Welcome to the Lockr Room. Each week, former Texas A&M QB David Moon Walker will highlight and provide insight into Aggies football.
Lockr Room Legends Q&A: David “Moon” Walker, 12th Man QB
If you’ve been following my weekly posts on Gamedayr (and who hasn’t?), you may recall the final thought in my most recent article preceding the A&M-Ole Miss game; It suggested that “the great thing now is, we’re not in that Aggie Wishbone!”
Even though I personally ran the Wishbone’s triple-option version for five years at Texas A&M University, I’ve always felt the offensive scheme imposed upon us was the sole reason A&M didn’t add three or four more “legitimate” national championship signs to its walls at Kyle Field. Lord knows we certainly had the players and staff to do it.
Seriously, can you imagine being behind by 10 points with six minutes to play and stuck in a full-house backfield with only one wide receiver in Oxford, Mississippi? Me either. Can you imagine a less favorable outcome? Yeah, me too.
I have patiently waited for this 2012 offense to arrive at A&M for almost forty years, so please pardon my giddiness. I recall my hopes flickering once during the 2008 season when A&M and Mike Sherman were hosting the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Not once during the first half did a tight end step onto the field. We stayed in the “spread” throughout, and QB Jerrod Johnson had an excellent half of football, leading the Aggies to a 23-20 halftime lead. I was ecstatic about the future of A&M football while employing the preeminent Big 12 offense.
Unfortunately, after getting shut down in the second half by Mike Leach’s defensive staff, Sherman returned to his multiple sets and myriad of personnel packages for the remainder of his tenure at A&M, fooling no one.
Conversely, Coach Sumlin’s predator-styled “stun gun offense” performed precisely and to perfection in the latter minutes of Saturday’s game with Ole Miss. It discovered the flaws of the defense and the mismatches in alignment and personnel. It was relentless in its precision.
This offense and the confidence it instills both revived and reinvigorated the Aggies, springing them up off the canvas in as far-fetched of a fashion as you’ll ever see on any movie screen. Suddenly these down-and outers were coming from nowhere, throwing haymakers like Sugar Ray Leonard did when he hammered poor Roberto “No Mas” Duran into surrendering his dignity. The Aggies “Rope-a-Doped” the 3-2 Rebels for a vast majority of the ball game just prior to air-raiding and bombarding these visibly shaken, head-spinning opponents into silent submission, just as cool and calculating as Ali had been in downing the seemingly indomitable George Foreman back in ’74. The Rumble in the Jungle transformed into the Groove at the Grove.
In fact, the fighters’ own handlers were the only ones who saw the impending dooms looming for the opposing corners, just as the coaches and players comprising this A&M team did. The national TV audience and the paying crowd wildly celebrating in the stands beforehand certainly didn’t. Aggies watching around the world didn’t either. They were too accustomed to seeing the Aggies fall behind and remain stuck in neutral in previous decades. The Aggies simply lost too many games in which they were favored. Many began wondering if the Aggies had ever come back from such a deficit this late in a ball game. “Nope, can’t think of one,” they concluded. “Once we’re beat, we’re pretty much beat. Same ol,’ same old. OLE MISS, BY DAMN!”
Rumor has it that many Aggie supporters kicking back in their homes were so bent out of shape that they switched channels after the fourth quarter interception thrown by the Aggies ended all hope. Just imagine their surprise when opening the Sunday paper the next morning–hey, this is real stuff here.
The word “surreal” doesn’t even begin to cover it, as astonishing as this most unlikely of A&M comebacks was. As much as the coaching staff had to reevaluate after faltering offensively against Florida (now the No. 4 team in the country according to this week’s AP poll), it must feel a huge amount of satisfaction for this win over Mississippi. All it took was calculated desperation to get the rally started and the execution of just a few well-called, pre-snap reads to finish the deal.
Though there was definitely no quit in this Rebels team throughout, there certainly was the sweet smell of victory nipping at its collective nose. Hey, when you’ve got a team crouched in its own bunkers 99 yards away from the end zone you’re defending, a third and 19 situation with 6 minutes left on the clock and holding a 10-point lead no less, well, your chances are looking pretty darned good. You’ve already totally exasperated your opponents offensively and in your mind you’ve beat the hell out of ‘em defensively, so you quietly hear the braggadocio within you whispering, “Give it up, guys. Can’t you see you’re done here?”
This juncture of the game is when you pull out all the stops, swarm the poor defenseless quarterback and at the very least get the ball back in your own territory where you do what you want with it. Victory does smell sweet when you’re finally realizing you’ve played well enough for so long that you just can’t lose, and with it comes the naturally-occurring big sigh of relief. It’s party time for the first time in awhile here at the Grove.
