Texas A&M takes its best shot, but Alabama absorbs it without a wobble
Give Texas A&M a little bit of credit, I guess. At least Alabama actually had to play its starters in the fourth quarter.
The Crimson Tide traveled to Nashville two weeks ago and absolutely destroyed Vanderbilt by a score of 59-0, and then this past Saturday they returned to Tuscaloosa and totally embarrassed Ole Miss 66-3. The Aggies appeared to be the next victims.
Instead, A&M made it interesting with a fourth-down touchdown pass from quarterback Kellen Mond to receiver Christian Kirk late in the third quarter and then a safety on a blocked JK Scott punt early in the fourth. A comfortable 24-3 ‘Bama lead was suddenly an uneasy 24-12 advantage, and the 12th Man was ready to rumble at Kyle Field.
However, the Tide defense turned good field position for the Ags after the free kick into 3rd-and-31 and an inevitable punt.
Alabama’s running game did the rest, bleeding the clock and killing any chance Texas A&M had to deliver what would’ve been a shocking upset. While the Crimson Tide moved to 5-0 with a 27-19 win and remain No. 1, the Aggies fell to 3-2 and weren’t able to crack the Top 25.
The schedule suggests that these two programs are headed in different directions the rest of the way. More than likely, ‘Bama won’t be seriously challenged until the final game of the regular season, when it travels to Auburn for the annual Iron Bowl. But A&M has Florida, Mississippi State and Auburn on the horizon and could lose all three.
Even in a one-score defeat, it was a commendable effort from the Ags. The Tide arrived in College Station playing flawlessly.
Most everyone, especially yours truly, expected another bludgeoning at the hands of Alabama. However, the Crimson Tide needed to recover an onside kick in the final minute to get out of town unscathed. Texas A&M played them tough for 60 minutes.
True freshman quarterback Kellen Mond was a respectable 19-of-29 for 237 yards and responsible for 2 total touchdowns, although the interception he threw near the goal line in the final period proved to be a killer. Still, he evaded a relentless pass rush to the best of his ability and made a couple of incredible throws under duress.
Of course, nobody runs on ‘Bama. A&M could do no better than 71 yards rushing on 40 attempts for an average of 1.8 per crack.
On the other side of the ball, the Tide ran for 232 yards on 44 carries and found the end zone twice, highlighted by a career-long 75-yard sprint to paydirt for tailback Damien Harris. He may be the most underrated player in the SEC.
Jalen Hurts was Jalen Hurts, making key throws when necessary and scrambling as effectively as any QB in the conference. He threw for 124 yards, ran for 56 and totaled 2 TDs. The Alabama signal caller has now played six games in 2017 without committing a single turnover, although Robert Foster’s fumble in the third frame was the team’s first giveaway of the campaign.
Hurt has made remarkably few mistakes so far this year, which of course makes this Crimson Tide club that much tougher to beat.
If ‘Bama does have a concern, it’s a lack of playmakers in the passing game. While receiver Calvin Ridley is an All-American candidate, he doesn’t have enough help around him. He wasn’t able to finish this game with a knee injury, by the way.
Wideout ArDarius Stewart is now in the NFL, as is tight end O.J. Howard. Talented youngsters like Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III simply must do more and take some of the pressure off Ridley, especially if he’s going to be sidelined for any period of time. The Tide have an embarrassment of riches in the backfield, but the receiving corps is a mild concern.
Of course, with the way that Alabama typically runs the ball on offense and stops the run defensively, it may not matter much.
The Crimson Tide play Arkansas and Tennessee, two squads riddled with problems across the board, at home the next two weeks. After a bye, LSU comes to T-Town. Sure, the Tigers just upset Florida in Week 6, but they’re still figuring things out.
Knowing ‘Bama coach Nick Saban, he’ll use Saturday’s narrower-than-expected victory over the Ags as a way to remind his team that they’re not perfect. After those ridiculous beatdowns of Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, it’s only natural if his kids felt somewhat invincible. A slim escape from an unranked opponent could be just what the doctor ordered, though.
One of football’s oldest adages is that you never coach the same team twice. You don’t know what you’re going to get on game day.
Even if the Tide were superior for the most part from start to finish, there were some chinks in the armor. Receivers dropped passes. They were finally guilty of a turnover. A punt was blocked and a field-goal attempt was missed.
That being said, not all of those wounds were self-inflicted. Texas A&M appears to be responding to coach Kevin Sumlin being on the hot seat at the start of the season. Yes, that second-half collapse at UCLA in the opener was a four-alarm fire. The Aggies could’ve mailed it in after that, but they didn’t. That’s a good sign for Sumlin.
Getting back to Saban, he’ll have all the motivation he needs to push his players to improve in practice this week.
“I don’t think we played very well in the second half,” Saban said after the game. “We didn’t do a good job of controlling the ball on offense. We turned it over, gave them opportunities. Got to give them credit for hanging in there and playing hard at the end, but we’re ahead 24-3 in the game. We are supposed to put the game away, and we didn’t do it.”
It would’ve been impossible for Alabama to continue playing at the otherworldly level it put on display the previous two weeks. But even in a ho-hum performance, the Crimson Tide took A&M’s best shot and didn’t wobble one bit.