To start off, I’m going to link to our preview of the Aggie defense from 2020, because, to be honest, not a whole lot has changed.
Defensive coordinator Mike Elko returns for his 4th season in College Station. He’s consistently had the Aggies sporting a top-35 overall defense, and twice has had them 2nd overall as a run stopping unit. They’re currently 5th in the nation in points allowed, at 12.6 per game.
Of course, their first three matchups against OOC opponents went a lot better than their last two in SEC play, where Arkansas scored 20 and Mississippi State topped that with 26 points. Thus far, their pass defense is forcing a 59% completion percentage on 5.7 yards per attempt, and the run defense is holding opposing running backs to 3.9 yards per rush.
Elko prefers a base 4-2-5 scheme, with 6’3” nickelback Antonio Johnson playing as a hybrid linebacker/safety/corner. Johnson leads the team with 41 total tackles and 4 defended passes. You’ll often see him as the designated guy for covering running backs out of the backfield, and he’s great at shutting stuff down in the flats with his unique combination of speed and length.
The Aggies boast a veteran, stout group up front. Tyree Johnson and Michael Clemons both return from their starting defensive end roles from last year, and both guys are super senior players. Johnson is smaller and speedier, and had north of 6 sacks in both of the previous two seasons. Clemons is the big end on the strong side, and he’s got 2.5 sacks of his own this season.
On the interior, Demarvin Leal returns for his junior year, and was already considered one of the top interior linemen in the nation for the 2022 NFL draft going into this season. He’s only went on to solidify that, racking up 6.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in only 5 games. He’s a versatile defensive tackle that has shown the ability to speed rush the edges in the past if Elko wants to get creative with his blitz packages.
Senior defensive tackle Jayden Peevy is also quite capable of wrecking the occasional play.
At linebacker, senior Aaron Hansford returns as a capable tackler in space and a nasty blitzer. As a former wide receiver, he’s not the biggest linebacker out there, but he’s got good speed.
In the defensive backfield, Demani Richardson and Leon O’Neal Jr. both resume their starting safety jobs. O’Neal is a playmaker (2 interceptions and 4 passes defended so far this season), but has proven to be a player susceptible to over-aggression and biting on play fakes throughout his career.
Cornerback Jaylon Jones is a big-bodied sophomore with a lot of future NFL draft potential, but is still young. Unfortunately, super senior Myles Jones (the Aggies’ best corner in 2020) only played one game this season before going out with injury, and he’s now out for the season. So that other outside corner spot is a concern.
Overall, the Aggies boast a very veteran defense— particularly up the middle. The defensive line is likely the best Alabama will see this season, and the linebackers, safeties, and nickel back are all highly capable and experienced tacklers.
In other words, don’t expect to see Brian Robinson getting 36 carries for nearly 200 yards like last week against Ole Miss.
Instead, the key for the Tide in this matchup will be to attack the outside corners and work to fool the safeties with a lot of play action.
I expect John Metchie to have a LOT of work this weekend, and if we have big games from him and Jameson Williams, then that likely means things are going well for the Tide.
This defense will definitely challenge the Tide, and I expect weaker play-to-play success rate than we’ve seen, but I also think they’ll be vulnerable to some big explosive plays. Lets say 35 points or so for the Tide.