We’re asking 50 questions in the 50 days heading into the 2019 season for Texas A&M football: Can the team’s biggest weakness from 2018 get better?
What defensive coordinator Mike Elko was able to do in turning around Texas A&M football‘s defense was a miracle in the eyes of Aggie fans. After years of soft defense which got run through, around and over in the days of Kevin Sumlin, partly because of coaching and partly because of Sumlin’s offensive philosophy, Elko felt like a god send.
Most of the improvement came down to Elko’s scheme against the run. He often stacked an extra defender in the box and dared teams to beat them in the air. It led to the Aggies allowing just 95.2 rushing yards per game, third in the country. They also ended up No. 32 overall in yards allowed and No. 47 in points allowed (significantly skewed by the seven-overtime game in which they allowed 41 points after regulation).
However, as you can tell just by the difference in run defense and total defense ranking, stacking that defender in the box freed up the passing game for Texas A&M’s opponents. The numbers are…not great. They finished No. 98 in passing yards allowed, No. 106 in quarterback rating allowed, and forced the third least amount of turnovers.
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Elko adjusted the defense as the season went along, but they struggled pretty much all year. However, the bowl game against NC State provided optimism heading into this season. The Wolfpack ranked in the Top 10 in passing offense at 313 yards per game, but Ryan Finley completed just 19-of-32 passes for 139 yards and threw two interceptions.
The team had a month to prepare for NC State, which cannot be overlooked, but also two key contributors got a chance to start in place of players who are currently in the NFL and the pass defense still had its best game of the season. Leon O’Neal started in place of Donovan Wilson and Buddy Johnson started in place of Otaro Alaka. O’Neal and Johnson are both pegged to start this season at safety and linebacker and could be upgrades.
Elko is also getting all his starting corners back plus another weapon in JUCO transfer Elijah Blades. Given all of this, I just trust Elko to figure it out. He’s one of the best bright, young minds in college football. He’s been at multiple stops and has a current streak of seven consecutive seasons with a Top 50 defense.
I expect things to even out with the rush defense not being as formidable but the pass defense vastly improving from last season.