New Mexico Game Grades – Defense

For the better part of six years, when Aggie fans glanced at the week's opponent and saw a spread offense they would wince in pain. A&M's defense has been on life support in recent years, falling to the bottom of the NCAA in 2008 finishing No. 113 out of No. 118 teams.David Sandhop grades out each position in this week's game review.

For the better part of six years, when Texas A&M fans glanced at the week's opponent and saw a spread offense they would wince in pain. A&M's defense has been on life support in recent years, falling to the bottom of the NCAA in 2008 finishing No. 113 out of No. 118 teams.

So despite hearing promising August practice reports about an improved secondary and linebacking corps, many fans were nervous this week when new Lobo head coach Mike Locksley brought his new spread offense to Kyle Field. But after limiting the Lobo spread offense to 19 yards and four three-and-outs on the first five drives, it was obvious this defense was on to something pretty good. How good? How about 231 yards of total offense and 60 yards of that came near the end of the game with the second team defense on the field.

So what was the secret to their success? Really, it's no secret. It was good, sound defense. There were no missed tackles. There were few missed coverage assignments, they were quicker in pursuit of the ball, and Von Miller applied pressure to the pocket forcing the Lobo quarterback to get rid of the ball. It was that simple and straight-forward. David Sandhop grades out each position in this week's game review.

Defensive Line A-

Quickly looking at the rushing numbers, it's easy to see that A&M's defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage against a veteran New Mexico offensive line. Even adding back in the sack yardage, the Lobos managed only 51 yards on 24 carries for a paltry 2.1 yards per carry. Senior defensive end Matt Moss was shaken up on the first series, so true freshman Spencer Nealy was thrown to the wolves and he held the rope getting a big third down tackle that forced a punt. Regardless of the personnel rotating in the game, the Lobos couldn't move the ball consistently and that starts up-front. The pass rush was a factor primarily due to Von Miller and his three sacks. Kyle Mangan nailed down his first sack of his career and back-up Cody Williams got on-board with a quarterback sack and fumble late in the game. Overall, the interior of the line had troubles pressuring the quarterback and it appears that Miller is the only major weapon. While Matt Featherston looked pretty active at the jack position, he's no Von Miller. The defense will struggle if the injury bug hits Miller, plain and simple. Without pressure, the secondary will struggle to stick with their assignments.

Linebacker A

Wow, what a difference a year makes. The linebackers in 2008 looked lost and they were slow to react to the ball. The opposite was the case on Saturday with both rotations at the position quickly pursuing and closing on the ball. In addition, the tackling was crisp and efficient. Both Garrick Williams and freshman Jonathan Stewart had plays where they were one-on-one with the ball carrier and they dropped the runner at the point of contact. The linebackers are hitting much lower and taking out the feet. This was the best performance by an A&M linebacking unit since 2002 …yes, I said 2002. What's even more impressive is that the top four players at the position include a sophomore, redshirt freshman, and two true freshmen. Yeah, these guys are good athletes, but kudos goes to the defensive staff getting these newcomers ready so quickly. Of all the performances on Saturday, what the linebackers did was my favorite.

Secondary A-

The coverage was solid, although there were some mistakes. The corners had some troubles with the receiver dragging underneath across the line of scrimmage, giving up several short passes. Also, Justin McQueen looked rusty coming off his injury that kept him out the final two weeks of training camp. What I really liked about the corners was their physical play on runs and screen passes. They pushed the point of contact toward the line of scrimmage and engaged with ball carriers much closer to the line of scrimmage than they've done in the past several years. Those screens were a headache to Aggie defenses, but on Saturday they were shutdown and allowed only minimal gains. The safeties had a very god game. Trent Hunter had his usual physical effort and finished with a team high 10 tackles. Freshman Steven Campbell received a lot of reps for Hunter, and he did a good job for the most part, but he was late coming over to help the corner on one of the longest pass plays for the Lobos. Hunter was also late getting over on a long pass, but luckily the receiver slipped and couldn't get to the ball. Otherwise, the safeties had a good day. Incredibly, the staff played four true freshmen in the secondary – Dustin Harris, Steven Terrell, Steven Campbell, Colton Valencia. The future is bright, indeed.

Special Teams B+

Randy Bullock hit both of his field goal attempts. I'm still not sure what happened on a couple of the pooch kicks, but the short kicks were obviously planned. That's strange because |Bullock hit the end zone on his first kickoff into a slight breeze. Despite a 53-yard running corner punt by Ken Wood and a 43 yard average overall, I'm still concerned about the punting. Now, the return teams were solid, highlighted by Lionel Smith's vicious hit on a Lobo punt return that drew some oohs and aahs from the Kyle Field crowd. The Aggies did not give up any major returns. A&M's return units didn't make many mistakes but didn't create any big plays either. Christine Michael mishandled a kick, but he quickly recovered before being dropped near the 15 yard-line.


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