Texas A&M Aggies: Garrett Gilbert

Aggies' defense shows progress in win

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
12:43
AM ET
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Coming off a thriller that few will soon forget, No. 10 Texas A&M had a few questions to answer going into Saturday's battle with SMU.

Though it's way too early to surmise that they've permanently answered some of those questions, the Aggies certainly took steps toward a few solutions in their dominant 42-13 win over the Mustangs at Kyle Field.

The biggest question about the Aggies after three games surrounded their defense, or lack thereof. If Texas A&M (3-1) couldn't prove that it could get stops against an opponent like SMU (the Aggies already allowed significant yardage to Rice and Sam Houston State, though the unit was shorthanded for both games), when would it ever show that? The rest of A&M's SEC schedule is coming, starting with a road game at Arkansas on Sept. 28.

Fortunately for the Aggies, the unit showed some progress.

[+] EnlargeDeshazor Everett
AP Photo/Bob LeveyDeshazor Everett's move to safety this week was one of several moves that help jumpstart the Texas A&M defense.
Though SMU compiled 292 yards in the first three quarters as A&M built a 42-6 lead, the Aggies were stellar on third downs, holding the Mustangs to just four conversions on its first 14 attempts in that span and 5-of-16 for the game.

"We looked pretty fast out there tonight," Aggies defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. "There were times where we looked extremely fast, which is what I was hoping was the case. We still have some areas that we've got to work on, but it was a much better game from our sideline tonight."

Snyder made two key personnel changes this week. He moved starting cornerback Deshazor Everett to safety to help address the issues the Aggies have had in coverage and he inserted true freshman Darian Claiborne into the starting lineup at middle linebacker.

"I think we have the right guys on the field right now," Snyder said. "[Claiborne] needs to play and needs to be on the field. He was able to make the adjustment from [weakside linebacker] to [middle linebacker] in a week. … I was really proud of him. He handled getting the front [seven] set, he brought a lot of energy, he's a lot like Steven Jenkins and I was very, very happy with that."

Everett spent time at both cornerback and safety last season, so it's not an unfamiliar move for the junior. By moving him back there, the Aggies moved third cornerback Tramain Jacobs to the starting lineup next to De'Vante Harris, and he didn't appear to miss a beat. Everett said because SMU runs an offense similar to A&M's, the transition was smooth.

"It was pretty simple," Everett said. "I see those formations a lot and I know what the safety's checks are to me at corner. … It kind of helped me because I know where the corner is going to be and where I should be if I were a corner, to want safety help."

Was Saturday a sign that a cure-all is coming to a defense that ranked in the bottom 20 in the nation in total yards allowed and rushing yards allowed coming into the game? Far from it. But it was a much-needed positive performance from a group that has struggled through youth, inexperience and missing personnel because of suspensions or injuries in the first three games. On-field communication and the ability to make adjustments in the first three games was a chore simply because of the lack of consistency in starting personnel from week to week.

"In the first couple, three weeks … there were a lot of moving parts and guys out there just worrying about doing their job, not being able to communicate," head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "There's definitely a comfort factor with having all your pieces back and being able to not only play that play but also make adjustments as the game moves on."

With the Aggies resuming SEC play next week in Fayetteville, Ark., having some success on defense is key.

Offensively, the Aggies ran smoothly, as they have most of the year. Quarterback Johnny Manziel threw strikes when he stayed in the pocket and chewed up rushing yards when he darted out of it. His night, which included 244 passing yards, 102 rushing yards and three total touchdowns, was done by the 10:06 mark of the third quarter with the Aggies leading 39-6. Malcome Kennedy (six catches, 83 yards) continued to show that will be a legitimate receiving threat to complement star sophomore receiver Mike Evans and the running game was productive and efficient, led by Manziel and Ben Malena (13 carries, 71 yards, two touchdowns).

The win wasn't without its warts though. Like SMU, the Aggies were heavily penalized (there were 29 accepted penalties in the game, 13 of which went against the Aggies for 114 yards) and the kicking game continues to be a struggle. Sophomore place-kicker Taylor Bertolet missed back-to-back point-after-touchdown kick attempts in the first half and was replaced thereafter by junior walk-on Josh Lambo. And what happened when Lambo entered the game? Holder Drew Kaser bobbled a snap -- the second time that's happened this season -- and as a result, Lambo's first PAT attempt failed.

When Lambo connected on a PAT after a Malena touchdown run with 11:34 remaining in the third quarter, it almost seemed as if the cheers for Lambo were as loud as those for Malena's touchdown. Finding a solution at place-kicker is critical if the Aggies expect to remain contenders in the SEC West. Against SMU, those points left on the field didn't matter. Against Ole Miss or LSU on the road later this season, they might.

Sumlin, when asked who will be kicking field goals and PATs moving forward, called the situation "a competition."

