Texas A&M football did a lot of good things on defense in 2018, but it wasn’t all roses. Here’s where they can improve in 2019.
When you look at the Texas A&M football 2018 season as a whole, there is certainly a lot to be impressed with the job Mike Elko did in his first year as the defensive coordinator for Jimbo Fisher.
Elko also turned around a defense that finished 78th in total yards and No. 87 in points allowed in 2017 and had them at No. 36 in yards allowed and No. 58 in points allowed in 2018. They were a top 50 scoring defense before a ridiculous seven-overtime thriller against LSU pushed that number a little higher.
A couple of those statistics, like red zone defense, first downs and third down defense, are very underrated stats but typically make for successful defenses. There is a lot to build on going into 2019. You can certainly understand why Temple would make a run for Elko as their head coach, and you can also see why he would turn down that offer and wait for a better one.
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But it wasn’t all good for Elko in 2018. There are a couple of areas that need drastic improvement. The first being pass defense. As good as they were at stopping the run, they were equally as bad defending the pass. Texas A&M finished No. 109 in yards allowed per game in this area.
For whatever reason, the cornerbacks regressed in 2018. Not that it was a fantastic unit in 2017, but they finished No. 85 in pass defense under John Chavis in his final season. Charles Oliver was graded as one of the best cover corners in the SEC in 2017 but got beat for 50/50 balls a ton, and he wasn’t the only one. The Ags were one of the worst teams in the SEC at allowing big plays in the pass game.
Also, they were one of the worst teams at forcing turnovers, which can be a great equalizer even when dominating an opponent. A&M saw first hand how this can affect a game when they lost to Auburn. Despite outgaining and outplaying them for most of the day, plus-14 in points off turnovers for Auburn allowed them to come away with the victory.
The Aggies finished 120th in fumbles recovered, just two ahead of last place Baylor, and 116th in interceptions, just two ahead of the two teams in last place there. They only forced nine total turnovers in 12 games. That’s just not going to cut it, especially when you give the ball up 17 times and finish minus-8 in turnover differential (No. 112 in the country).
Hopefully help is on the way. Top 2018 safety prospects Leon O’Neal and Jordan Moore should get more into the mix and develop, and top 2019 safeties Brian Williams and Demani Richardson, plus top corner Erick Young (and potentially Marcus Banks) should provide some immediate upgrades in this area.
We’re glad Mike Elko decided to return as defensive coordinator. There was a lot to like about his first season, but areas he can improve. One more year at the helm and some top prospects coming through the pipeline should make the Aggies formidable in 2019.