NCAA FB

No. 9 Aggies look for defensive improvement

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP)

Texas A&M's defense had eight sacks and two interceptions in a season-opening win over SMU.

Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter likes those numbers, but is convinced the 9th-ranked Aggies can be much better and he's looking for improvement from his group on Saturday against Idaho.

He's most interested in seeing how his young group of linebackers develops and is looking for Garrick Williams to do more this week than he did in A&M's first game.

DeRuyter was unhappy that Texas A&M had allowed SMU's Zach Line to rush for more than 100 yards in less than two quarters, before buckling down and holding him to just 27 yards the rest of the way.

''They did play a little bit better in the second half, but it's a position in flux right now,'' DeRuyter said. ''Garrick Williams being a returning starter, we expect him to play better than he did. He didn't have a great game. But he'll start and the other position we've got an open competition. We'll be playing probably four linebackers at those two positions this week.''

The Aggies also want to see defensive end/linebacker Caleb Russell embrace his role as one of two players they are using to take the spot Von Miller occupied last season. It's a big role to fill after Miller was selected second overall in this year's draft.

The SMU game was the first career start for Russell, a former walk-on who was put on scholarship just before the start of the season, and the coaches think he may have played a bit hesitant.

''I don't think he showed what he showed last spring and early in the fall,'' DeRuyter said.

They're hoping he settles down with a game under his belt. DeRuyter also thinks it was tough for him because he didn't have Damontre Moore to share the snaps with and give him a break. Moore was held out for a non-injury related reason.

DeRuyter believes Moore could be a big part of A&M's defense this season if he can be a steady player.

''He's a guy with a really, really big upside and potential, but he has to be more consistent,'' DeRuyter said. ''He brings a presence rushing off the edge better than anyone on the team. He's got very, very good hands. He's really strong on getting off block. When he's consistent he can play better than anyone in our league, I think.''

He wasn't sure if Moore or Russell would start this week, but said they would both play a lot.

One member of the defense that DeRuyter had nothing but good things to say about was senior defensive end Tony Jerod-Eddie, who had a career-high three sacks against SMU. His three sacks are No. 1 in the nation and A&M's eight quarterback takedowns are also tops in the country.

Jerod-Eddie had surgery on his foot in the offseason after breaking it near the end of last season. He had some setbacks in camp, but looked to be 100 percent against the Mustangs.

''If last week was any indication, I think he's playing much quicker and is much more productive than he was in any game he was a year ago,'' DeRuyter said.

Texas A&M safety Trent Hunter, who had an interception against SMU, said the strength of the team's defense up front has helped the secondary.

''If you don't have a front seven on defense it doesn't matter what you do in the secondary, you're not going to be successful,'' he said. ''So for the guys up front to have that kind of success and get that kind of push and work the way they did, it makes things so much easier on the secondary. We're not having to make 12 and 13 tackles a game as safeties, we're just able to sit back in coverage and do our jobs.''

Saturday's game is A&M's last chance to work on things before beginning a tough stretch that starts with No. 8 Oklahoma State before facing 15th-ranked Arkansas.

Tagged: Southern Methodist, Texas A&M, Texas, Caleb Russell, Garrick Williams, Zach Line, Damontre Moore

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