Lost in all the QB battle and recruiting buzz from the last six months was the arrival of DJ Durkin to take over a very talented Texas A&M defense. Jimbo Fisher made it clear that new coordinators do not correlate to new schemes and to expect the same 4-2-5 base we have seen since 2018. However, let's look into who DJ is and what wrinkles he has in store for 2022 to imprint his identity on the defense.
When DJ arrived at Ole Miss, the talent level on defense was as low, as their morale and performance. Durkin is not walking into a rebuild situation in Aggieland, he has been handed the keys to the Mercedes. The defense is loaded with talent and a ton of experience in the secondary. There are playmakers at every level of the Aggie defense and it’s up to Durkin to maximize their potential, and FAST. Fisher is entering a stretch of 2-3 years where the expectations are sky high and the defense must continue to play at the level Mike Elko had this unit playing in order for those expectations to become reality. Durkin is definitely capable of the job at hand.
Durkin has led some of the nation's best defenses at Michigan and Florida, and has experience as a head coach at Maryland (beat Texas in Austin). Most recently, he turned a rag-tag bunch at Ole Miss into a much improved and opportunistic defense. I feel like this hire is being overlooked a little, this is a roster loaded with talent… let us look at the stats of Durkin’s Defenses when he had this kind of talent previously.
Florida: 2013 - (All stats are National rankings) 8th in Total defense, 15th in scoring defense, and 7th in passing.
2014 - Dipped a little down to 15th in total and 20th in scoring defense, but made up for it by forcing 30 TURNOVERS.
Michigan: 2015 - 4th in the nation in total defense, 6th in scoring defense, 7th in passing yards allowed, and 3rd in rushing yards allowed.
Saturday morning into the late afternoon a Kyle field, through offensive struggles and lighting delays, the one constant was defense. The Bearkats struggled to get anything going all day, and when they did, the defense forced turnovers and squashed all hope. This was nothing more than a lot of base defense with a ton of rotation and talented depth on display. Durkin is a fresh voice to one of the most talented and deep defenses in the country, let's take a look at some of their best from Saturday’s victory.
This first clip displays the overwhelming talent, strength and speed the front seven has. Instant penetration and as the RB tries to bounce outside, the Aggies' speed, effort and pursuit were simply too much.
Third and short early, and the Ags stuff it to get off the field. Raikes and Diggs, along with Cooper, just don't allow anything. Not much to break down here, just effort and strength for the win.
I am a huge Cooper fan but I loved the way White and Russell played LB. The D-line filled the gaps and allowed the backers and DBs to flow over and create a negative play.
Mr. White came up big her with the tip and Gilbert finished the play securing the INT to kill the best Bearkat drive of the day. The defense was so sound all day, everyone played with intensity but also with discipline.
Here is the two-play sequence of the three and out after the Bearkats had the INT in the endzone... loved the way the Aggie D responded and killed any momentum Sam Houston could have picked up. White first breaks up a pass on second down, being in the right coverage and reading the QB’s eyes. Then both DEs win and create pressure on third down, Diggs finishes the play to end the drive. I LOVE the depth on the Defensive Line...so many talented kids with high motors... it is just like a hockey team and line changes. This is where the Aggie recruiting starts to be reflected on the field.
Two of the crowning jewels of this incoming historic recruiting class team up here to force a third and long. Shemar Stewart with the pressure and Denver Harris with the pass breakup. The new talent was on display all over Saturday!
Cooper comes off the edge to force a hurried throw and Chappell was there with the tight coverage to kill yet another third-down conversion attempt.
Sam Houston had another chance for points towards the end of the game but Walter Nolen and company stuff the run and force the fumble. Couldn't tell if it was Nolen, White, or another defender that popped it out. Another freshman recovers it though as Mathews falls on it, squashing the Bearkats’ last chance to break the shutout.
The defense recorded three sacks and six QB pressures without showing much outside of their base looks and four-man rushes. Stewart and Diggs meet at the QB to put an exclamation mark on this dominant game one performance by the defense.
In closing, here are a few numbers from the stat sheet that should make all Ags happy to see. The Aggies continued their tremendous third-down defense, Sam Houston converted only 1 out 12 opportunities. The Aggies allowed less than 200 total yards, forced two turnovers, pressured the pocket without blitzing much, and 18 different defenders recorded at least one tackle. Lots of players played, but the production never dipped, App. State will be a better challenge for the new defense, but I believe they are up for the challenge. Another very encouraging sign was the defense gave up no big plays, they were sound and locked in... I don't care if this was a non-FBS school, shutouts are hard in this climate of offensive football. So let us all say, GO DJ! And welcome to Aggieland!