A&M analyzes defensive progress, upcoming UTEP
Published: Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 00:10
Texas A&M set a number of defensive milestones during Saturday’s 56-24 victory over Vanderbilt, answering many questions about a unit that failed to live up to expectations through the initial seven games of the season.
Saturday’s statistics had no national, conference or even program historical relevance, but represented what sophomore defensive end Julien Obioha said would be the defensive standard following the win.
During Tuesday’s weekly press conference at the Bright Complex, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said his unit’s success resulted from the defensive line — in particular junior Gavin Stansbury and true freshman Daeshon Hall — and its application of constant pressure on Vanderbilt quarterback Patton Robinette.
“I think a lot of [the pressure] has to do with [Stansbury] and [Hall] being very active and creating some mismatch situations with those two kids in there,” Snyder said. “With [defensive tackle Isaiah Golden] holding down the middle, I didn’t have to add blitzers. It made the world go ’round for us.”
The group finished with seven sacks — doubling the team’s season total — while garnering a season-high 12 tackles for loss with three interceptions. The defensive unit held the Commodores to a season-low 329 total yards, down from its average of 468 yards the seven games prior.
Stansbury stood out among his teammates, making nine tackles — six solo — along with team-bests in sacks and tackles for loss.
In the days following the game, Snyder said he noticed a different energy in Stansbury and hopes his performance continues into the final five games of the season.
“[Stansbury] has a different look in his eye,” Snyder said. “He comes into meetings and he’s really bouncing around. Everybody needs ‘that’ game. He really turned it on and the ball started rolling for him.”
As for the remainder of the defense, senior linebacker Nate Askew said he hopes to see an increase in the unit’s confidence after Saturday’s win.
“We’re just trying to get better every week and play the football we know we can play,” Askew said. “We’ve got a great group of guys out there, especially defensive-wise, and we want to get to the top. I know we rank pretty low [in defensive statistics], but hopefully this past game builds some confidence.”
Offensively, the Aggies racked up 56 points while continuing both their 40 or more points per game and 400 or more yards per game streaks, despite allowing five turnovers.
As a unit, team captain and senior running back Ben Malena said the turnover margin and seven penalties A&M acquired were unacceptable, referencing other conference’s top programs and their attention to each aforementioned statistical category.
“If you look at the turnover margin and look at the penalties in every single conference, you’ll notice the teams that win in the turnover margin and have the least penalties, those are the teams with the winning records,” Malena said. “People don’t realize how important those stats are, and last week we didn’t contribute to the turnover margin on offense. As well as our defense is playing, we can’t do that.”
Despite Malena’s evaluation of the performance, sophomore wide receiver Mike Evans continues to approach record-breaking statistics. Evans sits just eight receptions, 107 receiving yards and two touchdowns short of breaking each of A&M’s career receiving records.
Following Evans’ two best season performances — 18 receptions for 566 total yards and five touchdowns combined against top-ranked Alabama and No. 11 Auburn — the sophomore has jumped into the Heisman race, joining teammate and reigning award-winner Johnny Manziel.
“When you look at the numbers, you can’t argue the season [Evans] is having,” offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said. “He’s having one of the best seasons a wide receiver can have. He’s definitely one of the best players in the country and those players should be in the Heisman Trophy conversation.”
A&M will host the University of Texas-El Paso on Saturday at Kyle Field and seek its seventh win of the season. Over the offseason, the Miners hired former UTEP player and assistant coach Sean Kugler to take over the program and have scraped to a 1-6 record.
A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin discussed his respect for the UTEP head coach and said the Aggies’ need to perform at a high level to match wits with the Miners on Saturday.
“[UTEP] is a team that has come into the league with a new coach who I have a lot of respect for,” Sumlin said. “He’s a guy who has been an outstanding position coach at different places and a lot of buddies of mine that are in the NFL. He wanted to come in and establish a certain style of play at UTEP. I see a team that’s working hard and has a lot of pride just like its coach. We’ve got to get our A-game.”