Texas A&M football: 3 areas Aggies will try to attack Alabama
For the 2nd time in 5 weeks Texas A&M will take on the No. 1 team in the country. The Aggies host Alabama at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday in Kyle Field just over a month after visiting then-No. 1 Clemson.
Not many, if any, are giving the No. 24-ranked Aggies (3-2, 1-1) a prayer of competing against the scoring machine of Alabama (5-0, 2-0), featuring QB Tua Tagovailoa. They opened as 18-point underdogs at home, a place Alabama has never lost in 4 meetings.
Speaking of never lost, Alabama coach Nick Saban has never lost to his former assistant coaches. He is 17-0 against them. Jimbo Fisher was the offensive coordinator under Saban at LSU. They teamed up to lead the Tigers to the 2003 national championship. But they’ll be on opposite ends again Saturday and it will be Fisher’s job to effectively end that streak of futility.
Speaking of futility, since joining the SEC, Texas A&M has won only once over the Tide, a 29-24 victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2012 with Heisman Trophy QB Johnny Manziel. Duplicating that effort Saturday is a daunting task to say the least, but the Aggies will certainly show up and give it their best shot.
Here are 3 areas in which the Aggies must exploit in order to have a chance to win.
1. Pressure/confuse Tua
Alabama probably has the best trio of wide receivers in college football, so asking the Aggies’ secondary to cover the group for any length of time might be a bit too much to expect. Therefore, pressuring Bama’s QB and making him as uncomfortable as possible seems like the way to go. Gone are the days in the SEC when stopping the opponents’ run game practically assured victory; it’s the passing attack that powers Alabama and now LSU among the SEC elite.
But the Aggies haven’t done much of that this season, instead relying on relatively inexperienced linebackers to fill run gaps and contain rather than pressure opposing QBs. If they continue that trend with Tagovailoa, he’ll have another big day with his talented receivers running wild on the Texas A&M secondary. So it will be up to DC Mike Elko to somehow dial up some pressure, crowd the line of scrimmage, disguise coverage and confuse the Alabama QB as much as possible.
Problem: Texas A&M only has 8 sacks in 5 games. Alabama has only allowed 6 in 5 games.
Elko will need to work some magic to counteract those trends.
If the Aggies can somehow keep Tua from carving them up and force the Tide to attempt field goals, it would be a huge advantage considering Alabama has made only 56 percent of their field goal tries (5-for-9).
Or even better, force the Tide into punting situations. That’s where the Aggies would have the biggest advantage when you take into account that Alabama is averaging just 35 yards per punt this season. Granted the Tide hasn’t had to do much punting, punting just 11 times compared to the opposition’s 29 punts, but with Texas A&M All-America punter Braden Mann averaging 48 yards per boot, the Aggies could set themselves up nicely in the battle for field position – if that should become a factor.
2. Bleed the clock
The Aggies lead the SEC in time of possession, holding the ball an average of 33-plus minutes per game. Because Alabama can score in a hurry, it would behoove Texas A&M to hold onto the football and increase that TOP by several more minutes.
Alabama doesn’t have the defense it’s been known for and it will be up to Fisher and his staff to exploit Alabama’s thin linebacker group and inexperienced d-line. Unfortunately, the Aggies haven’t been able to put together a solid running game to take the pressure off QB Kellen Mond.
With an extra week of preparation, this would be an excellent time for offensive line to play its best game and give the inexperienced RBs some running lanes.
3. 12th Man
It will definitely be all hands on deck Saturday and that includes the 12th Man in the stands. The noise factor will be important in making communication difficult for the visitors. Keeping the game close will help in stirring Kyle Field’s 12th Man (as if it needs any help) while testing the poise of an Alabama team that has yet to face a ranked team on the road this year.
In fact, Alabama’s only true road game this season was at South Carolina, a game in which the Tide didn’t really put away until the 4th quarter.