Last Saturday at Kyle Field was a tale of two defenses as both No. 5 Texas A&M and unranked LSU had offensive sputters. While A&M cemented its status as a top SEC defense, LSU was not able to keep up.
This weekend the Aggies will travel to Auburn to face the Tigers’ middle-of-the-pack SEC offense that is coming off of a 42-13 loss to Alabama. That loss was more the fault of Auburn’s defense than its offense, but two interceptions from sophomore quarterback Bo Nix only worsened their situation.
In contrast, the Aggies held last week’s opponent to under 50 rushing yards (36) for the third time this year. Three sacks, nine quarterback hurries and two interceptions set the tone for the stellar defensive play that is becoming a norm for the Aggies.
“I thought our defense was outstanding in the game,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Our front was very dominating. [The defense] controlled the run game very well. Got pressure on the quarterback. I thought we blitzed well on the night, affected the quarterback. Got two critical turnovers.”
A&M has the fourth best rush defense in the country for teams with seven or more games, only allowing 87 yards per game. An aspect of the rush A&M has mostly avoided this year is a dual-threat quarterback as A&M has allowed less than 10 quarterback rushing yards in all but one game (Feleipe Franks had 99 yards).
Nix is exactly the kind of dual-threat quarterback that A&M is unproven against. Nix posting 211 rushing yards through eight games in addition to nearly 2,000 passing yards gives A&M’s defense a reason to adjust.
“Bo is a tremendous competitor,” Fisher said. “You have to have discipline, even on your blitz packages. Making sure lanes are taken away. You cannot let up on defense when you play a guy like that. On each and every play, the discipline part of how you rush and contain the guy has got to be right on time.”
Nix has top-tier receivers at his disposal, allowing him to put up more than 200 passing yards in each of his last five games. Leading Auburn’s receiving corps that has a trio of touchdown receivers is junior Seth Williams, who has accumulated 588 receiving yards for the Tigers.
Auburn junior receiver Anthony Schwartz trails Williams at 566 receiving yards, while senior Eli Stove has 278 receiving yards. Freshman running back Tank Bigsby is also a viable receiving option for the Tigers, but has proved much more potent on the ground with 566 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
“Seth is big, strong, fast, can catch balls, make contested catches,” Fisher said. “Schwartz is as fast as anybody in America, can flat fly and run away from guys. Those guys are very dynamic... [Bigsby is] a heck of a back, he’s a freshman who is probably gonna rush for 1,000 yards. Very talented group of guys around them.”
Nix has struggled with interceptions as of late, throwing six over his last five games. A&M is tied for the fourth most interceptions forced in the SEC, including a game-changing pick-six from senior linebacker Buddy Johnson last week.
“Every play is a big play to me,” Johnson said. “It can be the little small things like Aaron [Hansford] forcing the quarterback to make a throw like that. That’s really his interception that I caught. It's a team game and it's a team sport. All the recognition goes back to my defense.”
Third year A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko is in charge of the defense that leads the SEC in yards allowed per game (328). A&M’s defense is also second in the SEC for rushing yards allowed per game (87.1), third in points per game (22.4) and fourth in passing yards per game (240.9).
Johnson leads the Aggies’ defense in tackles at 66 this season, including 30 solo tackles and two sacks. Last week, Johnson posted nine tackles, a pass deflection and the interception return that earned him SEC Defensive Player of the Week.
“My accomplishments are this team’s accomplishments,” Johnson said. “It just goes back to practice, the way we prepare. That's what Coach Fisher always preaches about. We just have a sense of urgency, more guys are buying in, and you can tell it's paying off.”