Texas A&M Aggies preview

Improving the defense is a priority for Kevin Sumlin. Stacy Revere/Getty Images

With eight starters back on offense, including a core of explosive receivers, scoring once again shouldn’t be a problem for Kevin Sumlin’s Aggies. The question for A&M will be whether new coordinator John Chavis, formerly of LSU, can fix the leaky defense enough to limit shootouts in ’15.


How the Aggies beat you: With A&M’s offense, you typically know what you’re going to get right away. Under Sumlin, when the Aggies have scored on their first drive, they’re 20–5. When they haven’t opened with a score, they’re 8–6. Early points (15 first-quarter TDs in ’14, fourth most in the SEC) help them dictate the playcalling: A&M tends to lean heavily on the pass, throwing on 57.9 percent of all plays last year (tops in the conference). But Tra Carson has averaged 4.9 yards per carry in his two seasons since transferring from Oregon, and following a run, Texas A&M posted an 80.0 QBR last season. So expect a nice blend of QB Kyle Allen and Carson in ’15. There is no shortage of skill here.

How you beat the Aggies: A&M’s offense is most effective when it can maintain its up-tempo pace (21.9 seconds per play, fastest in the SEC) to consistently move the chains. The Aggies converted 48.1 percent of third downs in wins last season compared with just 30.1 percent in losses. Allen has playmakers to target, like WRs Speedy Noil and Josh Reynolds, but his completion percentage was just 46.7 percent on third down, compared with 65 percent on first and second. Limiting Allen’s reps by winning the time of possession battle is key to containing the Aggies’ O.

How the Aggies beat you: Sumlin pulled off a major coup when he lured Chavis, mastermind of frequently dominant defenses at Tennessee and LSU over the past 20 years, away from Baton Rouge. Success in Chavis’ scheme starts with effective play at defensive end and cornerback, and the Aggies have recruited well at both positions lately -- particularly with DE Myles Garrett, who set an SEC freshman record with 11½ sacks last year. With 36 sacks, A&M was 24th in the nation in ’14, generating tons of pressure from the edge. When the Aggies sacked the quarterback at least three times, they went 6–1.

How you beat the Aggies: The Aggies had the SEC’s worst run defense in each of the past two seasons (216 rush yards allowed per game in ’14), and holes at defensive tackle and linebacker allowed opponents to gain five or more yards on 44.8 percent of their carries last year, also worst in the conference. LSU ran for 384 yards, Auburn 363 and Missouri 335. “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Chavis says. “But the talent is here.” The Aggies have promising young ’backers in Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker, and they received a key signature from 6-1, 330-pound DT Daylon Mack (No. 6 overall in the ESPN 300), who’d decommitted and flirted with Texas. Even so, depth in the middle remains an issue.