Hop's Defensive Grades - SMU Game

Aggie WEbsider's David Sandhop breaks down the season opener against SMU and provides his position grades for the defensive side of the ball. W|hat went right and what went wrong in the Aggies' 46-14 win over the Mustangs.

When SMU scored their second touchdown to close the gap to 20-14, there were some worried Aggie fans. First, the Aggie defense couldn't tackle or stop SMU bruising running back Zach Line. His first six carries netted 9. 11, 9, 4, 13, and 27 yards. He finished the game with 128 yards, matching Cyrus Gray's production on the ground. Second, the defense missed several assignments leaving SMU receivers wide open resulting in gains of 27, 17, 28, 15, and 23 yards. Combine those two issues, and a much faster and more athletic A&M defense gave up four plays over 20 yards. That only means one thing – mistakes. I'll give the defense a pass on the missed tackles for game one because coaches have learned through the years that practicing in thud mode is the only way to get through fall camp without major injuries and not wrapping up has become a problem in the first week. Second, I'll also give the secondary a pass with some of the breakdowns in assignments. I'll be less forgiving in game two against Idaho.

After last year's resurgence in the defense, giving up 350 yards and 14 early points to an SMU team that benched its veteran quarterback is not what many observers were expecting. But unlike recent years where the Aggie defense simply wasn't fast enough or big enough to stop the opposition, the issues seem to be very correctable, although a playmaking joker could be more of a longer term project to complete.


Defensive Line A-

As Tony Jerod-Eddie goes, so goes the A&M defensive line. He's the playmaker and the big, physical presence of the group. Both Eddie Brown and Kirby Ennis had very good games. In fact, I was very encouraged by Ennis' two sacks, but can they hold-up to the bigger, stronger offensive linemen they will face against the likes of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Jonathan Mathis had a pretty good game, but surprisingly he did not show the playmaking tendencies that showed in the middle last year. Overall, the defensive line accounted for six of the eight sacks and filled the QB pressure void from the linebackers. But Aggie fans should be put on notice. Tony Jerod-Eddie must stay healthy and on the field for the entire season. With a linebacker unit still finding its way, the defensive line has no margin for error.


Linebacker D+

Well, going into the season there was the most concern with the linebacker corps, and that certainly seems to be the case. The linebackers didn't play with a lot of energy and didn't fly o the ball. Not surprisingly, Sean Porter had the best game with a team leading 10 tackles but after that the performances ranged from average to below average. Garrick William still looked like he was practicing with the second unit. Jonathan Stewart had a few nice moments and had a solid game, but he's not ready to assume the role of an inside playmaker just yet. I'm just not sure yet that Caleb Russell has enough explosiveness and quickness off the ball to be the kind of pass rusher A&M needs later in the season when the games will be more difficult. I wish Shaun Ward had reported in shape because I do see a football player in there somewhere. He's just a tad sluggish. Tyrell Taylor got pushed around a little bit, but he was getting his feet wet and I think he will pay dividends on a few 3rd and long passing plays. I THINK we'll get this worked out, and obviously getting Demontre Moore out of the dog house and onto the field will help as well. But finding an outside pass rush before OSU is very important. The other key will be finding that second inside linebacker who can be a physical presence in the middle, whether that's Jonathan Stewart or CharlieThomas. After last night, the jury is still out.


Defensive Back C

As with the rest of the defense, I have a hard time judging the secondary's overall performance. First of all, the two early interceptions by Steven Campbell and Trent Hunter established the tone of the game immediately. Also, when you look at the cover corners, I think they showed very nice coverage skills when they came up and went man cover. The physical skills are there. However, the secondary had several major assignment breakdowns that left several SMU receivers wide open for some nice gainers. To be honest, I'd like to see less scheme and more man coverage. For the first time in several years, the Aggies have the athletes and the depth to line up eye-to-eye and dare the opposing receivers to win the battle head up. The good news here is that these missed assignments are correctable. In years past, the problem was speed and talent and there's nothing you can do about that.


OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE C


SPECIAL TEAMS C

I know a lot of people will say this grade should be lower given the two blocked extra points and the dropped punt, but I'm still giddy over Randy Bullock's kickoffs. Even against the wind, Bullock put the ball high and deep into the end zone. He had seven of his nine kicks reach the end zone and they were nice, high floaters that made returns difficult. If he continues to do that all season, that will be huge. The punting was average at best, and that's about all you can say.


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