Fixing SEC’s worst defense the priority at Texas A&M

Kevin Sumlin's Texas A&M team led the SEC in passing last season, but finished last in the league in total defense. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

COLUMBIA — On a night last August, as Texas A&M passed the football at will against South Carolina and rolled up yards with abandon, it was hard to believe the two teams were more alike than they were different. But indeed, that 52-28 shellacking by the Aggies in USC’s 2014 season opener proved an exercise in misdirection, offering no hint that both teams would finish with the same record in the SEC.

And for the same reason — a chronic lack of defense. Gamecocks fans may still have bad memories of Kenny Hill slinging it from one end zone to another, but soon enough Kenny Trill would be benched (and later gone completely) and the Aggies would be getting doses of the same medicine they heaped on USC in Columbia. They gave up 48 to Mississippi State, 59 to Alabama, 34 to Missouri, and it would be Texas A&M rather than South Carolina which would finish with the worst defense in the league.

As in Columbia, rectifying that issue is job No. 1 as 2015 approaches. And as in Columbia, there’s a new defensive coordinator on the scene to try and make it happen. Head coach Kevin Sumlin lured John Chavis from LSU, where his defense year finished ninth nationally. And Chavis has a star defensive end to build around in Myles Garrett, who recorded 11 sacks last season as a freshman.

With quarterback Kyle Allen leading an offense that still features the likes of tailback Tra Carson and receiver Speedy Noil, the Aggies are going to score plenty of points. But in the SEC West, they’re going to have to be able to stop people, and that’s where this team’s success or failure will ultimately be determined.

Head coach: Kevin Sumlin (28-11 in three seasons at Texas A&M, 63-28 in seven seasons overall)

Returning starters: 13 (seven offense, six defense)

2014 record: 8-5 (3-5 SEC, sixth in Western Division)

Scoring offense: 35.2 points scored per game (28th nationally)

Scoring defense: 27.3 points allowed per game (71st nationally)

Series: Texas A&M leads 1-0

Opposing beat writer: Brent Zwerneman, Houston Chronicle (@BrentZwerneman)

Last meeting: Texas A&M 52, South Carolina 28 on Aug. 28, 2014 at Williams-Brice Stadium. Hill, who wouldn’t even be around by the end of the season, strafes the Gamecocks for a school-record 511 passing yards in the first game broadcast by SEC Network. USC allows 680 yards, the most in the program’s history, and the defensive issues which would hamstring the season are unveiled to the world.

1. There’s more than one star QB in College Station. Allen was a true freshman last year when he supplanted Hill as the Aggies’ top signal-caller, and he showed plenty of poise down the stretch. But Texas A&M’s QB of the future is top signee Kyler Murray, who went unbeaten as a starter in high school. If Allen picks up where he left off last season, a redshirt would seem to be in order for Murray.

2. Rebuilding is in order on the offensive line. The Aggies were so successful passing the ball last season in part due to the protection of an offensive line keyed by a pair of future NFL draft picks. Tackle Cedric Ogbuehi went in the first round to the Bengals, guard Jarvis Harrison in the fourth round to the Jets. Although there’s plenty of beef in Texas, those two were standouts who won’t be easily replaced.

3. Kyle Field will be rocking on Halloween. When USC played baseball at Texas A&M, the cranes towering above Kyle Field were easy to spot. The home of the Aggies is being expanded from 83,000 102,500, and upon completion will boast the largest seating capacity in the SEC. The playing field is also being lowered to increase the noise level. Halloween ought to be all kinds of fun.

Week before: Off

Next week: At Tennessee

On the horizon: Three in a row at home to end the season, starting with the Mighty Gators and their new head coach