COLLEGE STATION, Texas — It was a scene on Saturday that has become all-too-familiar for those who have followed Texas A&M closely the last two seasons.
A winnable game going the other way for, among other reasons, a defense that went from bending but not breaking to simply breaking.
Quite simply, the Aggies looked broken on defense.
Saturday’s 34-27 loss to Missouri was a microcosm of the issues that have ailed the defense in critical games against quality teams.
The Aggies allowed Missouri a season-high 337 rushing yards, nearly 200 more yards than the Tigers’ season average entering the game (159.9). The 28 points allowed to the Tigers in the third quarter alone were more than the Missouri offense compiled in the last six games, dating to a 38-10 win over Central Florida on Sept. 13 (the Tigers’ 42-point output against Florida was powered by four combined special teams and defensive scores).
The 587 offensive yards the Aggies yielded on Saturday is consistent with their performance against the best teams on their schedule. Texas A&M allowed a whopping 533.6 offensive yards per game to Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri.
The scoring defense has been equally eye-popping as the Aggies allowed 40 points per game (accounting for two defensive touchdowns by Ole Miss) to those five teams.
There were several contributing factors to the latest defensive debacle, of course. The Aggies began the game without two starting defensive linemen, including their best one, as freshman defensive end Myles Garrett and senior defensive tackle Ivan Robinson both missed the game because of injuries.
The Aggies lost more players along the way Saturday night, including two starting linebackers -- freshmen Otaro Alaka and Josh Walker -- who both were injured during the game. Other players who left the game at various points included defensive tackle Alonzo Williams and cornerback Nick Harvey. Senior cornerback Deshazor Everett, who was beaten more than his fair share of times on Saturday, was playing for the second straight week with a torn elbow tendon.
“It had to affect us some,” coach Kevin Sumlin said of Garrett and Robinson’s injuries. “But we have other players that need to step in this time of year and play.”
In the 10th game of an SEC season, injuries are part of the deal. They’re going to happen. The amount of quality depth a team has determines how well it can sustain it; it’s clear the Aggies don’t have enough in certain areas, especially linebacker, and it showed in Saturday’s third quarter when the Tigers compiled 308 yards (including 202 rushing) to turn a 13-6 Texas A&M halftime lead into a 34-20 Missouri lead by time the fourth quarter began.
The fact the Aggies have to rely heavily on two true freshman linebackers -- who have played admirably since being inserted into the starting lineup against Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 1 -- speaks to where the Aggies are defensively.
They’ll have to move on without Walker, who Sumlin said Saturday suffered a broken foot in the second quarter and will miss the rest of the season.
As it sits currently, the Aggies' defense is last in the SEC in yards per game (445.2) and 100th nationally in that category. Many of the other statistical areas are beginning to resemble those in 2013 when the Aggies were at or near the bottom of the SEC in many key categories.
The Aggies are now 13th (out of 14 teams) in the SEC in yards allowed per play (5.85), rushing yards allowed per game (208.91) and yards allowed per rush (4.87). They rank 90th or worse nationally in each of those areas.
They’re also 13th in the SEC in third down conversions allowed, letting opponents move the chains 41.8 percent of the time. That reared its ugly head many times Saturday as Missouri converted 13-of-21 third down attempts. The Tigers were perfect in the third quarter (6 of 6) and were 8 off 11 on third downs in the second half.
With the Aggies trending in a bad direction for the second straight season, tough questions must be asked. Do changes need to be made on the defensive coaching staff, whether it’s defensive coordinator Mark Snyder or otherwise? Young talent is coming in, but how long will it take to build the type of SEC-quality depth needed to make the Aggies a real contender in college football’s toughest division? Can they hold on to the valuable current defensive commits sorely needed, such as ESPN 300 defensive tackle Daylon Mack, or land the uncommitted ones they are intensively pursuing, such ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson and/or cornerback Kendall Sheffield?
Currently, it looks like the Aggies are a long way from that in their third SEC season.