Texas A&M defense enjoying rare time in spotlight

Texas A&M was in a unique spot last Sunday in its game against Vanderbilt.

The Aggies needed some big plays from their much-maligned defense after Vanderbilt turned a 28-0 game into a 28-17 contest thanks to turnovers from the high-octane offense.

And the defense delivered. An interception return for a touchdown and seven sacks helped the Aggies pull away in the second half in what turned out to be a 56-24 rout.

The seven sacks matched a season total for A&M (6-2), which takes a break from Southeastern Conference play Saturday for a home game against Texas-El Paso. A&M’s youthful defense also had seven true freshmen make at least one tackle against Vandy.

The question now is whether or not the A&M defense has turned a corner this season. Even though the Aggies allowed a season low 329 yards in the win over the Commodores, they are still ranked 110th nationally in total defense.

Still, that’s the highest the Aggies have been ranked in the last month.

“We played a lot of people really for the first time in a rotation,” Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said. “We made some difficult decisions and started some different folks, put some young guys out there to play and they played pretty well. You can’t really make a general statement off of one performance but certainly from a confidence standpoint it didn’t hurt. I’m looking forward to seeing how we respond the rest of the year.”

The defense should get another confidence boost against a struggling UTEP team. The Miners are just 1-6 and any intrigue in the game has been blunted because former Texas A&M quarterback Jameill Showers, who backed up Johnny Manziel last year, will not play in the game because of injury.

Instead Saturday’s game should serve as a chance for A&M to build on the Vanderbilt game as it preps for a final three-game stretch that includes road games at nationally-ranked LSU and Missouri.

Sumlin knows that no matter what happens Saturday, his offense has to improve on its five-turnover performance against Vanderbilt.

“We came out and started fast like we’ve done all year,” Sumlin said. “We had a letdown in the second quarter, turned the ball over way too many times. I thought our defense kept us out of a bad situation with the five turnovers we had. We played a lot of young players. I thought the young players played pretty well in that game. From a defensive standpoint hopefully there’s a lot of things we can gain confidence from moving forward.”