Happy Friday, everyone. A whole lot of people are awfully high on the Tide coming into the game tomorrow:
"I don’t think the plays that we run are that much different than we’ve run before," Coach Nick Saban said of Hurts on Monday at his weekly state-of-the-union address to reporters. "I just think he adds an extra element to it that makes the defense have to account for him, which makes them, in some cases, a little softer on some of the things that we do. I think all those things complement each other to help our offensive team."
It may be billed as a top-10 showdown, but there are light years between No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Texas A&M, according to Gene Stallings. The former Alabama coach and Texas A&M player under Paul "Bear" Bryant said Thursday he believes "Alabama is 20 points better than Texas A&M right now."
The point spread didn't go unnoticed in College Station this week. "We all see it," A&M star wide receiver Christian Kirk told reporters in College Station on Tuesday. "We're all aware of it. It adds fuel to your fire. It adds a chip on your shoulder. It gives you more of a reason to go out there and play harder on Saturday because, still, we sit here 6-0 and we're ranked sixth in the country, but no one's giving us respect, and we know that."
From there, Saban raised his voice.
ESPN College GameDay is in town. ESPN personalities have been hanging around Saban's office.
Talk of Alabama being the best team in the country has gotten louder. Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts is being mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Those factors and many more add up to what Saban calls clutter.
"I wish some kind of way we could shut off all the noise out there to our players about how good they are and ESPN and national championship game and all this ‘BS' and just focus on what's happening now," Saban said. "I always say, ‘So what? What's next?' Well, it ain't about what's next, it's about so what.
"What's happening right now in terms of where your mind is, where your focus is?"
This is the constant battle with elite college athletes, especially once they figure out how good they really are. As my late grandfather, an Alabama trooper who lived in a little brick home off of University Blvd. and worked game day security for Bear Bryant used to say, "Ain't no horse that can't be rode and ain't no cowboy can't be throwed."
Look, Alabama is favored for a reason. They should win this game, and win it handily. Two common opponents, Tennessee and Arkansas, were quite competitive with the Aggies (final score of the Arkansas game notwithstanding as they were tied until very late in the third quarter) and not so much with the Tide. USC and UCLA, the respective opening weekend opponents of Alabama and A&M, appear to be roughly equal and the results of those games speak for themselves. Statistically, Alabama is superior in virtually every metric save for raw passing volume numbers, and that's simply because the Tide hasn't needed to throw the ball much.
In order to win this game Texas A&M needs Alabama to make a bunch of mistakes while hitting big on some calculated risks themselves. Can it happen? Sure. Will it?
I don't think so. Last week I picked Alabama to win 37-20, which may have been a little closer to reality had a few of the injured creamsicles been able to contribute. Since the Aggies and Vols seem to be pretty similar in quality, we'll just stick with that score for this week as well. As always, vote and give us your score in the comments.
Oh, and about those reporters hanging around his office:
Nick Saban has a jar of Little Debbie Oatmeal Pies in his office. That's fantastic. pic.twitter.com/tJ3VmayMmF— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) October 20, 2016
That's a lot of Little Debbies. We all have a weakness. I'd bet that when Saban gets nervous, he closes the door and binge eats the hell out of those things.
The Aggies like to spread out teams and throw the ball up to its big receivers. The Aggies also feature speedy guys like Christian Kirk. Alabama can't let its safeties get matched up with a receiver with no help over the top.
This will be the toughest test for Alabama's secondary since beating Ole Miss.
Alabama held Texas A&M's passing game in check last season, but Trevor Knight is a better passer than what the Aggies had a season ago.
Alabama will need its pass rushers to get after Knight so the defensive backs aren't covering for too long.
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin told me his No. 6 Aggies will still have "a real chance" in the SEC West, regardless of the result Saturday at No. 1 Alabama. "We've got a lot of football to play," Sumlin said. "You never know in this league what's going to happen."
They also have the big-play wideouts to come up with the kind of big plays you need downfield to knock off the Tide, and QB Trevor Knight’s been pretty sharp taking shots (14th best in the country on throws of 20 yards-plus, according to Pro Football Focus). As impressive as Jalen Hurts has been so far, I could see John Chavis and the Aggies D giving him some problems. The freshman QB hasn’t been great statistically when he gets pressured (26 percent completions), but the Aggies will have to tackle a lot better than they have this season.
Hey, at least one reporter is going against the grain. This should please Nick.
As Saban mentioned this week, the Aggie receivers present a challenge unlike any other group the Tide will face. At least three of those guys will be likely first or second round draft picks when they leave school.
On the SEC West race, Sumlin sounds a bit delusional. The Tide will not lose to both LSU and Auburn. The game on Saturday is all-or-nothing in terms of winning the West.
While watching an Alabama game from last season over the summer, Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard noticed a potential weapon for the Tide's special teams unit.
Howard was watching the Texas A&M game when safety Eddie Jackson returned an interception 93 yards for a touchdown. According to Jackson, Howard went to the coaching staff and lobbied to get the safety back deep on punt returns.
Well, how about that? Perhaps O.J. has coaching in his future once his playing days are done.
Five weeks pass, and it's on to the Sugar Bowl, where Oklahoma freshman Trevor Knight has the cleanest pocket you'll ever see on his first of three touchdown passes. In the fourth quarter, he rolls out to his right, beginning a comical race. Brandon Ivory, Alabama's 300-pound nose guard, is huffing and puffing and giving it all he's got. Then there's Knight, who doesn't seem bothered at all. He just shuffles his feet, buying time. Again, six seconds is enough. The secondary breaks, and Knight connects with Sterling Shepherd in the end zone for the final nail in the Tide's coffin. Three games over the span of two seasons. