For the Aggie defense, it was a tale of two halves. In the first frame, the offense turned the ball over five times and forced the defensive unit to operate out of adversity and a short field against the No. 1 rushing team in the country. In recent years, that would spell disaster for a slow, porous defense. Well, the defense surprised everyone and came out playing inspired football and making plays.
It all started when OSU took possession at the Aggie 21 yard line after a Jeff Fuller fumble. The Cowboys ran the ball on every down and had the ball at the one-yard line on third down, but the defense stuffed Kendall Hunter on fourth down.
But again, the offense had troubles giving up a defensive touchdown. In the span of six minutes, OSU scored 21 unanswered points in the first quarter thanks to a 78-yard punt return and a 56-yard touchdown drive. At 21-0 and shell-shocked on the road, this team had plenty of opportunity to quit. The game had the ominous feel of the 77-0 bombshell in the same state against the Sooners in Franchione's first year, a game that stayed with the previous regime in recruiting for the remainder of their tenure like an albatross.
But credit must be given to the defensive coaches and players. From that point forward, the defense came to life forcing punts on the next three drives and denying the Cowboys a score after a turnover that started the OSU drive inside A&M territory.
The defense finally seemed to click, gaining penetration and maintaining gaps in pursuit, something the unit hasn't shown all year. While the offense struggled and coughed up the ball five times, and the team gave up two defensive touchdowns and a special teams score, the defense stepped up and came through and held the rope.
In the first half, A&M held the powerful OSU running game to just 68 yards on 20 carries. That is an excellent performance by any standard, and it should give hope that the proverbial light bulb is going off with so many of these young players on the field like Tony Eddie, Von Miller, Garrick Williams, Terrence Frederick, and Trent Hunter.
Now the second half was a different story. While the A&M offense held onto the ball and started scoring, the burden of mounting injuries at linebacker and some suspect cornerback coverage allowed the Cowboys to score on four of their five second half possessions. The defense did break, giving up over 250 yards.
The news here is not that the defense finally broke down in the second half. The story is they had a good half of football and showed they are capable of stopping a pretty good offense. You have to walk before you run. The A&M defense hasn't shown a good half of football against a quality offense in six years, so Saturday's first half performance is a reason for hope. I'm not saying it was a great performance giving up 400 yards of offense, but for almost 30 minutes of football, the Aggies played solid defense. It's a start. Now, can they build on it and put two halves of good football together next week? I don't know, but this game gives me hope and right now hope is what this football program needs.
Defensive Line B
You have to be encouraged by the play of Tony Eddie, who as a true freshman has won the starting job from veteran Kellen Heard. The defensive line keyed the first half performance holding ground and holding gaps allowing the linebackers and defensive backs to shoot through to make the play. Cyril Obiozor had one of his most productive games of his career, and Michael Bennett surprisingly bounced back from what looked to be a serious knee injury last week to have a solid effort. It all starts here, and the line had its best game of the year.
Von Miller had his best game as a linebacker, leading the team in tackles, forcing two tackles for loss totaling six yards, and recovering a fumble. Coach Kines complimented both Miller and Garrick Williams after the game. The Aggies ran into some trouble late at middle linebacker when Matt Featherston and Anthony Lewis were knocked out, and walk-on Jonathan Haynes had to slide over and play the Mike position for the first time in his career.
Defensive Back D+
I'm not sure how a defender can lose sight of Dez Bryant, one of the best receivers in the Big 12 if not the nation, but A&M did just that giving up touchdown passes of 29, 23, and 21 yards. The safeties played a solid game, and freshman Trent Hunter was specifically singled out by Coach Sherman after the game for his range in coverage. However, the corners didn't stay on OSU's number one receiving target, and that was a big mistake.
Defensive Coaching C
You have to give kudos to Coach Kines and the staff for keeping these guys in the game when the score was 21-0 in the first quarter. The players had every reason to quit, but instead they played with spirit and played with intensity. The defense also seemed to be in the right place and waiting for OSU on running plays, and the defense was prepared from an X's and O's standpoint. The coverage breakdowns against Bryant was the one major black mark on the performance.
OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE C+
SPECIAL TEAMS F
While the defensive touchdowns put A&M in a hole, it was special teams that kept them in that hole. There's just too many breakdowns in all phases of the return teams. The most obvious was Dez Bryant's 78-yard punt return. Yes, we can all marvel at Justin Brantley's 54 yard average, but he's booting most of his punts long and low, basically outkicking the coverage. The gunners are slow and seem to frequently lose sight of the ball and the returner. They seem lost at times. The kickoff return squad gave up a 57-yard return setting up a short score for the Cowboys in the second half. Jordan Pugh does not appear to have confidence in returning punts, allowing balls to hit and roll an extra 15-20 yards. Throw in a roughing he kicker penalty and it's safe to say that special teams had a very bad day.
There must be improvement in this area if the Aggies hope to salvage some significant wins in the Big 12. This team is not good enough to overcome bad plays on special teams.
Hop's Defensive Grades - OSU
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