At the end of last season I was utterly confused on what to think about John Chavis. I’m the Chief’s biggest fan but I was questioning if I was fan because he fits the mold of defensive coordinator from Central Casting or if it was because he was an effective defensive coordinator. During the 2015 season I felt I saw a defense that was the best since 2012 and likely back to Von Miller’s senior season with Cody Hodges. I felt in the early part of the 2016 season we were seeing the return of the Wrecking Crew after great defensive efforts against Auburn and Arkansas. Tennessee was questionable with the 4th quarter collapse but at the end of the season it was clear this defense was different than 2015 and the first half of 2016. This defense appeared to be a shell of what it had been since Chief started.
To help figure out what was real and wasn’t I went back and looked at every loss with Chavis as our DC. There were lots of games I felt our defense played well enough to win but our offense let us down. We’ve lost 10 games in the two years Chief has been handling our defense. I went and made a chart that showed the score of the game, how many points the defense gave up, second half points, total yards, and rushing yards. I then came up with a purely arbitrary grade called GETW which stands for Good Enough to Win. I wanted a feel for if the defense played well enough for us to win the game.
Here’s the chart and I’ll go down game by game analyzing each one.
Bama – 2015:
This is one of the most maddening games of the Sumlin era that nobody talks about. The final score wound up being 41-23 so it looks like a blowout but everyone forgets our offense threw THREE pick sixes in this game. That’s right, the offense gave up almost as many points as our defense. It’s not a simple exercise to remove 21 points and say the Aggies win 23-20 as it doesn’t work that way. It is a simple exercise though to think the defense did everything they could that day for the Aggies to win.
Derrick Henry gashed the Aggie defense in the first quarter and a half but after that the Aggie defense really did shut him down along with the Bama offense. So much so that Bama only scored 2 field goals in the second half outside of the interception returns for touchdowns. I don’t care if Bama was in lead protection mode as to still hold Bama’s offense to only field goals in the second half is impressive. The most impressive statistic of that day was that Bama was only 4 of 16 on third down conversions. 25 percent. That is DAMN impressive to have that Bama offense only convert 25% of their third down conversions. The defense was getting off the field when they had to. The defense definitely played good enough to win this game and the offense just pissed it away.
Ole Miss – 2015:
This game makes me want to pull out my hair because it was the most inept offensive performance I’ve ever seen. It was maddening being in the stands watching an offense just spit and sputter. The statistics make it look like the defense didn’t play well enough but they absolutely did. They gave up 23 overall but just 7 in the second half which shows John Chavis has the ability to make in game adjustments. In addition the defense got 4 turnovers while the offense had 3. The defense responded EVERY time the offense turned the ball and yet the offense did NOTHING with those gifts from the defense.
Statistically this game looks bad for the defense and it’s not great but they played their hearts out that night. Meanwhile Jake Spavital struggled just to keep his note cards in some order so he could get plays signaled in that wouldn’t amount to anything. I don’t even want to write anymore on this game because I want to go find Jake Spavital and choke him. He really should have been relieved of his duties after this game. He absolutely should have.
Auburn – 2015:
This is a very confusing game for me to analyze from a defensive standpoint. First off, our stupid offense only scored 10 points against a suspect Auburn defense. That 10 points was the lowest Auburn held an opponent to all season where the next lowest was 17 and every other game their opponent scored at least 20 points. Boy Wonder Spavital mustered 10 points against this defense at Kyle Field. Unreal.
Defensively we got gashed this game. Auburn ripped off 311 yards on the ground and just gashed us all night. We couldn’t slow them down at all on the ground. Malzahn is a run game genius but they were just running willy nilly against us. They were pretty balanced scoring 14 points in the first half and 12 points in the second half. This is a game that on the surface the defense didn’t play well enough to win but our offense was so anemic I think they could have played well enough to win with some kind of support from our offense. I don’t put this one solely on our defense.
LSU – 2015:
Another maddening game thanks to our offense. Even though this game was in Tiger Stadium and they scored 19 points there’s no doubt in my mind the defense played well enough to win this game. They gave up 14 points in the second half but our offense was doing nothing yet again as they only scored 7 total points. I know LSU has a damn good defense but there were holes the offense could have exploited to score 20 points but they didn’t.
Statistically the Aggie defense held the LSU offense to 327 yards which his amazing. They held the LSU offense in total yards to basically what Auburn did on the ground against us a few weeks before. I don’t like the 19 points but our offense turned the ball over 3 times to LSU’s once so once again our offense did nothing to help our defense. It’s a little questionable but I’d say our defense definitely played well enough to win this game as our offense was once again just putrid with Spav wearing the headset.
Louisville – 2015:
I’m torn on this game as well. My main issue here is we gave up too much too early to Lamar Jackson. This was his coming out party and we weren’t prepared. We gave up 537 total yards and 307 on the ground as Jackson just ran silly in the first half. In the second half our defense tightened up holding them to 7 points but once again our offense couldn’t muster anything at all this game. Despite scoring 21 points most of it was in the second half and it was too little too late.
I think this was a winnable game but the defense game up too many yards and points to Lamar Jackson in the first half while the offense spit and sputtered yet again so by the time things got working for both the offense and defense in the second half it was too little, too late. This wasn’t a terrible showing by the defense as it was definitely a winnable game based on their effort but they’re not without faults this game.
