TGIF time, on the eve of a game that many Alabama fans have been concerned about since the schedule was released. Without question, the intangibles seem to favor the home team on Saturday. All of the pressure is on Alabama, as the Tide cannot absorb a second loss in the SEC West. Conversely, the Aggies are coming in undefeated and will still be in the race no matter what happens. The Aggies are playing at home, in one of the loudest environments in the country. They run a type of offense that Alabama has struggled to stop at times. Last but not least, the Aggies have something to prove after last season's 59-0 embarrassment in Tuscaloosa.
All that aside, I like Alabama in this one. The Texas A&M defense is built to stop pass-heavy schemes similar to the one they practice against on a daily basis. Running right at those defensive ends and utilizing play action on early downs will slow Myles Garrett and company down considerably. Oh, and did I mention running right at them? Run right at them, Lane. Please. On the other side, the Aggies have some great young athletes at WR. This will create some interesting matchups with the talented Tide CBs that, outside of Cyrus Jones, are equally young. The matchup of five-star true freshmen Minkah Fitzpatrick and Christian Kirk, who lines up in the slot frequently, will be particularly intriguing. The key here will be those big defensive linemen doing what they have done all season: make the Aggies completely one dimensional, trap Kyle Allen in a collapsing pocket, and play tall to take away his downfield vision. If Alabama is able to do these things they will once again force a bunch of quick three-and-outs, and the thin Aggies defense will not be able to hold up to the pounding for four quarters.
On to it:
Which team's offense is more efficient? Texas A&M's linebackers will have their hands full against Alabama running backs Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake. But Alabama struggles mightily converting third downs (104th nationally). Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide defense and its loaded front seven is tied for first in forcing three-and-outs. Efficient, spread-offense teams that play with tempo have historically given Nick Saban's defenses the most problems. Limiting Texas A&M possessions avoids Alabama needing quarterback Jake Coker to win a shootout.
The third down statistic is definitely concerning, but there was marked improvement against Arkansas. On the whole, the number isn't nearly as bad as it looks when the anomalous 1-for-13 in Athens is removed. I don't recall another team scoring 38 points while converting 8% on third down. In any case, third downs will be huge in this game, on both sides of the ball.
"I've never lost a game like that before," Aggie center Mike Matthews said at SEC Media Days. "For me, it was kind of a shock. For a lot of these guys have never lost a game like that. We weren't clicking that day. We just needed to get better and we did learn from that game." The biggest difference between last October and the rematch is the Aggie defense. It ranked 104th last year by allowing 450.8 yards a game. Alabama went for 602 yards (304 passing and 298 rushing) while building a 45-0 halftime edge. The Aggie defense is currently allowing 374.8 yards a game to rank 58th nationally and 11th in the SEC. Their pass defense is fifth in the league allowing 192.2 yards a game thanks in part to the ability to impact opposing quarterbacks.
Those guys definitely remember last season's game. They will certainly be motivated, the question will be how they channel it. Saban suggested after the Ole Miss game that Alabama's players came in too jacked and made some mistakes as a result.
— Saban said being successful running the ball will be especially important this week because of the pass rushers Texas A&M has. Defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall both rank among the top-20 nationally in sacks.
— Saban said Reggie Ragland was "outstanding" against Arkansas last week.
— Saban said Texas A&M's defense has been a lot better this year. "They're playing better football on the defensive side," Saban said.
Their defense has improved, but only from utterly terrible to almost passable. Alabama should have little trouble moving the football if Kiffin sticks to a basic game plan that accentuates the team's strengths. He has done a great job of this in the past two games.
Oh, and Saban says #RTDBL.
At some point Saturday, on the road at No. 9 Texas A&M, we're likely to see Coker drop back in the pocket and throw the ball deep. Whether it reaches pay dirt or falls into the hands of the defense remains to be seen. But even if he gets in a hole, it's not likely to rattle him. He has been there before.
"The confidence, game-in and game-out, is obviously there," running back Kenyan Drake said. "Before he was more of a quiet, reserved guy, but now he has a lot more fire on the field, and that is something we rally around with him being our quarterback."
