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Texas A&M Breakdown: Defense

As a whole, the defense played reasonably well. Limiting Texas A&M to 12 points isn't a bad performance, but those that want to say the defense played well enough yesterday are fooling themselves.

And really, it just comes down to one stat line. 10 of 16.

Ten times, in sixteen tries, the Texas A&M Aggies converted third downs into first downs.

That would be 62.5%. 10 of 16!

Ugh. That's just not good enough, any way you cut it. And here's where you have to credit the Aggies. I've done my fair share of blaming us and the officials (both well deserved), but you also just have to give the credit to A&M for pounding out those first downs.

I stumbled upon the formula for Aggie success in the game preview, even though my overall prediction of how the game would unfold was well off:

We have ourselves a Strength vs Strength matchup. The Aggies have thrived off a power rushing attack that ranks in the top 15 nationally in total rushes, total yards, rushes per attempt, and rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, after Michigan let Chris Wells and Antonio Pittman break two long runs, the Longhorns take over the top spot nationally in rush yards allowed per attempt (1.83). Something's gotta give, right? Maybe, maybe not. It stands to reason that the Aggies will lustily eye Texas' god awful pass defense numbers and look to throw the ball more. Even so, I have to think the Aggies can't win this game unless they're picking up first down on the ground and keeping Texas' offense off the field. They'll need a great game from Mike Goodson.

Yup. And for all the grief that Dennis Franchione has received over the last two years, he deserves a good deal of credit for his game plan yesterday. Run the football. Keep the offense on the field. Move the chains. Keep Texas' explosive offense on the sidelines. It was barely enough to win, but that was the idea: shorten the game and give yourself a chance by limiting the possessions each team had.

It worked because Texas couldn't stop the Aggies on third down. Texas more or less kept A&M's offense in check, but the Aggies got enough out of two drives to win. And that's all they needed. Two drives. On those two drives - one in the first quarter and one in the fourth - Texas A&M went 8-for-8 on third down. And there you have it. It's that simple.

Too bad for Texas, which otherwise played well enough defensively. Everyone had some good plays, but almost everyone made a mistake on one of those eight critical third downs. I watched Mike Griffin take a terrible angle to the football. I watched Marcus Griffin get juked out of his jock. I saw Scott Derry miss outside contain responsibilities. Brian Robison was a mess on A&M's first scoring drive.

It just wasn't one guy, or one missed assignment. It was different guys on different plays. When a team is running the ball like that, over and over and over, you've got to have every guy nail their base assignments. And though Texas' defenders were on their assignments a vast majority of the time, there was always someone who wasn't, which led to the slow, torturous, death by running that we saw.

Up until that last drive, it appeared as though the defense was going to do enough to bail out the offense. Rashad Bobino recovered from a shaky first quarter to have a terrific game the rest of the way. Mike Griffin was in his comfort zone, dashing up to provide excellent run support. Frank Okam had his best game of the season. But the Aggies wore down Texas in the end, pounding the 'Horns with the nearly untackleable Jorvorskie Lane. And Texas just couldn't get the Aggies off the field.

When you let the other team dictate the game the way the Aggies did, you wind up with a frustrating mess of a reactive game. Gene Chizik deserves plenty of credit for changing the culture and attitude of the Texas Longhorn defense, but they've just not had a very good year getting people off the field. Against Kansas State, Texas Tech, and Ohio State, it was the pass defense that couldn't hold the fort. Yesterday, it was third down run defense. And for that we get our third loss of the season and only the slimmest of chances at competing for the Big 12 title. Grade: C