Coming into a game against Texas Tech with a young and struggling defense, the issue was not to stop Mike Leach's offense, but simply slow it down and give the Aggie offense a reasonable chance to keep pace on the scoreboard. That recipe worked for 30 minutes as Texas A&M went to the locker room at halftime leading 23-20. Yes, the defense surrendered three touchdowns in the first half and over 260 yards of offense, but they also stopped the Red Raiders twice, creating two turnovers. Really, asking for much more from this defensive unit that played five freshmen and lacks any speed at linebacker is not being realistic.
The second half was very similar to the opening frame for the defense, surrendering four scores in six possessions. After Tech marched down the field and scored a touchdown on the first drive of the second half, Texas A&M's Cyrus Gray fumbled the kickoff and the Red Raiders were set at the Aggie 20-yard line smelling blood and looking to salt away the game. However, the Aggie defense held the rope after Michael Bennett's interception. However, the A&M offense could not respond at all in the second half and Tech eventually stretched its lead in the fourth quarter and won 43-25.
In the end, Texas Tech gained 561 yards which has become par for the course for a Mike Leach offense going up against an average-to-below average defense. And the reality is, Texas A&M's defense is still a work-in-progress and is a below average unit. Still, the unit created three turnovers and gave the offense a chance to match scores with Graham Harrell and company. It worked in the first half, but Tech's defense had an answer for A&M in the second half, and the Aggie defense could only hold that rope so long.
Defensive Line D
When is the last time Texas A&M had a defensive lineman who could consistently beat his man and put pressure on the quarterback? The linemen just don't pose a threat to the quarterback, and that is suicide against the Texas Tech offense. Graham Harrell literally had all day to find his open receivers. In the first half, A&M put some token pressure on Harrell but that was mainly a result of constant blitzing. The defensive line made one big rush play, when big Kellen Heard awoke from his season-long slumber to destroy his man and make a bee line to the Tech quarterback forcing a bad pass over the middle that was intercepted by Trent Hunter. Michael Bennett was at the right place and the right time to pick off a deflected pass in the air, but other than that the defensive line was quiet.
Defensive coordinator Joe Kines mixed up his packages and personnel to get more speed on the field, and the result was fewer linebackers in the game. Matt Featherston finished with nine tackles, but many of those came after significant gains. Overall, Featherston still appears to be playing tentatively and just doesn't have a good feel for the ball. Instead of pursuing through the ball carrier with speed and explosion, he breaks down and tries to contain the opponent. In doing so, he gives up extra yards and doesn't inflict any physical intimidation on the opponent. Garrick Williams played some in the middle, and I thought he did a much better job in tackling. In fact, he made several efficient stops and laid some good, hard hits on the Tech ball carriers. Williams is slowly showing improvement. He's not there yet, but at this point seeing improvement from freshmen defenders is encouraging. Still, Texas A&M desperately needs to find a playmaker with speed at middle linebacker. In fact, next to a dynamic pass rusher, finding a middle linebacker should be the staff's biggest priority on defense for next season and I'm not sure they've found him yet.
Defensive Backs B-
From a run support standpoint, this unit has made the greatest strides of any on the team this year. A lot of that has to do with the emergence of true freshman Trent Hunter who has injected some spirit and a new physical dimension to the secondary that was missing. Hunter again made his presence felt with some big hits, finishing with a team leading 13 tackles. But that hard hitting has transferred to other players, most notably Arkeith Brown who had some big hits and generally stopped the Tech receivers where they caught the ball. Overall, the Aggie secondary did a good job of minimizing yards after catch, something that plagued this team against Tech in years past.
As far as coverage, it's really hard to judge a unit when the quarterback is given 5-6 seconds on every pass attempt. Even the best cover men can't hold down a receiver that long. Of course, Hunter had the big interception in the first half, and for the most part there weren't too many blown coverages from the secondary. There's still a long way to go with the secondary, but there is improvement here, and again at this point that's about all you can ask.
Defensive Coaching C-
Overall, I thought the coaching was solid. The defense played with a lot of energy and emotion in the first half, and Kines did a good job of disguising some of his packages that confused Harrell early. However, after a while talent takes over and A&M just didn't have the horses to respond. But there's one area that the staff must work on, and that's pass rushing. Even on blitzes, the defenders are trying to bull rush and go right at blockers. The defense blitzed early and often, but mainly from the outside which has been their usual method of attack this season. First of all, A&M doesn't have a defender that is quick enough off the edge to cause problems from the outside. Blitzes from the secondary aren't very effective and the timing seems off. With Tech's huge offensive line splits, I would have tried a few more inside blitzes to shoot the large gaps and get to the quarterback quicker. At the very least, force Leach to tighten up his splits that can allow more effective pressure from the outside. So it has something to do with X' and O's, but also the rush techniques of the linemen are not there. A&M defensive linemen simply bull rush, and that's easy to defend for a Red Raider offensive line that averages 320 pounds a man. Whether through X's and O's or new techniques at the point of attack, the Aggie defense will be in trouble if they can't pressure the quarterback and minimize his time in the pocket.
OVERALL DEFENSIVE GRADE C-
OVERALL SPECIAL TEAMS D+
Randy Bullock had a nice day, hitting on all of his field goal attempts, including a 46-yarder early in the game that was important at the time. I'm still wondering why Justin Brantly continues to expose the punt return teams with long, low punts. He used to do a good job of getting good hang time on his kicks, but I've been disappointed in that aspect of his punting. The yardage is still there, but he gives the opposing punt returners several opportunities a game to break a long return. The kickoff return team again gave up a big play, and it was critical. After the Aggies took the opening kickoff and methodically drove down the field and settled for a field goal, the kick team allowed Michael Crabtree to scamper 50 yards into A&M territory and immediately switch the early momentum of the game. Tech scored a touchdown six plays later. Finally, Cyrus Gray fumbled a kickoff that could have been costly. Even though the A&M defense held Tech from scoring, the fumble put even more pressure on the offense and they never found any continuity in the second half. The two blocked extra points was another plus, but it really didn't figure into the outcome of the game.
Hop's Defensive Grades
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