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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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Bend, don’t break

Defensive+back+Jardin+Gilbert+tackling+Zaquandre+White+with+the+aid+of+defensive+lineman+Fadil+Diggs.
Photo by Photo by Robert O’Brien

Defensive back Jardin Gilbert tackling Zaquandre White with the aid of defensive lineman Fadil Diggs.

After eight straight weeks of Texas A&M football, the maroon and white finally has its first weekend off.

Bye weeks are valuable for a multitude of reasons, including rest, recovery and reflection. With the season over halfway finished, one can evaluate the strengths and shortcomings of A&M’s defense at this point of the season.

One of the defense’s defining traits this year has been its bend-don’t-break style of play. The Aggies have been middling in terms of both passing and rushing yards allowed, conceding 199.9 and 129.4 yards per game, respectively. Despite this, A&M has allowed the eighth-fewest points per game in the nation at 16.1.

Two key reasons why the Aggies have kept opponents off the scoreboards are sacks and interceptions. Senior defensive lineman Tyree Johnson has six sacks this year, tied for third best in the SEC, while junior defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal follows closely behind with 5.5, tied for seventh. Johnson and Leal are one of just two SEC duos with five or more sacks each. Johnson unfortunately appeared to suffer an injury in the Week 8 matchup with South Carolina, but the team is hopeful he will be fine moving forward.

“I’m hoping [Johnson]’s alright,” A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He got nicked up there, but I think he’ll be OK. His ability to rush the passer, man. He can sink, run and he’s been playing great football.”

Interceptions have been equally important to the team. Eight different Aggies have combined for nine interceptions. Senior defensive back Leon O’Neal Jr. leads the team in interceptions with two. O’Neal and freshman defensive back Tyreek Chappell also have a team-high five pass deflections, tied for seventh-most in the conference.

“If we play our game the way right, and we execute and play fast and physical, we can hold up and play well against anybody,” junior defensive back Demani Richardson said.

The Aggies are one of 19 teams with at least nine interceptions and one of 14 teams with at least 24 sacks. Furthermore, only three teams fit both criteria: Texas A&M, Ohio State and Troy. A&M’s defense has forced nine sacks, five interceptions and recovered two fumbles during the team’s three-game winning streak. As the Aggies look for a hot finish to the year, they will try to continue to dominate these categories.

“We have a lot of talent on the team in general,” Johnson said. “Our defense as a whole, we try and go out and practice and attack practice like that each day, and we just try and translate that to the game as well.”

The main flaw for the A&M defense has been its inability to stop the run. The Aggies have improved their run defense in recent weeks, holding three of their last four opponents under 100 rushing yards and under 3.5 yards per carry, but these numbers could equally be attributed to the game scripts and the nature of the schedule.

Mississippi State, A&M’s Week 5 opponent, is among the lowest in the nation in rush attempts per game. As well, A&M did not trail for a single minute in either weeks 7 or 8. The most recent game against a balanced run-pass offense was Week 6 versus Alabama, a game in which senior running back Brian Robinson Jr. ran for 147 yards on over six yards per carry.

Next weekend, when A&M hosts the Auburn Tigers, the recent improvements in the run game will be put to the test. The Tigers have two running backs with over 400 yards and over five yards per carry in sophomore Tank Bigsby and freshman Jarquez Hunter. They have a mobile quarterback in junior Bo Nix, as well, who could impact Auburn’s run game. A&M will play the Tigers at Kyle Field on Saturday, Nov. 6.

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