"We're going to keep the competition up just like we do at every position," Sumlin said. "Lambo came in and did a good job. … It's just like any other position. … We evaluate guys every week, no matter what the position, so there will be competition there."

But the Aggies made some plays on defense. They forced a turnover that led directly to points when defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. jolted the ball loose from receiver Jeremiah Gaines, a fumble that Everett returned for a 12-yard touchdown. Linebacker Tommy Sanders intercepted a pass late, and though he fumbled, freshman defensive end Daeshon Hall was able to scoop it up for a 39-yard return. The secondary was tested a few times in the first half by SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert (37-of-62 passing, 310 yards) but passed with flying colors when it came to third downs or plays near the end zone or red zone.

"I feel like going back into SEC play [next week] it was great for us to come and play well," Hurd said. "It was great for our defense to put a good showing out tonight."

SEC Saturday roundup

September, 21, 2013
9/21/13
7:01
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There won't be any BCS implications in today's marquee SEC games -- so long as the big favorites in a couple of traditionally important divisional matchups take care of business.

No. 6 LSU (3-0) and No. 19 Florida (1-1) are both double-digit favorites over Auburn (3-0) and Tennessee (2-1), respectively. And both have controlled the recent history of series that have been much more competitive in the past.

Formerly THE most important annual game in the SEC East, Florida-Tennessee has become less interesting in recent seasons now that the Gators have won the last eight meetings, with only two of those games being decided by fewer than 10 points. Likewise, LSU has won five of the last six against Auburn, although the games have typically been more competitive.

We'll learn a lot more tonight about whether a last-minute win against Mississippi State last Saturday was a sign that Auburn is on the way back. The last two times Auburn visited Baton Rouge, it lost by 21 points (2009) and 35 points (2011), which was the biggest win by either team in series history. Tiger Stadium is a notoriously difficult place for the road team to win, so Gus Malzahn's Tigers certainly face long odds if they are to remain undefeated by the end of the night.

Meanwhile, Florida has been sulking for two weeks after repeatedly choking in the red zone against Miami and Tennessee has had a week to stew over its blowout loss to Oregon last Saturday. Only three Eastern Division teams have played a conference game yet, so today's winner in Gainesville will take a big step toward contending in the division.

Butch Jones' Vols could prove a lot about themselves by stealing a win in The Swamp -- and they'll have a chance if Florida doesn't clean up its act on offense. This will be a big game for Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel to begin progressing toward the more consistent play that Will Muschamp and Florida's coaches expected from him this season.

Those are the only two league games this week, with the rest of the SEC schedule featuring nonconference matchups that carry varying levels of interest (Vanderbilt AT UMass? What went into that decision?). Here are a couple more that could carry some intrigue:

Arkansas (3-0) at Rutgers (2-1) is perhaps the most interesting measuring-stick game outside of league play this week. The Scarlet Knights' 35-26 win in Fayetteville came in the middle of the Razorbacks' 1-4 start of the season -- a stretch that also included a 52-0 loss to Alabama and 58-10 defeat against Texas A&M -- and helped lead to Bret Bielema's hiring as Arkansas' head coach. It has been so far, so good for Bielema at Arkansas, with the Razorbacks beating three overmatched nonconference foes behind the running back duo of Alex Collins (second in the SEC with 139.3 rushing yards per game) and Jonathan Williams (third with 131.0).

Today will provide their toughest test yet -- their first game outside of Arkansas and a matchup against a team that has reached a bowl in seven of the last eight seasons. If Arkansas wins again today, a bowl bid becomes a much more likely possibility despite a murderous conference schedule that starts with a visit from Texas A&M next week.

And if the scoreboard at Kyle Field is still functional after the 91 points from last week's game against Alabama, SMU (1-1) at No. 10 Texas A&M (2-1) might place a further strain on its electrical supply. Texas A&M possesses the nation's fourth-highest-scoring offense at 53 points per game and should have little difficulty moving the ball against Saturday's visitors. The problem, though, is that the Aggies haven't shown an ability to stop anyone on defense. SMU is averaging just 27 points per game, but A&M has given up an average of 36 ppg to Rice, Sam Houston State and Alabama, good for 107th nationally.

SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert is third nationally in total offense, averaging 393.5 yards per game -- 352.5 through the air, which ranks fourth nationally. Defending Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel (379 ypg) is fifth in total offense, with 328 of his yards coming via the pass.

We fully expect Texas A&M to keep lighting up the scoreboard, but the Aggies might have to earn a stop to win one of these shootouts. They haven't demonstrated much of an ability to do that yet.

Here's today's lineup:
Vanderbilt at UMass, Noon ET, ESPNews
North Texas at Georgia, 12:21 p.m., SEC TV
Arkansas at Rutgers, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Tennessee at Florida 3:30 p.m., CBS
SMU at Texas A&M, 7 p.m., ESPNU
Colorado State at Alabama, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Troy at Mississippi State, 7:30 p.m., FSN
Auburn at LSU, 7:45 p.m., ESPN
Missouri at Indiana, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network

SEC Week 4: Did You Know?

