Here are some numbers to consider: 111th, 104th, 51st, 90th, 78th.
This is where Texas A&M has finished in total defense over the past five respective years.
Sure, there might not be a more overused phrase in football than defense wins championships, and apologies for using it here, but that proved to be the case once again in the SEC last season, with Alabama, Georgia and Auburn finishing in the top 14 in total defense.
If the Aggies want to compete for titles, and they better considering the amount of money spent to hire Jimbo Fisher away from Florida State, the defensive problems will have to stop. It falls on new coordinator Mike Elko to fix it.
The biggest trouble for A&M’s defense has been controlling the running game. The Aggies gave up 170.85 rushing yards per game in 2017, and when you face the top 3 in the SEC West – Alabama, Auburn and LSU – that all have running games that can hurt anyone, that flaw becomes more evident.
Surprisingly, the Aggies were able to pressure the quarterback last season, finishing fifth in the FBS with 43 sacks, but opponents knew the running lanes would be there. Alabama gashed A&M for 232 yards. Auburn followed that with 228 yards on the ground. LSU, rushing for 250 yards total, put two players – Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams – at more than 100 yards a piece.
During his one season at Notre Dame in 2017, Elko helped improve the Fighting Irish’s rush defense, with the team giving up 28 less yards on the ground per game than the year prior. The pieces are in place for that to happen in College Station, with the return of defensive tackle Kingsley Keke (54 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss) and defensive lineman Landis Durham (55 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss) along with potential playmakers, including incoming freshman Bobby Brown.
The linebacking corps also returns a lot of talent that should help Elko. Otaro Alaka, who recorded 12 tackles for a loss last season, Tyrel Dodson and Buddy Johnson form a unit that could be one of the best in the conference.
Aggies fans have read this story before, though. John Chavis, who helped LSU’s defense become one of the most feared in the nation from 2009-14, peaking in 2011 when the Tigers gave up only 90.07 yards per game on the ground, came over with much aplomb. It ended up being the same Texas A&M, same problems that cursed the Aggies under previous coordinator Mark Snyder.
Texas A&M went out and hired Fisher, a coach with a national championship, to lead the 12th Man to the apex of college football. Simply put, the Aggies are sick of being mediocre, of those 8-5, 7-6 seasons that became so typical during the Kevin Sumlin era.
The defense will have to lead the way.
While many eyes during the spring game Saturday will be directed toward the quarterback competition between Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond, what happens on the other side of the line of scrimmage might show whether Fisher and the Aggies will be contenders in 2018 or headed for another mediocre campaign.
No pressure, Mike Elko.