And this was the precise situation Ole Miss found itself in, with everything soundly secured, excitedly waiting to see the white flag rising from the overwhelmed newbie camp of Old Army. Actually, the Maroon and White hadn’t been as tough as Ole Miss expected. They weren’t nearly as consistent or worthy as the films had suggested. The Aggies on this night had been predictably reduced to nothing more than an irresponsible, pass-happy bunch of pretty boys who apparently had no real guts or poise when needed most.
“I mean, just look at ‘em all,” they exclaimed. “They’re good as finished. They’ve succumbed to the real pressure of SEC home cookin’. They played more like Texas Patsies than Texas Aggies and can’t seem to even be able to hold on to the football. They just folded, even against the worst team in the league. Hey, it’s tough on the road here in THE Southeastern Conference. Hotty Toddy, Gosh almighty, who the hell are we! Hey! Flim Flam, Bim Bam, OLE MISS BY DAMN!’”
And just as the Rebels were about to stick the proverbial fork in the Aggies’ rear ends, they got hit with the “bomb,” a perfectly lofted spiral deep down the right sideline into heavy coverage, promptly snapping the Rebs back to their senses. Having not won an SEC game in over 765 days and counting, the Rebels were, however, still certain of victory. Their lead was too big and they’d played too well to have this game slip away. Surely these newcomers from Texas didn’t have the courage or wherewithal to challenge them on their own home turf with so many opportunities already blundered. After all, this 2012 team had already given the ball away six times in a variety of ways.
Not since 1974 when the Wishbone Aggies lost five of eight fumbles to a weak TCU team, had any A&M team been victorious while committing so many turnovers. In fact, it was that same year when A&M opened its season with a 7-0 victory over Ole Miss, a narrow victory in which the Aggies defense accounted for eleven Ole Miss Quarterback sacks. These two schools hadn’t even met since 1980. No, nothing that happened so long ago would have any bearing on this game. The tradition starts here, and the Aggies were still too far down with too little time left.
“Yes,” the Ole Miss folks thought, “that was a just lucky play that will only delay the inevitable. Hang in there, defense!”
Former SEC Offensive Player of the Week, Johnny “No Fail” Manziel, hadn’t shown the Midas touch for the first 3 and a half quarters. Sure, he’d broken a few nice runs and hit a few throws, but Ole Miss was proving too quick and forceful up front for the “Who Dat’ Kid” to rise above this particular fray. He hadn’t been around long enough in this league to know it isn’t far from the penthouse to the outhouse. Heck, this “Johnny Come Lately” hadn’t even played outside of the state of Texas in his entire life! No worries here.
Running back Ben Malena then slipped through the line for a run of 36 yards to the Ole Miss 29. From there, Manziel found another opening, and on a run that resembled a playground “two below” game, he ran somewhat untouched the necessary 29 yards for a touchdown. This culminated an official 88-yard drive that was actually one of 99.7 yards, technically speaking.
Somehow the whale had spewed Johnny out of its mouth, for no particular reason; perhaps just to tease the visitors and their supporters. What fun this would be!
The extra-point kick was missed, of course, and Aggies everywhere began reminding themselves once again of who they were, and once again sunk deeper into depths of despair. “Well, we are the Aggies, now aren’t we?”
The only thing that could save them now was a near miracle, loosely referred to something vaguely known around Aggieland as, ahem, “defense.” This ‘wannabe’ of a mirage always brings a little chortle and a wink in quiet conversations around the water coolers, presumably because it had gone totally extinct in the Valley decades ago.
“Wait. This defense? Our defense? A STOP here when it counts? Get real.” (LOL to follow.)
Sure enough, the Aggies gave up a first down, as expected from most of the A&M crowd. Then they gave up another six yards, then two, and then only ONE! Suddenly it’s fourth down with the ball on the Mississippi 39 yard line and only 3 and a half minutes remaining. A punt from here could put the Aggies maybe 80 yards away and needing to get into the end zone to win the game. It was an obvious decision for the Ole Miss coaching staff. The Ole Miss defense had played extremely well overall. It was a no-brainer.
Inexplicably, Ole Miss kept its offense on the field, then got in the shotgun and tried to run for it. It wasn’t even close. That was OUR DEFENSE out there, high-stepping and high-fiving it off the field to the cheers of everyone on that sideline and springing from their La-Z-Boys. Hey, this just doesn’t happen for Aggies, but it had! Still hope!
One minute and 16 seconds later, Ryan Swope was waving the football in the air in the end zone after he and Manziel had caught the Ole Miss secondary playing man coverage and lining up beat. Swope’s perfect corner route was complimented by the perfect throw as A&M kept its two wide receivers decoying short inside routes while sending Swope deep behind them. It was great execution at a pivotal point in the drive – and in the game. Five minutes earlier the Rebels and their fans had been reveling in their presumed victory but it was far from over. Coach Sumlin’s stun gun offense had them moaning and writhing in pain when least expected.
