1) Minimize Turnovers
I don't think anybody feels Texas A&M needs to play a clean game to win the SMU game. But as we saw last year at Ole Miss, if the offense stacks multiple turnovers, you can let a weaker team stay in the game with a chance to win. The Aggies don't necessarily need to win the turnover battle, and the team can overcome 3-4 turnovers, but anything over two will cause the starters to play into the fourth quarter and the younger players that desperately need live playing time won't get that quality time. Plus, even though A&M can survive a few turnovers this weekend, no need to start bad habits now with ball security.
2) Increase Disruptive Plays on Defense
In this day and age of college football, you can't expect a defense to consistently stop these new spread offenses. Just about any offensive unit these days will rack up some yards. The key for any good defense is to make a handful of big, disruptive plays. Whether it's a sack, a QB hurry that leads to an interception, or a big hit that results in a fumble, the Aggie defense must create more disruptive plays and put themselves in position to make big plays. Typically, this starts with a potent pass rush and frankly A&M has had little pass rush through the first three games. That's one of several reasons why this unit ranks in the No. 100's. The Aggies had one disruptive play on Saturday and that was the clean, early hit on T.J. Yeldon that resulted in Shaan Washington's fumble recovery. That one disruptive play got the Aggies back in the ball game. Ideally, they need 4-5 of these plays a game.
3) Defensive Line-up Changes Pay Dividends
It's no secret that Mark Snyder is shuffling the deck this week in practice looking for a better combination of players running with the first unit. Deshazor Everett will likely see a more significant role at safety which will allow Tremaine Jacobs to get the starting job at corner. Jacobs has shown some promise in the first two weeks of the season making some big plays, but he has also given up some plays as well. He had the impressive interception against SMU last year. He'll need to do the same and solidify the corner position for the Everett experiment at safety to work. We'll probably see more Darian Claiborne at linebacker based on practice reps this week. Claiborne has shown promise in fall camp and in the first two games. He didn't see much action in the Alabama game, and I think the staff in hindsight feels that was probably a mistake. I also expect to see more of Daeshon Hall at defensive end where the staff is trying to find somebody with the natural ability to put pressure on a QB. The staff must see some dividends from these moves before the team jumps into the teeth of the SEC schedule or a 10-11 win season will be very difficult.
4) Leaders Emerge on Defense
Last year, Spencer Nealy was an emotional leader on defense. Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart were also veteran senior leaders that not only led by example with some critical, game saving plays (i.e. Ole Miss) but they also kept the unit on an even keel and mentally ready for every contest. With so many young defenders on the field in 2013, a couple of veterans must step forward both as a vocal leader and as a playmaker. The veteran nominees are Howard Matthews, Steven Jenkins, Deshazor Everett, Kirby Ennis, and possibly Julien Obioha. Jenkins is not known as a vocal player, and his two-game suspension makes you wonder if he is in a position to be that leader. Matthews has struggled on the field so far, and he was suspended by Coach Sumlin last season. In addition, Deshazor Everett was suspended a game as well. Come to think of it, Kirby Ennis missed the first game due to a suspension. So, every upperclassman starter o defense has been suspended at some point in the past 12 months. Maybe that's the problem to begin with. Regardless, with all of this behind the defense, somebody needs to stand tall, play big, and get these young freshman playing hard and believing in themselves. It's hard to expect true freshmen to fill that role.
5) Outside Receiver Depth Emerges
The national buzz this week focused on the incredible 279-yard performance of Mike Evans. If anybody questioned whether he would return for his junior year, I think we have our answer. Barring a major injury, A&M's best outside receiver will be entering the NFL Draft and will be selected in the first round. Aside from Evans, the Aggies could use a few more outside receivers stepping up and becoming playmakers in critical situations. Derel Walker made a few catches, but he also dropped a couple of easy balls as well…most notably on the pass interference where the ball still hit him in the hands inside the 10-yard line. Jaquay Williams has the ability to be a huge factor opposite Evans who will now be getting double coverage, but as we saw with the fade route that was intercepted, he's not polished yet. Labhart, Pope? You get my point. A&M needs another go-to receiver on the outside to take advantage of the attention defenses will give to Evans going forward. It's a huge opportunity for either Walker or Williams, and if not those two then possibly Ed Pope and others. I'll say this, if the receiver opposite Evans can manage a big day with 80-100 yards of receiving, then SMU is in for a long, long day on Saturday.
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