The Texas A&M defense made a few adjustments following last week's embarrassing 568-yard, 42-point showing against top-ranked Alabama.
Notably, it shut down Southern Methodist, with the first unit allowing only six points (13 overall) while accumulating three turnovers.
Forget Johnny Manziel, who did all the Johnny Football things he usually does—346 yards total offense and three touchdowns—the A&M defense's rebound against a offensively tough Mustangs squad proved to be the storyline leaving Kyle Field Saturday evening.
Over the course of the game, the Aggies allowed just 434 yards, surrendering just one touchdown (in garbage time) and two field goals on the night. According to defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, his defense's improvements were leaps and bounds ahead of last week's performance.
"We're still a work in progress for sure," Snyder said. "As long as I keep seeing improvement each week, I think we'll be fine. I saw a lot of improvement this week. We looked pretty fast out there tonight."
The key factors in Saturday night's jump in overall production broke down into two categories—personnel changes and communication.
Personnel-wise, the Aggies started true freshman linebacker Darian Claiborne and moved senior Nate Askew into position on the edge. Additionally, junior cornerback Deshazor Everett switched to starting free safety while his backup, senior Otis Jacobs, took over at cornerback.
Playing against the Mustangs' spread offensive system, both Snyder and head coach Kevin Sumlin attributed many personnel adjustments to their attempt at containing the high-octane passing attack quarterback Garrett Gilbert threw at them (67 passes total).
However, Snyder said the group he started on the field Saturday night were the "right guys" moving forward.
"I think we have the right guys on the field right now," Snyder said. "We started Darian [Claiborne], and he needs to play. He needs to be on the field. He was able to make the adjustment from 'Will' to 'Mike' in a week. This was the perfect time to do it. I was really proud of him. He brings a lot of energy, he's a lot like Steven Jenkins.
"Deshazor [Everett] is an eraser, and he was unselfish enough to go back to safety for us. We felt like that was the best personnel group we could put on the field till we get Floyd back. The great thing about Deshazor [Everett] is, whether he's at corner or safety, he's an eraser. He's a really good football player."
Many defenders noted their impressions of the unit, saying communication was vital to the defense's success against SMU. Over the course of the past four weeks, the group has struggled with bonding due to the forced changes ranging from injuries (Floyd Raven), suspensions (Gavin Stansbury, Steven Jenkins, De'Vante Harris) and youth.
However, the unit that practiced together during the week leading up to SMU was the same group that stepped on the field together Saturday afternoon. According to Everett, the boost in chemistry made him more comfortable, despite his new position.
"Everything was clicking," Everett said. "It was more of a communication thing with us having the same group at practice and then going out to the game and it being just like practice, basically. It was easier to go out there and play fast and make plays."
Looking forward, the defense hopes to build on the success of SMU, using similar strategies as the Aggies face a two-game road stretch against SEC West opponents Arkansas and Ole Miss. Sophomore defensive end Julien Obioha said the unit's strong execution Saturday night will provide a baseline for future results.
"I think the [defense] came out and played good tonight," Obioha said. "We executed as a defense, gave up a couple explosive plays, but not too many. We played well tonight."
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.