Entering the final month of the season, much of the talk around the Big 12 South is the sudden resurgence of Texas A&M. The Aggies had lost three straight games to Oklahoma State, Arkansas, and Missouri. Following the switch to Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, the Aggies have reeled off two straight wins over Kansas and Texas Tech. Tannehill seems to be the spark A&M had been missing most of the season and all of a sudden, Texas A&M is what everyone thought they’d be coming into the season, a very good offensive football team.
As the Bryan-College Station Eagle points out, the road for Tannehill and the Aggies is going to get tougher during the month of November. Tannehill and the offense will no doubt play a huge part in how TAMU finishes off the year, but the success A&M has had to this point, and the success they’ll have over the final four games, can largely be attributed to the defensive improvements made under first year defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter.
The 2009 version of the Aggie defense was downright putrid. The Aggies finished 12th in the conference in total and scoring defense, 12th against the pass, and 11th against the run. Not exactly a lot to hang your hat on.
Here’s a look at where the team finished 2009 versus where they’re sitting through eight games this year.
|2009||Big 12 Rank||2010||Big 12 Rank|
|Scoring Defense||33.5 pts/game||12th||21.5 pts per game||5th|
|Total Defense||426.3 yds/game||12th||345 yds per game||5th|
|Rush Defense||171.6 yds/game||11th||94.9 yds/game||1st|
|Pass Defense||254.7 yds/game||12th||250 yds/game||9th|
|Opp 3rd Down Conversion||37.50%||6th||28.50%||1st|
|Opp 4th Down Conversion||58.30%||10th||29.40%||3rd|
|Turnovers created||22 (13 games)||10th||17 (8 games)||3rd (tie)|
Don’t get me wrong, you can only put so much credence into statistics, but the numbers show huge improvements across the board, with the exception of the pass defense which is still giving up about 250 yards per game, right on par with last season. But, when you’re leading the league in rush defense, teams are more apt to attack you through the air. Not to mention, they've played some predominately pass-heavy teams which I'll get to in a minute.
And just as Tannehill is going to face a stiff test in November, the same can be said of the defense. The number to keep an eye is that rush defense. Yes, only surrendering 94.9 yards on the ground is impressive. That being said, they haven’t exactly faced any team with a juggernaut of a rushing attack.
Oklahoma State has Kendall Hunter, but they only had 26 rushing attempts in the game, totaling 67 yards. Kansas is the only conference team to run the ball more than they passed and they had success doing it (46 rushes against 31 passes for 201 yards on the ground).
Baylor and Oklahoma are up next and while they like to throw it, they’re also balanced with Jay Finley and DeMarco Murray in the backfield. And you know Nebraska is going to run it at them the following week. If they’re still number one in rush defense at the end of November, you have to like the Aggies chances of creating some headaches for the teams at the top of the Big 12 South.
Texas A&M is definitely a team to keep a close eye on as the home stretch to the 2010 season begins. The A&M offense looks to be getting on track with Tannehill, but it will still come down to defense in College Station. And a defense that is a heck of a lot better than the previous version.