Explaining the most underrated aspect of Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin
Posted by: Pete Roussel on Tuesday October 15, 2013
A sports radio host in the southeastern part of the country said this morning that he’s still unsure how quality of a coach Kevin Sumlin really is, considering Sumlin has greatly benefited from the likes of Case Keenum and Johnny Manziel, both of whom signed with Sumlin’s predecessors, Art Briles and Mike Sherman.
In Sumlin’s four years at Houston, the Cougars finished 8-5, 10-4, 5-7, and 12-1. The Cougars won their division of Conference USA twice, but never won the CUSA championship game. Only once in four years did Houston finish in the Top 25, a No. 14 ranking in the 2011 coaches’ poll.
At Texas A&M, he’s 16-3 over the course of two years. His team is one of three teams to defeat Alabama in Tuscaloosa since 2008, he’s maximized the skill set of Johnny Manziel, and quite frankly, he’s doing some that Texas A&M hasn’t done in a long time.
The one thing you must know about Kevin Sumlin is that he’s established a proven track record of not wasting timeouts. Do not ever downplay the value of a head coach who consistently keeps his timeouts for the very end of the game. In the SEC, three to four games every year will be decided in the last four minutes of the game. If you are able to control the clock near the end of games, your team has the advantage. In order to get to that point, your team must be flawless in their substitution patterns, alignments, and clock management.
The final 3:07 of the Texas A&M-Ole Miss game is a perfect example.
Most importantly, Texas A&M had three timeouts, while Ole Miss was down to one timeout due to two self-inflicted timeouts taken earlier in the second half.
Ole Miss self-inflicted timeout #1: After an Ole Miss incomplete pass on third-down at the Aggies’ 36-yard line with 13:32 remaining in the fourth quarter and trailing 24-17, Hugh Freeze was forced to make a difficult decision whether to go-for-it or kick a 53-yard field goal. ESPN cameras went to Freeze, who appeared to have called for the field goal team 22 seconds (real time) after the third-down incompletion. There were 18 seconds on the play-clock when the field goal team ran on the field. With the play-clock winding down, Freeze called a timeout to either avoid the delay of game penalty or change his mind to instead go-for-it. The Rebels put the offense back on the field and later scored a touchdown on the drive, but the burned timeout would come back to haunt the Rebels.
Ole Miss self-inflicted timeout #2: With the game tied at 24, Ole Miss completed a 21-yard pass to move the ball to the Texas A&M 19-yard line with 10:46 remaining in the game. Freeze opted to substitute quarterbacks, which he’s done regularly for two years, but for whatever reason, quarterback Barry Brunetti was still communicating the play and/or protection scheme to the offensive line with 7 seconds on the play clock, so Freeze chose to call a timeout on 1st & 10 to avoid a delay of game penalty. Coming out of the timeout, Freeze put Bo Wallace back in the game and the very next play resulted in a touchdown, but again, the Rebels burned a critical timeout, leaving them with only one for the rest of the game.
Thus, especially considering the play-making abilities of Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M was clearly in control of the clock in the finals minutes.
With 3:07 remaining in the game, Ole Miss started possession at its own 25-yard, tied at 38.
Because Texas A&M had all three timeouts remaining, Freeze knew the Aggies would still get another possession and let’s be honest, Johnny Manziel doesn’t need much time to go 85 yards.
The Aggies were really in control of the clock, thus Freeze had to be aggressive in his play-calling and dialed a play-action 4 vertical concept on first down against Cover 3.
In fact, three straight incomplete passes allowed Texas A&M to take over possession with 2:33 remaining and all three timeouts.
If Texas A&M had zero or one timeout remaining at the start of the Ole Miss possession, Freeze almost assuredly would have called a running play on the first play of the series. At best, with a three & out, Texas A&M would have gotten the ball in a much less favorable situation than 2:33 remaining, as they did.
Thus, I went back today to review old box scores from A&M’s tight games against Florida (2012), Alabama (2012), Ole Miss (2012), and Alabama (2013).
Sumlin was masterful in his use of timeouts.
Sumlin’s use of timeouts against Florida in 2012: Texas A&M had all three timeouts remaining when Florida obtained possession with 3:13 remaining and a 20-17 lead.
Sumlin’s use of timeouts against Alabama in 2012: Texas A&M had all three timeouts left when Sumlin used his first with 1:36 remaining in the game as the Aggies faced a punting situation from their own 13-yard line. (*** If you remember, Alabama had the burn a massively crucial self-inflicted timeout because of a poor substation rotation when A&M picked up their tempo on a drive in the third-quarter.)
Sumlin’s used of timeouts against Ole Miss in 2012: Trailing 27-17 at Ole Miss with 7:47 remaining, Kevin Sumlin had all three timeouts in his hip pocket, while Ole Miss had none. The Aggies actually never used a timeout in the second half of this game, but the Rebels sure could have used theirs at the end.
Sumlin’s use of timeouts against Alabama in 2013: Kevin Sumlin understandably called timeout prior to Alabama’s third & goal situation with 2:34 remaining and a 42-35 Bama lead. He also very wisely used a timeout with 1:15 remaining after a Manziel run, but he also very intelligently kept one timeout to use after the onside kick at the end. The score was 49-42, so if A&M had recovered the ball, they could have thrown the ball in the middle of the field for long yardage, called timeout, and then setup one final play to try to tie the game.
Sumlin reminds me of some of the veteran and savvy NFL coaches like Tom Coughlin in how he manages his timeouts. Just because he does a great job of this aspect of the game doesn’t make him a great coach, but few men are elite coaches without handling their timeouts and controlling the clock at the end of games.
All things considered, Kevin Sumlin is an elite coach. This isn’t about a coach that simply inherited Case Keenum and Johnny Manziel.