Last year the Texas A&M defence was woeful as they wore down and the better offences of the SEC exploited a poor run defence coupled with a weak secondary. The Aggies battled to finish 71st in the nation in points allowed per game under then defensive co-ordinator Mark Snyder with the low coming in a 59-0 hammering in Tuscaloosa at the hands of Alabama.
After the final regular season game, a 23-17 loss at home to LSU, Mark Snyder was fired and the search began for his replacement. Bringing a marquee name to College Station to coach the defense was the aim but with Will Muschamp picking Auburn it looked like it might be a lost cause. But out of nowhere the Aggies managed to land John Chavis from LSU, a man nicknamed ‘Chief’ who has won national titles with both Tennessee and LSU over his career. It was seen as one of the biggest coaching hires of the off-season and last Saturday in the season opener against Arizona State we saw exactly why.
Since becoming head coach at Texas A&M in 2012, Kevin Sumlin has a record of impressive performances in games where he has a long time to prepare. His bowl record is 3-0 with the Aggies whilst the last two season opening games have seen them dismantle South Carolina and Arizona State with ease. Last year many people jumped on the Aggies bandwagon after beating South Carolina and considered them a playoff hopeful before the season turned sour with three disappointing defeats mid-season. This year people are more cautious but the major improvements on defense in the first game of the 2015 season is a great sign for the future when coupled with the high scoring Air Raid offence that Kevin Sumlin and offensive co-ordinator Jake Spavital run.
In the game against Arizona State the defense held quarterback Mike Bercovici under 200 yards passing and kept the talented running back Demario Richard to just 73 yards rushing. A huge improvement over the sort of numbers opposing playmakers were used to getting against Texas A&M in 2014. They feasted on a disappointing Arizona State offensive line creating nine sacks as they blitzed five or more rushers on 56% of dropbacks. Myles Garratt broke through double and sometimes triple coverage to record two sacks whilst on the opposite side of the defensive line Daeshon Hall had four sacks.
Naturally for a unit that is still very young with a lot of freshman seeing meaningful playing time its inevitable that the defense won’t be able to keep up this level of performance over 12 games against some very powerful offences in the SEC. But the outlook in the long term for the defensive side of the ball under John Chavis is incredibly bright.