Nice comments from Drake about Jake Coker. Sounds like he has taken on that leadership role Saban was looking for. This is an interesting read in general that offers some insight into Jake as a person. Due to the five-headed monster coming into fall camp, it seems that Alabama fans know little about him, which is uncommon for an Alabama starting QB. He sounds like a down-to-earth guy who prefers to live a simpler, unplugged life. Quite refreshing.
Complementing Allen and the passing game was a power running game led by 6-foot, 235-pound senior running back Tra Carson, who finished with 110 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. "He's a little different style guy than what they've had in the past," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "They've had a lot of fast guys. And not that he's not fast, but he is a bigger, more powerful downhill runner, which I think really helps the things that they do on the perimeter and the other perimeter players that they have. He's a really good back, more kind of along the lines of the kind of backs that we've had around here who can run through tackles, has some power and plays with some toughness, but he's still a very good receiver."
Carson is a tougher runner than anything they have had in the past, but it will be tough sledding against Alabama's two-gapping linemen.
Between them, Kirk and Reynolds bring in two-thirds of the passes thrown in their direction for more than 12 yards per target; Kirk leads the SEC in receiving yards (519) as a true freshman, while Reynolds tops the conference in yards per catch (21.3). Behind them, sophomores Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil are also former five-star recruits with the potential to do just as much damage if given the opportunity. Noil, who got most of the offseason star treatment after a frequently spectacular debut in 2014, has been supplanted by Kirk mainly because of a lingering knee injury; the A&M coaches hope to have Noil back in the lineup this weekend, which could pose a mind-bending problem for the Crimson Tide — Kirk and Noil on the field at the same time — that they haven’t seen on film.
Texas A&M likely boasts the best WR unit in the nation in terms of overall talent. They have no fewer than four guys who are capable of playing well on Sundays. The young Alabama DBs will certainly have their work cut out for them.
It's left Saban in the awkward position of trying to keep elements of a defense that was so dominating while adjusting and evolving to keep up with the trends. "There is no doubt in my mind they are pulled between two worlds," said Phil Savage, former Cleveland Browns general manager and Senior Bowl executive director. "One where their philosophy is, which is rooted in the 3-4, and the other where football is really going, which is basketball on grass."
"Basketball on grass" is a great way to describe it. Some discussion here about Alabama's efforts to get lighter on defense.
Alabama fans don't need to be reminded of the 2010 season, when the Tide's final six SEC opponents were coming off byes, but the trend goes well beyond one season. Since the start of 2007, Alabama has played 25 games against teams with at least a five-day rest advantage (games in which Alabama's opponent had a bye and it did not), 10 more than any other team in the nation.
That last number is staggering. By the end of the season, Alabama's opponents will have had a bye week advantage 27 times in nine seasons, compared to only four times the Tide has held such an advantage. This is one reason for pause in this one. The Tide can't afford to come into this one on tired legs after last week's physical contest.
Senior inside linebacker Reggie Ragland was named Chuck Bednarik Award National Defensive Player of the Week following the Tide's 27-14 win over Arkansas on Saturday. Senior defensive lineman Jarran Reed was added to the watch list for the Chuck Bednarik Award, which is presented annually to the top defensive player in the country.
Enjoy watching these guys while you can, folks.
The Miami native gave his two cents on the Crimson Tide’s performance thus far in 2015. "I think they look strong," Pineiro said. "I love Alabama, I’ve always loved Alabama since I was a kid, so I’m always rooting for them to win. I think they have a good chance to go far this year." Pineiro isn’t playing football for ASA this season in order to have four years of eligibility at Alabama. However, Pineiro is participating on the school’s soccer team. "No matter what I practice three times a week kicking footballs," Pineiro said. "And then I practice with my soccer team Monday through Saturday. The transition is nothing crazy. I think it’s actually better with all the running and all the sprints and all the stuff I do, it gets my legs stronger so I can kick the ball harder. So I think all of that plays a big part in getting better."
Great news here. This young fellow seems to have it all. Can't wait to see him in Crimson.
That's about it for today. Time to stomp on some Aggies.