On a cold, breezy night in Nashville, the Aggies pitched their first shutout in over a decade, dominating from start to finish in a 25-0 victory over Vanderbilt. It was the first game in several weeks that left the Ags (and their fans) in a good mood. Here are three notables from the game.
The A&M defense played their best game of the year.
The Aggies held Vanderbilt to fewer than 150 total yards and just 23 yards passing. Under 2.5 yards per play allowed, and of course the big one, no points.
This was A&M's first shutout since 2004. That's all well and good, but what really has to encourage the A&M coaches is that the defense just legitimately played really, really well. It wasn't a shutout that came because the offense kept shooting itself in the foot or anything like that. It was a shutout that was earned through dominant play by the A&M front seven.
Yes, Vanderbilt was the worst offense A&M has faced all season (including the cupcake opponents). Yes, their offense is legitimately terrible. That said, the A&M defense still held Vanderbilt to its lowest total yards and lowest yards per play of the season. Regardless of the opponent, the Aggie defense played like an elite unit. Going back to the year 2000, this was the fewest yards an A&M defense has allowed versus anyone. That's meaningful.
The defensive line stuffed the run and rushed the quarterback well, the linebackers filled their gaps and didn't allow any big runs, and the secondary locked Vandy down to the point that the Commodores only completed one pass of over five yards all night, and that went for just 10.
The challenge now is clear. LSU and Leornard Fournette, who leads the nation in rushing yards per game, await. It's no secret what LSU will do. They know that even with the strong game last night, A&M is dead last in the SEC in rush defense during conference games. They know that A&M has struggled to defend all varieties of runs at different times this year. A&M will have to play the way they played Saturday night to have a shot of slowing LSU down.
Kyle Allen looks healthy again.
That's been the question with Allen all along. Granted, it's all technically been speculation, but Allen appeared to have been playing hurt before finally sitting down for a few weeks while Kyler Murray started. The time off seems to have done him good.Throughout all of this quarterback swapping and drama of the past few weeks, the fact remained that when healthy (through the first five games), Allen had been the best quarterback in the SEC.
Last night did nothing to change that distinction. Allen appeared to be back to his old self, making accurate throws all over the field. He ended up completing just 50% of his passes but the number should have been much higher if not for several dropped passes by his receivers. Not every pass was on point, but overall, it was a good performance, especially considering it was his first start in a month, on the road, in cold conditions, against a defense that had only given up over 400 yards three times all season.
Much like A&M's defense gave Vandy its worst offensive performance of the year, A&M's offense did the same to Vandy's defense. The Aggies gained more yards, and had a higher yards per play average, than anyone Vanderbilt has played all season. Again, that's meaningful.
Just like the defense, the Aggie offense has been a group searching for answers lately. The simplest answer all along my prove to be the biggest one: getting Kyle Allen healthy again.
Aggie special teams have been downright dominant.
From the first game of the year, when Christian Kirk returned a punt for a touchdown to spark A&M to a victory over Arizona State, to the 11th game of the year, when A&M blocked a punt and kicked six field goals, the Aggies have been fantastic in the third phase of the game.
It hasn't just been one thing, it's been everything.
-Christian Kirk leads the nation in punt return average, a full six yards per return ahead of the next closest player.
- Taylor Bertolet leads the nation in field goals made and field goals attempted, along with field goals of 50+ yards, while converting 100% of his extra point attempts.
-Drew Kaser is 3rd nationally in punting average and has a great shot at winning the Ray Guy Award this year after nearly winning it in 2013.
-The Aggies have only allowed one punt return of over 30 yards this season.
-The Aggies have only allowed one kickoff return over 30 yards this season, which ranks them 3rd nationally.
-The Aggies have blocked two punts this season.
In a year that has seen struggles on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, the one constant has been solid special teams play.