The Texas A&M defense has been a rain cloud hanging over the program all season, and played a key part in the Aggies' losses to top-ranked Alabama and No. 9 Auburn. The past two games, though, the squad has stepped up, holding Vanderbilt and UTEP to a combined 31 points.
More importantly, the defense has created seven turnovers during the span of the two wins, as opposed to the just the 11 generated in the six games prior. Ultimately, that improvement will be vital when facing off against the efficient offenses of LSU and Missouri, whom the Aggies close the season on the road against in consecutive weeks.
The group's impressive turnaround in turnover margin has allowed the ever-potent A&M offense—led by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel—to receive more touches, which unquestionably ended in more points.
Looking back at A&M's two losses—Alabama and Auburn—the Aggies suffered in the turnover margin, eventually leading to their downfall in each game. Against the Crimson Tide, A&M only forced one turnover while Alabama generated two, including an interception returned for a touchdown.
During the Auburn loss, it was a very similar story, with the Tigers only giving up one turnover and the Aggie offense surrendering two.
And each of those losses has been at home. On the road at Death Valley and Memorial Stadium, losing the turnover battle has the potential to cause major damage, especially against quality squads such as LSU and Missouri.
With the recent success of the defense in this category, the Aggies are going to need continued production in this area on the road against a pair of Tiger opponents.
In terms of specificity, the Aggie defense has been particularly deadly in the secondary, intercepting the ball five of the seven times over the past two games. Junior safety Howard Matthews leads the group, grabbing three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown against Vanderbilt.
The key component of the A&M defensive back recovery has been the return of junior safety Floyd Raven Sr., who was notched as a starter before injuring his collar bone in a win over Sam Houston State. With his return against Vanderbilt, head coach Kevin Sumlin said it was the first time all five of the intended secondary starters actually started together this season.
"It's really the first game, believe it or not, that we had all five of our secondary guys start the game that we planned to start the year with, either due to injury with Floyd Raven or suspension or what-have-you," Sumlin said during Vanderbilt's postgame press conference.
The continued improvement of the unit will be vital against deadly quarterbacks such as LSU's Zach Mettenberger or Mizzou's James Franklin, especially considering A&M's interception success came against two backup quarterbacks in Vanderbilt's Patton Robinette and UTEP's Blaire Sullivan.
The key will be consistency, and maintaining it through the end of the season.
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand