For seemingly forever, the question has been whether Texas A&M could play defense under head coach Kevin Sumlin. Saturday afternoon, the Aggies’ defense carried its offense to victory over No. 16 UCLA and uber QB prospect Josh Rosen.
Early on, the Aggies’ offense could not get anything going against the Bruins. It amassed just 51 yards on 18 plays, with a turnover and no points on the first four drives.
But Texas A&M’s defense held strong during that stretch, recording an interception and stiffening in the red zone to force two field goals, allowing the offense to find its rhythm.
Like any top defense, the Aggies’ effort started up front. Superstar defensive end Myles Garrett received a lot of attention, but played the run quite well and applied pressure to the pass game. Here, Garrett takes advantage of UCLA’s tackle oversetting and not using his help effectively, swimming back inside to get a hit on Rosen.
Another look at Myles Garrett vs. Conor McDermott pic.twitter.com/KgPLLqYZ2Y— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) September 4, 2016
Here, Garrett simply overpowers the tackle.
And here he converts speed to power to toss the tackle aside and hit Rosen yet again.
RE Myles Garrett tosses LT Conor McDermott aside, hits Rosen during throw, nearly forces INT. pic.twitter.com/HY36715HEN— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) September 4, 2016
The double-teaming of Garrett freed up other Aggies to be single-blocked and they took advantage, registering 10 tackles for loss and five sacks.
Behind the chaos created by the defensive line, Texas A&M’s defense swarmed all over the Bruins. At times A&M linebackers took questionable angles, but the great speed from the secondary led by safety Armani Watts and corner Nick Harvey helped to cover up for errors.
In the second year of coordinator John Chavis’ defense, Texas A&M is playing aggressively and confidently.
His unit has plenty of talent, as the Aggies have recruited the 10th-highest percentage of elite prospects nationally over the last four seasons. It looks as if Texas A&M is finally reaching its potential on defense.
However, it is hard to hold an elite QB like Rosen down for long. And Texas A&M’s offense was downright atrocious in its final five regulation possessions, scoring no points and gaining just 47 yards on 19 plays. This gave the Bruins an eternity to come back from a 24-9 deficit, and despite two interceptions over the final five drives by the A&M defense, the Bruins were able to find the end zone twice to send the game to overtime. Then the A&M defense held strong in the bonus period as the Aggies won, 31-24.
It's true that 468 yards allowed is a lot, but it occurred over 87 plays, an average of just 5.4 yards. Additionally, the A&M defense intercepted Rosen three times, sacked him five, hurried him another seven and produced 10 tackles for loss. It allowed a red-zone touchdown percentage of just 20 percent in regulation.
For the first time in a while, the Texas A&M defense is not just the better unit than the offense, but a legitimate strength.