Defensive Line: B
Michael Bennett continues to be the story of 2008 on the defensive line. He's becoming an unstoppable force, living in the opponent's backfield. He added another 2.5 tackles for loss to his stat line on Saturday, although it seemed he was wreaking havoc in the backfield all afternoon. He also led the team in tackles with nine, which is unusual for an A&M defense. He also had a 37 yard fumble recovery and return that set up A&M's last score and eventual game winning touchdown. Kellen Heard had a quiet five tackles, and Paul Freeney had a surprisingly nice game with four stops and a tackle for loss. In a four man front, this unit is pretty formidable. In a 3-3-5 package, there's just not enough bodies to expect the defensive line to fill all of the gaps and make stops. I'd like to see more production from the other defensive end spot opposite Bennett. Cyril Obiozor had two tackles and Amos Gbunblee and Matt Moss did not register a tackle.
This unit still concerns me the most. Other than Von Miller's ability to rush the quarterback from the outside edge, there aren't playmakers at this position. Matt Featherston is solid in the middle (he had nine tackles), but his lack of speed and instincts limits his big play ability. He can make the play in front of him, and finish off a running back 4-5 yards off the line, but he doesn't have the explosiveness to shoot the gap and disrupt a play. Garrick Williams had the unit's only sack but otherwise his number just doesn't get called in the game. Von Miller made one tackle. Jonathan Haynes is similar to Featherston. He has better instincts in the game than maybe Williams and Miller, but his lack of speed and athleticism limits his game. The development of this unit over the course of this season will be critical for defensive success. The staff must find a way to get Williams and Miller more productive and utilize their speed and athletic ability.
Defensive Backs: B+
Ah, a defensive touchdown! It has been a long time since Aggie fans celebrated a touchdown from the defense, and Jordan Peterson's 48 yard interception return early in the game was just what the doctor ordered for a team looking for something good to happen on the road. If that wasn't good enough, Arkeith Brown picked off an errant pass on the next New Mexico series and set up Texas A&M's second touchdown. You can't ask for much more than two turnovers and a 14-0 lead to start the game. Those two interceptions certainly set the tone for the day.
The Aggie secondary did allow 22 completions for 154 yards and a 63% completion rate which normally would be a area of concern. However, if you look at the circumstances and the context of those completions and yardage, you'll see a pretty good job by the defensive backs. With the Aggies up 28-10 in the fourth quarter, the staff relaxed coverage and allowed the Lobos to complete short passes underneath and run the clock. New Mexico had all of 48 yards passing heading into those final two fourth quarter drives, and accumulated an additional 106 yards when the Aggies were essentially in prevent.
New Mexico isn't the most dynamic passing team around, and they certainly won't be confused for a Texas Tech or Missouri, so we're still not sure how this unit will respond to an accomplished passing game. However, for a unit that struggled against even the bad passing teams in years past, it's good to see them have a good game for a change.
Defensive Coaching: C-
I can't say I'm sold on a prevent defense for a unit that needs all the confidence and success they can get, but it did milk the clock and secure the victory. Going into those final two New Mexico scoring drives late in the game, A&M's defense had held the Lobos to 210 yards of offense and 10 points. They kept New Mexico out of the end zone after the muffed punt deep in Aggie territory. A touchdown at that point could have swung the momentum of the game, so kudos to the defense and the coaching staff.
The rushing defense is still a major concern, giving up 145 yards to the New Mexico's Ferguson and 216 yards rushing overall. For those keeping tabs, that's a season total of 471 yards surrendered on the ground to Arkansas State and New Mexico. That's not a good sign at all. It's been brought up many times, but a lot of those yards have been given up in the nickel package. Kines frequently utilizes that package even in first down situations, and not just passing downs. With only three down linemen and a suspect linebacker corps behind them, opposing offenses are easily finding open space up the middle. The unit has much better success plugging up the middle with a traditional 4-3 package, but Kines is adamant on protecting against the pass. However, that's exposing him in the middle of the field, especially given the lack of speed from this linebacker group.
But, with all of the yards given up, the defense has only surrendered 40 points this season with 12 of those basically given to New Mexico late in the game on Saturday. The key to A&M's performance Saturday were the big plays made early that led to 14 points, but if they can't stop the run then the Aggies will have a tough time when the competition improves. That happens in two weeks with Miami.
OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE: C+
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-
Special teams play was pretty quiet on Saturday. Richie Bean did remain the starting kicker. His kickoffs were mostly high and out of the end zone, but he was not called upon to attempt a field goal. It was strange that the staff did not attempt a 44-yard field goal in the fourth quarter and opted to go for a fourth down and 9 inside the Lobos' 30 yard line. By this time, the staff was playing ultra-conservative and wanted to avoid a blocked kick and a quick score the other way.
Justin Brantly averaged a solid 44.3 yards per punt, but his net average was only 30 yards due to a couple of low punts that were returned for nice gains. Early in the game, he did have a couple of nice, high punts and pinned the Lobos inside their own 10 yard line. Punt coverage must improve. On a couple of Brantly's punts, the gunners were hung up at the line of scrimmage and did not track the ball well. It cost A&M on one punt that should have been downed inside the five yard line, but it harmlessly rolled into the end zone for a touchback.
Hop's report card - Defense
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