Bama – 2016:
This is a semi-tough game to analyze because the defense played well enough to win for the first half and first series of the second half until Shaan Washington shoved Jalen Hurts to the ground on a 3rd down Bama was not converting. The offense had opened up the second half scoring on it’s first drive to make it a 14-13 lead. The defense had held on a 3rd down but a stupid penalty gave Bama the first down to which they then went on to score putting Bama back in a lead situation they would never relinquish. The defense would give up another score in the second half and the offense would also give up a score like the previous year.
Maybe if Shaan Washington doesn’t push Hurts the outcome of the game is different but in my mind this is equal parts offense and defense and the reality is the defense didn’t play well enough in the second half to win this game so I can’t give them a great grade here.
Mississippi St – 2016:
This is the ultimate tale of two halves for the Aggie defense. In the first half they gave up 28 points to a suspect Mississippi State offense and in the second half they only gave up 7 points but did get some key turnovers when it looked like Mississippi State would score in the second half. The defense held until Mississippi State’s final possession where they scored a touchdown to go up 35-21 and put the game out of reach. Credit to the defense for holding as long as they could to let the offense get back into it but they broke giving up that TD late in the 4th quarter that put the game out of reach.
The most frustrating part about this game is Mississippi State had 574 yards of total offense and 365 rushing yards. I mean no dis-respect to the Bulldogs but that’s TERRIBLE for an Aggie defense to give up to a team like Mississippi State. I still don’t know how that happened. Still, the Aggie defense held for the second half except that final possession so I do have to give credit for trying to make up for an atrocious first half but they just couldn’t hold MSU out of the end zone in the second half and that caused the loss.
Ole Miss – 2016:
This game is a total head scratcher from a defensive standpoint because in this game our defense COMPLETELY fell apart in the fourth quarter. This defense gave up 23 points to a true freshman starting his first game ever. Now, he looks like a pretty special quarterback but you can’t give up 23 points at Kyle Field in the 4th quarter.
Even if the offense had put up more points the Aggie defense giving up 23 points in the fourth quarter is unacceptable and not like a Chavis lead defense at all. So despite this being a 1 point game and the defense held Ole Miss to 6 points through 3 quarters you can’t collapse like that and expect anything positive. It’s like never cheating for 15 years of your marriage and then the last 5 you start cheating and when you get caught thinking you get some credit for the first 15. The first 15 years were wiped up by your failure in the last 5. Ironically enough does anybody know Hugh Freeze’s marriage stats? It might be similar.
LSU – 2016:
The worst game of Chavis’ time at A&M. There is not one redeeming quality of this game from a defensive standpoint. Not a single one. LSU was led by Danny Etlinger who hadn’t done much all season for LSU. Well, he walked into Kyle Field and lit us up. Our defense gave up 54 points and 622 total yards of offense with 298 on the ground so they basically equally shredded us on the ground and through the air.
This is the game that got me questioning everything I believed about Chief. I don’t even want to talk about it because it was so bad defensively.
KSU – 2016:
We “only” gave up 413 yards but we gave up 33 points to a VERY pedestrian KSU offense. This is another head scratcher. We gave up a 79 yard touchdown pass and a 52 yard touchdown run in the first half which is 131 yards and almost 33% of their total offense on two plays. If you take away those two plays this is a very respectable defensive effort and we likely win but in reality the defense gave up those two plays so they don’t get any credit.
This game is just the perfect capper for a defense that flat out fell apart in the second half of the season. They didn’t play well enough to win. No way should KSU have scored 33 points on us. I think most Aggie fans were numb for this loss because it’s part of yet another season collapse for a Sumlin lead team but this really is an EMBARASSING loss for the Aggie defense.
In analyzing this I have no clue what to think. In 2015 our defense was EXTREMELY consistent in every game all season except maybe the Auburn and Louisville games but our offense did it no favors in those games. Despite losing, the defense played well enough to beat Bama, Ole Miss, and LSU so that’s damn impressive. The effort and results of the 2015 defense is very respectable.
However, 2016 was a total Jekyll and Hyde performance. Against UCLA and Tennessee the defense played damn good except for 5 minutes in the fourth quarter where they gave up 15 points both times but we still won in OT. Against Auburn and Arkansas they were flat out dominant.
For a half against Bama they played well enough to win but the wheels came off in the second half and Chavis never got them put back on or left them in Tuscaloosa. I can’t explain it. I really can’t. His first year he had a damn solid and consistent defense that was honestly good enough to win 10 games with a decent offense. The next year in 2016 the performances accurately reflect the scores. The defense didn’t play well enough to win any games that were lost. It’s odd. Two seasons and two totally different results.
I hate saying it because I love everything about the man from a coaching standpoint but Chief is in the same boat as Sumlin. Chief needs to prove he still knows how to coach a defense because the second half of 2016 puts it in major question. Sure, Sumlin’s fate will ultimately decide Chief’s fate but Chief has a lot of questions to answer himself. I like to think he’s an elite level defensive coordinator but the results from the second half of the 2016 season say that’s in question.
Only the 2017 season will tell.