Rapid Reaction: No. 1 Alabama avoids Upset Saturday by thumping Texas A&M
Upset Saturday? Not in College Station, Texas.
Despite a fast start by the home squad and a rollicking stadium yearning to knock off the No. 1 team in the country, Tua Tagovailoa and top-ranked Alabama proved to simply be too much for No. 24 Texas A&M — demolishing the Aggies 47-28.
Tagovailoa continued his assault on the Crimson Tide record books and a 2nd consecutive march to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony — throwing for 293 yards on 21-of-34 passing and 4 touchdowns. Tagovailoa now has 27 touchdowns this season and is on pace to shatter his own single-season mark of 43 set in 2018.
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher was the latest former Nick Saban assistant to take his shot at knocking off the Tide coach — instead adding to the 18-0 Saban tally against them. Fisher, who was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at LSU from 2000-2004, also ate losses at Florida State in 2017 and in his 1st season at Texas A&M last season.
Literally at the same time No. 3 Georgia saw its Playoff path get murkier between the hedges against South Carolina, the Aggies (3-3 overall, 1-2 in the SEC) and their stadium-shaking 12th Man were working hard to replicate the moment under the hot Texas sunshine.
Junior quarterback Kellen Mond engineered a 14-play, 75-yard drive that took over half of the 1st quarter — punctuating it with a 1-yard plunge. Mond was perfect on the scoring march, rushing 4 times for 20 yards and going 5-for-5 in the air for 39 yards.
Alabama (6-0, 3-0) answered with perhaps its most balanced drive of the season, mixing in short throws from Tagovailoa and bruising rushing from Najee Harris to chip away at the Aggies. But it was another big play that finished the deal — as Jaylen Waddle, the Tide’s sometimes-forgotten Fourth Amigo, finished it by turning a 1-yard toss from Tagovailoa into a 31-yard score for Waddle’s 1st TD grab of the season.
All the mojo that Mond and the Aggies mustered on their opening drive evaporated on their second, as Anfernee Jennings sacked the elusive Texas A&M quarterback on 2nd down and the Tide defense swallowed him whole on 3rd-and-14 for a 2-yard loss to force a 3-and-out.
The ensuing drive was textbook Tide. Taking his time at the line despite a renovated Kyle Field-record 106,749 turning up the volume, Tagovailoa read an Aggies blitz perfectly to check into a DeVonta Smith quick slant — a reception that Smith turned into a 47-yard TD pass for a 14-7 lead.
Texas A&M responded with a scoring drive, though the Crimson Tide defense bent but didn’t break like it did on the first one of the game. Mond moved the Aggies 61 yards into the red zone, but Alabama forced 2 consecutive incompletions to end it and set up a Seth Small 31-yard field goal made it 14-10.
Alabama continued its streak of being the goalpost-hittingest team in college football history on the ensuing drive, as the Tide drove to the Aggies 16 to set up Joseph Bulovas — who promptly doinked his 35-yarder off the right upright and through for a 17-10 advantage.
Even when one facet of Alabama’s special teams is shaky, another isn’t. Kick and punt returns made a difference all first half, most notably when Waddle returned an Aggie punt 43 yards to the Texas A&M 19. Tagovailoa carved up the defense again on 3rd-and-long, finding Harris on a 16-yard TD pass to make it 24-10 with 5:28 to play in the first half.
Alabama’s defense, which played 40 snaps in the first half, improved its NCAA-best turnover differential to +29 since 2017 on the following Texas A&M drive — as Shyheim Carter stripped RB Isaiah Spiller of the rock and it was fallen upon by Xavier McKinney at the Aggies’ 26.
But that is when Tagovailoa finally threw his 1st interception of the season — snapping a nation-best streak 186 pass attempts without a pick by forcing a 3rd-and-9 attempt into double coverage in the end zone and right into the hands of Demani Richardson.
The Aggies ended the first half with positive momentum, driving 69 yards on 10 plays and finishing with a 32-yard Small field goal to make it 24-13.
Alabama got those 3 points right back on its opening drive of the 3rd quarter, as its drive stalled at the A&M 8 and Bulovas managed not to clank any leather off of yellow-painted metal for a 27-yard FG and a 27-13 lead.
Then it was Henry Ruggs III’s turn to find paydirt, hauling in a beautiful 33-yard Tagovailoa fade pass to make it 34-13 and effectively take the wind out of 106,749 Aggie sails.
Mond and A&M were still game, though. Despite getting smacked on a pass completion 2 plays before, Mond hit Jalen Wydermyer for a wide-open 25-yard touchdown that narrowed the gap to 34-20.
Alabama added to its lead two drives later, as a 42-yard Waddle punt return created a short field and the Tide kept it on the ground the whole way — with Brian Robinson Jr. diving in from the 2 for a 40-20 lead.
And the Tide special teams got in on the scoring as well, as Ale Kaho blocked a Braden Mann punt and Tyrell Shavers returned it 2 yards for a TD to account for the Tide’s final points.