In case you haven't checked out Jason Groves' post-game commentary from Saturday's season opening loss to UTEP you should. We agree with two of his three points -- Rogers being rusty and the Aggies showing mental toughness, in fact we made the same two points in our blog post yesterday.
What we can't quite get behind is Jason's feeling that the defense has improved, especially after giving up 518 yards including a career-best 249 on the ground to Aaron Jones. Jason brings up the fact that the Aggies' defense is more aggressive a fact which is indisputable. He highlights that by the fact that the Aggies had 13 tackles for loss in the game after finishing last season with a grand total of 56 which was seventh fewest in the country last season.
This is where the argument falls apart. We took at look at each of the 13 tackles for loss and then we looked at the play immediately following it and the results were stunning and, if you're a fan of defense, not pretty.
The Aggies had four tackles for loss on one drive, UTEP's long drive that spanned the end of the first quarter and start of the second in which the Aggie defense, to their credit, made an impressive stand and forced a field goal after UTEP spent what felt like half an hour in the Aggies' red-zone.
The first tackle for loss (an Aaron Jones run) netted a loss of one yard for UTEP. However, on the following play the Aggies gave up 15 yards on a personal foul penalty. The next tackle for loss (also an Aaron Jones rush) netted a loss of four yards but on the ensuing play the Aggies gave up an 18 yard gain to Aaron Jones on third and 13 no less. The third tackle for loss on the series came on first and goal from the 2-yard line netted a loss of one on an Aaron Jones run. The ensuing play the Aggies appeared to force an incomplete pass but wait, the Aggies were called for offsides, a gain of two yards (half the distance to the goal in this instance instead of the normal five yards). The fourth and final tackle for loss netted negative four yards, again on an Aaron Jones run. This time the Aggie defense stood up and forced an incomplete pass on third and goal from the 5-yard line forcing a Miner field goal attempt which they converted.
The next two tackles for loss came on UTEP's next possession. The first tackle for loss was a big one netting negative nine yards on a run by Quadraiz Wadley, UTEP's true freshman running back on his first collegiate carry. On the very next play the Aggies picked up another tackle for loss, this time a net of negative three yards on a run by Juniel Terry. So far so good right? Well, on the next play (third time's the charm if you're UTEP), Quadraiz Wadley ripped off a run of 29 yards and two plays later the Miners were in the endzone for a touchdown.
The next two tackles for loss came on UTEP's ridiculously long 17-play drive that basically killed the rest of the first half. The first tackle for loss netted negative four yards on a screen pass to Juniel Terry. On the very next play (third and 14) UTEP picked up 15 yards and first down. The second tackle for loss in the series came down on the Aggies' goal line, a net of negative one on a run by Aaron Jones on first and goal from the 2-yard line (an obvious rushing down), however as you can probably guess, the very next play the Miners connected on a pass for three yards resulting in a touchdown.
The Aggie defense did not record a tackle for loss in the third quarter so on to the fourth quarter we go. This time the Aggies got the best of the Miners as this tackle for loss netted negative five yards on a Quadraiz Wadley run but more importantly the Aggies stripped the ball, scooped it up and ran 50 yards for a touchdown to pull to within 16 points at 38-22.
The next UTEP drive the Aggies picked up a tackle for loss netting negative 11 yards on a sack on 1st and 20 (coming off a UTEP holding penalty). The Aggie defense forced an incomplete pass from Kavika Johnson and two plays later UTEP was punting.
The final three tackles for loss came on the game's final drive. The first tackle for loss netted negative three yards on a run by Aaron Jones. The next play Jones ripped of a 12 yard run to set up 3rd and one on which they gave Jones the ball again and he ran for another 15 yards. The second tackle for loss in the series netted negative seven yards on a Quadraiz Wadley run. Wadley then ran for 13 yards on the next play setting up 3rd and 4. The final tackle for loss which may or may not be credited was the kneel down netting negative three yards.
So final tally here, the Aggies had officially 13 tackles for loss for 56 yards which is certainly a positive however, if you look past the surface you'll see that they gave up 107 yards on plays that immediately followed the tackle for loss and eight of the 13 tackles for loss came on three drives that netted UTEP 17 points.
Is the Aggie defense more aggressive? Clearly the numbers say they are but as you can see, being more aggressive on defense does not necessarily correlate to having a better defense. In this particular game the additional aggressiveness amounted to putting lipstick on a pig. The defense may have been aesthetically more pleasing but the results were the same.
One hopes that the Aggies continue to be aggressive on defense but also follow up those aggressive plays with more solid defense on the ensuing plays.