HOUSTON, Texas- When Justin Madubuike announced he'd declare for the NFL Draft, the focus turned to Texas A&M's defensive line. As the consistent factor of the defense, the Aggies shined in the trenches, finishing with a top 30 ranking against the run.
Without their star defensive tackle, the Aggies were tasked with finding someone who could disrupt the pass. It was clear both DeMarvin Leal and Tyree Johnson heard the call loud and clear.
The duo combined for nine total tackles and 2.5 sacks in the 24-21 victory over Oklahoma State. Both excelled off the line of scrimmage, winning against the tackles and forcing Dru Brown to feel the pressure nearly every snap.
“Those guys put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, got the sacks and got some penetration," A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. "We overran some runs, but we had fit it better in the secondary, the linebackers and safeties. I thought our front was very physical, and I thought played really well."
Johnson, a sophomore from D.C., struggled during the season to create any commotion upfront. He would finish the regular year with two total sacks and 16 tackles.
Before halftime, he duplicated his season-high number, forcing Brown to the ground twice for a loss of seven and nine yards.
"They had some really good offensive tackles and they're a great team," Johnson said. "It really took a lot out there just rotating guys in, guys being ready. It was definitely a hard-fought game."
Leal, a true freshman from San Antonio, excelled in the second half for the Aggies' front seven. Originally a backup, the former five-star worked his way into the starting lineup by mid-October against Ole Miss. Leal would finish the campaign with 12 total tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Fisher spoke about the potential of players for the future. Leal should be one to keep an eye on. Leading the defensive line, the former Judson star would make six total tackles, record half a sack and cause a quarterback hurry.
In the fourth quarter, the Cowboys would be forced to go for it on fourth down. Leal had previously sacked Dru Brown on the play before. With Spencer Sanders under center, the Pokes would be stopped thanks to Leal's ability to break through the line and stuff the freshman in his tracks.
"For anybody as a true freshman to start as a defensive end on this line is really hard and challenging. I think DeMarvin, as much as he's learned, as much as he's been through, he's a great player," Johnson said. "I think the sky's the limit for him. He has endless potential."
Although no Madubuike will sting for the future, the program will feature two growing pass rushers off the sides. Pair that with the likes of Jayden Peevy and Michael Clemons, the Aggies defensive line is secure.
Bowl games aren't always about winning. Sometimes, it's about shining in and showing the world what the future entails. The Aggies seem to trend in the right direction, especially at a position that appears to be set.
If Friday night is a sign for the future, both Johnson and Leal should have bright ones to look forward to.