practice, noticed the Defensive End on the side where his running back was lined up kept chasing the ball carrier down from behind. The next time the play was called the quarterback decided to fake the hand-off, keep the ball and run wide to the side the Defensive End had just vacated. There was nobody out there. NOBODY!
Other innovators included Ohio State University coach Urban Meyer, Kansas State University Coach Bill Snyder, and Oregon coach Chip Kelly. Urban Meyer set the SEC on its ear with the Zone Read for several years before heading north.
As I’ve watched the Aggies progress this season, it has become obvious that the Zone Read is a perfect complement to the rest of their offensive system. In Johnny Manziel, they certainly have a quarterback with amazing speed, elusiveness and agility. His passing ability is unquestioned and he is like a cottontail rabbit back in the pocket. A pack of wolves would probably wear itself out chasing him down.
I have continuously praised this Texas A&M staff for bringing the offense along with Johnny, and never imposing the opposite. When you force a quarterback into doing something he isn’t comfortable with, you steal his confidence, slowly but surely. “Triple
option” coaches did this to many high school and college quarterbacks, because it was the “next hot thing” during their eras. This stubborn persistence in force-feeding uncomfortable offensive schemes contributed immensely to Texas A&M University losing real shots at national championships in the 70’s. I would assume ours isn’t the only case study you could find regarding this subject.
Now we have a head coach who is playing his own game in the development department. He isn’t the kind to walk on the field and say to his starter, “Hey, let’s see if you can do this,” and after a couple of unstable repetitions say, “Wow, you look great! Okay guys, here’s what we’re doing from now on.” Nope, Coach Sumlin has known all along what the ultimate plan was and when to spring it. Now, Aggies everywhere will be flipping out when they see what the TOTAL PACKAGE with Johnny Football will look like.
This isn’t your father’s Aggie football anymore.
What isn’t so satisfactory is the manner in which we dropped two home games, one of which we were favored, and the other only a slight underdog. The Zone Read could have been the back-breaker we needed to win both games against top-flight opponents; so where was it? Why would you leave such a potentially devastating play, run by such a smooth operator, up on the gun rack for some later date? In hindsight, this just seems like another bizarre chapter within the vast amount of idiocy we Aggies have witnessed in the past. It’s just ludicrous to knowingly let these game-winning situations fall by the wayside without a second glance. What were we thinking?
My thought is this: Our coaches weren’t confident enough in our players’ execution during practice time to include it in the game plan.
And guess what. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this decision.
Any time you’re reading a defensive player to decide whether to hand the ball off to your back or keep it yourself, there are distinct possibilities the ball will end up on the ground, or the play will lose yardage due to a bad read. This was what old-timers once said about passing: “three things can happen and two of them are bad.” Well, phooey on that.
We have watched the Aggies run 635 plays this season, give or take. Did you notice what happened on play number 608? Well, this is probably not quite enough information so I’ll give it to you straight, with a hint attached. It was Johnny Manziel’s final play of the night at Auburn. It was his 20-yard “dance in the Moonlight” that represented A&M’s seventh touchdown of the game coming with twelve minutes left in the third quarter.
That’s right; this was Johnny Manziel’s first Zone Read of his college football career.
And then, just like that, he was gone; and with him the Zone Read.
On this single play for an easy untouched 20-yard romp, we saw the bright, immediate future of Texas Aggies football. Sumlin’s Stun Gun Offense is all off the rack now, but we’ve only seen traces of what’s yet to come.
Well played, Maroon and White. Well played.
The amazing thing is that Johnny Manziel had already accumulated 773 rushing yards on 116 carries, a 6.7 average, before running a single Zone Read. This is because the Aggies have implemented several other designed running plays for his abilities; one is a sweet counter play where he shuffle-steps one way while his Pistol backfield mates lead him the other, as was the case on his 72-yard burst to clinch the La. Tech game.
I’ll guarantee you one thing: there will be hundreds of high school coaches from all over the southeast heading to College Station this spring to visit and watch plenty of tape on what the Aggies are doing. I know this isn’t exactly what the experts around the state and the rest of the country were predicting at this stage of our season.
You don’t necessarily need to have a ‘Johnny Football’ on your team to make it all work efficiently, but if you have someone even close, you’re going to want to study this offense and take it back with you to Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and everywhere in between. And if you’re leaving Texas to go visit other SEC schools, well, there’s always something you can learn about defense from, say, LSU or Alabama.
Alabama is No. 1 in the country in Red Zone efficiency, both on Offense AND Defense.
Perhaps you can sell your A.D. on that for your check request.
