No doubt: Alabama's D best in the land
Alabama beat Texas A&M for a host of reasons, but the defense holding a potent Aggies offense to just 14 points — while scoring a touchdown of its own — stands out most.
Alabama struggled to control the game in a win against Arkansas two weeks ago, but the past two weeks brought two games with a four-quarter effort on both sides of the ball. They also brought two impressive wins that cemented the Tide’s spot at No. 1 nationally and in firm control of the SEC West.
Jonathan Allen scored a defensive touchdown in the third quarter that shifted momentum to Alabama, pushing a 20-14 advantage to 26-14. Allen’s 30-yard fumble return marked Alabama’s ninth defensive touchdown this season and 12th non-offensive TD.
Allen also had one of the defensive unit’s five sacks of quarterback Trevor Knight. And it was spectacular: shedding one lineman and flying over running back Trayveon Williams.
I think this is my favorite play of the year so far: https://t.co/q6VUJu5WX7
— Saturday Down South (@SDS) October 22, 2016
Tim Williams had two sacks, Dalvin Tomlinson earned a sack and Da’Shawn Hand had a sack as well.
Alabama leads the nation with 32 sacks in eight games after leading the nation last season with 52 in 15 games. In 2014, before Nick Saban redesigned the scheme into an attacking machine, the Tide finished with 31 sacks.
In all, Alabama finished the game with 11 tackles for a loss. Linebacker Ryan Anderson, who forced the fumble Allen recovered and returned for a touchdown, led the team with three tackles for a loss. Linebacker Reuben Foster led the team with 12 tackles, including eight solo.
“Linebackers, I thought, really played well in the first half,” Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin told reporters of Alabama. “We saw some different things from Alabama. They gave us some different fronts, some dime packages, some different things. Very, very creative in what they did.”
Alabama led the entire first half, staking a 13-0 lead by the early second quarter. Texas A&M got back into the game later in the quarter. Sumlin’s decision to go for it on fourth down near the end of the quarter paid huge dividends. Not only did Trevor Knight get the first down, he also moved the team from a long-range field goal to inside the goal line. He connected with Josh Reynolds for a touchdown.
A&M continued with the same momentum to open the second half. Knight completed two long passes that culminated in a touchdown to Christian Kirk to give A&M a 14-13 lead. On both plays, the defense committed penalties that were declined (offside, defensive pass interference).
On the next A&M offensive drive, Knight started it with a first down run. Then, Alabama smothered Knight for no gain and pressured Knight for two incompletions and forced a punt.
“Later in the game they started spitting some runs on us, so that’s when we started playing nickel (defense), which is what we probably play the best,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban told reporters afterward. “We did a much better job against the run, which created passing situations, and we were able to take advantage and start getting off of the field more on third down.”
On the next A&M offensive possession, Tim Williams had a critical sack on second down, which led to the 3rd-and-26 that resulted in Allen’s scoop-and-score.
Knight fumbled again on the ensuing possession because of a Tomlinson sack, although A&M recovered the ball.
On A&M’s first full possession of the fourth quarter, Knight ended the drive with three straight incompletions due to pressure from Allen and Anderson.
A&M’s final offensive possession resulted in a turnover on downs when Knight was sacked by Hand on 4th-and-18.
The Crimson Tide defense gave up 278 yards, but yielded just 14 points.
A&M ran the ball more effectively than any opponent has against Alabama but still netted just 114 yards. It kept Knight in check and forced him into a poor throwing day. Those factors, combined with consistently forcing third-and-longs, helped the Tide get off the field. A&M converted just 5-of-16 third-down opportunities.
However, the win came with a costly asterisk. Eddie Jackson sustained a fractured leg in the fourth quarter and will miss the rest of the season. All things are relative when it comes to Alabama’s defense, but the secondary was one area teams could attack. Knight couldn’t on Saturday, however.
The Tide won’t face a dangerous passer the rest of the regular season, but the playoffs could present a different story.