In last Saturday's 52-31 win over Rice, Texas A&M played 11 true freshmen on defense and broke in newcomers Tyrone Taylor, Tommy Sanders and Nate Askew. The lack of cohesion and absence of key players Kirby Ennis, Floyd Raven, Steven Jenkins, Gavin Stansbury, Devante Harris and Deshazor Everett (for a half) was evident, as Rice racked up more than 500 yards of total offense and more than 300 on the ground.
Even though he was frustrated by the totals the Owls racked up against his charges, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder wasn't overly surprised that a veteran Rice offense took advantage of his inexperienced group.
"David (Bailiff) is a good football coach and Rice is a good football team. They're going to have a chance to win that league with nine returning starters," he said. "Like I said last week, fear of the unknown is with our young guys. Rice came out and showed us some things that we hadn't practiced or seen. Not having any veterans groomed, I can't call a time-out, run out onto the field and say 'Hey, they are getting in diamond formation,' or something like that. We had to get adjusted."
Rice scored 21 of their 31 points in the first half, including 14 on their first two drives. In spite of being discouraged, Snyder said he found some positives when he addressed his players at halftime.
"I will say this about the guys, and it was really good to see: I wasn't excited about the look on their faces in the locker room, at halftime, but they took the initiative, came out and got adjusted," he said. "It was really good to see. I think the game is started to slow down for them a bit as the game went on, which was good."
Snyder said he was anticipating an uneven performance from his younger players as they were thrown into their first game in front of more than 80,000 people and a national television audience.
"They all had good things and bad things. You could tell during pregame that there was a little bit of nervousness. You can imagine being 18 and playing in front of all of those people," he said. "I thought they played really well. The thing that was most pleasing to me was the emotion they were playing with. They made a play and you saw the emotion. To me, that's what defense is all about. You play with enthusiasm and emotion. I saw that and I told them after the game. You can tell they love to play the game. It was what we expected."
Snyder said that, while Stansbury, Harris and Jenkins will not play until Sept. 14 against Alabama, they continue to get second team reps during practices to keep them prepared. While he's not happy that his defensive unit will not be able to work together in game situations until the defending national champions arrive at Kyle Field, injuries are not a real concern for his squad and younger players are getting needed experience quickly.
"The biggest thing is that we are going to be fresh for the game. We will be injury-free and we will be fresh," he said. "What maybe hurts now might actually help us in the long run. I know that when they do get back, we are going to have them and they will be healthy. They will be fresh and we are building depth right now for the future and for the rest of the season. What is hurting us right now will help us. We have to live with that."