Jimbo Fisher ushered in a new era for Texas A&M football, and his offensive philosophy actually had a profound impact on the defense in 2018.
Texas A&M football entered the 2018 season with a ton of returning experience on defense from the season before. Although Kevin Sumlin’s last couple of recruiting classes weren’t as high profile as those that came before, several of the younger players saw playing time on that side of the ball from their freshman and sophomore years in 2016 and 2017. Although not particularly deep, the starting defense was talent-heavy at all three levels in Fisher’s first year, especially in the front seven.
The defense was always an issue in Sumlin’s tenure as head coach. He went through multiple defensive coordinators and not even the great John Chavis with elite talent could turn the Aggies into a defense capable of competing in the SEC.
Part of the problem was Sumlin’s quick strike offense. He pushed the pace at feverish levels, rarely huddled and the result was the defense being on the field for far too much time, especially when the offense failed to pick up first downs or score.
Fisher is quite literally the antithesis of this philosophy. Comparatively speaking, his offense runs at a snail’s pace. So while Mike Elko and the defensive players obviously deserve a ton of credit for turning around the defense, Fisher arguably had as much to do with it. Just look at the numbers.
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The Aggie defense were on the field for an average of 77.2 plays per game in 2017, the 17th most in the country. That number decreased all the way to 64.6 in 2018 under Fisher, the 11th fewest. Extrapolate that over a full 13 game season and that’s an extra 163 snaps, or right around 2.5 extra total games.
That’s both astonishing and telling. A fresh defense makes all the difference in the world and gives insight into the Aggies’ November struggles under Sumlin. By that point in the seasons they had put on more miles, so to speak, than their opponents.
The defense lost three-fourths of its defensive line, both starting linebackers, its starting rover and starting safety from last season. We can examine the roster and believe they have the talent to replace those players lost, but the experience will be tough to replace.
The good news is most of the offense from 2018 returns. Kellen Mond should improve in year three and the offense, which ranked No. 3 in the country in time of possession, can be just as helpful for the defense, if not more so.
Time of possession is one of the more underrated statistics of successful football teams. It means so much for the defense to stay fresh. Fisher’s philosophy had a major affect in year one and should be even better in year two.