Aggie D racked up more confidence--and more turnovers--in shutting down UTEP
by Chandler Smith
Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder preached all season about the need for executional consistency while his unit continues to indicate it has turned a corner, most specifically in the turnover department.
Collectively, the Texas A&M defense would claim four turnovers while only allowing seven points in a 57-7 rout of UTEP Saturday night. The performance is one that should continue to build a youthful group’s confidence before the teeth of a brutal end-of-November stretch for the Aggies which includes road trips to LSU and Missouri.
- De'Vante Harris
Safety Howard Matthews specifically impressed after snagging two picks, including one in the end zone on a drive the Miners would almost assuredly have come away with points. He was one of many players to excel, tacking on six tackles as he returns to a similar form he would find in the latter half of the 2012 season. With three interceptions through two games, Matthews has transformed into a legitimate threat and a player to watch in pass defense.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin lauded Matthews’ performance, acknowledging his rising level of play in recent games as well as the proportionately higher expectations.
“Three picks in the last two weeks, he’s coming on,” Sumlin said. “It gets back to what I was talking about. We need to have consistent effort from here on out with the teams we’re about to face. That’s going to be critical with his leadership and guys that have played a lot of football for us. We’ve got to have those kinds of performances out of our guys that have played football because those guys understand it.”
Not to be outdone, sophomore cornerback De’Vante Harris and freshman nickleback Noel Ellis would have an interception and fumble recovery, respectively. The takeaways mark a positive trend for a secondary beginning to achieve its preseason potential while capitalizing on rapid improvement along the front-seven.
Harris said the defensive chemistry continues to be rock solid.
“We fed off each other the whole night,” Harris said. “We flew around, made plays and Coach Snyder was giving it to us. We gelled together and just played really good football.”
Junior defensive end Gavin Stansbury and freshman linebacker Darian Claiborne continue to dominate in their respective roles. Stansbury would finish with seven tackles, including a sack and tackle-for-loss. Claiborne, meanwhile, would lead the team in tackles by a wide margin with 12, three of which were solo.
Claiborne specifically remains the pleasant surprise of not only a promising crop of freshman talent, but of the Aggie defense as a whole. His rise, alongside the improved play of freshman defensive tackle Isaiah Golden, has been a key catalyst for the defense’s increase in effectiveness and opportunism.
Sumlin said he’s been pleased with the freshman at the center of his defensive unit.
“With Darian really starting since Arkansas and Isaiah Golden going really the last couple of weeks getting a lot of playing time, that’s only going to help because they’re getting better every week,” Sumlin said. “I think their confidence level is going up and we’re going to need that because we’re back in league play…it’s good that those guys have been in the fire and have a little bit more confidence at this point.”
With a thorough dismantling of Vanderbilt and UTEP in back-to-back weeks, the season trajectory is not terribly far removed from the 2012 season – a campaign ending in an 11-2 record, a Heisman Trophy winner and a Cotton Bowl victory. After a dishearteningly close loss to LSU, the Aggies would ravage Auburn and Mississippi State before the run culminated in the famous 29-24 defeat of No. 1 Alabama.
Still, there are several areas in which the Aggies could improve by the time league play rolls around again. Health, too, remains a concern as the attrition of the season compounds late into the season. For that reason, the more players receiving playing time, the better.
Sumlin said he was glad he could play so many personnel before a brutal ending stretch in SEC play.
“We’re playing a lot of guys, and I think anytime you’re doing that, you start to get some confidence,” Sumlin said. “We’ve been able to rotate a lot of guys the last couple of games and get some energy…as we get back in league play, hopefully, we’ll be at full strength.”