Most of the attention went to Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense when they upset Alabama last season. This year, with very different expectations directed at the program in the rematch, their defense is going to take center stage.
The season hasn’t started out too well defensively, giving up 306 rushing yards against Rice in the opening week and 240 yards against Sam Houston State. But the Aggies had experience problems in those games – Johnny Manziel wasn’t the only player suspended.
Six key defensive players served suspensions for part or all of the season opener against Rice and four more served penalties for all or part of the second game against Sam Houston State. It’s almost like a whole new defense showing up to play the number one team in the country.
There are still injuries: Starting safety Floyd Raven Sr. is going to miss the game, and defensive end Julien Obioha is not cleared for the game as of now. But plenty of pieces from the defense that was one of the best in the nation in quite a few important categories last season are coming back, hoping that their performance against A.J. McCarron from last season will be repeated.
Texas A&M were ranked 26th in the nation in scoring defense last season (21.8 points per game), and did very well against the third down, allowing teams to convert only 32.4% of their attempts, placing them 16th in the nation and fourth in the SEC. When it came to third down and short (3rd-and-5), A&M were the best in College Football, allowing a 44.6% conversion rate.
Their performance in the early stages of that win in Tuscaloosa, allowing the team to take a 20-0 lead before the game wrapped up at 29-24, is an often forgettable ingredient that day. On the first three drives of the game, Texas A&M forced Alabama to two three-and-outs. The offense scored after each of those stops. They also forced three turnovers in the game, the most the Crimson Tide committed since a 2011 season opener vs. Kent State. A.J. McCarron threw his first interception of the season in that game.
Ranked #6 in the nation, Texas A&M aren’t coming out of nowhere this time. They have the most hyped quarterback in College Football, drawing all kinds of attention. This time, Alabama won’t be surprised by the outside zone they saw so many plays and didn’t know what to do with. And yet because the Aggies are no longer unknowns, pulling off the upset for a second straight season seems even more surprising than last year’s win.