Hop's Defensive Game Analysis - Vanderbilt

After a rough outing the previous week versus Auburn, the Aggie defense looked refreshed and more aggressive against the Vanderbilt Commodores and the result was the best showing of the 2013 season. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop takes a look at the performance and grades each position.

What a difference a week makes, and what a difference the opponent makes as well. I say that, but even going back to some of the lighter competition in non-conference, the defense was giving up yards and points. After getting completely dominated last week against a physical and fast-paced Auburn offense, the Aggies retooled at a few positions and decided to be more aggressive and take the fight to a Vanderbilt offense with a few skill weapons like Jordan Matthews, but were much less physical along the line of scrimmage. First, freshman Noel Ellis replaced Toney Hurd at the slot cover position. With Alonzo Williams out for the game with an injury, Isaiah Golden and junior Ivan Robinson manned the defensive line interior.

But the storyline came during the game with several pleasant surprises on the field. Steven Jenkins stopped thinking and started reacting again like he did in 2012. Donnie Baggs entered the game and promptly made a critical fourth down stop and appeared energized with his return to the field. However, the biggest surprise had to be the inspired play from junior defensive end Gavin Stansbury who ended the game with nine tackles, two sacks, and a quarterback hurry in his best performance in his four years in the program. Midway through the game, Daeshon Hall replaced Julien Obioha for a series and his playmaking both in pass rush and in run support found him on the field for an extended and productive period of time.

Overall, the defense looked like a different unit on Saturday flying to the ball, gang tackling, and pressuring the pocket consistently with and without a blitz. The statistics confirmed it. The Aggies held the Commodores to under 100 yards on 44 carries for a 2.2 yd/carry average, more than four yards less per attempt than the season average of over 6.0 yards per carry. The 329 yards of total offense was a season low even with the second unit playing the fourth quarter after a scoreless third stanza. Add in three interceptions and a critical pick six to open the second half by Howard Matthews made Saturday a very productive day for the defense.

Defensive Line B+

As I mentioned earlier, Gavin Stansbury may have been the disruptive player in the game with nine tackles and two sacks. If this performance signals that the light bulb has turned on for the junior, then the dynamics of this defense has changed. A&M has desperately needed a playmaker at defensive end, and Stanbury provided that playmaking ability against Vanderbilt. Was this a one hit wonder performance, or the start of something special? Who knows, but it should give A&M fans some hope for the remainder of the season. Second half addition Daeshon Hall at the other end gave Vandy's OL fits during the productive third quarter shutout. If Hall and Stansbury can extend this effort at home and take this performance on the road against LSU and Missouri in a few weeks, then this is a gamechanger. Golden continues to disrupt plays at the point of attack with his penetration when he wants to….he's getting a little more consistent but still needs the game experience to become a trusted source in the middle on EVERY play.

Linebacker A-

As I said in my initial game analysis, welcome back to the 2013 season, Mr. Jenkins. The senior linebacker recorded eight tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, and a pass break-up. But even more importantly, he played aggressively and he played with an attitude. He played like the old Steven Jenkins from a year ago. In all, the linebackers accounted for 5.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and took the action to the point of attack versus previous weeks when the unit let the action come to them. Donnie Baggs got back in the rotation and had a nice fourth down stop short of the sticks in short yardage. Even Jordan Mastrogiovanni got into the fun with several nice stops and a tipped interception. Throw in a pick by Nate Askew and it was a productive day for the linebackers.

Defensive Backs B+

Howard Matthews had the most important play of the game when he opened the second half with a 32-yard pick six that stopped Vanderbilt's first half momentum cold in its tracks. That play effectively sealed the deal. In addition, Matthews and Floyd Raven combined for 23 tackles and 1.5 TFL's. There were a few missed assignments in coverage that gave the Commodores a couple of big plays, but for the most part the secondary made their receivers earn every yard. All-SEC WR Jordan Matthews finished with a respectable eight catches for 92 yards, but he had just one play for more than 20 yards (21) and he didn't make any big catches that showed up on the scoreboard. Devante Harris is quietly becoming a very good cover corner.

Defensive Coaching A-

Mark Snyder has been criticized most of the season for playing a passive style of defense which has resulted in some questionable results in the first half of the season. However, he turned it up a notch on Saturday and let the players be more aggressive and attack the ball. The players responded with the unit's best performance of the year. The defense fed off of the crowd and for the first time this season, the players looked like they were having fun and reacting to the action on the field and not thinking too much.


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