Texas A&M Defense
Josh Rosen struggled mightily against the Aggies defense in last year’s matchup, and unfortunately, there has been little change to the stout Texas A&M secondary which picked Rosen off three times.
One significant blow that has been dealt to the Aggies’ defensive backs is the potential loss of cornerback Nick Harvey to a knee injury. He was pivotal in defeating UCLA, leading all players with 11 tackles. Although he only had one interception in 2016, Harvey served as the secondary’s enforcer, coming in first on the team in passes defended with 10, and third in overall tackles with 66.
Texas A&M’s other top cornerback, Priest Willis, has been deemed questionable for the season opener against UCLA as well, due to an undisclosed injury. Willis was responsible for one of the three Rosen interceptions, and finished the season with eight defended passes.
Those thinking that passing the ball will become easier with Harvey and potentially Willis sidelined are mistaken. Justin Evans and Armani Watts will ensure any yards through the air are hard fought. Evans collected two interceptions against UCLA, and finished the season with four. Watts made life difficult for the Bruins all game, sacking Rosen once and notching seven tackles in total.
The key to causing turnovers begins with the front seven, where much of Texas A&M’s roster turnover has occurred. Rosen can breathe a sigh of relief, as defensive end Myles Garrett went first overall in NFL Draft to the Cleveland Browns. Along with Garrett, linebacker Shaan Washington leaves after leading the team in tackles with 104. Defensive lineman Daeshon Hall has also departed after a season that ended with 3.5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss.
To play to the strengths of the returning front seven, the Aggies are planning to switch to a 3-4 defensive scheme. This will allow for defensive lineman Kingsley Keke, who finished last season with four sacks, to thrive in his role as a pass rusher. Linebacker Otaro Alaka will be tasked with taking down any ball carrier, an area in which he found great success, coming in fourth on Texas A&M with 65 tackles. Defensive lineman Zaycoven Henderson will need to disrupt plays in the backfield as he did a year ago when he collected 10 tackles for a loss.
"Did You Know… Texas A&M was the featured football team in the 1982 musical, ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’. They have their own dance number and quite the memorable hook."
This has all the making of a ground game. Texas A&M’s rushing attack scored three touchdown on the Bruins, although two of those came from Knight, and put up 203 yards. Meanwhile, the majority of the secondary set to take the field in 2017 made life miserable in Rosen in 2016.
Bruins’ running back Bolu Olorunfunmi is poised for a breakout season, and can go a long way in helping his cause by bowling over the Aggies’ new front seven. It will be a tight battle, but if Jim Mora and Rosen can figure out how to effectively move the ball through the air, and UCLA’s defensive line can force one of Texas A&M’s three new quarterbacks to beat the Bruins with the pass, UCLA should be able to avenge last year’s loss.
UCLA 27 – Texas A&M 24