COLLEGE STATION, Texas — There will not be a second top-three team in the SEC suffering an upset loss this week. No. 1 Alabama handled its business Saturday in taking down No. 24 Texas A&M, 47-28. As has been the case all season long, the Crimson Tide were led by their offense.
Heisman Trophy hopeful Tua Tagovailoa had what’s becoming a tame performance by his typical standards, throwing for 293 yards and four touchdowns. It’s the first time the quarterback has failed to throw for at least 300 yards against a Power Five opponent this year. Odds are he’ll get over it.
On the other side of the ball, Alabama’s defense didn’t shut the Aggies offense down, but on the whole, there wasn’t much to be disappointed by in the performance. The Aggies were held to only 4.5 yards per carry on the ground, and QB Kellen Mond was under constant duress. The Alabama defense finished the day with five sacks and seven tackles for loss. Alabama’s special teams unit got in on the fun as well, blocking a punt in the fourth quarter and returning it for a touchdown to make it a 47-20 game and quash any hope the Aggies may have had in a late comeback.
The win improves Alabama to 6-0 (3-0 SEC) on the season, while Texas A&M falls to 3-3 with its three losses coming to Clemson, Auburn and now Alabama. All three of those teams entered Week 7 ranked in the top 12 of the AP Top 25.
Bama’s defense showed up: If there was a criticism of the Crimson Tide through five games, it was a defense that hadn’t exactly lived up to expectations. The young front seven only notched 10 sacks and 30 tackles for loss to this point. They had five sacks, seven tackles for loss on Saturday and made Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond miserable for a full four quarters.
This completed the puzzle. Tagovailoa and the offense is a given at this point, but there was still one piece missing. Saban and coordinator Pete Golding — with help from a relentless defense — slid it in.
Let’s not out-think the room. Alabama ascended to the top spot in the AP Top 25 two weeks ago, but first-place votes were scattered across four teams. The Crimson Tide should get all of them now.
The offense will score 40. If the opposition can’t score prior to garbage time, there’s no chance of this team stumbling between now and the College Football Playoff.
Hidden yards for the Tide: Don’t kick to Jaylen Waddle. This isn’t a suggestion, this is a rule. It’s a law. Etch it in stone. Do not, under any circumstances, kick to Alabama’s star sophomore.
Waddle had four punt returns for 128 yards — an average of 33 yards per attempt. Think about that — he got the equivalent of more than three first downs before Alabama’s offense even took the first snap of the drive.
His 42-yarder near the end of the third quarter with the Tide up 14 completely changed the game. Texas A&M had a pulse and a prayer. Waddle put the nail in the coffin before the Alabama hammered it down with a 5-play, 33-yard drive that ended with a Brian Robinson touchdown run that pushed the lead to 41-20.
Waddle wasn’t the only special teams ace on Saturday. Henry Ruggs III had four kick returns for 131 yards — an average of 33 yards. There’s a concerted effort to take kickoff returns out of the game thanks to the fair catch rule that puts the ball on the 25-yard line. Ruggs still did damage anyway.
If Alabama’s special teams are going to complement the offense like this, I’m not sure if there’s a way to stop it.
Texas A&M has a running problem: The good news is that Texas A&M rushed for more than 100 yards against a Power Five opponent for the first time this season. The bad news is that’s an extremely low bar, and they only had 141 sack-adjusted yards anyway.
Mond can’t do it himself. He was under extreme duress thanks to relentless pressure, and the running game that couldn’t do enough to make the offense one-dimensional. Simply put, it was the reason the game got away from the Aggies.
“We got away from the rushing game because we got behind,” coach Jimbo Fisher said.
That was the script in losses to Clemson and Auburn earlier this season, and the third edition of the trilogy was the same storyline.
Alabama has completely flipped its philosophy: The Crimson Tide used to be known as an old-school, ball-control, run-based offense. That began to change in 2014 when coach Nick Saban hired Lane Kiffin to run the offense and transformed completely last season when Tagovailoa and Co. produced the best offense in program history. But the loss to Clemson in the national championship game left some thinking that they might return to their roots.
That hasn’t happened. Instead of digging up those roots, Alabama has replanted itself as a southern version of the Mike Leach air-raid offense. Catch-and-runs on slants with the best receiving corps in the country have replaced tough yards over the middle and consistently open up shots deep downfield. That’s exactly what happened on the 33-yard strike from Tagovailoa to Ruggs midway through the third quarter that essentially put the game out of reach.
Saban is unfairly labeled as a stubborn leader who won’t adjust with the times. Nothing can be further from the truth. He has maintained excellence at the highest level through an era of college football that has evolved at light speed.
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