Forget the Fisher-Petrino dynamic, the Aggies have a D.J. Durkin problem

Photo via A&M Athletics

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Maybe we spent the entire offseason obsessing over the wrong coordinator in College Station.

The discussions surrounding the potential pitfalls of the Jimbo Fisher and Bobby Petrino relationship left no air for the real question facing Texas A&M in 2023 – is the defense any good? Early returns suggest that the answer is no.

The Aggies fell to 1-1 on the season in a Week 2 loss at Miami in which the Wrecking Crew defense allowed 48 points – the most since a Week 2 loss at Alabama in 2020. Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke threw for 374 yards and five touchdowns on 21 of 30 passing. The Hurricanes averaged 17.8 yards a completion and 8.4 yards a play in the win. 

Fisher won at least eight games in his first four seasons in charge of the Aggies. The program was a combined 17-5 over the 2020 and 2021 seasons. The defense allowed just 15.9 points per game and 3.65 yards per rush in 2021 – the last season with defensive coordinator Mike Elko in charge. Elko took the head coaching job at Duke, where he’s 11-4 as a head coach. Fisher was 34-14 in the four seasons at A&M with Elko as his defensive coordinator. He’s 6-8 in the 14 games without Elko. 

Texas A&M defenses under Jimbo Fisher
Year PPG Allowed Yards Per Play 3rd down conv. % Turnovers caused Rush per attempt


25.3 5.77 30.25 13 3.23
2019 22.5 5.25 31.61 14 4.07
2020 21.7 5.35 34.96 8 3.25
2021 15.9 4.66 32.97 18 3.65
2022 21.2 5.17 35.63 18 4.82


Nearly everything about the Texas A&M defense took a step backwards when Durkin arrived prior to the 2022 season. The points per game allowed jumped over five points. The run defense was the biggest issue for A&M in 2022, allowing nearly 1.2 yards more per rush. In college, sack yards are counted as rushing statistics and the lack of pressure was a quiet killer to the Aggies' run defense totals last season. Under Elko in 2021, the Aggies accounted for 39 sacks. That numbers was 28 in a 10-game 2020 season and 29 back in 2019. Durkin's defensive unit in 2022 only recorded 19 sacks, which ranked 111st in college football.

For all the bad in 2022 during a five-win season, the Wrecking Crew defense thrived in pass coverage. Texas A&M allowed the fewest passing yards per game in 2022 at 156.2. But maybe because the running defense was so bad that opponents didn’t need to air it out. The 209 rushing yards per game allowed by Durkin’s group ranked 123rd out of 131 FBS teams.

If the Miami game was any indication, the Aggies can’t even rely on strong secondary performances to stay in games. Three different Hurricanes caught at least five passes for 75 yards. Xavier Restrepo led the way with 126 yards. Jacolby George caught three touchdown passes. Five Miami receivers caught at least one pass for 20 or more yards. The Aggies allowed three completions over 48 yards in the loss. 

The race to nine wins – a number that feels important for Fisher’s tenure to continue – feels like a longshot after the loss to Miami. The Hurricanes aren’t world beaters even if their improved. The Aggies face at least four other teams on the schedule with similar or better talent with SEC contests scheduled against Ole Miss, Tennessee, Alabama, and LSU. Three of those four are on the road. 

Fisher is 1-7 in his last eight games against Power Five teams with seven straight losses on the road. Take away the 2020 pandemic-shortened season where everything in college football was weird and Fisher is 31-21 in four full seasons as head coach. He's 14-12 since the end of 2020. And while it seems like a lot of money, the Texas A&M donors won’t struggle to find the roughly $100 million dollars to buy-out Fisher and hire a new staff. Hell, SMU just left about $200 million on the table just to join the ACC.

The season isn’t over. The conference schedule hasn’t even begun, but the hope for 2023 is hard to find without vast improvements on the defensive side of the ball. Despite the most talented defensive line in football, at least from a recruiting standpoint, the Aggies recorded an 11 percent havoc rate and a 27 percent run stuff rate against Miami. That won’t fly against the big, bad offensive lines in the SEC. 

Most thought Fisher’s stubbornness to turn over his offense to a coordinator would be his downfall, but he took his medicine and put Petrino in charge. Instead, history might remember the replacement of Elko with Durkin as the moment that Fisher lost the program – and his job.

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