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Texas A&M From The Couch

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Alabama's schizophrenic offense took on the Destroyer of Worlds role Saturday. But which offense is the real one, last week's or this week's? Or is it neither one? Or both? At least the defense appears to be dependable.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama poured a Category 5 hurricane-induced crimson rip tide all over Texas A&M Saturday in a 59-0 win that was the most impressive single football game any college team in America has played this year.  Bama's total domination harkened back to the 42-14 destruction of Notre Dame to win the 2012 national championship - a game that was not as close as the score sounds - and even to the monster 49-7 smashing of Michigan State in the 2011 Capital One Bowl that served notice that the 10-3 Tide was about to step up and snatch two straight natties, thank you very much.

And Texas A&M, while not competitive in this year's SEC West on steroids, and not 2012 Notre Dame or 2010 Michigan State, really ain't a bad team.  At least they haven't been so far - who knows where they go after this humiliation.

The other question is, where does Alabama go?  Was this just a fluke, as last week's Arkansas game may have been?  Or did we just watch a great team gel?  Or both, or neither, or a mix?

The Aggies came out in man-to-man and giving Bama's receivers a cushion in an effort to stop the Tide's ground attack.  Predictably, Kiffin, Sims and gang jumped all over that, getting the ball repeatedly to Cooper and Yeldon with short passes that gave them room to run.  But did A&M have a choice?  Even playing it that way, they still couldn't stop the Alabama running game: imagine what Yeldon would've done to them if Cooper had been double-teamed?

Last week I asked the question: "was that offensive performance a one-time affair, a fluke?"  I thought the answer was something like "hopefully yes," and that it kind of depended on offensive line health, or at least on cohering with Bradley Bozeman a little better.  As it turned out, Ryan Kelly still didn't play this week, but everybody who did play against Arkansas looked a whole lot better.  Did a dry track alone make that much difference?

At any rate, last week's question is still very askable, but this time the answer is "hopefully no."  The whole OL played better, Cooper was shaking people like in the old days, and Blake Sims was nearly flawless.  Of course you have to take into account that the TAMU defense is not Ole Miss, nor even Arkansas, but still, there are less reasons to think yesterday was a fluke than to think the woeful offensive performance against Arky was a fluke.  It's at least possible to write Arky off as bad weather and a slew of injuries, and not much reason to call Saturday a fluke other than the TAMU D - and while their D obviously has its problems, nobody else whipped them up and down the field like that.

As impressive as the offense was, the defense was even more so, utterly stifling a team that came in among the nation's leaders, despite having already played a tough schedule.  We saw a couple of things we expected from the D - tight, disciplined control of the interior of the line in the run game, and improving cornerback play - but we also saw something we hadn't seen yet this year: constant, severe pressure on the opposing quarterback.

Kenny Hill had a tough time back there, with guys constantly in his face and few open receivers to unload to.  You might want to blame that on a porous offensive line, but A&M came into the game giving up 1.4 sacks per game, only to surrender 6 to the Tide.

When Alabama's first-team offense left the field for the last time, with 11:47 left in the third quarter, the score was already 52-0, and the Tide already had 506 yards, to only 50 for Texas A&M.  Rushing yardage at that point was 238 to -7.  The rest of the game was a ceremonial display of going through the motions.

Just for funsies here at the mid-point of the season, let's see where Bama stands nationally on a few stats.  To put these in context, Sagarin has Bama ranked 9th in schedule strength.

  • Total offense - 16th
  • Yards per play - 6th
  • Total Defense - 3rd
  • Yards per play allowed - 4th
  • Scoring offense - 25th
  • Scoring defense - 3rd
  • Rushing offense - 24th
  • Yards per carry - 24th
  • Rushing defense - 2nd
  • Yards per carry allowed - 3rd
  • Passing efficiency - 4th
  • Pass efficiency defense - 25th
  • Net punting - 2nd
  • 3rd-down conversion percentage - 4th
  • 3rd-down conversion percentage defense - 13th
  • 4th-down conversion percentage - 56th
  • 4th-down conversion percentage defense - solo 1st (0 for 7)
  • Turnover margin - 84th
  • Kickoff return defense - 99th

Against a schedule like that, and even taking those two stats at the bottom into account, those are championship-level stats.

