It's normally a compliment when a defense keeps a team in any game. For Texas A&M in 2013, it's an insult.
This version of the Aggie defense ranks 120th in the nation in total defense (494.4 yards per game), 104th in scoring defense (33.9 points per game), 113th in rush defense (226.57 yards per game) and 120th in yards per carry (5.87).
Yes, Texas A&M's defensive statistics are skewed a bit based on the offense's goal to push tempo and, thus, keeps the defense on the field more than other teams. But there's no excuse for Texas A&M being this bad on the defensive side of the ball.
Quarterback Johnny Manziel is busy putting up Heisman-like numbers for the second straight season, but the problem is that he has to.
Against Auburn Saturday afternoon, everyone in the building knew Auburn was going to run straight at the Aggies—despite eight and sometimes nine in the box—and attempt to drain the clock en route to a game-tying field goal or game-winning touchdown.
Twelve plays and 75 yards later, Tre Mason reached the ball across the goal line to give Auburn the 45-41 win.
"Towards the end of the game they put their big-boy pads on and we couldn't slow them down," defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said in quotes released by Auburn.
So what happened in the first half, when the rush defense gave up 168 yards—which is more than what nine SEC teams give up during full games?
Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
|Texas A&M SEC Defensive Ranks|
|Scoring Defense||Last (33.9 PPG)|
|Total Defense||Last (494.4 YPG)|
|Pass Defense||13th (267.9 YPG)|
|Rush Defense||Last (226.57 YPG)|
|Third-Down Conversions||11th (41.05%)|
|Plays of 50-Plus Yards||Last (nine)|
Take nothing away from Auburn, because head coach Gus Malzahn has the program cooking at a high level, and the Tigers are tough to stop. But the Aggies walked into Kyle Field knowing what the Tigers were going to do, and they couldn't do anything about it for a full 60 minutes.
That's unacceptable for a team that's fighting to become elite.
What's the problem? It's the X's and O's and the Jimmys and the Joes.
Only one member of Texas A&M's current starting front seven had more than three stars from 247Sports.com coming out of high school or junior college, which certainly contributes to the defensive ineptitude. But head coach Kevin Sumlin signed six 4-star linemen and linebackers in the Class of 2013—including starting defensive tackle Isaiah Golden—so help is on the way.
But those players are on campus now, and while protecting eligibility and easing the transition process to college football is important, if the Aggies can't field a more competitive defense, they're never going to be elite.
That term is a moving target in college football based on system and scheme.
In an offense like Sumlin runs, which lights up scoreboards like Christmas trees, all A&M needs to be is middle of the pack defensively. With the recruiting base the program enjoys in its own state and the appeal of playing in the SEC, that's not unreasonable.
Unfortunately for A&M, "middle of the pack" seems like a fantasy based on this season's results.
With the defense regressing and Manziel possibly bolting for the NFL in the not-too-distant future, A&M's window may be closing.