No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 7 Alabama, CBS: Only one team will leave Bryant-Denny Stadium with hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff. The Aggies, coming off back-to-back losses, are on the razor’s edge, and the Crimson Tide, coming off a loss at Ole Miss and a one-point win at unranked Arkansas, are teetering. Alabama’s defense has played much better of late, but its secondary will be put to the test by Kenny Hill and the A&M passing game. Conversely, Hill could feel the pressure considering his line hasn’t played well the past two games and Alabama’s defensive front has the size and talent to get into the backfield. One thing is certain, though: Emotions should be running high come kickoff as both teams have something to prove.
Texas A&M's visit to Tuscaloosa at 2:30 p.m. Saturday isn't technically a sellout as of Thursday evening. Alabama announced a limited number of seats were still for sale after the Aggies returned a portion of their allotment.
The tickets cost $103 apiece including fees and requests are limited to four per customer. They can be purchased on RollTide.com or by calling 205-348-BAMA. A search of the online ticket map of Bryant-Denny Stadium shows almost all of the tickets are located in the north end zone upper-deck.
A day later and more than 600 miles away, Kevin Sumlin faced a similar situation. Sitting before a gathering of reporters, Sumlin had to answer for the way his Texas A&M Aggies sputtered out in recent weeks, first losing to Mississippi State and then losing again to Ole Miss on Saturday.
But Sumlin didn’t explode. Very calmly, he explained some his offense’s inconsistencies.
"We got whipped up front; that usually does not happen," he said. "We challenged them and it didn’t work out." The team’s expectations, Sumlin said, haven’t changed. "An old coach told me, ‘You start listening to everyone else, you ain’t never been that good and you ain’t never been that bad,’" he said. "What you try to do is keep an even keel and be honest with where you are."
Officially, Sims has three interceptions and two fumbles. If Arkansas' defensive backs were able to hold on to a couple of passes Sims threw in their direction, his numbers and Alabama's record could be worse.
"I think that's the one thing that we have always had at the quarterback position here in all the years we've been here regardless of who's been the quarterback is they've always done a really good job of taking care of the ball," Saban said. "We've not thrown a lot of interceptions, we've not turned the ball over a lot from the quarterback position. I think that's really, really important and it will be important for us because eventually those things are going to get you and the turnovers will get you as well."
By Wednesday, there was more positivity about the Crimson Tide's response entering the 2:30 p.m. Saturday visit from No. 21 Texas A&M. Coach Nick Saban offered a little more insight into the issues the line was experiencing in Fayetteville.
Left guard Arie Kouandjio, who was spotted on the sidelines during practice drills last week, didn't do "more than 15 reps last week," Saban said. He was battling an ankle injury. The Tide changed things up at right guard having Alphonse Taylor start over Leon Brown for the first time since Week 2. Then there was first-time starter Bradley Bozeman at center.
"So there were a lot of changes," Saban said. "Maybe with healthier players and more continuity we'll continue to make progress, and I also think that we have to do a better job of executing all the way around. I don't think we've blocked people on the perimeter like we could have, or should have, or have."
Both of Alabama's punt returners this season, wide receiver Christion Jones and cornerback Cyrus Jones, are starters on their respective side of the ball. Neither, however, has touched the ball nearly as much as Cooper, who is one of the nation's leaders in receptions (54) and receiving yards (768).
"If one guy's doing everything, what about the other guys and their roles in terms of how much they contribute, how they feel about their contribution to the team and all that," Saban said. "We have more skill guys who are capable of making plays and we want them to have the opportunity to do it. I have confidence in them, we have confidence in them."
Seawell told Saban he had to fight through similar issues throughout this past season as Alabama vied for back-to-back titles. He used the movie "Secretariat" as a real-life example to show how a high-strung mindset won't help.
"They had so much pressure on them because of their debt and the horse had to win the Triple Crown, the anxiety and the tension, and all that, and finally she just said, 'Let the horse run,' and it won by 31 lengths at the Belmont," Saban said. "Well, that's what we're trying to let our guys do, just let them run. Just let them play."
Saban said it reiterated the point he made Monday, when he said he was thrilled to see Alabama's players show positive emotions after holding off Arkansas. He hopes it sinks in for Saturday's game against Texas A&M and beyond. "That's really what we're trying to get our players to do," he said. "That's the way we'd like to finish the season with them."
Jake Coker will be the answer at quarterback for Alabama Not only was Coker not the answer, he’s yet to even start a game and has attempted just 33 passes, most of those coming in a blowout 41-0 win over Florida Atlantic. Fifth-year senior Blake Sims, who played running back as a redshirt freshman, has been the Tide’s starting quarterback the whole way. Sims got off to a hot start, but the entire Alabama offense has bogged down the last two weeks with just three offensive touchdowns in a 14-13 win over Arkansas and 23-17 loss to Ole Miss.
"Just this morning I was watching last year's game and got two quarters into it and it looks nothing like what we've seen from them the last few weeks," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said Monday. "They're a different team offensively." It just hasn't been quite as efficient in recent weeks.
After rolling up 672 against Florida, the Tide had just 623 in the last two games combined. It'll also face a new threat coming off the edge. Freshman Myles Garrett has 7 1/2 sacks among his nine tackles for loss and seven quarterback hurries. He was the first player Nick Saban mentioned when asked about the improvements on the Aggie defense.
This is the guy to look out for. Garrett will be going head to head with fellow true freshman Cam Robinson in what will be the biggest matchup of the game.
Hey Coach! with Nick Saban
Trey DePriest (linebacker) interview
Landon Collins (safety) interview