Quarterback

Blake Sims bounced back from his worst performance of the season with one of his best, starting with a crisp, accurate downfield throw for a 17-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage.  Sims was very accurate all day, and made a number of fearless throws into traffic.  He also continued to show excellent pocket presence, as he has all year.

Blake's sensational touchdown run, where he burned three defenders who each had perfect position on him, one after another after the next, was perhaps Alabama's best run of the season - certainly its longest.  Twice, though, Sims decided to fight for an extra yard at the boundary instead of stepping out, not a particularly good idea unless those last few inches are vital.  Both times it got physical and once he came up clutching the sore shoulder.

Also, of course, he made an absolutely horrid decision on Bama's first drive to throw to a sideline pattern that should have been a pick six.  How different might this game have been if De'Shazor Everett had hung onto that one?  Well, who knows, but to tell the truth it probably wouldn't have been that different, not with Bama's DL running free in the TAMU backfield all day.

But still, that toss shows that Sims, despite his undoubted ability to move this team, remains a bit of a loose cannon back there.  Hopefully, continued experience will teach him not to make those throws.

Coker looked solid in relief, although it's a little hard to judge since the Aggies had pretty much given up by the time he came in, plus we mostly ran the run-out-the-clock offense while he was at the helm.

Still, he threw a few times, enough to make it apparent that he still doesn't have Sims' pocket presence, including taking an unnecessary sack.  But he is growing a little pocket presence of his own: the deep scramble that led to a throwaway wasn't pretty, but Coker did get rid of it and strong-armed it past the line of scrimmage to avoid the grounding call.  And his pocket maneuvering prior to hitting Ty Fluornoy-Smith with a gorgeous TD strike in the back of the end zone was actually very deft, some Peyton Manning-looking stuff.

Running Back

For probably the first time since very early in the 2013 season, there is clear separation between T.J. Yeldon and the guys chasing him.  One reason for that is the Kenyan Drake injury, but the main reason is Yeldon's play.  I am more and more convinced that T.J. was slowed by injury for much of last season, because he didn't look like the same guy on Saturday, when he had 114 yards rushing and 45 receiving against SEC competition in the first 25 minutes of the game, only to see no more action in the blowout.

Although he dropped one pass when he had running room, Yeldon did some of his best running after catching passes.  After snagging a swing pass as the safety target on the first drive, #4 barely even slowed down juking an Aggie linebacker on his way to a 17-yard gain, and later, while split out wide a la Drake, bulled ahead against the A&M cornerback covering him to turn a short pass into another 17-yarder.

Any hesitance I displayed above in calling Sims' long TD run Bama's best run of the season is primarily due to two fine runs Yeldon made against A&M.  His 31-yard pickup at the end of the first quarter was sensational: first he had to dodge and duck at the line to get through a narrow hole between Bozeman and Brown; then, after breaking a tackle two yards past the line and picking up downfield blocks from Kouandjio and Christion Jones, he juked a defensive back at the linebacker level and another at the safety level, and was off to the races.  (And yes, he lost the race convincingly: Yeldon has the burst and power to get through holes, but not the speed to house it when he is under close pursuit.)

Another second quarter run was nearly as good.  Again, T.J. found a narrow hole at the line, then made two A&M defenders collide with a nifty spin move, followed by acceleration down the sideline for a 25-yard gain.

Derrick Henry looked good, but not Yeldon good.  His 41-yard TD off a screen pass in the 2nd quarter was ridiculously easy, and he seemed to do less tiptoeing and more running straight into the hole.  #27 is a load at speed, but he goes down as easily as any other tall runner when he's dancing around.

Jalston Fowler was again a big part of our blocking game.  On Yeldon's 25-yard 2nd-quarter run, Fowler was not just blocking but driving his man 20 yards downfield.  He is also a frequent target on short-yardage plays, almost always getting open when he fakes blocking and releases to run toward the right sideline.  I've noticed, though, that he consistently runs out of bounds after catching those flare passes when a sharper upfield turn might often net him a yard or a few.

Tyren Jones looks a lot better than Tenpenny to me.  Once he gets all that stuff off his left hand, I can see him challenging Henry for the #2 job.  I think he's better at exploiting a small hole or at fighting for something when nothing is there.

