In the second quarter against Mississippi State, the crowd erupted in applause.
The cheering was not in response to any football taking place whatsoever. The “whoops!” were, in fact, a result of a bird that made its home on Kyle Field during the eventual 26-22 defeat against the Bulldogs.
To not applaud the game was the right choice, because Texas A&M’s defense certainly didn’t live up to expectations.
Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said he has specific aspects of the defense he wants to improve moving forward.
“We gave up too many controlled drives and ate too much clock,” Fisher said. “We’ve got to play a little better man coverage and win those battles.”
Prior to starting SEC play, A&M had the No. 1 ranked defense in the country. However, against Arkansas on Sept. 25, the Aggies deteriorated.
The former “Wrecking Crew 2.0” allowed the Razorbacks to pass for 246, almost a full 100 more yards than redshirt sophomore Zach Calzada threw for that entire game.
Sophomore running back Devon Achane said the entire A&M football program needs to reach a standard of excellence they have yet to meet.
“It’s very disappointing,” Achane said. “On this team, nobody wants to lose. To be 0-2, I just feel like we have to come together as a group and as a team and not be down and point the finger. We just have to come together and go practice and work hard and get better, day by day.”
“[Johnson and Brown] are great players, but we’ve got other guys that are playing really well,” Fisher said. “[Our new guys] are doing what we’re supposed to be doing and anytime you lose great players it always affects you, but we have other guys.”
This should have indicated good things for the A&M defense in the 2021 season. But it didn’t. Against the Bulldogs, barely a single highlight could be found from the defense.
The Aggies allowed Mississippi State to accumulate 408 passing yards without a single interception recorded in the contest. This shortfall is a stark contrast from the 2020 season, where the Aggies recorded 10 interceptions across 10 games played.
A&M’s defensive strong suits were found in sacks and broken up passes against Mississippi State, although the latter does not mean much when defining a “winning game.” In total, the Aggies managed three sacks and seven broken up passes.
Another strength of A&M’s defense was minimizing the run — quite arguably one of the only good showings in the ballgame — allowing the Bulldogs to only rush for 30 yards. However, this feat cannot only be attributed to the Aggies, as Mississippi State typically relies primarily on a passing offense.
Sophomore defensive back Antonio Johnson led the Aggies in total tackles with 15, nine of which were solo.
Johnson said the defense did not come close to meeting their goals for the Oct. 2 SEC matchup.
“Any defense that gives up 400 yards, that’s not our goal,” Johnson said. “We knew that wasn’t our goal, we just have to go back and look at the film and see where the mistakes were at and come back next week and fix them.”
Regardless, when you ask Aggies what makes a strong defense right now, odds are they are going to say “the secondary.” If one knows anything about football, that is not where the maroon and white should be.
The Aggies are set to take on their toughest opponent of the year on Oct. 9 against the No. 1 University of Alabama. A&M won’t be able to rely on its offense against the Crimson Tide, the offensive powerhouse of the SEC led by seven-time National Champion Nick Saban.
Therefore, if the Aggies are to achieve the Alabama upset, Fisher and defensive coordinator Mike Elko have their work cut out for them.
“We can’t lose anymore,” Johnson said. “We have to lock in.”