No. 23 Texas A&M showed signs of vulnerability on defense Saturday afternoon as the Aggies fell 28-20 to Auburn at home.
Failures to defend trick plays and an overall lack of needed stops characterized the unit in the loss. However, the defense will get a chance at redemption this weekend as they prepare to take on a struggling Arkansas offense in Dallas.
A&M had a complicated outing against Auburn this past Saturday. Defensively, the Aggies only allowed 299 total yards to the Tigers, which is a statistically sound performance. Statistics cannot tell the full story, however, and trick plays characterized many of the defense’s struggles.
Auburn’s opening score off a reverse run and its second score with the back-up quarterback under center caught A&M off guard. The unit also struggled at times with getting off the field.
This issue can be summed up with Auburn’s final scoring drive where the Tigers burned six minutes off of the fourth quarter with a 12-play 69-yard touchdown drive. This lack of execution has not been seen all year from the defense, and they will need to work on it going forward.
Another three issues the Aggies faced on defense were their inability to stop the rush, a lack of quarterback pressure and no forced turnovers. They can solve all three of these problems against Arkansas.
A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said this is a high stakes game against Arkansas, and he wants his team to play consistent football.
“Arkansas is an SEC football team, and our goal is to play well,” Fisher said. “If we dominate, that’s great, but our goal is to just play well in the football game.”
A&M had an uncharacteristically hard day against the Auburn running game. The front seven entered the weekend as one of the top units against the rush in the SEC but allowed 193 yards on the ground to the Tigers. Arkansas on the other hand only ranks 79th nationally as a rushing offense, averaging 152 yards a game. This upcoming match-up will be a big opportunity for the Aggies to get back on their feet, and stop the run.
The team will face former A&M running back Rakeem Boyd, who leads Arkansas in rushing yards. Junior linebacker Buddy Johnson said Boyd is a great player, but feels that his defense is prepared to face him.
“I know he’s a great back and a great player, and we’ll have to get on him early,” Johnson said. “I think our defense and our d-line will get pressure on him, and I feel like we’ll be just fine. We have a great gameplan.”
The defense also needs to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Aggies only sacked true freshman Bo Nix once on Saturday, and only have six sacks so far this season. This needs to improve, and A&M may get a chance to do that as the Razorbacks are a pass-heavy team.
Arkansas struggled in the air Saturday against San Jose State. Former A&M quarterback Nick Starkel threw five interceptions and three touchdowns. A&M has picked the ball off five times this season and is one of the top secondaries in the conference in that regard. If the Aggies can pressure Starkel by rattling him through sacks and forcing him to turn the ball over, then the defense could completely shut down the Razorbacks.
Junior defensive back Keldrick Carper said Starkel will bring his best and spoke highly of his former quarterback.
“Nick’s a competitor, so Nick’s going to come out and play well,” Carper said. “Playing here with Nick, Nick had an excellent arm. As always throughout practice [the offense] made plays on us, and we made plays on them.”
Kickoff between A&M and Arkansas is set for 11 a.m. on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.