Receiver

As noted above, TAMU's defensive scheme made it easier for Cooper to get open underneath, but not all the difference in Cooper's stats from last week came from the change in the opponent's defense.  Whether health-related or dry-field related, #9 was clearly quicker than he was last week.  It showed on his second catch of the game when he grabbed a bubble screen, casually juked the A&M corner, and then blazed for 22.

Cooper sure looked healthy accelerating to run under a Sims rainbow for a 24-yard touchdown late in the second quarter, and also when he a nice burst and stretch forward to catch the 45-yard TD pass early in the 3rd that sent the first-team O home for the day.

ArDarius Stewart and Brian Vogler each had key downfield blocks on Yeldon's 9-yard run for Bama's first TD.  I thought Vogler's catch in the back of the end zone was a touchdown, as he had the ball in his possession and a toe down before the ball was knocked loose.  Still, it's hard to gripe about that one, since Danielson was absolutely correct that Vogler interfered before the catch.

Offensive Line

The line was much more cohesive this week, as Bama rushed for 298 and averaged 6.6 yards per carry.  Those stats were not much distorted by long runs, either.

By the time Bama went up 52-0 early in the 3rd, the Tide had run 27 times and gained yardage on all 27 runs.  18 of those runs went for 5 or more yards, and of the 9 carries that gained less than 5, 5 were inside the TAMU 10.  That bespeaks something not too far off from every lineman making a run block on every running play

Pass protection remained outstanding, too, with only one sack given up, a short and avoidable one with Coker under center.  Arie Kouandjio was beaten on one pass play, but Bozeman picked his man up and Sims was not pressured.  Leon Brown's man ran around him on another pass play, but it was a quick pass call and the circle route the rusher took meant he did not get to Sims in time to pressure him.

Brent Bozeman played a lot better this week, and Alabama ran straight up the middle with good success frequently - in fact, the hole between Bozeman and Brown was a favorite all day (or at least the part of the day when they were in).

While Bama didn't run as much to the left, Cam Robinson absolutely brutalized his man on Yeldon's 9-yard run for the first TD.

Grant Hill looked good in relief of the injured Austin Shepherd - thankfully, the injury appears not to be serious - but A&M was pretty much beaten down by then, so it's hard to tell.  At any rate, Henry's 9-yard touchdown run shortly after Hill came in was right between the blocks of Brown and Hill.

Defensive Line

Signs continue to proliferate that this defensive line is living up to its recruiting rankings and may be rounding into shape as the best defensive line Saban has had at Alabama.  With some weaknesses showing up in the back 7, this group has had to carry the Bama D more than any Tide DL has done under the current head coach, and they are carrying it with more and more success.

It certainly showed up in the stats yesterday.  31 yards rushing, 1.3 per carry?  6 sacks?  Those are prime DL stats.  Beyond the stats, it has been years since a Bama pass rush caused so many problems for an opposing quarterback with so little blitzing.

Ryan Anderson led the entire team with 6 tackles, unusual for a lineman - especially one who spends a lot of time on the bench - and was also seen downfield in coverage a couple of times.  In fact, TAMU's second possession of the game pretty much belonged to Anderson.  On first down, he came unblocked to nail the running back in the backfield for a two-yard loss; on second down, he made the tackle after a short pass, to set up third and six; on third down he blew into the backfield and forced Hill to dump it off behind the line incomplete to a guy who was going nowhere even if he caught it.

Otherwise, the DL joy was spread out.  Four different linemen were in on sacks, D.J. Pettway, Jonathan Allen, Xzavier Dickson, and Da'Shawn Hand, hopefully the first of many in his career.

Linebackers

Was Trey Depriest possessed by the demon Pazuzu on Saturday?  Bama's squat linebacker has been weak, very weak, in pass D all year - but Saturday he made multiple excellent plays on passing plays.

On the first series of the game, Depriest had excellent tight coverage on a wideout on a crossing pattern, even forcing the receiver into the backfield because #33 was getting out in front of where his man was trying to go.  On the second series, when Anderson got pressure on Hill on the 3rd-and-six play, Depreist was right there to deny the pass well short of the first down if completed.  In the second quarter, Depriest sniffed out a bubble screen and charged around the three blockers in TAMU's diamond set to stop the play for a loss.  Finally, on TAMU's first venture into Tide territory in the third quarter, Depriest made the tackle well short of the first on a 4th-and-9 short pass to stop the Aggies.

