On Saturday, Auburn and Missouri will meet in the SEC championship game. To preview the game, we spoke with Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, who knows the teams as well as anybody. The Aggies were one of four teams to face both division winners at some point during the season.
Snyder breaks down the game from his vantage point, looks back at Texas A&M’s season and explains why he thinks the SEC will be more defensive next year:
It was Texas A&M’s second year in the SEC. How'd you feel like it went?
Mark Snyder: Obviously, we had some big standards going into the season, but we were so young defensively. We had some injuries, like a lot of teams in the SEC, but I thought as the year went, I saw our defense getting better each and every week. We played pretty decent and had our opportunities against Missouri. Give credit to those guys; they’re good and they got us.
What’s the mindset now heading into the bowl game?
Snyder: Just get better. Get our younger guys better on my side of the ball. It’s huge getting to a bowl game and having this extra practice time because typically you get into bowl practice and the first week or so you work your young guys to get them ready for next year. For us, those kids are all playing for us. They’re starting. We’re going to have to be careful about how much we do with them, but we’re getting the chance to continue to get better on defense.
Auburn and Missouri will play for the SEC title Saturday. What stands out to you about both of those teams?
Snyder: They got us at different times. Auburn got us earlier than Missouri did. Both have got really good quarterbacks. Nick’s playing well. Obviously, Missouri’s quarterback has played a lot. The difference in the teams I think is Missouri, they’re a very veteran offense -- veteran offensive line, big, tall wide receivers, a quarterback that’s played a lot, a running back that’s back. It’s a very veteran team where Auburn is very, very athletic. They’re just speed across the board from the receiver [Sammie] Coates to Nick Marshall to -- I really like their tailback (Tre Mason), I think he’s really good. If you look at the teams, one’s probably a little bit more experienced, been in the system longer. The other team has tremendous athleticism.
What are your thoughts on Auburn coach Gus Malzahn?
Snyder: He’s done a good job of instilling some beliefs, him and Coach [Gary] Pinkel both. If you look at both of these teams, right now they’re playing with a lot of confidence, so they’re doing a great job instilling some beliefs in their system. For Coach Pinkel, it was a little easier because those guys had been with him for four years. The trick with Gus is this is his first year with some of these guys, and he’s got them to buy in. You need to make a play here or there in those special seasons, and that’s what they’ve done.
Are you surprised with Missouri's run this early in the SEC?
Snyder: Not really. Coach Pinkel has had a culture of success everywhere he’s been. They were pretty beat up last year. You look at a team like Florida, they’re going through it this year, Georgia a little bit, us a little bit. You go through those. The teams with those magical seasons are staying healthy. We were able to do that last year. We didn’t have much depth, but we stayed healthy. That’s half the battle, and that’s hard in this league. There’s got to be some luck involved in there, especially on our side. If you look at the West, it’s every week.
This season was all about the offense in the SEC. A lot of good quarterbacks, a lot of good offenses. Do you see the power shifting back to the defense next season?
Snyder: I would think so. Things are cyclical, there’s no doubt. LSU lost a lot of people on defense. We lost some people, and we were already young, playing with a bunch of freshmen -- Todd [Grantham] was playing with a bunch of freshmen at Georgia -- against some really good quarterbacks. A lot of those guys are moving on now, and it’s not just the quarterbacks. There are going to be some tailbacks, some offensive linemen, just offense in general. And then you’re going to see some of the teams I just mentioned not lose anybody (on defense) and continue to grow up. I will be surprised if you didn’t see better defensive numbers come next year from a bunch of us.