With a three-point lead and a very improbable victory within sight, the Aggie defense, ahem, would need to keep the Rebels out of field-goal range and definitely out of the end zone to wrap this game up in regulation. Mississippi quarterback Bo Wallace calmly hit Donte Moncrief for 32 yards down to the A&M 32 yard line. Suddenly, the field-goal possibility was looking very realistic with just over a minute to play. A&M defensive back Toney Hurd, Jr. then jumped a short option route and came up with a huge interception that sealed the fate of the once-rousing Rebels. The celebration that ensued was indeed spontaneous, well-deserved and well worth every one of the 15 ‘unsportsmanlike’ penalty yards assessed.
By remaining poised, alert and confident, Manziel now trails only Alabama’s AJ McCarron in the NCAA Quarterback Rating among SEC quarterbacks and is 12th nationally. Meanwhile, the Aggies are celebrating their first top 25 ranking as a member of the SEC, coming in at No. 23 in the A.P. and 21st in the USA Today. Seven teams from the conference are now represented in the polls. Interestingly, A&M and its next opponent, the LA Tech Bulldogs, rank 22nd and 23rd in the ESPN Power Rankings, respectively.
Tech will be the first of two consecutive big games against teams from the neighboring state of Louisiana. The second will be the LSU Tigers, a great team obviously still smarting from its loss to Florida while priming this week for SEC-East co-leader, South Carolina. Favored at home by a field goal over the undefeated Gamecocks, an LSU victory will mean a showdown for SEC-West survival next week in College Station. While it will be difficult not to look ahead to hosting the Tigers, the Aggies must be prepared to play their best defensive game of the year this week in Shreveport. D-Lineman Demontre Moore is fourth in the nation in sacks and second in the nation in tackles for a loss. He’ll need plenty of help against this explosive offense that surrenders sacks quite infrequently.
The comeback win in Oxford was a tremendous carryover from the rout of the Razorbacks a week earlier, and with the season currently exceeding expectations in many quarters, this is not the week for an upset.
Bulldog QB Colby Cameron has won 10 of his last 11 starts and also started three games during his sophomore year, with his first being against Texas A&M. Cameron hasn’t been intercepted yet this season and has thrown 13 TD passes, hitting 72.5 percent of his passes at home. Last season Cameron beat out the second-youngest quarterback in college football history, Nick Isham, who then transferred to Arizona and is red-shirting this season.
The Bulldogs have won their last 12 regular season games. Tech’s only loss in the interim was to TCU last December in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl by the score of 31-24. TCU had an excellent 11-2 record in 2011 and trailed the Bulldogs 24-17 entering the fourth quarter.
The defending WAC champions are accustomed to winning close, high-scoring games. Thus far this season, they’ve beaten Houston 56-49, Virginia 44-38 and three others by an average of 55-31, ranking third in the country while scoring 53 points per game. Louisiana Tech has also racked up the eleventh most yards per game (523.4), barely edging out the SEC-leading Aggies (516.8). Very few teams are capable of scoring one point for every ten yards gained, but Louisiana Tech is hitting the mark. A&M’s 44.6 points per game are eighth in the NCAA and also lead the SEC.
The Aggies’ are surrendering 14.8 points per game, ranking sixth in the defensive-minded SEC and 14th in the country. Louisiana Tech gives up almost 36 points per game, ranking 109th among 124 D-1 schools.
All things being equal, the Aggies should maintain or perhaps gain some ground offensively this coming Saturday, provided they get in enough game-time possessions. No one has slowed the Bulldogs down yet, and there’s only 22 seconds difference in each team’s time of possession this season with each hovering near the 27-minute mark.
Unfortunately, this will be the final game of the season where victory is expected right in step with offensive stats that will continue to be padded. The levels of competition, philosophies and game faces will change dramatically after the Tech game, when wins and losses become the only gauge of success and stats become secondary. The term “field position” will come back into play in huge quantities. I look forward to the tests these outstanding opportunities will present for our strategies and personnel. We’re looking forward to a hard-fought, thrilling football game this weekend. The experts predict an Aggie victory by the score of 40-32, which certainly sounds reasonable.
All kinds of Texas A&M records could fall. Let’s just hope they’re all on the offensive side of the ball — stun-gun style.
- Moon Highlighting the Florida @ Aggies Game
- Moon Highlighting an Aerial Circus: Texas A&M Aggies vs. SMU Mustangs
- It’s Cool to be Number 2
- 12th Heaven: A ‘Who Dat’ Moment in the SEC
– David “Moon” Walker, Author of “I’ll Tell You When You’re Good! – The Memoir of America’s Youngest College Quarterback” (www.12thManQB.com)
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