While the offense showed improvement and provided some optimism for the future despite a few mistakes, the defense still has a long way to go. The Aggies grabbed the early momentum with Michael Goodson's 62-yard screen pass and Kyle Field was rocking. The table was set for a special day and the crowd was ready for a raucous party. But four quick plays, 59 yards, and 1:44 minutes later, the party was subdued by a porous defense that looked both slow and lost on the field. After an Aggie punt, the party officially ended when the Hurricanes ripped off 62 yards and a touchdown in just 35 seconds.
The case has been made that the defensive talent isn't where it needs to be, and I don't think many people will argue with that. However, the issue is more than simply talent when the opponent, who has struggled significantly to score against D-1 competition the past two seasons, shreds the Aggie defense for big yardage on simple, straight-forward off-tackle plays like Graig Cooper's 51-yard touchdown run. In just over two minutes of play clock, Miami easily managed 121 yards and 14 points in six plays. That's over 20 yards per play from scrimmage.
Of course, Aggie fans are wondering if this is simply a work-in-progress that will get better with time or if this is a preview of what's to come in the Big 12 that is littered with offenses more explosive than the Hurricane team that just dominated this Aggie defense. I see it as a little of both. One has to believe that A&M defenders will learn to stay in their gap assignments and not drift out of position leaving huge voids in the middle of the field. The constant outside blitzing and the lack of execution in those blitzing packages (that seem to come on every play) is leaving open space all over the middle of the field that's easy pickings for any offense. Mix that in with a lack of closing speed and you have far too many big plays against an average offense.
By my count, Miami had five plays over 19 yards in the first half alone. Another big play of 66 yards was called back for an illegal motion penalty. When Joe Kines was announced as the A&M defensive coordinator, he came with a reputation for being extremely aggressive who sacrificed a few big plays on offense to get a lot of big plays on defense. Well, he's getting a few nice plays on defense for marginal two and three yard losses, but the trade-off is long, explosive gains on offense resulting in touchdowns.
If the defense doesn't learn to execute better, and if Kines continues to call plays that exposes the weaknesses of this defensive unit, it will be a long season. However, if the players learn to follow their assignments and Kines mixes in his blitzes more, then the offense has shown that the Aggies can be competitive in Big 12 play. If they players get discouraged and the staff continues this barrage of predictable outside blitzing, then the Ags are in for a long Big 12 road with explosive offenses dotted all over the upcoming schedule.
Defensive Line D-
Defensive tackle starters Kellen Heard and Lucas Patterson combined for one solo tackle and two assists. For a veteran duo that was counted on to anchor a solid defensive line, both have been very quiet in 2008. In fact, younger players like Tony Jerod-Eddie are more noticeable on the field making plays. The defensive ends were quiet as well, with Michael Bennett logging just one tackle (which was a sack) and senior Cyril Obiozor registering one assist. The starting front four combined managed two solo tackles and three assists. Wow.
This group just doesn't have the speed or instincts right now. I will admit that I had an "F" penciled in for this group until later in the second half when Garrick Williams actually shed his blocker and accelerated into the backfield and nailed the running back for a six yard loss. It was the first good defensive play of the game for the linebackers. Hopefully, that's a sign of things to come and these guys are slowly improving.
Defensive Secondary C-
I think the cornerbacks are doing a pretty good job for the most part. Yes, there was the missed assignment on the wide open Miami touchdown, but I think coverage has been pretty decent for the most part. I think the safety play has been less impressive, both in coverage and run support. The safeties occasionally make a nice play in run support, but too many times they get caught up in the wash and allow themselves to get swallowed up by the surge of bodies coming from the point of attack. When you see runs of 19, 34, and 51 yards in one half of football, you have to wonder where are the safeties?
Defensive coaching D-
As I alluded to earlier, Coach Kines has an appetite for blitzing and blitzing often. That's sweet music to the ears of Aggie fans longing for the days of old when the Wrecking Crew demolished offenses with the blitz. Well, that was 15-20 years ago and offenses are more sophisticated and prepared to counter a blitz, especially when the offense knows a blitz is coming. Frankly, A&M's blitzes are predictable because they do it on almost every down, and it's almost exclusively linebackers blitzing off the edge leaving Matt Featherston to account for the entire middle of the field and he simply doesn't have the speed or instincts to cover that much territory. In addition, the execution and timing of the blitzes doesn't seem to be there. Many times, Williams will blitz from 2-3 yards behind the line of scrimmage and tries to come from the outside. There's just no way he's going to cover that much ground in under 3-4 seconds.
The point of the blitz is to surprise the quarterback into a mistake, or utilize speed to simply get to the quarterback before the offensive line or the quarterback has a chance to react. A&M's defense doesn't have the speed or the element of surprise, and the results are long plays and touchdowns for the other team.
OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE D-
SPECIAL TEAMS D+
Richie Bean had a nice day, hitting his first field goal and getting nice height and distance on his kickoffs. A&M's return teams are in need of an overhaul. Even though Bean's first kickoff was high and reached the end zone, Miami brought it out to the 41 yard-line which set-up the first score. On punts, the gunners are a non-factor and seem to be lost. Justin Brantley has been outkicking the punt coverage with some long, line drive efforts that have been returned for nice yardage, including a 44 yard return. He did have a very nice high punt that stuck at the nine yard line. The return teams must improve.
Hop's report card - Defense
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