A&M Not Title-Worthy Until Defense Improves
By Chris Mahr
“This isn’t the end of our season,” Johnny Manziel told the media after Texas A&M’s 49-42 loss to Alabama on September 14th. “This wasn’t the Super Bowl. Alabama lost a game last year and still went on to win a national championship. They lost to LSU the year before and still went on to win a national championship. Our season isn’t over.”
Indeed, the Aggies’ barnburner of a loss only knocked them down to 10th in the AP Top 25. There are still two months’ worth of games remaining in the season - plenty of time for the nine teams currently ranked ahead of A&M to falter.
It’s two months during which Manziel and the rest of A&M’s “basketball on grass” offense can continue to light the gridiron on fire with an attack that’s averaging 50.3 points/game (sixth-best in the FBS). Alas, it’s also two months during which opponents can exploit a Swiss-cheese like defense that’s holding the Aggies back from being a true national or SEC title contender.
We somewhat saw this coming. The Aggies were our pick for the fourth-worst defense in the SEC at the start of the season, the direct result of losing three very key players (DE Damontre Moore and LBs Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart) from a unit that averaged a very respectable 21.8 points allowed per game last year.
That being said, we didn’t think it’d be as bad as what we’ve been “treated” to thus far. 31 points and 509 yards of offense allowed to Rice in the opening week, partially excused by the one-game suspension of five defensive starters; 28 points allowed to FCS Sam Houston State, who were only down 30-21 in the third quarter, in Week 2; 568 total yards allowed in the defensive debacle against the Crimson Tide in Week 3.
It’s not saying much that A&M turned in its best defensive performance of the year on Saturday against SMU due to those aforementioned struggles. While there were certainly highlights in the 42-13 win, including three forced turnovers, the Mustangs also gained 434 yards of offense.
“It’s a work in progress,” defensive coordinator Mark Snyder told reporters after the win in a rather self-evident statement.
For all of the skill that Manziel and the rest of the offense continue to exhibit, it’s just not possible to keep winning with a defense that’s 90th in the country in scoring (30.3 PPG). As we saw with West Virginia last year when the wheels came off in Morgantown after a 5-0 star and No. 5 national ranking, opponents catch on.
They have two ways to beat you: Either they are able to go score-for-score with you (Ole Miss on October 12th fits this descriptor to a “T”) or they find a way to contain your offense (LSU did that in its win over A&M last year and have the personnel to do it again at Tiger Stadium on November 23rd).
For all I know, the trial-by-fire start to the season was just what the Aggies defense needed. Maybe all the new featured players have a sense of where they need to be and when. Maybe they’ll match up a lot better against their remaining opponents than they did against Alabama and its fleet of star skill players. Maybe they realize that for all of Johnny Football’s magic, even he can’t win a game completely by himself.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin’s “Air Raid” made Texas A&M’s first year and change in the SEC a highly successful one. Now its time for the Aggies to show that when they’re not on the attack, at the very least they won’t retreat.
Chris Mahr is the managing editor of Lost Lettermen. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter at @CMahrtian.
Top Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports