Texas A&M football: Nickname is coming, but Aggies' defense is reminding everybody of the Wrecking Crew
It isn’t calling itself the Wrecking Crew, but the Texas A&M defense certainly compares to those imposing units of the 1980s and ’90s under head coach RC Slocum. The newest version has come up with a name for themselves, they’re just waiting for the perfect time to reveal it to the rest of us.
“Look, got to keep it under wraps,” standout defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal told reporters. “It’s not that time yet. Y’all will know when it’s time.”
Legend has it that defensive back Chet Brooks coined the name “Wrecking Crew.” That’s pretty much what those defenses of the 80s and 90s did to opposing offenses. We don’t know yet who came up with the name or what it is for this year’s squad, but if the Aggies continue to play defense like they have for the first 3 games of the 2021 season, we might just have to insist upon knowing what to properly identify it as.
The Aggies lead the nation against the pass, allowing 232 total yards or an average of 77 passing yards per game. They have not allowed a passing touchdown this season.
Texas A&M is No. 1 in the country in scoring defense, yielding just 5.7 points per game. The 17 total points allowed are the second-fewest points allowed to start a season since 1997, when that Wrecking Crew gave up 16 points through 3 games.
The Aggies’ 34-0 blanking of New Mexico on Saturday was the program’s first shutout since a 67-0 thrashing of Prairie View A&M in 2016 and first shutout of an FBS opponent since a 25-0 victory at Vanderbilt in 2015. It was their first shutout at Kyle Field since a 31-0 triumph over Wyoming in 2004.
The (nickname here, eventually) defense allowed New Mexico to cross midfield just twice with the deepest penetration being the Texas A&M 37-yard line. They limited the Lobos to 122 yards of total offense, the fewest yards allowed since holding TCU to 118 in 2001.
Yes, this Aggies’ defense is special. It is 2nd the SEC and ranks 9th in the nation in total defense, giving up only 239.3 yards per contest.
It’s a major reason the Aggies are off to their first 3-0 start under head coach Jimbo Fisher and first such beginning since the 2016 season. It’s a big part of Texas A&M’s current 11-game win streak, the longest for the program since the Wrecking Crew helped the Aggies to a 12-game streak in 1992.
“This is the beginning,” Leal said of the dominant performance against New Mexico. “It’s the start of us rising as a whole. It was a complete game, and we’re all on the same page. We started the game fast and finished it strong. It doesn’t matter who was in the game. So I say that’s just the first improvement.”
That’s perhaps the best part. Defensive coordinator Mike Elko employed a plethora of young talent throughout the New Mexico game, and all performed admirably. Among the highlights, sophomore linebacker Antonio Doyle, Jr. turned in a career-high 5 tackles while freshman linebacker Edgerrin Cooper came up with his first career interception, and Deuce Harmon recorded 3 tackles, including 1 for a loss.
“Edgerrin is a super athlete,” Fisher told reporters. “He learns to really grasp what we’re doing consistently. He can be all over the field. He can cover. He can run. He’s physical. He can do everything. Deuce is a really good, young player. (He) and (Tyreek) Chappell and those guys, we’re really high on them.”
Shemar Turner and DL Jahzion Harris along with redshirt freshman DL Fadil Diggs each recorded the first sacks of their young careers in the season-opener. Gilbert was credited with a half-sack in that game. Sophomore DB Antonio Johnson recorded a career-high 9 tackles to lead the team in its victory over Colorado and is the current team leader in tackles with 18, including 16 solo.
“All those guys are going to be really good players, man,” Fisher said. “We’re going to have to have those guys. It was great to get them. (Jardin) Gilbert, too. Gilbert made some really good things and played some really good ball. Those young guys all played good significant time and did a nice job.”
Whatever the new name is for the Aggies’ defense, these are the guys who will be carrying on the tradition. They’ll take the torch from a group of current standouts that compare with any in the country.
Senior defensive tackle Jayden Peevy is among those leaders. Named the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week for the second time in his career after the Aggies 10-7 victory over Colorado in Denver, Peevy grabbed his first career interception and was 2nd on the team with 7 tackles against the Buffs, including 5 solo stops and 2 for loss.
Senior DB Leon O’Neal is a leader in the secondary who has come through as well, starting with a pair of interceptions in the opener against Kent State. He returned one 85 yards for his first touchdown. It was the longest interception return at Texas A&M since 1992 and 8th-longest in program history.
He exemplifies the advantages of staying through until the senior year.
“Guys that stay till their senior year, it’s amazing how good they play and how much maturity they have,” Fisher said. “He understands how to be a team player. He’s understanding how to lead.”
And his motor never stops running, “He’s an Energizer bunny,” Fisher said.
Well, we may not know at present what to call the defense, but at least we have a moniker for O’Neal.
“You’ve got to have that guy that’s always keeping guys going,” Fisher said. “And it’s a big part of it. There’s ups and downs in the game. You got to play that next play. You get down and find that guy that has got that energy that you feed off of, and that’s very critical. That’s as critical as the plays he makes.”
O’Neal recognizes the importance of that extra year and what it’s meant already.
“A day at a time,” O’Neal said. “A day at a time, a play at a time. I think a lot of times in my career, I got distracted at times with situations. I think the Florida game from last year was the perfect example. I had an interception. Then I messed around and got a personal foul. Then we messed up a check. And then it was a touchdown with me trying to go to because of Kadarius Toney. I can’t forget that. All of it came from me not thinking about the play at hand. That’s a huge development for me.”
The entire defense has developed under Elko’s tutelage.
“When we play with discipline and intensity and purpose, when we understand the urgency, I think we are a really, really good defensive football team,” Fisher said.
Now, if we could just have that name for it.