Vanderbilt-Texas A&M Preview
Despite an injury scare last week, Texas A&M hopes Johnny Manziel will be OK moving forward.
But even Johnny Football can't help the Aggies stop the opposition.
No. 14 Texas A&M looks to patch up its woeful defense Saturday in its first meeting with Vanderbilt, which is fresh off an upset of a ranked team.
The Aggies (5-2, 2-2 SEC) dropped seven spots following a 45-41 home loss to Auburn last Saturday. Manziel missed a fourth-quarter series after hurting his right shoulder when he was driven into the ground by Tiger defenders, but later returned.
Texas A&M is hopeful Manziel can play, but the Heisman Trophy winner is listed as questionable. Backup Matt Joeckel completed 1 of 3 attempts for 12 yards in his absence.
Though Manziel was intercepted twice, quarterback play had little to do with the loss as he threw for 454 yards and four touchdowns. His 182.8 passer rating is fourth-best in the country, leading a Texas A&M attack that ranks fourth in scoring (46.9 ppg) and third in total offense (588.7 ypg).
But the explosiveness couldn't compensate for another poor effort by the defense, which surrendered 379 rushing yards. The unit was also highly culpable in a 49-42 loss to top-ranked Alabama on Sept. 14, when it gave up 568 yards and 31 first downs.
The Aggies allow 494.4 yards per game, sixth-worst nationally.
Some of the blame lies with inexperience - freshmen and sophomores accounted for five of Texas A&M's defensive starters against Auburn.
"There's something to that, but that's what we are here for as coaches," defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. "That's our job. If you don't have that leadership on the field, you have to create that. We have to lead the way as coaches."
Vanderbilt (4-3, 1-3) scored 17 unanswered fourth-quarter points to knock off then-No. 15 Georgia, 31-27 last Saturday, its first win over a ranked opponent since beating Auburn on Oct. 4, 2008.
"When you take over a program like we did ... every win has been unbelievably significant to us and every win should be significant to our fan base and to our community and to our alumni because it's an opportunity," coach James Franklin said.
The Commodores' victory came despite quarterback issues of their own. Senior starter Austyn Carta-Samuels left in the second quarter due to a left leg injury he suffered when taking a sack.
Redshirt freshman Patton Robinette was 9 of 15 for 107 yards with an interception and ran for a score in relief, and he'll start this week.
Franklin highlighted the value of the experience gained by Robinette, whose previous action came late in blowout wins against UAB and Austin Peay.
"I think that'll give the opportunity to play better the next time he plays," Franklin said.
Texas A&M has scored 40-plus points in 10 straight games dating to last season, but Manziel could be challenged by a Vanderbilt defense that held Georgia's Aaron Murray to 16-of-28 passing for 114 yards, no scores and an interception.
The Aggies are 20-2 at home against unranked teams going back to Nov. 1, 2008, while Vanderbilt has lost 11 straight road games against Top 25 teams - all SEC rivals.