September, 20, 2013
9/20/13
10:00
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There aren't quite as many marquee games this weekend around the SEC, but we still have a couple of divisional rivalry games -- namely Tennessee-Florida and Auburn-LSU -- to look forward to, plus a couple of intriguing nonconference matchups. Let's take a look at some statistical notes from around the league with an assist from ESPN's Stats and Information group.
  • LSU's Zach Mettenberger was hardly a star-caliber quarterback last season, posting the third-lowest Total QBR (39.3) of all qualified quarterbacks in the SEC (50 is average on the 1-100 QBR scale). He's been anything but a failure through three games of his senior season, notching the biggest increase for any qualified FBS quarterback in the last two seasons. His 52.3-point increase this season gives him a 91.6 Total QBR that ranks eighth nationally. Missouri's James Franklin has posted the third-biggest increase, jumping 45.4 points to 84.2 (20th nationally).
  • Conversely, some of Florida's offensive woes can be attributed to quarterback Jeff Driskel, whose Total QBR inside an opponent's 20 (1.5) is the second lowest in the nation among quarterbacks with at least 10 action plays. Driskel is one of five qualified quarterbacks with more interceptions (two) than touchdowns (one) inside the red zone. Florida's three turnovers against Miami were its most red zone turnovers in a game in the last 10 seasons. The Gators have already matched or exceeded their total of red zone turnovers from each of the past three seasons.
  • It's no secret that Auburn coach Gus Malzahn wants his hurry-up, no-huddle offense to operate at an accelerated pace. The Tigers have already improved substantially over their snail's pace from a season ago, when they were the third-slowest offense in the nation with a play every 30 seconds. This season, Auburn is running a play every 23 seconds, which is 1 second faster than the FBS average. The Tigers are averaging 440.3 yards per game (135.3 more than last year, when they were last in the SEC), converting 42 percent on third down (11 percent better than last year, when they were last in the league) and scoring touchdowns on 24 percent of their drives (up 8 percent from last year's SEC-low percentage).
  • Despite last week's blowout loss at Oregon, Tennessee has enjoyed some success moving the ball on the ground. The Volunteers have gained 384 of their 733 rushing yards before contact and are averaging 2.8 yards before contact per carry. In Florida, the Vols face their toughest run defense test yet, however. The Gators have allowed 7 rushing yards before contact on 44 carries through two games.
  • Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel's 562 yards of total offense last week against Alabama rank second in school and SEC history, trailing only his 576-yard performance last season against Louisiana Tech. Manziel is responsible for the top three total-offense games in league history.
  • Speaking of Manziel, last week's shootout against Alabama will certainly not be the last time the Aggies play in a high-scoring game. The next one could come this weekend when SMU visits College Station. SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert is third nationally in total offense (393.5 ypg), two slots ahead of Manziel (379).
  • A week after entering the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2009, Ole Miss jumped from No. 25 to No. 21 after last weekend's win at Texas. The Rebels, who are idle this week, are 3-0 for the first time since 1989 with a visit to No. 1 Alabama coming next week.
  • Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is one touchdown pass away from becoming the second quarterback in SEC history to toss 100 in his college career. Murray is 15 away from Danny Wuerffel's career record of 114. He should catch up to former Georgia star David Greene's SEC passing yardage record of 11,528 yards soon, as well. Murray is 805 yards behind Greene with 10,723 in his career.
  • Both of this weekend's marquee SEC games rank among the top 10 closest head-to-head SEC series since 2000 (that have been played at least 10 times). The average margin of victory in Auburn-LSU in that time period is 12.38 points, with seven of those games being decided by nine points or less. Florida has held the advantage in recent years against Tennessee with eight straight wins, but the average margin of victory in that series since 2000 is just 12.54 points.
  • Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron is approaching former Crimson Tide star Jay Barker's SEC career winning percentage record. Barker went 35-2-1 (93.4 percent) between 1991-94. McCarron can improve to 28-2 (93.3) if the Crimson Tide defeats Colorado State this weekend.
  • Quick, name the two SEC defenses that have allowed the fewest yards per game thus far. If you guessed Florida, you'd be correct. The Gators are third nationally with 208.5 yards allowed per game. The other team might be more of a surprise. Entering Saturday's game at Rutgers, Arkansas ranks sixth nationally by allowing 253 ypg.
  • Four players across the country have notched an FBS-high 4.5 sacks thus far. Two of them are from the SEC: Arkansas' Chris Smith and Kentucky's Za'Darius Smith, whose team is off this weekend.

First glance: Breaking down SMU 

September, 10, 2012
9/10/12
12:00
PM ET
Campus location: Dallas
Nickname: Mustangs
Conference: Conference USA
Record: 1-1
Record vs. Texas A&M: 29-42-7

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