No. 25 Texas A&M enters its first bye week with a 3-2 record, and it has been the defense that has kept the Aggies in big games.
The Aggies have been a solid defense overall. They rank 26th in the nation in yards allowed at 300 per game, while ranking 26th in scoring defense by allowing just over 17 points per game. After playing the likes of No. 2 Clemson and No. 7 Auburn, that is really good.
The defense has also stopped the run fairly consistently against some talented backs, ranking 33rd in the country. The Aggies held Travis Etienne to 53 yards, JaTarvious Whitlow to 67 yards and Rakeem Boyd to 89 yards. Between the three top-20 rushers in the nation, they only scored one touchdown.
Opposing quarterbacks have not had much success against the Aggies either. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence threw for 268 yards, but only threw one touchdown and had an interception. Auburn’s freshman phenom Bo Nix threw for just 100 yards and one touchdown. The maroon and white rank 32nd in the country in pass defense.
With all of that being said, there have been some issues.
The A&M secondary got off to a quick start in terms of interceptions, forcing four in the season opener against Texas State and another against Clemson. That was five in the first two games, after having just seven all of last season. However, they had zero in the next two games against Lamar and Auburn.
The Aggies did have one interception last weekend against Arkansas, but it was more of a fluke play as the ball ended up in defensive tackle Justin Madubuike’s hands after bouncing off linebacker Buddy Johnson at the goal line. The secondary had no direct impact on that.
The Aggies have also started to give up some bigger plays downfield, but safety Keldrick Carper said those are correctable mistakes.
“It’s just different formations and adjustments,” Carper said. “For every coverage and every defense you have to make a different adjustment. It’s just certain stuff that we have to be able to recognize and go out there on the field and handle it as an entire defense.”
Another area of concern for this defense has been creating pass rush. The Aggies have just eight sacks this season, which ranks 12th in the SEC, and are averaging less than four quarterback hits per game. The eight sacks are spread out across seven players, and Madubuike, who leads the team with two sacks, said he expects that to turn around soon.
“The whole defensive line is showing up in practice,” Madubuike said. “They just need to keep trusting it and keep showing consistent pressure, and it’ll show up in games.”
The Aggies have to be more consistent in the pass rush with Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and LSU’s Joe Burrow on the schedule. Both are top-five passers in the nation this season and can shred a defense if they are given time to throw the ball.
Overall, Texas A&M’s defense has kept them in games even when the offense could not score points. Madubuike said they have a young team, and he believes the best is yet to come, while Carper said they need to shore up the basic aspects of their defense.
“So we can be more flexible and [show more of a] variety of looks, coverages, fronts and stuff like that,” Carper said. “We need to sure up on the fundamentals so we can ascend from there.”
The Aggie defense has a lot to be proud of this season but also has several things they need to improve upon as they head into the heart of their schedule, which is what they are using the bye week for, A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said.
“[There is] a lot of room for improvement,” Fisher said. “But they are technical things and things we can get better at, but we have to get better at [them]. We have the urgency to get better at [them]. We have to do a better job coaching and getting them in those positions.”