Reggie Ragland didn't play very much, as Bama frequently ran with a dime defense to stop A&M's multiple-wideout attack.  Despite Depriest's good play in the game, I have to wonder why it is still Depriest getting left in and Ragland going out in that situation, as Ragland to me looks like a better linebacker in every phase of the game.

He was sensational while he was in Saturday, including the wonderful interception that preserved the shutout on TAMU's biggest threat.  The Aggies had a 1st-and-10 on the 15, just after their biggest gain of the game, a 26-yarder on a crossing pattern, when Ragland speared a ball at the line that was intended to be a downfield throw.  Granted, it takes some luck for the ball to hit your hands right in the receiving pocket like that, but #19 did the rest when he got the opportunity.

He also smeared a running back behind the line on a 3rd-down play in the 2nd quarter and finished Hill off for a sack after Tim Williams had made him stumble outside.  Speaking of Williams, he hasn't been seen on the field much this year, but the early returns say that he just might be the best pass-rusher Bama has, and I sure hope to see him play more as the season goes on.  Even though he wasn't a whole lot Saturday, he pressured the quarterback multiple times, coming from every angle: inside, outside, and even a successful bull-rush on a tackle who was apparently expecting some kind of swing move.

Rueben Foster had five tackles and no less than three audible hits on kickoff returns.  He got credit for a sack with a hard tackle of Hill on a rollout.  Rashaan Evans barely missed a sack for a safety in the 4th quarter.

Defensive Backs

With all the pressure Bama got, forcing short throws and dumpoffs, and as good a job as the linebackers and linemen did at cleaning up the running game around the line, Bama's DBs frankly didn't get as much work in this game as they have most times this season.  But a lot of guys saw action.

Landon Collins missed a shot at a pick, but twice tackled receivers well short of the first on third-down plays.  He also hurried a throw with a well-timed second quarter blitz.

Nick Perry also dropped an easy pick and gave up TAMU's initial first down of the game - in the second quarter - when he let his man juke him after an underneath throw.  Later, though, he made a nice shoestring tackle on a scrambling Hill to prevent a good gainer and a solid tackle on a short third-quarter pass held the Aggies to one.

Cyrus Jones gave up a couple of late completions underneath, but blanketed Speedy Noil on a 2nd-quarter deep pattern when Hill, for once, had time to throw.  Eddie Jackson was never thrown at for some indecipherable reason.  Tony Brown wasn't seen until garbage time, and then only in pursuit on a crossing pattern that went for 26, the Aggies' biggest gain of the day.

Geno Smith caused a fumble with a hard hit on that 26-yard gain.  Jarvis Williams made a sensational play when he was cartwheeled through the air on a block but bounced right up to actually make the tackle.  Hootie Jones also saw a fair bit of action in the defensive backfield, but not with a lot of results.

Special Teams

We're expecting excellence from J.K. Scott by now, and he is delivering.  Four punts, 50.0-yard average, 45.5 net, no touchbacks.  Did a little kicking off, too, although that was less successful.

Adam Griffith bounced back with a field goal and 8-for-8 on extra points.  Overall, I'm relatively pleased with Griffith's performance and don't really consider him a part of the problem on special teams.  He is 9-13 on field goals, hasn't missed an extra point, and doesn't kick a blockable ball.  He has only missed one easy field goal, and the 30-yarder against Ole Miss only missed by a hair.  He also only has one ugly miss on the season, as all the misses but one have been high and deep.  He's not a great kicker, not yet at least, but he's a decent one.

Christion Jones is a dangerous returner, as he showed again with a 47-yard punt return in the 2nd quarter.  However, he also bobbled that return and later made a very questionable decision not to fair-catch a punt.  Apparently the only reason he wasn't creamed as soon as he caught the ball was that the TAMU guys standing there couldn't believe he wasn't fair-catching it.  All in all, I'd still be good with it if we never see him back there again.  And I'm pretty sure I ain't the only one.

Hootie Jones had the best shot at the TAMU returner on the long kickoff return.  Geno Smith and J.K. Scott saved the day and gave the D a chance to preserve the shutout.