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Three-Point Stance: Texas A&M, Iowa, coaches with momentum

Jimbo Fisher
Jimbo Fisher (USA Today Sports Images)

Rivals national recruiting director Adam Gorney takes a look at Texas A&M’s struggles, whether Iowa and Wisconsin need to make changes and five coaches who are hot or not midway through the season:


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I’m not here to slam Jimbo Fisher more. That has happened plenty over the last few days after Mississippi State smoked Texas A&M in Starkville.

But I am here to point out some numbers that are completely hard to believe considering Texas A&M has been the “sleeping giant” for so many years now I lost count. Jimbo Fisher was supposed to be the savior and he has the same record after 53 games as Kevin Sumlin, who was supposed to be the hero before Fisher came to College Station.

Quarterback Max Johnson is dead last among starting quarterbacks in the SEC in passing yards. Fisher used to be seen as some kind of quarterback whisperer and then he just turned into the quarterback yeller where Kellen Mond, frustrating as he was especially overthrowing receivers, seemed gun shy to make any play as to not get the sideline wrath.

On Saturday afternoon, Johnson looked unsure of making a play - any play - all day long. The offense looked out of sorts like it has all season, in a loss to Appalachian State, in a close win over Miami, in a lucky win over Arkansas where a field goal clanked the wrong way or the Razorbacks would have won that one, too.

Now Texas A&M travels to No. 1 Alabama for a Saturday night showdown, or should I see beatdown. The Crimson Tide opened as 16-point favorites and the Vegas sharps couldn’t hold in their laughter, betting it up to 24 at some shops by Sunday afternoon.

You think Nick Saban is going to relent for one solitary second against Jimbo after Saban mouthed off about NIL deals last signing day and Fisher basically called Saban a cheater who no one wants to work for?

The thing is: I still think Texas A&M could be a really good football team. I’ve seen all those five-stars and four-stars especially on defense and they’re freak shows. Evan Stewart, Chris Marshall and Devon Achane are superior playmakers.

But Fisher either has to give up play-calling or get out of his own head and stop over-complicating the situation. He fumbles with a play sheet and 52 papers and it’s just a rumpled mess. I know I’m oversimplifying things but a lot of today’s play-calling is getting your dynamic playmakers the ball in space and then letting them work. Find a weak defensive back and pick on him all day. Instead, Johnson dances in the pocket, looking around, hurrying, stepping up, stepping back, throwing off his back foot and receivers aren’t getting open. It’s ugly.

It’s ridiculous to call for Fisher’s firing or putting him on the hot seat or anything like that - mainly because he has an obscene $95 million buyout - but no one can argue he’s done a great job on the field so far in College Station.

All the five-stars are still young and developing and in some time they should be elite. But Fisher is learning SEC ball is a different world than playing in the ACC and without Jameis Winston back at quarterback, it isn’t so easy to win here.




Kirk Ferentz
Kirk Ferentz (USA Today Sports Images)

There is an axiom in business that you either adapt or die and when I was watching the Michigan-Iowa game Saturday afternoon I couldn’t stop thinking about that saying.

The Wolverines used to look something like Iowa - establish the run, then run more and be more physical and commanding that way. It was the way of Michigan football and it worked until it didn’t and then coach Jim Harbaugh bit the bullet and added more wrinkles so he could win.

Alabama was similar a decade or so ago under coach Nick Saban, who wanted to run the ball and complained about spread offenses being unsafe and questioned whether the sport should go in the inevitable direction it was going. But instead of getting left behind, Saban changed and now the Crimson Tide average more than 48 points per game.

Iowa hasn’t scored 48 points since the Maryland game last season - and the Hawkeyes have scored 41 total points in their last two games combined.

Here are some stats to consider: Iowa is not only dead-last in the Big Ten in points per game at 16.4 but the Hawkeyes are also last in rushing offense at 88.2 yards per outing and passing offense at 154 yards per game. So it’s not like Iowa is grinding down defenses with the run like years past and controlling the clock to win games. The Hawkeyes aren’t running it well this year, either.

Spencer Petras, who broke some of Jared Goff’s records at Kentfield (Calif.) Marin Catholic is second-to-last in the Big Ten behind only RutgersEvan Simon in passing offense. Leshon Williams is the No. 17 running back in the conference in rushing and Kaleb Jackson is No. 22. No receiver is among the top 25 in the Big Ten.

I know Kirk Ferentz knows how to coach football. I’m not stupid. But adapt or die is the truth and it bleeds down into recruiting where skill players are hesitant to come play in Iowa City because they know they’re not going to showcase their abilities much.

I don’t expect Iowa to become Mississippi State. But being more imaginative and letting skill players use their skills needs to happen there more.




Dino Babers
Dino Babers (USA Today Sports Images)

The hot seat has been in full effect this season with early-season firings around the country. This list is the opposite. Here is a look at five coaches who have been hot early on and who hope the momentum continues as the season goes on:

Dino Babers, Syracuse: Babers entered this year on the hot seat with five losing seasons and one 10-win campaign under his belt so time might have been running out on him. But now Syracuse is 5-0 with wins over Louisville, Purdue and Virginia among others so far. It’s about to get really real though with tests against NC State, Notre Dame, Clemson and others coming up.

Mike Elko, Duke: Former Duke coach David Cutcliffe went 3-9 and 2-9 in his final two seasons and Elko already has the Blue Devils at 4-1 in his first five games. The Blue Devils have beaten Northwestern and Virginia so far this season and according to average star ranking of the starters, Duke has a pretty solid group. Duke is favored by a field goal at Georgia Tech this weekend.

Lance Leipold, Kansas: What else can be said other than Leipold is performing a miracle at Kansas? The Jayhawks are 5-0 and the last time they won five games was Mark Mangino’s last year in 2009 when the team finished 5-7. Kansas had won five games in the previous three seasons – combined. Now the Jayhawks are ranked No. 19 (one spot ahead of Kansas State) and just beat Iowa State. Watch out for a hot TCU team coming to Lawrence on Saturday though.

Chip Kelly, UCLA: The offensive-minded Kelly has his Bruins offense humming as they’ve scored 40 or more points in four of five wins this season including in a 40-32 victory against Washington this past weekend that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. After a slow start to Kelly’s tenure in Westwood, and some perceived hot-seat pressure, UCLA went 8-4 last year and are undefeated heading into a big matchup against Utah.

Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss: The Rebels are ranked ninth nationally, are coming off a hard-fought win over a tough Kentucky team to stay undefeated and what’s different about this Ole Miss team is that it has a legitimately good defense now. If everything falls the right way, there is a good argument that Ole Miss could be undefeated heading into a Nov. 12 showdown against Alabama. The SEC schedule is brutal but Ole Miss is now the one throwing some of the biggest punches.