The resiliency of this A&M team is marvelous. It’s not easy to hit the road two times, sandwiched around such a tough loss as the one against LSU, and perform so admirably. We watched ‘execution perfection’ Saturday night at Auburn, perhaps the most mistake-free exhibition of volatile offensive football one has ever seen on an SEC floor. The numbers and the consistency were simply unfathomable.
Sure, Auburn is on the down side offensively, and A&M made their defense look, well, ghastly; but it still takes tremendous cohesiveness and concentration to attack so relentlessly, yet so flawlessly. If preparation and enthusiasm indeed dictate performance, then the Aggies are in tremendous shape going down the home stretch. Texas A&M scored a touchdown with their opening drive for the fifth straight game.
Let’s prorate Johnny’s performance from Saturday night and look at his numbers, had he finished the game. How does 636 yards sound, compared to 350? Yes, I know.
Still, the offense collected 671 yards, a record amount for anyone playing against an Auburn team… ever. Overall the Aggies had eight scoring drives for touchdowns that each averaged 69 yards, 3 ½ minutes and 8.6 plays. That is moving right along. We’re third in the country (behind Air Force and Marshall) in third-down efficiency at 54.03%. Money.
This isn’t your father’s Aggie football anymore. Oh wait, I’ve already mentioned this.
Auburn had five first-half drives that netted four yards. On their only other drive, they picked up 82 yards and their only score of the half. The stats, unlike last week in the LSU game, were totally indicative of the Auburn score. 42-7 at halftime sums up the domination of this two-year removed National Champion very well. “We got some guys off the field because we have a really serious stretch of games coming up,” Kevin Sumlin said.
He’s so right! Keeping everyone healthy is so very important when you’re facing a travel schedule like ours. We’re now ranked 16th in both polls, while Mississippi State has dropped from 12th to 17th and 18th, respectively, after the loss to the Crimson Tide. This, therefore, is the toughest 3-game stretch the Aggies have faced since my last season in 1977. That year, because ABC-TV requested we move our game with the University of Houston to the weekend following the Texas game, we were presented with five straight away games following our opener at home. Our only break would be an open date following our third game.
After beating Kansas in Kyle Field we beat a veteran Virginia Tech team in Blacksburg. Next, we went to Lubbock and beat No. 10 Texas Tech and their Heisman Trophy candidate, Rodney Allison; you’ve probably heard of Texas Tech’s defensive coordinator,
Bill Parcells. And finally, we went to Ann Arbor to play No. 2 Michigan, a team that opened the season for the first two weeks at No. 1. As you can see, there are some similarities. We were really banged up at Michigan, which is why I stress the importance of keeping everyone healthy through this tough stretch.
I do believe in my heart that this team has a chance. We’re too unique and explosive, and Mississippi State will provide even more valuable experience against a quality team. What will mark this game as pivotal will be defeating a ranked SEC team. What will make it even more special is to do so on the road.
[SEC Power Rankings for Week
Texas A&M is third in the country in scoring (45.5), behind friendly foe La. Tech and the great Oregon Ducks. The Aggies are tied for fifth in total offense. No SEC team since Florida in 2001 has completed a season ranked in he Top Five in total offense. Don’t forget though, Coach Sumlin’s University of Houston teams were No. 1 in 2008, 2009 and 2011, having an “off” year in 2010 when they finished only 11th.
The Texas A&M Aggies have already faced the No. 3 and No. 6 ranked defenses in LSU and Florida, respectively. Mississippi State ranks 28th in yardage allowed and 15th in scoring defense. They lost their first game of the season because Alabama had zero turnovers while they had three. Mississippi State had been leading the country in turnover margin. They ran only 32 plays on their first eight possessions, which were all scoreless. Alabama has given up less than 300 yards in 21 of their last 22 games. They are favored by 10 in Death Valley.
Doesn’t this FIRE YOU UP? It does me.
It will be another excellent test in Starkville for Johnny Football… and now a dose of “Zone Read” for the Bulldogs to concern themselves with. One play addition to the arsenal with Johnny Manziel around, even if it’s called only once every 600 plays or so, still equates to one huge headache for defensive coordinators from here on out. And with each of the A&M running backs having alternately big games, who do you key on? You’ve got the No. 3 guy in total offense back there with them.
And how about Damontre Moore? He is the only defensive lineman listed in the Top 25 in Solo Tackles at No. 22, and to top that, Moore leads the entire SEC with 5.63 tackles per game. This is a fantastic feat. Congratulations, big guy. D-Line play like this makes everyone want to play harder.
Finally, it’s mentally very difficult for a team that thought it was making huge strides to get completely horsewhipped like Mississippi State did last Saturday by the Tide. A team like this, you’ve got to kick ‘em when they’re down, like we did Auburn. We’re learning.
Then we get ‘Bama.