In addition to a stellar performance by the secondary, the Texas A&M defensive unit as a whole was dominant against Texas State on Thursday.
The defense, which was No. 3 in the nation against the run for much of last season, allowed only eight rushing yards in the season opener.
Junior linebacker Buddy Johnson, who led the Aggies with five solo tackles, said success is a direct result of following defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s guidance.
“[Elko] had a wonderful game plan and we just did a great job of executing it,” Johnson said. “I think everyone decided to buy in at practice. Good practice helped lead us to success.”
Three Aggies earned sacks on Texas State quarterbacks Tyler Vitt and Gresch Jensen — senior Roney Elam, freshman Tyree Wilson and junior Jayden Peevy.
The defense allowed Texas State only six of 15 third down conversions, effectively shutting out the Bobcats until the final minutes of the game.
“We played the run well and played well on defense,” A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “It was great to see them out there. They were active, making plays.”
Though the defense lost several of last season’s playmakers to the NFL Draft, it seems the Aggies have filled in those spots. A&M saw a lot of rotation on defense and in the secondary specifically, which Fisher said was a way to get his young players experience.
“We kept some rotations, worked some combinations of young guys and older guys together so you didn't have all the young guys together,” Fisher said. “Getting that game out of the way was really huge. Now we feel comfortable with all the mixes.”
The Aggies also dominated in time of possession — 35 minutes to Texas State’s 24 — thanks to the defensive performance.
A&M junior quarterback Kellen Mond said he could see the improvement from last season during the times he wasn’t on the field.
“They had a really good game tonight,” Mond said. “I feel like the whole defense was on the same page.”
Despite the success the Aggies had defensively, Johnson said they are still looking to improve.
“I think we executed pretty well tonight, but we can always do better,” Johnson said. “We’re never going to be satisfied. We’re going to be overachievers and always go harder.”
The secondary’s four-interception performance on Thursday was a highlight of the game, especially considering they produced only seven interceptions throughout the entire 2018 season. It was the most interceptions A&M has had in a single game since a 2006 game against the University of Texas.
Sophomore Leon O’Neal, Jr. was the first Aggie with an interception, ending Texas State’s second drive and giving A&M possession on the Bobcats’ 42-yard line.
Fisher said that interception set the tone for the game defensively, which led to the three interceptions that followed.
“Once you start making plays and you understand you can make them, then you start getting confidence,” Fisher said.
Junior Myles Jones contributed two of A&M’s four interceptions on Thursday, which he said was a result of work put in throughout the offseason.
“We’ve all just been grinding, trying to get better every day,” Jones said. “All throughout camps, summer workouts, our saying was ‘Embrace the grind.’ We tried to take the grind every day.”
With all the good that came on Thursday, a real challenge awaits the Aggies on Saturday when A&M faces No. 1 Clemson in South Carolina. The Tigers are coming off a 52-14 win over Georgia Tech in which they produced 632 yards of total offense.