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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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COLUMN: Why Noel Mazzone deserves more credit, less criticism

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Photo by Photo by C. Morgan Engel

Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone walks out onto the field at the Rose Bowl prior to the season’s opener against UCLA. 

Jake Spavital unwittingly created a new tradition at Texas A&M.

The former offensive coordinator joined the Aggie staff in 2013. With high-powered attacks led by Geno Smith and Brandon Weeden highlighted on his resume, the young hot shot was expected to build off Kliff Kingsbury’s success.
Those positive results never came. It didn’t take long for Aggie fans to point the finger, as Johnny Manziel’s departure only revealed Spavital’s ineptitude. Following the Kyle-Kyler disaster, that finger began to move toward the middle of the hand.

A&M eventually moved on from Spav after 2015. Unfortunately, the decision emboldened fans to replicate that complaining formula going forward. It now takes one grim sequence for Twitter and message boards to call for heads.

Fire Kevin Sumlin! Fire Billy Kennedy! Fire DJ Mike for playing too much DMX!
Noel Mazzone recently emerged as a popular target for these knee-jerk reactions. Whenever the offense is stagnant, people immediately become more emotional than a Jimmy Kimmel monologue.

The criticism is not simply misguided. Mazzone’s accomplishments with Trevor Knight last year and now, with Kellen Mond, are exceptional.

For starters, think about the situation. The A&M offensive line is outside the top 65 in every run-blocking category and ranks 98th in adjusted sack rate — by far the worst numbers in the Kevin Sumlin era.

Is that Mazzone’s fault?

A&M ran into trouble once its starting tackles departed following the 2016 season. No remaining lineman had started more than three games at the position. And Erik McCoy was forced to play center once again, clearly not his natural position.

During this season, former starter Colton Prater has been practically shown the door. The sophomore played a mere two snaps at Florida. Prater, along with the aforementioned factors, contributes to the overall struggle and Jim Turner’s troubles in finding his best five players.

Rubbing more salt into the wound, the WR unit entered this season with less experience than even the offensive line. Christian Kirk was the only returning receiver who accomplished anything. In turn, the increased bracket/double coverage he attracts is resulting in quite a slump.

This sounds more like a recruiting (and developing) problem that began much earlier.

For proof, this is a historically young Aggie offense. The team welcomed a Sumlin-high 29 newcomers this offseason, and most of them are already playing in critical moments. Mazzone’s played 16 different freshmen, seven of whom have also made starts.

One of those freshmen is Kellen Mond. Although he’s impressed, the quarterback can look like a true fish at times. Mond struggles to quickly read defenses, lacks accuracy and becomes impatient in the pocket.

On the fly, Mazzone rebuilt an offense revolving around Mond’s skillset. Running the football, providing conventional pass protection and creating separation remain problems for this offense. But even still, Mond has improved every week and delivers when it matters most.  

So, is playcalling just the problem? Well, it’s supposed to be limited. Otherwise, this offense would be a complete mess. Bad plays aren’t always due to poor play-calling. An 18-year-old is called upon to make critical decisions, and many other inexperienced players are expected to execute.

Now, it’s appropriate to criticize Mazzone for a few things. Is Texas A&M allergic to the middle of the field? Why are they so hell-bent on the game plan? What made Sumlin hate tight ends? Why did they run the same inside zone play 96 times on Alabama? But again, it isn’t supposed to be perfect.

So before fans get outraged, they should take a deep breath and consider the circumstances. Criticize with facts, not emotions.

Keep in mind, this is Sumlin’s first OC who possesses experience and a proven track record. And despite all the aforementioned disadvantages, this young team is setting the bar high for the future. A 10-win season isn’t inconceivable at this point.

Mond is making throws like this now, too.

Noel Mazzone isn’t Jeff Banks, who earns his check more than anyone on this staff. But he shouldn’t be treated like Jake Spavital or Aaron Moorehead (who deserves much more criticism).

As much as people want it to be, it isn’t always the offensive coordinator’s fault. 

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  • Freshman quarterback Kellen Mond completed 19 of his 29 passes for 237 yards with one touchdown against Alabama.

    Photo by By Kevin Chou

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