Texas A&M football: Aggies' secondary better prepared for Tua this time?
With an extra week of practice, Texas A&M went back to the basics reemphasizing the fundamentals of playing the game. The added work will come in handy when the Aggies host No. 1 Alabama on Saturday. Tackling, especially in the open field, will be a big key to Texas A&M’s success.
Turning quick slants into big plays is one aspect of Alabama’s success on offense. The passing game in general has helped lift the Tide back to the top of college football. On Saturday, Tide QB Tua Tagovailoa looks to continue that assault on secondaries.
Last year Tagovailoa completed 22-of-30 passes for 387 yards and 4 touchdowns in Alabama’s 45-23 victory over the Aggies at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Charles Oliver and Debione Renfro, Texas A&M starting corners in that game, return for another chance to face the Tide QB, as do Myles Jones, Larry Pryor, Leon O’Neal and Roney Elam, who also played in that game.
They’re all a year older and presumably a year wiser. But will that be enough to put the clamps on the nation’s No. 4-ranked quarterback in terms of yards passing (1,718) and leader with 23 TDs?
“They’re going to have their hands full, but I think they’re looking forward to the challenge,” Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher said at his weekly press conference Monday. “We’ve got to keep big plays down. (Tua) is as good as there is in college football.”
The secondary will be challenged by arguably the best receiving corps in the country. DeVonta Smith and Jerry Jeudy have combined for more than 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns already this season. Henry Ruggs III has added 361 yards and 4 TDs. Jaylen Waddle, the 4th receiver, is averaging 16.4 yards per catch.
While the Aggies like to roll up their safeties in defense of RPOs, it becomes imperative that Oliver, Renfro and Co. make sure tackles in the open field to prevent those quick slants that the Tide is known for from becoming big plays.
The Aggies are infinitely better against the pass this season than in 2018, when they finished 12th in the SEC, yielding an average of 253.2 yards per game through the air. They’re allowing just 191.4 yards through 5 games.
But Tagovailoa isn’t your average QB and Alabama’s receiving corps is anything but average.
So the secondary could use some help up front in cutting down the time in which he has to find a receiver. It won’t be easy. Alabama has allowed just 6 sacks in 5 games. Texas A&M’s defense is tied for last in the SEC with 8 sacks.
“You’ve got to challenge and mix it up and hopefully you can do it; bat some balls, get some balls, get great coverage and turn some guys loose and get some hits on the quarterback,” Fisher said. “I don’t care who you are, when you get hit, you get affected in everything you do.”
So can we expect to see the Aggies blitz more Saturday?
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Fisher said. “He knows what he’s doing and he can see it, and they’re very dynamic in the man-to-man situation. So how you leverage them, how you cover them in those respects, and then you expose yourself. But at the same time, you can’t just be in the same (defense) all the time.”
Is the Aggies’ secondary better prepared for Tua? They are surely better prepared for what’s coming.
Stopping it, or at least slowing it down, is the question that will be answered Saturday.