When South Carolina’s defensive players were pressed about the coming meeting with Texas A&M, the questions often fell back to how to deal with an attack running at a warp-speed pace and getting the ball out quickly before pass rushers arrived.
This is what we have come to expect out of the Aggies, but it likely won’t be as much of an emphasis as one might project. Examining film against both Alabama and Ole Miss and numbers, neither of those things is particularly true this season.
Watch Texas A&M and you won’t see that many quick snaps. True, the team doesn’t huddle, but usually it runs up to the line and then players pop up to check on the sideline, not unlike South Carolina’s own attack (A&M did have some quick stretches against the Rebels).
The Aggies rank 45th in plays per game, above average, but are not faster than Alabama.
Similarly, A&M’s offensive linemen were not faster than opposing pass rushers in either game, and starter Kyle Allen showed a tendency to hold onto the ball. Aggies quarterbacks went down eight times, highlighting a notable trend.
The Aggies have allowed 21 sacks thus far, ranking 113th nationally on a per-game basis. That’s inflated a bit by playing good pass rushes and throwing a good bit, but it could be an opportunity for the Gamecocks to make some progress. Of the six sacks against Alabama, four came with four or fewer rushing at the snap.
On the other side, the first glance showed the Tide and Rebels, stocked to the brim with future NFL talent, pushed the Aggies around up front (more the Alabama offensive line and Ole Miss defensive line).
If one didn’t look closely, he or she might take away the idea Texas A&M’s vaunted cache of next-level talent isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Concluding that would be a mistake.
There were moments when true freshman defensive tackle Daylon Mack exploded through the line and ate a whole backfield or end Daeshon Hall cut around a top-flight tackle. Potential first overall pick Myles Garrett is still there, a bundle of freakish ability wrapped in a jersey with No. 15 on it.
Even with respected coordinator John Chavis running the show, depth up front and a versatile, hard-hitting secondary, A&M has not been lights out on defense. They rank only 50th in yards per play allowed.
On video you see talent on the front and back ends (their linebackers are decent but clearly the weakest link), but there isn’t the sort of cohesion and lockdown play one might expect from the marriage of Chavis and boatloads of athletes.
▪ South Carolina’s Cover-2 will have its hands full with the level of receiving talent A&M boasts. Christian Kirk is a freakish target in the slot. Ricky Seals-Jones and Josh Reynolds are tall, fast options on the outside. They can all do damage on the short passes USC has been prone to giving up.
▪ Sacks have driven down the Aggies’ yards per carry numbers, but they are actually relatively efficient on the ground. What’s more odd is most of that comes from quarterbacks or reserves running the ball, as starter Tra Carson has just been workmanlike.
▪ QB Kyle Allen had been accurate, but the last two games. the wheels have come off terms of having complete command of the offense. He’s often spelled by true freshman Kyler Murray, who is dynamic, mobile and adds some of the improvisational running Johnny Manziel once brought to College Station.
▪ Although runs with pulling guards did not seem particularly effective for running backs, A&M’s staff loves pulling guards as part of run-fakes and moving the pocket on passes.
▪ They also rely on keeping backs and tight ends back in pass protection more than one would expect from a wide-open spread.
▪ A&M has so much talent on the line and in the defensive backfield, you’ll see heavy rotation. Their corners hit hard and excel close to the line, causing issues in the screen game.
▪ Chavis’ defense predominantly plays five defensive backs and historically has not been shy about bringing extra pressure. It ranks 15th nationally in terms of sacks, with the line playing a role in most of them.
▪ The Aggies mostly used four down linemen, but will sneak in some three-down looks.
▪ Although the group has a lot of physical talent, it doesn’t look that cohesive. There are cracks and bubbles that can be taken advantage of.