If there was going to be a team that the A&M defense would stop, you figured it would be a one dimensional Army offense that had no idea how to throw a forward pass. An offense that harkens back to the glory days of yesteryear utilizing the triple option with skill players that aren't very fast and not very quick. This was an offense that bumbled, stumbled, and fumbled through their first three contests at home against Temple, New Hampshire, and Akron scoring a combined 23 points.
Well, it started out just as the script was written. Thanks to a rambunctious true freshman safety, the defense appeared in control of the downtrodden Black Knight offense, forcing four consecutive punts to open the game. However, the Aggie offense didn't cooperate and punted the ball back to Army and with a few adjustments, the Black Knights started grinding out rushing yards and grinding up the game clock.
Of course, it all started in the second quarter on Army's first scoring drive that took only eight plays to cover 84 yards to paydirt that tied the score 7-7, thanks in part to three Texas A&M personal foul penalties.
However, it was the inability of the Aggie defense to stop the plodding Black Knight offense that kept the offense off the field and the game close. In its first two drives of the second half, Army ran 30 plays for 145 yards and ate up a whopping 14:25 off the clock. Ironically, that's what Coach Franchione and the previous regime employed in recent years to keep the porous Aggie defense off the field.
In the end, while Army only scored 17 points, they controlled the tempo of the second half and set themselves up for an improbable victory that was narrowly thwarted in the final four minutes of the game. It's shocking that such a proud defensive unit that dominated the football landscape in this region for over a decade has been reduced to having a one dimensional offense with few athletes dictate the tempo of a football game.
Yet, that's where this Texas A&M defense stands, with offensive powerhouse Oklahoma State on the horizon. People have asked me is this a talent issue, or a scheme issue. When one of the worst D-1 programs and 28-point underdogs controls the line of scrimmage at Kyle Field, it's both. The talent left by the previous regime is both inexperienced and slow. In trying to get some speed and athleticism on the field, the staff has shifted players around who are still lost out there. Until these players get more confidence in the schemes, this defense will have a hard time staying afloat in a conference littered with high octane offenses.
Defensive Line D-
Where have the defensive linemen gone? Kellen Heard has as much physical talent as any collegiate prospect, yet he's non-existent and in the process of losing his job to true freshman Tony Eddie. Lucas Patterson has had a few moments this season, but he's been silent most of the season. Bottom line, Army's rag-tag undersized offensive linemen controlled the line of scrimmage. Yes, the triple option is an offense where each and every defensive player must play his assignments, taking the fullback up the middle, accounting for the quarterback, and the pitch man. When executed as designed, the offense dictates the decisions and the action and that's when an option set works. A good defense disrupts those decisions and forces the quarterback into quick choices where the defense controls the action. The defensive line needed to force the action, and they failed miserably until Army's last offensive play of the game on fourth down that was snuffed out by Tony Eddie and company.
With Michael Bennett now injured, the defensive line lost its one playmaker. While Bennett is scheduled to return at some point, his injury will be a big blow this weekend in Stillwater..
This unit has been disappointing all year. Matt Featherston, Anthony Lewis, and Von Miller did combine for 22 tackles, but not one was in the Army backfield. Most were 5-6 yards downfield after the damage was done. In fact, A&M had just one tackle for loss all day, by true freshman safety Trent Hunter. Linebackers seem to be out of position and reacting to the play as opposed to being aggressive and proactively pursuing the ball. It's to the point that the staff took the redshirt off freshman Ricky Cavanaugh, and he had three tackles late and appeared to be active on the field. Expect to see his playing time gradually increase throughout the remainder of the season. This staff is desperately looking for instinctive, aggressive football players and some of these true freshmen will get a shot to prove themselves.
Defensive Backs B
Speaking of freshmen proving themselves, the story of Trent Hunter is exactly what this staff wants to see. Hunter made an immediate impact as the starter at safety single-handedly making five spirited solo tackles in the Black Knights' first two offensive series that went nowhere. It's no coincidence that of the 5-6 true freshmen getting significant playing time, all but one are players Sherman recruited in the last month of the recruiting season. If there's a light at the end of this long tunnel, that's it. Sherman and the staff appears to have a good eye for football players, not just athletes that excel at combines and camps. In all, Hunter finished his collegiate debut at safety with a mind boggling 17 tackles which earned him Big 12 Player of the Week honors, not bad for a rookie. Devin Gregg also saw his first action of the young season, and he was also aggressive in run support with five stops.
As far as defending the pass…well, there was no pass. Actually, Army attempted five passes and completed one for five yards. The Black Knights did try to surprise the A&M coverage in the red zone, but linebacker Garrick Williams and the secondary did a good job of smothering the pass play.
Defensive Coaching D-
Granted, the triple option is something a defense doesn't see much these days and it can pose a challenge for defensive coordinators getting the players prepared for the decisions on the field. In the glory days of the option, teams would have tremendous speed at quarterback and running back making the option a formidable offensive attack that gave defenses troubles. But come on, Army didn't have speed or quickness. All they had was the scheme, a scheme A&M players struggled with in the second half after Army made some adjustments. A&M's staff did not counter with many changes of their own, and the Black Knights controlled the action in the second half until the very end. Nobody is denying that the talent is weak on defense, but we're talking about Army, not Texas or OU.
OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE D+
SPECIAL TEAMS C
Really, nothing out of the ordinary from the special teams. Jordan Pugh had troubles handling one punt that caused a few anxious moments, but special teams did not have a big play or give up a big play. I am concerned about the punting and punt coverage. On paper, Justin Brantley averaged 45 yards per punt which sounds good until you realize he had a bad shank that bailed Army out of a field position hole, and he had several other mediocre punts that received a generous roll. But even when Brantly hits a long punt, the ball is not kicked high and the return team is susceptible to a long return. The gunners are having problems, but Brantley is not helping the situation with these 50 yard line drive punts that will get returned by better teams with more dynamic returners.
Hop's report card - Defense
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