COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Even though its season-opening win over South Carolina was a smashing success, Texas A&M still showed flaws in its 52-28 rout of the Gamecocks.
They most noticeable one turned up in the secondary on the night of Aug. 28, as the Aggies yielded 366 passing yards, a total that included two blown coverages that resulted in 69- and 46-yard touchdown passes.
Taking into account that their next opponent was much weaker than its first one, Texas A&M did show some improvement in that area in a 73-3 win over FCS foe Lamar on Saturday. And when reigning Conference USA champion Rice comes to town in a couple days, the Aggies will have more chances to see how their secondary has progressed.
Still, there are signs of optimism for the group. True freshman Armani Watts has been a pleasant surprise, sliding into the free safety position and immediately becoming a playmaker. In the season opener, he broke up two passes, including one that would have been a touchdown. He also intercepted a pass.
"Armani has been a pleasant surprise back there," defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. "I think [secondary coach] Terry [Joseph] has done a good job of getting across the message that we need to become more physical, disciplined, all those things."
Watts is providing quality play at a position the Aggies sorely needed after they struggled at free safety in 2013. Big plays being given up were a routine occurrence, and Joseph is working on making sure that isn't happening this fall.
Both Snyder and Kevin Sumlin have been pleased with what their new secondary coach has done so far.
"Terry is very detailed-oriented," Snyder said. "He not only talks about the secondary, but he'll also talk about what's going on up front at the linebacker position, what's going on up front with the D-line, to give a broader perspective of what the whole defense is about, not just doing 'my role' or 'my job.' As kids get older, that's the way it should be. We've had to play catch-up there, but as time goes on, you see that maturation."
The unit is not operating with a full deck, either. Junior cornerback De'Vante Harris has been out nursing an injury he suffered during preseason training camp so redshirt freshman Victor Davis has had to slide into his position opposite senior corner Deshazor Everett. Howard Matthews continues to patrol strong safety, but the Aggies have added depth across the secondary thanks to their 2014 recruiting class and emerging veterans like Devonta Burns, who is the team's primary nickel back.
Allowing only 153 passing yards and not allowing any big pass plays was a sign of progress last week in the win over Lamar.
"There weren't a lot of guys [who] cut loose and were running free; we challenged routes," Sumlin said. "You've got to say there was at least some improvement from a week ago when we had a busted coverage for a touchdown and a bad eye violation with Howard for a touchdown."
Eye discipline will be tested further this week when Rice arrives. The Owls will use play action passing regularly so it'll give the Aggies an opportunity to see how they've progressed. But so far, Snyder is pleased with what he is seeing.
"I think Terry has done a good job of getting across the message that we need to become more physical, disciplined, all those things," Snyder said. "We're playing a little bit of catch-up there. I've been pleased with the progress of those guys. We'll see a lot more over the next couple of weeks where we're at."