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FILM ROOM: Defense sets the tone on the road

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Elko’s third-down defense grounds Tiger’s Offense

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Every team in the country has problems, regardless of the Aggies’ offensive success last week vs the number 1 team in the country, I would have expected this type of production against Missouri. Despite averaging 37.83 points a game on offense, the Tigers give up 37.5 on defense and a ton of yards (especially on the ground). The real challenge was always going to be slowing down this Tiger offense, however, Mike Elko & company were up for the challenge. The old adage is that a good defense and run game travel well, and that is exactly what led to this dominant road win for the Aggies.

Mike Elko has been doing more than any defensive coordinator at A&M in a very long time, and his defense is based around winning on third down. Since his arrival, Elko’s Aggies have placed second, fourth and first in getting off the field. Their 2020 third-down percentage of 34.96 was actually the highest of Elko’s three seasons in Aggieland (30.25% in 2018, 31.58% in 2019) but the median SEC offense converted over 40 percent of their third downs last season. This year has been no different, the aggies currently winning third downs at a 35.2% rate (on pace for another solid mark).

Elko preaches winning on third down but also that winning 3rd down starts with winning 1st and 2nd down… Elko has stated that there is a winner and loser of each play. The Aggie players have adopted their teacher’s ways and delivered, they understand the importance of creating 3rd and longs. The current football landscape is slanted in favor of high octane offenses, but Elko and his defense do a fantastic job of flipping that pressure by creating difficult situations.

Missouri entered the game converting on 3rd down at an SEC-leading 53% clip, but the Aggies held them to 35.3% (6/17) and forced a pair of interceptions. Let’s look at a few key defensive plays in the road win at Columbia, and a quick shout-out to complementary football! The Aggie run game had 283 yards and the offense churned out 18 first downs, another important factor that kept the Aggie defense fresh and relentless!

3rd Down Stop

Early in the first quarter, the defense stays on schedule and creates a 3rd & 8. This time Elko drops the secondary and camps out on the first down marker, everything stays in front of them. Bazelak is forced to take the check-down throw and the Aggies procced to swarm and make the play a few yards short of the sticks.

Creating havoc

The next sequence of events speaks to the philosophy discussed at the beginning of the article, win every play and maximize the pressure on third downs. Not sure there was a better three-play sequence in the game on defense. I didn't bother inserting the clip that made it 1st & 20, but the defensive line overpowered Mizzou and drew the flag. We will pick it up after the flag, Clemons wins first down by sniffing gout the screen and completely wrecking the play for a huge loss.

Now on 3rd & 20, the Aggies show pressure but back off and force Mizzou to take the short pass option, swarm, wrap and tackle 12 yards short of the line to gain. Elko enjoys matching the offense with presnap looks, compounding the pressure of the down and distance with the threat of a blitz.

Turnovers!

This week's intermission keeps the focus on the Aggie defense, by looking at the two big turnovers created. First, Jaylon Jones grabs the first possession INT after the Aggies win the toss and defer to the second half.

The second interception came later in the opening stanza when Antonio Johnson grabbed his first career pic! This time the Aggies bring pressure, Bazelak rushes the throw and momentum continues to build for the visiting team! Cooper and O’Neal create pressure right up the gut, Elko called a great game mixing in pressure and exotic looks.

Third down blitzing

Later on, the Aggies have Mizzou backed up again in 3rd and long, but this time they do more than show pressure, they bring both safeties! Richardson breaks through freely and chases Bazelak from the pocket forcing an errant throw.

More havoc!

The last set of plays are again the Aggies winning multiple downs and creating havoc. On 2nd & 7 Edgerrin Cooper makes an incredible play from the backside, I would say he flowed nicely over to make the play (but he is too fast and explosive to “flow” anywhere). The two-yard loss sets up yet another 3rd and long, and congrats to Cooper on a career-high in tackles (8) today, he is going to be special!

On the very next play, Elko sends both safeties again on 3rd and 9. Bazelak feels it and attempts to roll right but Tyree Johnson had beat the right tackle badly and quickly gets the QB in his grasp forcing an intentional grounding. Another third-down win for the Aggie defense in the fourth quarter and the game ends much as it started. Mizzou was held to 23 points below their season average.

This season has a chance to end on an uptick that few Aggies could have imagined a few weeks back. Several young players who were thrown into the fire early are now starting to emerge all the better for it. The season and the future now seem full of promise, unlike some programs that seem to be all breaks and running out of gas right about now ¯\_(ツ)_/¯… Gig’em!