Tyree Johnson

Junior defensive lineman Tyree Johnson has seven tackles and 1.5 on the season.

Upon first glance at the numbers, Texas A&M and South Carolina appear to be similar teams. However, at 4-1 and 2-3 respectively, the A&M defense has set the entire team apart from its SEC competition.

The teams are within two points of each other when it comes to points scored and points allowed, with close gaps in yard totals. South Carolina’s offense averages 163 rushing yards to A&M’s 174 and 215 passing yards to A&M’s 252. The biggest statistical margin of the sort is A&M only allowing 104 rushing yards on average to Carolina’s 154.

Last week, Arkansas’ dual threat quarterback Feleipe Franks challenged A&M, which caused the Aggies to allow over double their season-worst rushing yards at 222. This week, facing a pass-oriented pocket quarterback, A&M’s defense plans a return to ground game dominance.

“The other night they got some rushing yards against us which is really rare,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “I think we have to continue to find ways to put pressure on the quarterback, eliminate the big plays… We got four sacks the other night, but still that's 10 in the last two games which is really good, but we still always have to continue to affect the quarterback and play the run.”

In terms of pressuring the quarterback, A&M’s defense has excelled. Tied for second in the SEC in sacks with 14, the Aggies are looking at the perfect matchup against South Carolina, who has allowed the most sacks in the country [16] for teams with five or less games.

South Carolina senior quarterback Collin Hill has managed to play well despite the pressure allowed from his offensive line. Although his numbers for completion percentage and passing yards are both in the bottom five for SEC quarterbacks, 61 percent completion for five touchdown passes on three interceptions is not bad.

Another factor that has set A&M and South Carolina apart is third down conversion percentage. While the Aggies lead the country in the metric, the Gamecocks are in the bottom half of the SEC, only converting on third down 40 percent of the time. After allowing only three of 12 third down conversions last week, A&M’s defense will surely look to continue ending drives early.

“We did a really good job of getting off the field on third down,” Fisher said. “[We] gave up a couple too many big plays in the run game… [Arkansas] had some things inside where we got out of gaps a little bit, out of gap control, trying to make a few more plays instead of staying inside with what we're trying to do. Defense in the third quarter did a really nice job and we were able to stretch the game out and play."

Hill has been a threat in the red zone this season, notching four rushing touchdowns despite negative rushing yards in four games. South Carolina sophomore running back Kevin Harris has also been a consistent force for the Gamecocks, posting 535 yards and eight touchdowns and one receiving touchdown with zero fumbles.

South Carolina senior wide receiver Shi Smith is the last major weapon for the Gamecocks offense. Smith is an SEC top-10 receiver in terms of yards at 415 while also having three touchdowns through five games.

“Strong offensive line backs can really run the football,” Fisher said. “The young back 20 [Harris] is really doing a great job for them in my opinion, how physical, he is. Of course Shi Smith had a big play on us last year. He's a really good receiver.”

For the Aggies, junior defensive lineman Tyree Johnson said the last two games’ uptick in pass rushing was a product of hard work in the offseason and practice. Johnson posted a momentum-stopping sack last week, and was involved in another sack against Mississippi State the week prior.

“Going into fall camp, me, Mike [Micheal Clemons], Marv [ DeMarvin Leal], all these guys… we really sat down and the whole summer we just worked,” Johnson said. “All we did was talk pass rush. All we did was talk about sacks. What you reap is what you sow.”

Due to Election Day, Fisher said the team will be challenged with a short week of preparation. A&M has never lost to South Carolina in the six times the two have met since A&M joined the SEC.

“They'll have a good scheme,” Fisher said. “We're gonna have to play well and got to do it on a short week. Got practice today, but tomorrow is off which is the right thing to do for voting. But that does challenge you as far as preparation. Got to get things ready quickly today and then get back on Wednesday.”

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