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Missouri at Texas A&M: You think MU's offense has been inconsistent? Say hello to A&M's

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Texas A&M averaged 7.7 yards per play against Arkansas and 3.1 against Alabama, 7.1 against Auburn and 3.5 against UL-Monroe. The Aggies have scored 35 points or more six times and been held to 21 or fewer three times in the last four games. They are young, incredibly athletic, and all sorts of volatile.

Kevin C. Cox

Apparently A&M hasn't posted its updated depth chart or game notes yet, and looking at past week, the Aggies might not do so until Friday or Saturday. I can't tell you how annoying that is. So basically, we're going to talk about this week's Aggies using last week's lineup.

QB
Kyle Allen (6'3, 205, Fr.) (55-for-95, 647 yards, 8 TD, 4 INT, 5 sacks, 6.2 yards/attempt; 6 carries, 45 yards)
Kenny Hill (6'1, 215, So.) (214-for-321, 2,649 yards, 23 TD, 8 INT, 14 sacks, 7.6 yards/attempt; 38 carries, 269 yards)
Conner McQueen (5'10, 175, So.)

This has been an interesting year in College Station. Last year's backup, Kenny Hill, beat out incoming golden-boy blue-chipper Kyle Allen for the starting job, then proceeded to lay waste to all competition in the month of September. Never mind Lamar, Rice, and SMU (against each of whom he posted passer ratings at 188.4 or higher) -- against South Carolina and Arkansas, Hill completed 65 of 101 passes for 776 yards, five touchdowns, and one interception. A&M was playing fast but controlled football, and Hill was showing up on Heisman lists.

Then Hill threw three interceptions against Mississippi State and helped to spot Ole Miss a huge early lead before playing well in garbage time. Then A&M lost 59-0 to Alabama. Then Hill got suspended for a "violation of team rules and athletic department policies."

And then, after an incredibly shaky performance against ULM (13-for-28, 106 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 82.9 rating), Allen played wonderfully in last week's upset of Auburn (19-for-29, 277 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT, 184.4 rating). Hill has been reinstated, but in about a month's time, he went from future Heisman winner to, in theory, career backup.

Allen will start on Saturday, and it's certainly not hard to see why he was so highly rated coming out of high school. He's got more mistakes to make moving forward (and hopefully a few of them come on Saturday) but he played with poise and accuracy in a hostile environment on the Plains. Mizzou's pass rush might be able to rattle him a bit -- Auburn's didn't, but Auburn's ranks 91st in Adj. Sack Rate and Mizzou's ranks eighth -- but A&M features a ton of quick passing. Missouri's success will be dependent on confusing Allen in coverage and tackling well. And probably bringing him down at least a couple of times.

TB
Tra Carson (6'0, 235, Jr.) (81 carries, 375 yards, 5 TD; 8 targets, 5 catches, 43 yards)
Brandon Williams (6'0, 200, Jr.) (72 carries, 348 yards, 3 TD; 8 targets, 6 catches, 47 yards)
Trey Williams (5'8, 195, Jr.) (62 carries, 377 yards, 5 TD; 11 targets, 10 catches, 64 yards)

Like the quarterback position, the skill positions have been juggled a bit, too. Carson and Trey Williams have both missed a game, and there's a certain "hot hand" aspect to A&M's distribution of carries. Carson is averaging 9.0 carries per game, B. Williams 7.2, and T. Williams 6.9. They basically add up to one relatively solid running back, and they did nice work against Auburn last week. (They did nice work against Missouri last year, too, combining for 144 yards on 18 carries.)

WR
Speedy Noil (5'11, 185, Fr.) (59 targets, 37 catches, 477 yards, 4 TD; 1 carry, 10 yards)
Edward Pope (6'4, 180, So.) (36 targets, 27 catches, 436 yards, 4 TD)

WR
Ricky Seals-Jones (6'5, 235, RSFr.) (57 targets, 43 catches, 423 yards, 4 TD)
Sabian Holmes (5'11, 175, Jr.) (28 targets, 11 catches, 189 yards, 2 TD)
LaQuvionte Gonzalez (5'10, 165, So.) (8 targets, 5 catches, 77 yards, 1 TD)

WR
Malcome Kennedy (6'0, 205, Sr.) (67 targets, 42 catches, 504 yards, 3 TD)
Jeremy Tabuyo (5'11, 180, So.) (10 target, 6 catches, 102 yards, 2 TD)

WR
Josh Reynolds (6'4, 190, So.) (62 targets, 40 catches, 621 yards, 10 TD)
Frank Iheanacho (6'6, 220, Fr.) (3 targets, 1 catch, 10 yards)
Kyrion Parker (6'2, 200, RSFr.) (2 targets, 1 catch, 14 yards)

TE
Cameron Clear (6'6, 277, Sr.) (4 targets, 4 catches, 35 yards)
Brandon Alexander (6'6, 266, Jr.)

