Texas A&M’s defense stands tall in second half

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas A&M defense wasn’t frustrated that the Oklahoma Sooners ran off 51 plays and scored 13 points in the first half of Friday’s Cotton Bowl.

The defensive players were just mad that they weren’t getting the ball back for the Johnny Manziel-led offense often enough.

That changed in the third quarter.

The Wrecking Crew forced three-and-outs on the first three Oklahoma possessions of the second half, and Manziel and the offense responded with touchdowns on the ensuing three possessions, helping turn a nail-biter into a 41-13 rout at Cowboys Stadium.

“We just wanted to get things back to our offense and get our side going,” said defensive back Dustin Harris, who was the defensive player of the game after providing a drive-ending interception in the first half. “Any time you can get the ball back to Johnny Manziel and them and just let them do what they can do, it’s fun to watch. It’s fun to be a defensive player watching our offense and get this thing going.”

That wasn’t the case much of the first half. The Soonershad the ball for more than 20 minutes, not leaving much time for the Heisman Trophy winner and his mates to gash the Oklahoma defense.

They had plenty in the second half.

Oklahoma managed just 6 yards on its first possession and had to punt for the first time in the game. The offense responded with a 91-yard drive that lasted less than three minutes.

OU’s second offensive possession netted the Sooners just 8 yards and another punt. The Aggies countered with an 89-yard drive and another touchdown.

One yard and a punt were all the Sooners managed on possession No. 3 of the half. Less than two minutes later, Manziel and Ryan Swope were making it 34-13 with less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter.

By the time the Sooners did manage a first down, there was just over three minutes remaining in the quarter and absolutely no suspense left.

The Aggies defense had done its job.

“They were running the same defenses we had seen in the first half,” a befuddled Bob Stoops said. “They executed them and they outplayed us. They executed them in the second half better than we executed our offense. They didn’t come out and all of the sudden have some new defense. I’m sure they didn’t feel they needed it either.”

The Aggies didn’t make any wholesale changes at halftime because they felt they weren’t necessary.

Despite the Sooners’ moving the ball and becoming the first team to score in the first quarter against A&M since Ole Miss on Oct. 6, the Aggies held them to field goals on two possessions. The defense also helped the Sooners with five defensive penalties in the first half. That number dropped to one in the second half as the Sooners managed just 152 yards of offense after the break.

Oklahoma had 249 in the first half.

“We get frustrated any time any opponent makes a big play on us or is moving the ball,” said All-America defensive end Damontre Moore, who played his final game as an Aggie. “It makes us even more upset – not to take away anything from their offense – with the penalty factor. We were giving stuff away. You can’t give away anything with a talented offense like OU. It made us made. They were effective and we were giving them stuff.”

Stuff yes, but big plays no.

Oklahoma didn’t have a play longer than 19 yards the entire game. That was what Aggies defensive coordinator Mark Snyder stressed to his team in preparing for the Sooners. He let it know that giving up yards was fine, but giving up the big plays wasn’t.

The Aggies took that to heart Friday.

“Our kids did a hell of a job,” Snyder said. “We couldn’t get off the field on third down (in the first half). When the field shrunk was when we wanted to be good. We were able to get them off the field on third down in the second half. We got the ball back to our offense and then the explosion happened.”