Decisions that defined A&M in 2012: No. 4

This week, GigEmNation looks back at five decisions that helped define Texas A&M's 2012 season. These moments could be on or off the field or could have even come before the season, so long that they had a lasting impact on the Aggies' 2012 campaign. Today, we look at our pick for No. 4, the hiring defensive coordinator Mark Snyder

One of the biggest question marks for Texas A&M heading into its first Southeastern Conference season was on defense.

In particular, the Aggies' defensive line was a concern. After spending two years in a 3-4 alignment and recruiting for that, Texas A&M moved to a 4-3 this season even though depth wasn't plentiful, specifically on the defensive interior. The coaches stated that as a concern, as well as the possibility of having to play younger players early in physical league like the SEC.

The defense -- and the defensive line -- turned out to be one of Texas A&M's biggest strengths.

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin had plenty of prior experience with and knowledge of Snyder. The pair worked together at Minnesota and coached across from each other in Conference USA when Sumlin was Houston's head coach and Snyder was leading Marshall. That familiarity bred respect, and Sumlin hired Snyder as the Aggies' defensive coordinator to positive results.

Snyder, with the help of assistants Terry Price (defensive line), Matt Wallerstedt (linebackers) and Marcel Yates (secondary), transformed a defense that was once known for giving up second-half leads into one that was one of the best in getting off the field on third downs this season.

The Aggies ranked 16th in the nation in third-down conversion percentage defense, allowing conversions just 32.3 percent of the time. They were 35th in red zone defense.

Holding onto leads was nowhere near the issue it was a year ago, when the Aggies relinquished six games where they led by double-digits at one point. Credit goes to many folks -- the offense, which continued to strike, director of football sports performance Larry Jackson, who conditioned the team well, and Snyder, who oversaw the emergence of the Aggies into a reliable unit even with true freshmen starting at two positions.