Alabama faced its first challenge of the season on Saturday. The Crimson Tide were punched in the mouth early. Still, it always seemed things would work out for the No. 1 team in the nation. A strong counterpunch was on the way. Bama took the lead in the fourth quarter. Surely, the Crimson Tide would hold on. Not on this day.

Texas A&M beat Alabama 41-38 to shock the defending national champions. Texas A&M led for most of the game but it just seemed a matter of time until Bama would turn in some highlight-worthy scores beat the Aggies. That never happened. Texas A&M would surely find a way to lose, which they had already done twice this season. Nope, the unbelievable happened.

Alabama players probably aren’t very fond of the Aggies after Saturday’s game. However, the Crimson Tide should spend more time looking in the mirror than staring at video from their recent loss. We all knew that Alabama had a young, talented offense. It was the youth that was more prominent than the talent against Texas A&M. Alabama’s offense practically slept walked through the first half of the game as the Aggies took a 24-10 lead just before halftime.

Credit Texas A&M for not cowering before Alabama. The Aggies weren’t star-struck and had nothing to lose. Texas A&M has no realistic shot at winning a championship this season — so why not just beat Alabama? Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher’s team wasn’t afraid of Alabama. The Aggies even ran out onto the field late as the game was about to begin. It was surely a bit of gamesmanship as Fisher proved he wasn’t afraid to poke the bear.

While that seemed unwise by Fisher, the Aggies stood toe-to-toe with Bama throughout the game. This wasn’t one of those fluky wins. A&M outplayed and outcoached the Crimson Tide coin toss to Gatorade bath. The game wouldn’t have even been close had Alabama not blocked a punt for a touchdown in what looked like a huge protection bust by the Aggies.

Fisher has said his team has been improving recently. That was tough for Aggie fans to hear following 2 consecutive SEC losses that most of the college football world thought would be relatively easy wins for A&M. Was Fisher right? Was his team really improving? It looked like it Saturday night.

If Fisher was referring to his team’s pass rush and its improvement, he was spot on. The Aggies made Alabama’s vaunted offensive line look like mere mortals. No one has even come close to doing that this year. It was apparent that Fisher wanted to utilize multiple defensive fronts, stunts, twists and blitzes and make Alabama’s players think a little longer than they wanted to. It worked, especially against Bama quarterback Bryce Young. The sophomore played well overall but was harassed more Saturday than he had been in the rest of Alabama’s games combined.

Texas A&M kept constant pressure on Young, who should be commended for avoiding several sacks while continuing to survey the field with pressure in his face. Young ran more than he typically prefers to because he had to. Something tells me we’ll see more of Young’s running ability as the season rolls on. Young isn’t going to suddenly become a running quarterback, but if teams copy what A&M did on defense, Young will have plenty of chances to run for key gains when defenses are in man coverage. That worked for the Aggies. Why wouldn’t other teams follow the same template?

As much as SEC fans don’t want to hear, Saturday’s game against Texas A&M will most likely make the Crimson Tide better this season. A young team now realizes they’re not impervious and can be beaten if they aren’t ready to play. Bama might lose another game this year, but you can bet it won’t be because its players came out flat like they did against Texas A&M. That won’t happen again anytime soon under Saban.

Alabama hasn’t lost a game this early in the season since it was beaten by Ole Miss in September 2015. How did Saban’s squad respond? Alabama won 26 straight games, played for 2 national championships and won 1 after that loss to the Rebels.

There’s always a chance that the college football world had Alabama overrated. After all, that would be a safe bet with history on your side. Saying Alabama is the best team in the nation hasn’t been a reach since Saban’s dominance began when he won the first of 6 championships for Bama in 2009.

The Crimson Tide certainly isn’t out of the hunt for any of their preseason goals other than an undefeated season. Alabama still controls its own fate in the SEC West, the entire SEC and all of college football. If the Crimson Tide doesn’t lose another game this season, they’ll still be national champions.

Some will consider the Texas A&M loss a blemish on Alabama’s record even if it wins a national title. If Alabama does indeed win a national championship this season, I bet we look back at the Texas A&M game as a turning point, a time when Bama’s players realized that they had to match their talent with similar effort. We’ve now learned that Alabama is flawed just enough to lose a game that its players aren’t prepared for. That should be a weakness.

Anti-Alabama fans can rejoice for a night, but I wouldn’t get used to it. Even after the Aggies loss, Alabama will still contend for a national championship. What’s even scarier for opposing teams is that the loss might cause Alabama’s players to assess themselves, refocus and be better than ever. That would be a body blow for the rest of the championship contenders in college football.