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2015 Music City Bowl Opponent Breakdown: Texas A&M Aggies Linebackers

TAMU's run defense has been awful all season. A big reason why is the play of their linebackers.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive coordinator John Chavis was brought in by Texas A&M this year to fix a defense that had been one of the worst in the SEC. He's accomplished that goal in some ways but in other areas the defense has been just as bad as it was the year before. Unfortunately, the area where the defense hasn't improved is in stopping the run. What's hard to believe is that by the numbers alone they have improved even though they're ranked as one of the worst run defenses in the country. A&M hasn't been able to stop anyone from running the ball at will since their first game of the season. Your linebackers aren't solely responsible for stopping the run but TAMU's two linebackers haven't done much at all to stop the opposing running backs.

The Aggies typically run in a nickel package for the majority of the game. They utilize a middle linebacker and a strong side linebacker in this set. Shaan Washington is the strong side backer and he is the only player that has consistently produced at the second level for the Aggies. Washington is a tall and somewhat slender but he is a solid tackler. He doesn't take on blockers like you want from your strong side guy but some of that is because he gets lost in space at times. I think part of that has to do with scheme and responsibility. When it comes down to it, Washington doesn't attack the line of scrimmage as much as he lets the play come to him. Ideally, he wouldn't have to deal with as many blockers as he does but it's not like this is a new issue at the end of the season. At some point you would expect something to change in the scheme or his approach.

A.J. Hilliard has been the starter at middle linebacker for most of the season now and I personally don't see it as an upgrade over Josh Walker. Walker seemed to play much faster than Hilliard but they obviously see things that I don't. Hilliard is what I call a "thumper". He has no issue taking on blockers and he does a good job of holding his ground. But he's not going to run down a play. He's not going to recover if a running back cuts back on the play. What he does well is fill the gap in front of him and bow his neck to whatever comes through the hole. There have been plenty of plays where the run is just flat out outside of the zone that he can cover with his limited speed. Hilliard also struggles in zone and man coverage. It seems like A&M is in a similar situation to UofL last year when Terrell Floyd was moved to safety because Jermaine Reve was injured. Everyone knew that there was a weak spot at cornerback and everyone targeted Andrew Johnson. The issue for the Aggies is that this is still the case headed into the bowl game.

When the Aggies go to their base 4-3 package Richard Moore comes in at the weakside outside linebacker spot. Moore is a solid young player for the Aggies. I didn't get to watch a lot of him because he isn't on the field all that much but when he is he a spark plug. Moore has 5.5 tackles for loss on the season and 4.5 tackles per game on the season. I don't think UofL will see much of Moore as they tend to spread the field almost exclusively with Lamar Jackson at quarterback.