Kevin Sumlin has been the coach at Texas A&M for three years. Only five teams in the country have scored more points per game over that time. Sumlin’s fast-paced, no-huddle offense is fun to watch; it led the SEC with 306 passing yards per game in 2014 – the year after Johnny Manziel departed for the NFL. However, the observer finds himself wondering how good the Aggies could be if they played any defense at all. Twenty-one teams have accumulated a better record during Sumlin’s tenure than A&M’s 24-11. All 21 allowed fewer points per game. In terms of total defense, Texas A&M has been the SEC’s worst team over the last two seasons.
Sumlin was at Houston for four years before coming to College Station. Same story with the Cougars – great offense, painful to watch on the other side of the ball. Three of his four teams allowed more than 30 points per game. Overall, Sumlin’s Houston teams yielded 28.5 ppg and his A&M teams have surrendered 28.4 ppg. Consistently bad.
Although seven years is a Biblical number, it’s a long time to wait for a unit that can actually slow people down on the gridiron. While Sumlin may have been slow on the trigger, he’s no dummy.
In a year when half of the 14 schools in the SEC changed defensive coordinators, Sumlin’s hire could prove to be the most significant. In fact it carries the potential to shift the balance of SEC power as far west as it’s ever been.
Sumlin seems to have asked himself, ‘What’s the best defense I’ve ever faced and who’s responsible for it? That’s the man I want.’ And then he went out and got that man!
John Chavis has been the defensive coordinator at L.S.U. for the same seven years that Sumlin has been a head coach – 2008 through 2014. While Sumlin’s teams were finishing 100th or worse in total defense five times in those seven years, Chavis’s L.S.U. defenses ranked in the top 10 four times and the top 15 six times. Sumlin’s best year was 57th in yards allowed while Chavis’s worst was 26th.
More interesting is a look at how Texas A&M’s offense under Sumlin has fared against L.S.U.’s defense under Chavis:
. Texas A&M’s overall average in 39 games: 41.3 ppg
. Texas A&M’s average in three games against LSU: 15.3 ppg
. Texas A&M’s average in 36 games against everyone else: 43.5 ppg
During Sumlin’s tenure at Texas A&M his teams have played 10 opponents more than once. Here’s how the Aggies have fared on offense:
. vs Sam Houston State 56.0 ppg
. vs Southern Methodist 49.3 ppg
. vs Auburn 48.3 ppg
. vs Arkansas 46.0 ppg
. vs Rice 45.0 ppg
. vs Mississippi State 40.0 ppg
. vs Missouri 35.7 ppg
. vs Ole Miss 30.3 ppg
. vs Alabama 23.7 ppg
. vs L.S.U. 15.3 ppg
And, for further comparative purposes…
. vs three bowl opponents (Oklahoma, Duke and West Virginia) … 46.0 ppg!
These numbers tell the story. LSU has stymied an otherwise unstoppable offense. And now the mastermind of that defense is working for, instead of against, Texas A&M. Sumlin: “If you can’t beat him, hire him.” Literally. LSU is the only SEC West team that Sumlin has never beaten (0-3).
Though Chavis will make $340,000 more per year at A&M, sources say the reason he left L.S.U. had more to do with his mounting frustration over the ineptness of the Tigers’ offense. Chavis could see no signs of progress and his patience ran out. In 2014 L.S.U. was 1st in the SEC in total defense and second in the nation in scoring defense but 11th in the SEC in total offense and last in passing offense. Commenting on his move to College Station, Chavis said he’s “excited to play with a great offense.”
A source said Chavis harbors no ill will toward L.S.U. head coach Les Miles: “He told people Les was the best coach he ever worked for and that he loved him.”
However, lawsuits are in the works. Chavis is suing LSU, claiming he doesn’t owe a $400,000 buyout and that LSU owes him over $200,000 in incentives and for unused vacation time. LSU is suing Chavis for breaking his contract. There is also squabbling over whether the case should be tried in Texas or Louisiana. Chavis is even suing his new employer for “technical reasons,” which LSU lawyers find ridiculous. So it’s more than a little messy.
The foundations of a Chavis defense (He was successful at Tennessee before going to LSU) are cornerbacks playing tight, in-your-face man-to-man, defensive ends who forgo reading keys in favor of aggressively rushing upfield, and a bad-ass attitude. Sumlin has said he has already seen, in spring ball, a difference on defense from a “confidence standpoint.”
Immediate improvement is expected. In all four of Sumlin’s recruiting classes, more defensive players have been signed than offensive ones. Highly-touted defensive tackle Daylon Mack, weighing 330 pounds, will join Miles Garrett on the defensive line. Garrett had 11 sacks last year to lead the team; that total broke Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC record for freshmen.
You know that a team is getting serious about defense when a five-star running back moves to the other side of the ball. Brandon Williams came to A&M to tote the rock but, finding himself down on the depth chart, has elected to take his speed to cornerback under Chavis.
A Sumlin offense coupled with a Chavis defense could be the scourge of the SEC, and the whole country, for years to come.