COLUMBIA, S.C. – For two decades, John Chavis has been the mastermind behind some of the SEC’s best defenses.
Affectionately known as “Chief,” the Dillon, S.C., native spent most of his career at Tennessee (1989 to 2008), which included a run as coordinator from 1995 to 2008.
After six years at LSU, Chavis was lured to College Station, Texas, by Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin in 2015.
“I think, as much as anything, Chief is a guy that has got a personality about himself,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. “Sometimes, the old saying that your players form the personality of the coach, and I think there’s a lot to that.
“When his defenses at Tennessee and his defenses at LSU … now you’re starting to see more of that personality at Texas A&M. It’s a mentality a little bit more. Obviously, I think he does a really good job scheme-wise, but I think there’s a little bit of a mentality in how they play.”
The numbers back up Muschamp’s assessment.
Texas A&M’s porous defense finished 2014 tied for 77th in scoring (28.1), 111th against the run (216) and 83rd against the pass (234.8).
In Chavis’ first year with the Aggies, they were tied for 28th in scoring defense (22), tied for 108th in rushing defense (213.69) and fourth in passing defense (166.3).
Texas A&M is 18th in the country in scoring defense this season, giving up an average of 16 points per game. They’re 42nd against the run (128.25) and 101st defending the pass (262.5).
“Daeshon Hall and Myles Garrett, probably two of the best defensive ends in the country,” Muschamp said. “Armani Watts and Justin Evans are two of the best safeties in the country, but they play fast, physical, they play the way you’re supposed to play.”
Coupled with a high-octane offense, Texas A&M (4-0) enters the game Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium as the No. 9-ranked team in the AP Top 25.
“Offensively, Noel Mazzone has done a really good job, came from UCLA. I’ve known Noel for a long time. He’s a really good football coach,” Muschamp said. “They play with up-tempo and the (run-pass options), but they are a very talented skill group.”
The Aggies are 16th in the country in scoring offense (43), 10th in rushing offense (269.25) and 34th in passing offense (276.5).
“At receiver, Christian Kirk, Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones, (Damion) Ratley, Speedy Noil, they’ve done a really good job recruiting receivers there, and they have guys who are going to create space plays,” Muschamp said.
On the ground, freshman running back Trayveon Williams leads the way with 389 yards and 3 touchdowns. Former Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight is second on the team with 308 yards rushing and first with 5 touchdowns. Running back Keith Ford, another Oklahoma transfer, has rushed for 210 yards and 3 scores.
As of Thursday morning, South Carolina (2-2) was listed as an 18.5-point underdog.
“We’ve made strides. Defensively, if we come to the ballpark ready to play, I feel like we can play with anybody. … We just have to be more consistent and make those plays that come to us,” Gamecocks linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said. “We’ve got to take advantage of any opportunities that we get.”
Allen-Williams knows South Carolina will be challenged on Saturday.
“They’re a good offense. They have a lot of good skill players. They have a good offensive line,” Allen-Williams said of the Aggies. “We’ve just got to come to play. If we come to play and we worry about us and we do what we have to do … we’ve just got to limit the runs and big plays they usually get on a lot of good teams.”
Big plays aren’t limited to the offense, either.
“Very sound on special teams,” Muschamp said. “Really good returners, and they put Kirk back there, Noil back there, so we’ve got our work cut out for us as far as with the team speed they have; we have to match that.”
He added, “Really a complete football team when you turn the tape on, look at all three phases.”