Myles Garrett (above) is one of the top pass rushers in the country
Allowing just 12 points per game this season following a shutout of Prairie View A&M a week ago, the Texas A&M defense under the direction of second-year coordinator John Chavis is expected to present a stiff challenge for Auburn’s offense in Saturday night’s SEC opener for teams. A dynamic group that has a strong front four, the Aggies have talent at every level, but things definitely start with defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall.
At 6-5, 270 pounds Garrett is one of the most dangerous rusher in the country, but not much ahead of his teammate Hall (6-6, 270). A season ago Hall had seven sacks and 14 1/2 tackles for losses and showed his ability to dominate a game when he recorded four sacks against Arizona State.
While his numbers were very good, they don’t come close to matching those of Garrett. Leading the SEC with 12 1/2 sacks and 19 1/2 tackles for losses last season, Garrett has been timed at 4.46 in the 40-yard dash. That along with his size and strength makes him a unique challenge said Gus Malzahn.
“They are very aggressive, they can really run and they can be very disruptive up front,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “As a group, their defensive ends have to be some of the best in the country. Number 15, Myles Garrett is a special player. I haven’t seen many players like him, with his skill set in our league. He is definitely an impact player that we are going to have to be ready for.”
Daeshon Hall provides the spark off the edge opposite Myles Garrett.
In the middle of the Texas A&M defense former Auburn defensive ends coach Terry Price has plenty of size with four players expected to rotate throughout the game on Saturday. At one tackle position Zaycoven Henderson and Kingsley Keke will share time while Hardreck Walker and Daylon Mack share duties at the other spot. The smallest of the group is Walker at 290 pounds, meaning Auburn’s interior offensive line consisting of Xavier Dampeer, Alex Kozan and Braden Smith will have their hands full.
At linebacker the Aggies feature returning starter Shaan Washington along with sophomore newcomers Otara Alaka and speedy Richard Moore. Washington is tied for second on the team in tackles with 13 already this season and also leads the team with five passes broken up. Alaka and his backup Claude George have combined for 15 tackles in the middle for the Texas A&M defense.
On the back end the Aggies return three starters with safeties Justin Evans and Armani Watts back from last season along with nickel Donovan Wilson. Evans is tied with Washington for second on the team with 13 stops this season and has two of Texas A&M’s four interceptions already. The leading tackler on the team is first-year starter Nick Harvey from his cornerback position. His 15 total tackles and one pass broken up have put him at the center of attention for the Texas A&M defense already. Playing alongside him is junior college transfer Priest Willis. A physical corner, Willis has six stops and one interception on the season.
Punter Shane Tripucka has been very good to start the season for the Aggies on special teams, averaging 45.1 yards per punt on nine attempts in 2016. Three of his punts have finished inside the 20-line this season and he has a long of 59 yards.