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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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A&M defense looks to avoid rocky game in Rocky Top

SOphomore+DL+LT+Overton+%2818%29+cebebrates+after+a+sack+while+junior+LB+Edgerrin+Cooper+%2845%29+looks+down+on+Alabama+QB+Jalen+Milroe+%284%29+during+Texas+A%26amp%3BMs+football+game+against+Alabama+at+Kyle+Field+on+Saturday%2C+Oct.+7%2C+2023.+%28Chris+Swann%2FThe+Battalion%29
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SOphomore DL LT Overton (18) cebebrates after a sack while junior LB Edgerrin Cooper (45) looks down on Alabama QB Jalen Milroe (4) during Texas A&M’s football game against Alabama at Kyle Field on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Chris Swann/The Battalion)

This game could either be a masterclass by defensive coordinator DJ Durkin, or it could reaffirm questions A&M fans had about the defense after the Week 2 loss to Miami.

The Aggie defense are looking to bounce back from the loss to Alabama where it gave up 321 yards passing. However, there isn’t any room to breathe as A&M faces off against a fast, high-powered Tennessee offense.

The Volunteers’ offense are well balanced with multiple playmakers at receiver and running back. Tennessee’s offense has a lot of experience as well, and it’s no huddle, hurry up style could pose a big threat to A&M’s defense.

Leading the Volunteers’ offense is senior quarterback Joe Milton III. So far this season, Milton has thrown for 1,164 yards, nine touchdowns and only three interceptions. In the matchup versus South Carolina, Milton threw for 239 yards and a touchdown but threw two interceptions.

Tennessee doesn’t have a clear number one option at receiver, but they do have three receivers with at least 200 yards on the year.

Sophomore Squirrel White leads the receiving core with 276 yards on 26 catches. White has yet to score a touchdown this season, but he had a 50-yard reception to set up a touchdown versus South Carolina.

Senior Ramel Keyton has hauled in 14 catches for 230 yards this season. Keyton only caught two passes versus South Carolina, but he does have three touchdowns on the year and can be a jump ball threat.

Senior Bru McCoy rounds out the receiving core. So far this year, McCoy has racked up 217 yards on 17 catches and has a touchdown. McCoy’s best game so far this season was the loss to Florida where he had five catches for 94 yards.

A&M graduate cornerback Josh DeBerry struggled last week against Alabama senior receiver Jermaine Burton. DeBerry was targeted all game long and ultimately gave up nine receptions for 197 yards and two touchdowns.

Granted, DeBerry wasn’t in for one of the touchdowns, but he did give up a 46-yard catch to Burton on that same drive.
It was mainly Burton who killed the Aggies. The next leading Alabama receiver had 96 yards and a touchdown, but the third receiving leader had 12 yards. The three different playmakers Tennessee has could cause the A&M secondary issues come Saturday.

With how fast the Volunteers move on offense, the best way Durkin can help out the secondary is putting Milton under pressure. Quarterback pressure was an issue for the Aggies early in the season, but the talented front seven started to find their groove when conference play started.

The Maroon and White had six sacks last week versus Alabama. So far this year, the defense has totalled 26 sacks through six games.

Leading the way is junior linebacker Edgerrin Cooper. He has a team-high in sacks and total tackles at six and 41, respectively. Cooper also has a forced fumble and fumble recovery.

Sophomore defensive lineman Walter Nolan is second on the team in sacks with four, followed by junior defensive lineman Shemar Turner with three and a half sacks.

The one thing Durkin’s defense has been dominant against this season is the run. The Aggies gave up a season-best 23 yards rushing to Alabama. The Crimson Tide averaged 0.9 yards per rush.

The week prior versus Arkansas, A&M’s defense held the Razorbacks to 42 rushing yards on 39 attempts. The Aggie defense is holding opponents to an average of 84 yards rushing per game. Auburn rushed for the most, but averaged 3.5 yards per rush on 41 attempts.

Although A&M’s rush defense has been great, Tennessee’s offense has three good running backs that can break the game wide open.

Junior Jaylen Wright is averaging 7.1 yards per carry and has 435 yards and a touchdown. Senior Jabari Small has 317 yards, two touchdowns and an average of six yards per carry, which is the lowest of the running back trio. Sophomore Dylan Sampson has tallied 248 yards and six touchdowns and averages 6.9 yards per carry.

The A&M defense matches up pretty well with Tennessee’s offense on paper. The issue arises from how fast-paced the Volunteers can be. If the Aggies can’t force negative plays, they might be on their heels throughout the game, which is not ideal against a team who runs a play every 21 seconds.

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About the Contributor
Eli Meschko
Eli Meschko, Sports Writer
Eli Meschko is a journalism senior from Boerne, Texas, and is minoring in communication and sports management. Eli has covered football, men's basketball, baseball, softball, hockey and track & field. Eli also writes for Dave Campbell's Texas Football as an intern. After graduation, Eli plans on pursuing a career in sports media or public relations.
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