Texas A&M welcomes back defensive starters just in time for Alabama
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- No. 6 Texas A&M's defense didn't look great against FCS school Sam Houston State, giving up some huge plays in the Aggies' 65-28 win.
The good news is that several suspended defensive starters will be back this week.
The bad news? Their first live action of the season will be against top-ranked Alabama on Saturday.
Cornerback De'Vante Harris, linebacker Steven Jenkins and defensive end Gavin Stansbury return this week after missing the first two games serving suspensions for violating team rules. Cornerback Deshazor Everett was suspended for the first half for a targeting penalty last week, but returned after halftime and had an interception.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin said they've had to run a ''vanilla'' defense with so many starters on the bench. He's looking forward to seeing his defense at full strength.
The biggest problem for the defense on Saturday was the big plays it gave up. The unit surrendered a touchdown run of 68 yards and a TD pass of 75 yards. Without those two plays, the Bearkats gained 247 yards. Sumlin was also unhappy about a 36-yard run by Sam Houston and a 33-yard touchdown reception by the Bearkats.
''We had our moments,'' Sumlin said. ''You look at about four big plays that weren't good. You can't do that. We've got some guys that can be corrected. We've got to continue to keep coaching. To get those guys all back in the huddle will be a big deal. Everybody sees the difference.''
The Aggies expect to get a boost in their first game with a full complement of players. Sumlin noticed a difference in the defense in the second half on Saturday with Everett back on the field. Everett sat out the first half of Texas A&M's opener serving a suspension for violating team rules before drawing his targeting penalty and another suspension in the second half against Rice.
He's a junior who started all but one game for Texas A&M last season and intercepted Alabama's A.J. McCarron near the end zone in the fourth quarter to help secure the 29-24 win by the Aggies in 2012.
The rest of the A&M defense can't wait to see how they'll perform with all their pieces back.
''They're very important. They're role players for us,'' senior defensive back Toney Hurd said of the suspended players. ''They'll come in and make an immediate impact. We'll be looking forward to them making big plays for us next weekend and helping the defense out to get this W. With the guys that we have coming back I feel like it will be a great improvement.''
Though they certainly know there's room for improvement after Saturday's game, several defensive players believe that the group performed better this week than they did in the opener. Senior linebacker Nate Askew, a converted receiver who returned an interception for a touchdown against Sam Houston, said they'll focus on minimizing mistakes this week before their meeting with the Crimson Tide.
Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder deflected a question of whether the suspended players will be rusty against Alabama since they haven't played all season. Instead, he chose to focus on the positive aspects of those players sitting out the first two weeks.
''We will be injury-free and we will be fresh,'' he said. ''You think about it, for sure. What maybe hurts now might actually help us in the long run. I know that when they do get back, we are going to have them and they will be healthy ... and we are building depth right now for the future and for the rest of the season. We have to live with that.''
• Texas A&M beats Sam Houston State 65-28