By John P. Lopez
The Aggies are lost. They are a team with no clear direction or purpose.
This team might as well have driven to the airport in 70-different Uber cars for the flight to Oxford, rather than a team bus. That’s how many different directions they’re headed. And while these Aggies may be a lot of things, a team is not one of them.
That much became obvious in Saturday night’s 23-3 humiliation at Ole Miss. From the sad, blank stare on Kyle Allen’s face, to the confused, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding me look on Myles Garrett’s, it’s clear these Aggies are wallowing in confusion and turmoil.
Sure, there are Xs-and-Os problems that must be addressed — some more urgently than others.
- This is the worst-coached wide receiving corps I have ever seen in Aggieland, especially when you consider the talent at the position. Raw talent, in fact, is the only way receivers get open anymore. Say what you will about offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, but receivers coach Aaron Moorehead probably should be on the street, resume in-hand, yesterday. There are only nine patterns in a passing-game route tree. Aggie receivers have been awful in every way. It has become almost laughable how poor Aggie receivers go into routes, make cuts, use their bodies and have sloppy, if any technique in patterns.
- Spavital should not be let off the hook by any stretch. In fact, his ridiculous insistence calling plays that suit him, rather than those that best-fit his quarterbacks’ skills, has crippled the offense. The next time Spavital calls for Kyle Allen to sprint left and throw across his body to the flat, he should be fired, too. Allen truly is an extremely talented NFL-type quarterback, no matter recent evidence to the contrary. But there are certain throws he simply cannot make. Meanwhile, why Spavital seems to believe Kyler Murray is nothing more than a Wildcat quarterback is baffling. Murray has every throw in the bag, but every time he’s been on the field his skill set has been handcuffed.
But those issues pale in comparison to the albatross hanging over the entire program. There is a divide and absolute distrust in the locker-room.
At the core of it all, of course, is players taking up sides on who should play quarterback and the mixed-messages Kevin Sumlin apparently gave both his five-star quarterbacks. And, by extension, the entire team.
The hard lesson Sumlin must learn from this is that, if he makes a promise, he’d better keep it. To the letter. Or better yet, don’t make awkward promises at all.
The reality of the dysfunction that came to life at Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium on Saturday night was that it was not just a bad game or poor coaching. It was the live-and-in-color manifestation of deep-seeded issues in the locker-room — trust issues that started long before the season even began.
When Sumlin closed the deal to sign five-star quarterback Kyler Murray, who legitimately changed his mind and was close to signing with the Texas Longhorns late in the recruiting process, he made Murray and his father, Kevin Murray, some kind of promise about playing time. Who knows exactly what that promise was, but multiple sources say promises were made.
But then five-star sophomore Kyle Allen won the job in camp and through most early games gained the majority of playing time. Tensions grew between Kyler Murray and Allen. Tensions also grew between Kyler and Spavital. Sumlin’s promise of how much playing time Murray would receive was at best misinterpreted by the Murray family or at worst was a promise that was not kept.
Hence, when Murray was yanked in the Alabama game after throwing an interception, he went full F-bomb on Spavital and his fate for the Ole Miss game was sealed. But the drama did not stop with the Aggie coaching staff deciding early last week not to play Murray in Oxford.
Murray apparently did not take a single snap with the first-team offense in practice and was told he would travel and suit out for the Ole Miss game, even though he would not play. Players began taking sides in the locker-room more than ever, some believing Allen’s physical (shoulder) and mental struggles should have opened the door for Murray to get a legitimate chance to make the team his.
Some players also believed Murray should have been left at home, rather than face the embarrassment of national television cameras focused on him any time Allen made a mistake. Then, the worst-case scenario happened. Allen wasn’t just bad. He was awful. And there was Murray, shamed on the sideline, for all the college football world to see.
For his own sake, Allen should have been pulled from the game after the first series of the second-half. Allen’s spiraling descent into the mental mess he was in the fourth-quarter was awkward, sad and uncomfortable to watch. Nowhere more so than on the Aggie sideline, where the divide only grew bigger among players.
Even though Murray deserved some kind of discipline, some players believed keeping him on the bench was a bad move by the head coach — especially after Allen’s struggles. Sumlin’s foremost job, after all, is to win games. Others also believed that if Jake Hubenak was going to play, why wait so long to put him into the game?
Thus, today Sumlin has a lot on his plate. The problems are numerous. Tactical and staff changes must be made. But losing games is one thing, losing his team’s confidence is something altogether more complicated and potentially damaging.