All eyes were on No.19 Texas A&M’s secondary during the 52-13 victory at the 2018 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl after making a comeback and holding North Carolina State to 13 points in four quarters.
“I believe they only ended up with 273 yards and that is a dominant team, and they were 0 of 13 on third down, so I mean, getting the ball back, that's as good as it gets,” A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “And then you get a pick six, some guys, I mean, you believe this guy ran down the field and scored a touchdown. No, it was outstanding.”
Coming into the matchup, the A&M defense led the SEC in third-down conversions and holding opposing offenses after only allowing 82.8 rushing yards per game.
However, in the first quarter the same secondary allowed 89 total offense yards, with 43 yards accounting for rushing and the other 46 for passing. The Wolfpack also gained five first downs, one fourth down conversion and used A&M’s three penalties in the quarter to their advantage.
Although NC State’s senior quarterback Ryan Finley seemed to have the defense under control, the Aggies changed their approach in the following quarters and it began to show on the scoreboard.
Finley would go on to throw two interceptions in the second quarter for a total of 103 yards. The first by A&M’s freshman defensive back Leon O’Neal Jr. and the other by senior linebacker Tyrel Dodson who secured a 78-yard touchdown with his pick.
“Yeah, well, I studied a lot of film and I saw they ran trips, and it was 3rd and 5...So Coach Elko said if I see it, go get it, and I went to go get it and ended up with a touchdown,” Dodson said.
Fellow teammate and junior running back Trayveon Williams said that they weren’t surprised with Dodson’s interception and touchdown.
“The crazy thing is he told us he was going to do it and he did it,” Williams said.
After losing seniors Otaro Alaka and Donovan Wilson to injuries for the bowl game, A&M’s secondary used the two interceptions as fuel, as they would only allow one touchdown and field goal throughout the rest of the game.
“Well, that's the thing about team sports and why football is the greatest team game there is,” Fisher said. “You have adversity with other guys being hurt, but it's also an opportunity, and that's what you have to look at. This is not an adverse situation, it's an opportune situation, and you have got young guys, that's why you recruit and coach.”
At the conclusion of the win, NC State converted 0-of-13 third downs and 2-of-4 fourth downs. Despite having 32 minutes and 57 seconds in time of possession, in comparison to A&M’s 27 minutes and three seconds of possession, Finley suffered two sacks for 14 yards by the A&M defense and averaged just 3.6 rushing yards and 7.3 passing yards upon completion of the pass.
Dodson said the victory all comes down to preparation and the leadership skills they learn from their coaches.
“Once you do one thing good, it turns into a habit,” Dodson said. “I think Coach Fisher did a great job coming in and installing that toughness, effort, discipline, pride into us, and I'm very grateful he came here.”