Talk about the tale of two halves, the Aggie defense opened up to rave reviews in the first half holding the once powerful Fresno State offense to 103 yards and no points. In fact, the defense was doing things that few A&M defenses had done in the Franchione era, which is create turnovers and shorten the field for the offense.
Devin Gregg made an incredible interception on FSU's second drive which set up the offense at the 41 yard-line. Then the Bulldogs fumbled it away in the second quarter on a hit by Chris Harrington. The defensive backs were making plays on the ball and delivering big hits, while the defensive line was making stops behind the line and dominating the line of scrimmage. It was like the old days.
Unfortunately, the old days didn't last in the second half, and the defensive front softened up and allowed Fresno State to establish a consistent running game which eventually opened up some passing lanes.
The concern is obvious. With the Bulldogs dominated physically in the first half and ready to crumble at 19-0, the Aggie defense took its foot off the accelerator and played softer in the second half. A&M surrendered a 19 point lead at home to a solid, yet inferior team. Championship teams don't do that.
Yeah, there were mistakes late, especially the 44-yard pass and run on Fresno's final drive in regulation that tied the game. The defense allowed the Bulldogs to score on seven of its last nine drives, and coughed up 29 points in the second half and an additional 16 points in overtime.
Still, this unit showed signs of being a very good defense, and they are getting closer. Even after three overtimes and an extra 67 yards tacked on, the defense allowed just 399 yards. On Fresno's final drive of regulation, the defense turned away the Bulldogs three times from the three yard-line and nearly made a great goal-line stand for the win. They are close. They just need to learn to close the deal and stay focused for four quarters.
There was some inconsistency, and I'd like to think that was because of the constant rotation due to the heat. Later in the game they actually went to some third team rotations with Paul Freeney and Chris Smith. However, I like this unit and think it's the best A&M has had in quite a few years. Chris Harrington seems to be good for one huge play a game (fumble) and puts pressure on the QB. Michael Bennett made several critical solo tackles on the edge when the Bulldogs had numbers. Henry Smith made some big plays too.
However, the DL's also had two late hits on the quarterback, the last one in overtime nearly cost A&M the game after the fumble at the goal line that allowed Fresno State to get the ball back at the 12 yard-line.
Overall Grade: C+
You know what you are going to get out of the starters Mark Dodge and Misi Tupe. Both veterans combined for 28 tackles and Tupe caused an early fumble. I thought Tupe played a much better game than last week.
With that said, this group has some limitations in size and athletic ability that were exploited by Fresno's big pass-catching tight end Bear Pascoe. They couldn't match up with him, as he scored the tying touchdown with three seconds remaining and also snagged a desperation pass out of the air in the final overtime. He finished with three touchdowns on the day with an A&M linebacker in tow.
Matt Featherston and Anthony Lewis bring that needed athleticism, but they also are younger and more prone to inconsistency. Still, it will be interesting to watch the rotations at this position as the season progresses.
Overall Grade: C
With the exceptions that have already been noted, I thought the secondary played a much better game, highlighted by Devin Greggs perfect coverage on the two-point play that sealed the victory. Gregg also had a nice interception and I thought overall he had a better week breaking on the ball.
While I thought Alton Dixon took himself out of plays on his blitzes, he had a solid game and really delivered some big hits. Jordan Pugh had a very nice game in run support. He came over and rotated late in coverage on a couple of called blitzes, but overall I thought he was solid.
The corners as a group had a much better day, although there were still a couple of big mistakes that sprung a Fresno State receiver for a long gain. Marquis Carpenter and Arkeith Brown continue to look good in tight coverage and I still believe they will see more playing time in the near future.
Overall Grade: C-
OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE: C
The special teams were pretty quiet with the exception of the missed field goal and the blocked field goal, which appeared to be a problem with the kick and not the protection. Matt Szymanski made up for the early misses by hitting three crucial field goals, one in the overtime period.
Justin Brantley had an average day with a 39.5 yard/punt total, and the coverage teams did not allow a big return on kickoffs or punts. Fresno State kicked away from Kerry Franks, and Pierre Brown had some solid returns. He needs to learn to catch the ball moving forward as opposed to stepping backward on the catch. That costs him several yards on every return. All in all, a pretty good day for the special teams.
OVERALL GRADE: B-
Hop's report card - Defense
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