Struggling Texas A&M defense ready for another test

Johnny Manziel and the high-flying Texas A&M Aggies head to Oxford, Miss., Saturday for the site of their biggest comeback last season.

Hopefully the Aggie defense makes the trip too.

A&M (4-1, 1-1 in the SEC) is coming off a bye week heading into the game against Ole Miss. Maybe that extra time off is just what the A&M defense needed because it’s on a historic pace this season.

And not in a good way.

The Aggies rank 112th nationally in totally defense, allowing nearly 477 yards a game. That’s a little better than Northern Illinois and not as good as Kent State. It’s also not good considering there are only 123 teams playing FBS football.

In fact, the Aggies are on pace to set a school record in total defense. The 2008 team allowed 461.9 yards per game, but that’s nearly 15 yards less than the ninth-ranked Aggies are allowing this season (476.8).

Suspensions and injuries haven’t helped matters, but head coach Kevin Sumlin is confident his team is headed the right direction.

“I like the demeanor of where our guys are right now,” said Sumlin. “We’re looking forward to this weekend.”

As bad as the defensive numbers are for the Aggies, they have been a tough defense for the Rebels to prepare for. The teams that A&M has played that have similar offensive styles to Ole Miss – Rice and Sam Houston State – faced an Aggie team that was without key starters because of suspensions. The Rebels don’t play the same style as either Alabama or Arkansas, which has made game planning interesting for Mississippi.

“I’m not real sure what we’re going to get,” said Ole Miss head coach Huge Freeze, whose team ranks 52nd in the nation in total offense. “I know that they’re younger on that side than they were last year. Certainly they have quality players there and they do a lot of things. It’s one of the weirder teams I’ve had to prepare for just on what we’ve had to look at.”

A&M’s defense will have a new look again this weekend as starting tackle Kirby Ennis is out for the season and true freshman Isaiah Golden will start in his place.

In last year’s game, the Aggies rallied from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to win 30-27. The fourth quarter included a 99-yard drive by the Aggies and key 4th and 1 defensive stop that resulted in the game-winning touchdown pass from Johnny Manziel to Ryan Swope four plays later.

Freeze said despite that loss, his team gained confidence in that game because it knew it had chances to win. Slowing Manziel will once again be key Saturday, regardless of how the Aggies play defensively.

Like the A&M defense, Mississippi is preparing for a different style from Manziel. The Aggies rank third in the nation in total offense behind only Baylor and Oregon.

“He (Manziel) wants to stay in the pocket a little more,” said Freeze. “He’s confident he can make all the throws. He doesn’t feel like he has to use his feet all the time. He’s proving he’s a complete quarterback. That’s the part that is so scary is that he’s throwing the ball so well also. If he has to use his feet, he’s going to extend players better than any I’ve ever coached or seen before.”