Defense wins championships—an aged football maxim Texas A&M and head coach Kevin Sumlin have refused to believe in, despite the early warning signs. Following Saturday's 45-41 upset loss to No. 24 Auburn at Kyle Field, though, the seventh-ranked Aggies received a rude awakening.
In the Southeastern Conference, a strong-armed defense is not only necessary, but essential, when unlocking the road to Atlanta.
Seven games into the 2013 season, A&M has gotten away with defensive mishaps, erasing doubt through reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel's relentless playmaking and drive. When an Auburn offense walked into Kyle Field ready to match the Aggies point for point, though, the situation became chaotic in a hurry.
In the end, Auburn's defense came up aces in the red zone, and A&M's failed to match. Period.
A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder noted his frustration following the game, explicitly saying the Aggie offense shouldn't need to exceed 41 points to come out with a win.
"When [Auburn] had to move the chains, they did," Snyder said. "When you score 41 points, you should win. Period. End of story."
Currently, the A&M defense ranks 113th nationally and last in the SEC in yards per game, allowing 474.3. With the addition of Auburn's 615 total yards, A&M's total will increase to 494.4 yards per game, signaling that the Aggies will most likely continue to plummet down the stat board.
From a points perspective, No. 15 Georgia entered the weekend with the conference's worst points-per-game average, giving up 33.7 through six games. The Aggies were a close second, however, allowing 32 points per game. Following the weekend's scores, though, the rankings will change.
Despite losing to Vanderbilt, 31-27, Georgia will improve its defensive average to 33.3 points per game. With Auburn's 45 points tacked to its total, the Aggies points-allowed average will jump to 33.8, making it the SEC's worst overall defense.
In order to bring home an SEC Championship, that won't cut it.
"We couldn't slow them down," Snyder said. "They took the game and clock from us. In the fourth quarter, they deserve a lot of credit—they blocked us and blocked us very well.
"The bottom line was the bottom line—they put on their big boy pads, and they knocked us off the football. Period."
According to Sumlin, the errors came in A&M's inability to slow down third-down conversions and generate turnovers—his key factors in any game. Auburn outperformed A&M in third downs, converting 7-of-14 (50 percent) to the 5-of-13 (38 percent) rate for Texas A&M, and created two turnovers to the Aggies one.
"Whether we win or we lose, I sit up here and talk about two areas: third downs and turnover ratio, which we didn't win either one of them tonight," Sumlin said. "They did, and that's why they won the game."
Behind Johnny Manziel and the talented group of weapons on offense, the Aggie defense often got a first-half pass from many analysts, writers and fans. Following the Auburn upset, though, A&M will learn that it takes more than lighting up a scoreboard to reach Atlanta.
The other side's lights need to be kept in check as well.
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.