The "easy" part is over. Texas A&M finished up the September non-conference schedule with a 44-27 victory over Nevada on Saturday. Here are three things that we learned.
1. The A&M offense is working hard to give defenses a lot to think about.
The Aggies have not been a team to show a lot of different formations, motions, misdirections, etc. in the last three years. But in the last two games, A&M has added numerous new looks that will force future defensive coordinators to prepare for.
This seems to be somewhat of a departure from the "tempo and execution are our advantage" mindset of A&M in previous years. While those are still important, A&M has also decided to use other ways to stress a defense. Whether this is due to defenses adjusting to no-huddle offenses or simply because it makes sense to do so, the Aggies continue to move their tight end around, move their running back around, and put trick plays on film for future opponents to consider.
It stands to reason that A&M will continue to work a few new wrinkles in each week and also continue to add counter play to the plays they have already shown. It's something to keep an eye on, but for now, it's nice to see the Aggies forcing opponents to think a little harder on the defensive end. Check back on Wednesday for the weekly "Scouting the Aggies" article that will cover these formations and wrinkles in more detail.
2. Daylon Mack and Myles Garrett are possibly robots sent from the future to kill opposing offenses.
To be fair, we kind of already knew this on some level, but after seeing Garrett bookend the game with a sack on the first drive and a big sack to stop Nevada's threat late in the game, and seeing Mack again blowing up a play five yards in the backfield, it's worth repeating.
Garrett has already established himself as one of those rare "even watching him with high expectations, he exceeds them" type of players. A guy whose hype is very high, yet he meets or exceeds it. Mack, while still just part of the defensive tackle rotation, continues to show the flashes of special athleticism that made him such a coveted recruit. It's hard to recall a defensive tackle that weighs as much as Mack, with as low a center of gravity, and such a quick burst.
As good as the pair are right now and will be throughout this season (without even mentioning any of the other quality linemen A&M has), the fact that they are both underclassmen is both impressive and reason for almost unlimited optimism in Aggieland.
3. The A&M corners are going to be a key to success... or failure.
The cornerback position for A&M this year started with a bit of cautious optimism as former running back Brandon Williams made the switch to defense and ended up winning a starting job. While he has played well, he also lacks experience and will continue to be tested. Nevada went at him a little bit and there were mixed results.
On the other side, A&M has a good cover corner in Devante Harris, but the honest fact is that he is limited by his size. He's rarely out of position, but has still given up a lot of completions and committed a lot of interference penalties in his career, mostly due to being at a size disadvantage. This happened again versus Nevada.
The A&M defense works in part because of a great pass rushers (see point #2) which help the cornerbacks not have to cover for as long, in theory. But there will come a day (perhaps this Saturday), when the pass rush isn't quite as effective for whatever reason, and the cornerbacks will have to win their battles. Size disadvantage to one side, inexperience disadvantage to the other. Great cover skills to one side, great, NFL-quality athleticism to the other.
They don't have to be perfect. Playing cornerback, much like playing golf, is not a game of perfect. But they need to be better than average if A&M plans on contending in the SEC West.