Balance! The four positions listed above have combined for 95 targets, 93 targets, 77 targets, and 67 targets. Kennedy has missed two games, and Noil and Holmes have each missed one, but in A&M's best moments this year, the Aggies have just drowned defenses in athletic receivers. Cover one up, and two more come open.

At the same time, consistency and hands have been issues. A&M almost lost to Arkansas because of drops, then suffered a lot more during its three-game losing streak in October.

  • Seals-Jones has settled into a possession-receiver role; he hasn't averaged better than 12 yards per catch in a game since catching 3 for 38 against SMU on September 20.
  • Kennedy was the best player on the field against Auburn, catching four balls for 118 yards; he caught 14 for 137 against South Carolina, too. He also caught five passes for eight yards against Bama and ULM.
  • Noil has been banged up and held relatively in check by better defenses. After catching 12 passes for 197 yards (16.4 per catch) in the first three games, he caught 15 passes against Ole Miss and Alabama, but for only 137 yards (9.1).
  • Reynolds has caught three or fewer balls in five games and six or more in four. He had six for 88 for two scores against Auburn.
  • Pope has been both huge and invisible: 4 for 151 against Arkansas, 4 for 37 against Bama and ULM,

Any number of A&M receivers can beat you, and that's a scary proposition for a Mizzou secondary that is without Aarion Penton and, for half the game, Braylon Webb. Still, it's no guarantee that any A&M receiver will beat you if you tackle well. Auburn did not.

LT
Jarvis Harrison (6'4, 330, Sr.) (35 career starts)
Avery Gennesy (6'5, 305, Jr.)

LG
Garrett Gramling (6'6, 310, Sr.) (11 career starts)

C
Mike Matthews (6'2, 290, Jr.) (21 career starts)
Ben Compton (6'4, 300, Sr.) (2 career starts)

RG
Joseph Cheek (6'7, 310, Jr.) (7 career starts)
Jermaine Eluemunor (6'4, 315, Jr.)

RT
Cedric Ogbuehi (6'5, 305, Sr.) (40 career starts)
Germain Ifedi (6'5, 325, So.) (22 career starts)
Ryan Lindblade (6'7, 305, So.)

If you're looking for reasons why A&M's offense could be so good for a few weeks and so bad for a few more -- whatever you're thinking about for Missouri's offensive variance, double it (for better and worse) for A&M -- some of the reasons should be pretty obvious.

1. Young quarterbacks. Hill is the elder statesman in this race; he's a true sophomore. Allen has only played in a few more college football games than I have. No matter how much talent we're dealing with here, there will almost always be inconsistency and high variance when inexperience is involved.

2. Drops and broken tackles. Either because of inexperience or simply bad hands, A&M's receiving corps has not played its part very consistently. And it seemed like A&M didn't break a single tackle against Alabama or ULM. I assume that's not true ... but I don't remember one.

3. Shuffling up front. Missouri fans know quite well how important continuity on the line can be. Well, A&M has started five line combinations in 10 games. Matthews missed a game with injury, and Joseph Cheek and Garrett Gramling have been shuffled a bit at right guard. And last week, starting right tackle Germain Ifedi was lost with an MCL injury. That forced A&M to go with a unique lineup: Jarvis Harrison moving from LG to LT, Gramling moving from RG to LG, and star Cedric Ogbuehi moving from LT to RT. Strangely, A&M's line may have played its best game of the season on Saturday. Desperation found a combination that worked; we'll see if it works again.

(Ifedi was still listed as a starter last week -- coaches take their online depth charts very seriously, don't you know -- but didn't play. Kevin Sumlin told reporters that his guess was that Ifedi might not play again in the regular season, so I've crossed him off above and moved guys around based on who started where last week. But we won't know what A&M actually does until game time.)

The shuffling has perhaps prevented A&M's line from becoming the elite unit it was in 2012 and, perhaps, 2013. But it's still a good one, and Mizzou will have its work cut out for it.