Beat Writer Q-and-A

Special thanks to Gabe Bock, host of TexAgs Radio on SportsRadio 1150 in College Station …

Q: Update us on Kyle Allen and his health please. When did he take the hit, how did it affect him, and what do you see for himSaturday night?
A: Kevin Sumlin doesn’t talk much about injuries, but the nation saw Allen grimacing in pain during parts of the game against Alabama on Saturday after taking a few shots from that stout Crimson Tide front seven. A&M OC Jake Spavital acknowledged during the Tuesday press conference that Kyle is “banged up” and Allen also said that the injury occurred during the second quarter of the Aggies’ 41-23 loss. But Allen was throwing errant balls from his first pass of the game, and I’m not ready to put his performance against the Tide solely on an injury. I feel it had just as much to do with the magnitude of the moment, not enjoying the benefit of a consistent run game vs. Alabama, communication issues with his receivers at times during the game, poor pass protection up front and, yes, just a bad day throwing the pigskin.
All of that being said, I have seen a lot of toughness thus far out of Kyle Allen and I fully expect him to get it corrected and play well at Ole Miss on Saturday. With the injuries at every level of the Rebels defense – a unit that ranks 11th in the SEC against the pass – I expect a healthy Allen to bounce back and utilize his assortment of playmakers on the perimeter to throw it around the park with success.

Q: Kyler Murray got a lot of attention early and competed for the job. How is he being used now?
A: As of now, Kyler Murray is simply A&M’s backup quarterback and a “change-of-pace” option for Sumlin and Spavital if the offense begins to stall out with Allen. In three SEC games, Murray was used sparingly vs. Arkansas and Alabama and did not enter the game at all against Mississippi State. Murray has Manziel-like quickness and speed. He looks like Johnny. But unlike Manziel when he burst on the scene in 2012 and won the Heisman as a redshirt freshman, Kyler Murray is a true freshman. SEC football is really fast for him right now and he does not have a complete grasp of A&M’s system and reading defenses and coverages at this level. That will come in time but I don’t expect his role to increase much at this time as long as Allen is healthy and playing good football.

Q: How is Myles Garrett a different player than he was last year? What kind of game did he have against Alabama?
A: Myles Garrett is the best defensive player in college football. He is the primary focus of every opponent’s scouting report and consistently gets double-teamed, chipped and held and nobody has been able to fully keep him contained. When A&M needs a big play, Garrett had been the guy to make it. He’s coming off of a game against Alabama — and talented sophomore left tackle Cam Robinson — racking up five tackles, a sack (Robinson drew a flag for holding on the play), two tackles-for-loss, a batted pass that he nearly intercepted and a blocked punt.
A year ago, Garrett was a true freshman that stepped on campus as an elite pass rusher off the edge. But a year later, he’s in even better physical condition and has a much better grasp of run defense and keeping outside containment and the importance of holding up against the run. He also has a much larger bag of tricks when it comes to the nuances of getting to the QB.
Garrett is already on the short list of the Aggies’ all-time great defensive players – along with names like Dat Nguyen, Von Miller, Jacob Green, Ray Childress, Jack Pardee, Kevin Smith, Ed Simonini, John Roper and Aaron Wallace. By the time he leaves Aggieland (likely after his junior year in 2016), he might stand alone at the very top of that list. Garrett is way better than even his lofty numbers would indicate. And at 8.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles-for-loss, that’s saying something.

Q: A&M still seems to be vulnerable against a good rushing team. What’s changed with the Aggies’ defense against the run?
A: A&M continues to struggle against good running teams. Linebacker play continues to be a concern because there just aren’t a lot of guys on that linebacking corps with SEC experience. It’s a talented unit but it’s young.

I will say this, however … the run defense isn’t nearly as bad as it has been the previous two seasons. Outside of a couple of long leaks that have gone for touchdowns this season — see Derrick Henry’s 55-yard scoring run last week — the Aggie defense is not allowing nearly as many explosive plays as it did under Mark Snyder.

Speaking of Henry … how about a breakdown of his game against Texas A&M:

Totals: 32 carries, 236 yards (7.4 avg), 2 TD
1st: 9 carries, 153 yards (17.0 avg), 1 TD
2nd: 7 carries, 25 yards (3.6 avg), 1 TD
3rd: 10 carries, 33 yards (3.3 avg), 0 TD
4th: 7 carries, 25 yards (3.6 avg), 0 TD

After a brief glance at the box score, it appears that Henry gashed the Aggies and ran up and down the field for three hours. But in reality, John Chavis and Co. made some very nice adjustments because it looked after one quarter like Henry was gunning for Samaje Perrine’s single-game NCAA rushing record.
Chief’s D is still a work in progress, but the good news for Aggie fans is that progress is definitely being made on a unit that was once widely respected for its prowess as the “Wrecking Crew” but has been much maligned for the better part of the last dozen years.

Q: Tell us about Christian Kirk and what’s enabled him to be such a weapon this season?
A: Christian Kirk is everything you could ask for in a playmaker. He leads the SEC in several receiving categories and tops the national rankings in punt return yardage (25.1 avg). Kirk is the first Aggie since Aaron Glenn in 1993 to return two punts for a touchdown in the same season. All of that to go along with 39 catches, 609 yards and four TDs through the air.
Kirk came to A&M from Arizona at midterm and has been locked in from the word “go” with an extraordinary drive for greatness. He is known for being the only person at the Bright Football Complex late at night, sitting alone watching tape of himself and other receivers of which he’s been compared.
That drive and determination combined with true playmaking ability has given the Aggies a game-breaking weapon that has had a major impact on A&M’s win-loss record this season. Without Kirk, there is a good chance that A&M would not have beaten Arizona State or Arkansas, but critical touchdowns at important moments in both of those games helped put the Aggies on top.
And “My gawd, a freshman!” as it was once notoriously dubbed of Georgia great Herschel Walker in 1980. The future is off the charts for the already-impactful Christian Kirk.

Denham Springs, La., native, Mississippian since 1989 with a stop in Meridian before arriving in Tupelo. Daily Journal beat writer since 1996, covering Ole Miss since 2002. Proud Northeast Louisiana alum. Follow me on Twitter @parrishalford and listen to John Davis and myself daily with The Ole Miss Beat on Rebel Sports Radio.

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