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November 14, 2013

Defensive inconsistency plagues Aggies

On Mississippi State's first 10 possessions of their 51-41 loss to Texas A&M last Saturday, the Bulldogs scored two touchdowns -- one on a short field after a turnover -- had a turnover on downs, a blocked field goal, took a knee to end the half and punted five times.

All in all, not a bad showing by the Aggie defense.

Then, after an interception by Johnny Manziel gave Mississippi State the ball at their own 4 with 4:13 to go in the third quarter, the roof caved in. Even with an interception by defensive lineman Daeshon Hall mixed in, the A&M defense gave up scoring drives of 96, 75, 75 and 58 yards. A game that should have been a rout ended up surprisingly close as the Bulldogs piled up 556 yards of total offense -- 299 on the ground -- and held onto the ball for nearly 35 minutes.

Those numbers did not go unnoticed by head coach Kevin Sumlin during his Tuesday press conference.

"We played great or we played poorly," he said. "Consistency is something that you really strive to get as a coach. With youth, that's the biggest struggle. I thought at times we were really good on defense and at times, we were really bad."

Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said he saw some positives in how his group held up for a large portion of the game.

"We played a really good half of football," he said. "We challenged the kids to come out and start fast. In our four game breaks, they scored on the first two possessions of every game. We got off the field in the first half and early in the second half."

But, as occurred in the games against Ole Miss and Auburn, Snyder noted the defense wasn't able to put together a complete performance, which allowed Mississippi State to get off the mat after being down 37-20 and 51-27.

"The fourth quarter was the story of the game," he added. "Those last 20 minutes were ugly. We didn't put them away."

Just as the Aggies had trouble stopping the quarterback run with Taylor McHargue of Rice and Nick Marshall of Auburn earlier in the season, A&M's largest problem against Mississippi State was stopping Dak Prescott (16 carries, 155 yards). After having relatively good success minimizing Prescott early in the game, his final runs went for 44, 10, 1, 17, 13 and 12 yards, respectively.

"They pounded the ball with Dak Prescott to end the game. They had to do what they had to do," Snyder said. "The last 20 minutes is what we're focusing on this week. We have to play a four quarter game. We had a chance to put them away a whole bunch and we just let them hang around, and they started running Dak a lot."

Snyder said that the Aggies will work on expanding their defensive rotation to keep players fresh over the bye week, as well as "get back to some fundamental things."

"I think we're coming in the running game. That stats may not show it, but the video shows it," he said. "Like I said, I was pretty pleased for about 40 minutes of the game. Do we have a challenge coming next week? Absolutely we do. And that's why were going to go back to some base fundamentals, striking people, separate/disengage, pursue and tackle."

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