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Rice to serve as barometer for A&M defense

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- A little more than a year ago, Rice marched into Kyle Field and moved up and down the field on Texas A&M.

The Aggies were high-powered enough offensively and too talented overall to allow lose the game, but it set the tone for what would be a rough season for Texas A&M's defense.

The numbers were eye-popping: 306 rushing yards allowed and 509 offensive yards allowed to the Owls in a 52-31 Texas A&M victory.

"They pushed us around a little bit last year," Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. "There's no secret there."

There were extenuating circumstances. The Aggies were missing five defensive starters for part or all of the game because of suspensions. There were true freshmen all over the field. Still, the performance left Snyder frustrated after his team yielded six yards per carry.

But the Aggies struggled on that side of the ball throughout the season with newcomers permeating the depth chart.

So far this season Texas A&M has showed improvement. After a season in which they were last in the SEC in yards allowed per game (475.8), rushing yards allowed per game (222.31), yards per play (6.36) and yards per carry (5.38), the Aggies have shown several signs of improvement in 2014. The run defense has been stingy (78.5 yards per game), the Aggies show signs of a pass rush (six sacks in two games) and though they have given up some big plays in the secondary, they are improving there as well.

But Rice is a team that knows the Aggies well. The Owls weren't intimidated when they made the trip last season, and the coaching staffs are familiar with each other. Rice coach David Bailiff used to go head-to-head with Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin when Sumlin was coaching Houston in Conference USA. Bailiff and Snyder clashed when Snyder was the head coach at Marshall.

Sumlin is expecting a disciplined Owls team to come in and play well.

"They weren't afraid coming in last year," Sumlin said of last season's C-USA champion. "So they'll be prepared, they're going to challenge us with our eye discipline like we talked about earlier, with play-action, giving some different motions, things like that."

Snyder expects the Owls to challenge them in a place they haven't been often this season.

"They're going to try to run the ball, they're going to try play-action, they're going to do what they do," Snyder said. "They're a very efficient offense. They're going to be good again this year. This is a very good football team we're getting ready to play."

Key personnel has changed on both sides (Rice has a new starting quarterback with veteran Driphus Jackson), but Snyder feels this game will serve as a good barometer to show him how much progress his unit has made since this time a year ago.

"It'll be a measuring stick to see exactly how far we've come," Snyder said.