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December 1, 2013

Defensive improvement not enough to win

The Aggies started out and for the most part stayed in a three man front last night. However, the scheme didn't matter as much as the personnel. For the first time since the first couple of games of the season (when they were forced to due to multiple suspensions), the Aggies played lots of freshmen in the front seven; in addition, they saw playing time from early in the game onward and were even in at crunch time. The staff also rotated people in throughout the game and didn't hesitate to yank people when they made mistakes.

The three man front typically consisted of Jay Arnold and Daeshon Hall at end and either Isaiah Golden/Alonzo Williams at defensive tackle. Hall was on the right side (pass rushing side) and Arnold was on the left side (typically the running side for right handed offenses). In his first extended playing time, Arnold held up very well versus right tackle Mitch Morse and right guard Conno McGovern (when A&M was in a bear front with the center and guards covered). Arnold uses his hands very well and even against older, more mature players kept blockers at arm's length. In addition, he's got a nice first step and continually used his hands and quickness to get penetration. Hall lacks Arnold's bulk but is much quicker, has great change of direction, and can beat reach/down blocks. Despite playing in a three man front where their goal is to free up linebackers, Hall led all defensive linemen with eight tackles and Arnold had two sacks. In addition, they tied up blockers sufficiently so that inside linebackers Steven Jenkins and Darian Claiborne combined for 22 tackles and Nate Askew chipped in seven more and had a presence off the edge. A&M generated enough pressure that the Tigers converted just 5 of 14 third downs.

The Aggies were also more aggressive in the secondary and played more press and man coverage than usual. For the most part, corner back Devante Harris appears to do better with this type of coverage. It's helped that he's gotten increasingly physical with his jams and can now affect the receiver's route most of the time. In addition, he's still able to flip his hips and turn and run with people. Missouri's size at receiver didn't really bother him last night. Harris is also tackling better which coincides which his increased physical play. In contrast, Deshazor Everett didn't play as well although he did all he could on L'Damian Washington's touchdown catch last night; he went up in the air but it was a perfectly thrown ball and Washington made a great catch.

However, what we said about the offense earlier today also applies to the defense…although they did things in this game that they needed to do all season like rotate people, play younger players, and be much more physical, it still wasn't good enough due to inherent deficiencies in their personnel. Usually, those deficiencies don't manifest themselves for an entire 60 minutes but rather in critical situations in terms of big plays or the last few minutes of a game where its less about strategy than beating the guy across from you. For example, although Franklin was sacked twice and Missouri had issues converting fourth downs, A&M didn't force any turnovers and Missouri was able to generate enough big plays at opportune times to win. For example, Washington and Dorial Beckham Green combined for 190 yards on 13 receptions against predominantly man coverage and each had a reception of 35 yards or more that led to scores. Safeties Clay Hunnicutt and Howard Mathews didn't really give up many big plays and the Aggies even covered multiple wheel routes for a change.

More importantly, Missouri was able to run the ball when it needed to both in the red zone and late in the game when they were scoring the go ahead touchdown and running out the clock…basically Bill Parcells' definition of running the ball when you need to. The Tigers had 145 yards on 37 carries with a long run of just 18 yards going into their last two drives. However, they blocked inside zone well on a third and one when A&M crowded the line of line of scrimmage and the linebackers overran the play again. With no one at the third level Henry Josey had nothing but space in front of him when he broke the line of scrimmage for a 57 yard touchdown. On their next possession, the Tigers used the threat of the run to hit tight end Eric Waters for a 16 yard gain that basically ended the game. On those last two possessions, Missouri gained 77 yards on the ground before taking a knee. At those times, playing bigger and more mature personnel paid off.

Last night's defense actually looked more like the defense that we thought that we would see over the course of the year, at least from a productivity standpoint. Missouri scored just 28 points despite gaining 463 yards and not having a single turnover. It helped that Drew Kaser averaged 44.8 yards a punt and pinned the Tigers inside the 20 yard line three times which meant that they had to generate long drives just to put themselves into position to score. In fact, you could even say that the unit played up to its potential last night moreso than in any other game this season. However, the unit just isn't good enough right now to go out and win games by itself or for the most part make stops late in games. Again, that's a symptom of its personnel and upperclassmen simply not playing up to the standards that were set for them before the season.

Overall

For the most part, A&M played Missouri's game last night which was a game of field position, defense, and who could make the fewest mistakes. That's a game that Missouri is going to win almost every time out because it's more mature in the front seven and is well coached. However, with A&M's quarterback dinged up and an offense seeking an identity without him carrying it, there's not much that A&M can do. As a result, this team looks nothing like the top ten outfit that it was for most of the season and they looked like an underdog they were for most of the night versus a top opponent at home. They're finally getting around to doing some things that they need to do on both sides of the ball but we've found out the hard way that this team was Johnny Manziel and the program has a ways to go before they're ready to beat the upper echelon teams in the SEC.


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