Texas A&M football is off to another great start in 2013. The Ags are 4-1 and ranked 9th in the country. If you had told me two years ago that we would be on our way to a second Top 10 season and have a reigning Heisman Trophy quarterback winner at quarterback, I would have told you to go back to the loony bin you just came from.
The offense has been everything it was expected to be, and more, averaging 49.2 points and over 586 yards of total offense a game. Manziel has bounced back from his off-season troubles and picked up right where he left off in 2012, averaging 62.8 yards rushing and 360.6 yds passing per game. Many expected the receiving core would take a big hit with the departures of Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, but stud receiver Mike Evans has made up the difference, hauling in 28 passes for a whopping 691 yds and 5 touchdowns. The ground game has been as shored up as ever, with senior running back Ban Malena leading the pack with 303 yards and 7 touchdowns. The only reason his stats aren’t more impressive is due in large part to the great play of Tra Carson, Brandon Williams, and Trey Williams behind him.
As you can see, the offense is running just fine. Clarence McKinney’s “score at all costs” mentality has paid off dividends for the Ags, hence why they’re second in the SEC in points scored.
But the big question has been, and will be, the Aggies' defense.
A&M lost junior All-American DaMontre Moore early to the 2013 NFL draft, and defensive tackle Spencer Neely and linebackers Sean Porter and Johnathan Stewart graduated. That’s a lot for a defense to bounce back from, and a lot of leadership roles left vacant.
Looking to lead in the middle was linebacker Steven Jenkins, who came on strong at the end of last season. However, an in-house suspension found him on the sideline for the first two games, along with starting defensive back De’Vante Harris and defensive end Gavin Stansbury. Add all of that to cornerback Deshazor Everett and safety Floyd Raven’s half-game and one game suspensions, as well as defensive tackle Kirby Ennis’ season-opener suspension for gun charges, and you’ve got more than half of your starting D riding pine.
Their absence was more than evident in the first two games, when the Aggies turned in lackluster performances by giving up 31 and 28 points to Rice and Sam Houston State respectively.
Luckily, all of the starters were back in time for ‘Bama (whew, cut that one close), but it takes time for a defense to gel, and that happens best in games, not practice. By the time the Aggies were at full strength for the Crimson Tide it was too late, as they gave up 568 total yards and 49 points in a shoot-out loss. As someone outside looking in, you can’t help but think that if the starters had been together from the start, we might have edged out the Tide.
Facing SMU the next week, the defense looked much better, surrendering only 13 points in a lop-sided 42-13 win. But that personal victory was short-lived, as the Ags gave up 483 yards to a struggling Arkansas team and just did edge out the Razorbacks in Fayetteville, 45-33. As if to add insult to injury, Ennis went down with a torn ACL and will be out for the rest of the season, opening up a huge hole on the defensive line.
You win games with offense, but you win championships with defense. Unless one of the young players steps in to a big-time role, like true freshman linebacker Darian Claiborne, (11 tackles vs. Rice, 8 vs. Arkansas), Texas A&M won’t become an elite team (at least not this year). But I’m a big believer in Mark Snyder, as is most of the 12th Man, and if anybody can turn this team around, it’s him. Granted, I’m looking at it through Maroon & White glasses, but I truly believe that if the Ags can get capable leaders on defense, they can win out and be at a BCS bowl in January.
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