Countdown 2007: Cornerbacks

What a difference a year can make. From No. 117 in 2005 to No. 44 in 2006, the Aggie pass defense improved a great deal in year one of Gary Darnell's 4-2-5 defense. This year, an older, more experienced group of cornerbacks should help that ranking continue to improve.

In 2005, the Aggie pass defense was the most porous unit in the nation, ranking last out of 117 Div 1-A teams, while giving up almost 305 yards per game. Enter defensive coordinator Gary Darnell, a new scheme and a redshirt freshman cornerback named Jordan Peterson, and the 2006 Aggies jumped ahead 73 spots to finish a respectable 44th in the nation in pass defense, surrendering just over 190 yards per game. And more importantly than statistical rankings, the 2006 Aggie defense kept the team in every conference game right down to the wire, giving them a chance to win every single week.

Perhaps no player's contribution to his team has been so often misrepresented as that of Jordan Peterson during his freshman campaign. During television broadcasts, announcers often referred to opposing offenses as "picking" on the young cornerback, and it's likely Peterson is most remembered by many for two plays he'd rather forget–one a touchdown pass to Robert Johnson with 27 seconds left in the Texas Tech game that lifted the Red Raiders to a dramatic victory over the Aggies in their first conference game of last season. The other was an equally dramatic touchdown strike from Zac Taylor to Maurice Purify in the Nebraska game with only 21 seconds remaining, negating another impressive come-from-behind effort by the Aggies.

What's not so often remembered is that in the Texas Tech game, Peterson had Johnson completely blanketed on that play, making a completion in that situation almost impossible, and in the Nebraska game, Purify gave himself quite an edge on the play by simply–and illegally–pushing off Peterson to make the touchdown grab. Nevertheless, perception wise, damage had been done.

Perception, however, isn't always reality, and in Peterson's case, the reality is that he led the team in pass breakups, forced a fumble and grabbed two interceptions, was named to the Freshman All-Big XII team by the Sporting News, and was an honorable mention All Big XII selection by the AP. The 5-foot-11, 184 pound sophomore started ten games for the Aggies last fall, providing solid coverage, and a few spectacular plays.

Peterson's most memorable effort came against Missouri, when he chased down a Mizzou wide receiver on his way to the endzone for a sure touchdown, grabbing the unsuspecting wideout from behind and punching the ball free and out of the back of the endzone before the ball broke the plane for a Mizzou TD. The result was an Aggie touchback and zero points on the drive for the Tigers, after what should have been an easy seven points–seven points that could have negated the Aggies' six point victory

Peterson returns for his sophomore campaign along with a stable of cornerbacks who Darnell believes will continue the Aggies' pass defense improvement. "Danny Gorrer, Jordan Peterson, Arkeith Brown, Marquis Carpenter...that's a pretty good start," said Darnell. "Our corner core is pretty strong, and it's an area that we can trust."

Backing up Peterson will be Carpenter, a junior who saw action in eleven games last fall, posting fifteen tackles, two passes broken up, and forcing a fumble in the Citadel game. Carpenter has good speed and good anticipation, to go along with fierce intensity. Last fall, Carpenter broke up a crucial third down pass attempt by Graham Harrell that enabled the Aggies to get the ball back and drive for a go-ahead score against Texas Tech with barely two minutes left in the game.

Junior Danny Gorrer returns at the other cornerback spot, after a terrific 2006 campaign in which he notched 52 tackles, three passes broken up, and an interception in the OSU game. Gorrer started all thirteen games for the Aggies at corner last fall, after posting four starts as a freshman in 2005. There shouldn't be any noticeable drop-off when Gorrer takes a breather, as junior backup Arkeith Brown was the Aggies' top defender off the bench last season, posting 21 tackles and four pass breakups, while seeing action in all thirteen games.

Safety Jonathan Batson has been moved to corner, as well, to provide some additional depth, and to use his 6-foot-1 frame to help the Aggies stay out of size mismatches such as that between Purify and Peterson in last year's Nebraska game.

Head Coach Dennis Franchione has tremendous confidence in this group of young corners, who will push each other while pushing the Aggie pass defense ranking further up the list. "We've got good competition at corner," Franchione said, "I feel like we've got four or five guys who can play there when they all get going."

Year two of Gary Darnell's 4-2-5 will also provide some additional help for the Aggies' corner play in the form of new installations designed to turn up the heat on opposing QB's. "If you've got a man cover team," said Darnell, "you better have a heck of a rush. Now that our rush is better, all of that opens up the opportunity to be more aggressive with the blitz package. It all ties together. Those guys (secondary) play them a little tighter, it makes our pass rush better. If our pass rush is better then we're playing (the receivers) a little tighter. It's not just a pass rush or just a pass defense, it's how well all eleven of them play together and how confident they are that they can do it."

And after an almost inconceivable last-place finish in 2005, confidence is something that's back in this Aggie defensive backfield. And every indication is that last year's improvement was just a stepping stone to a more evolved, more effective overall defensive unit in 2007.

What a difference a year can make.

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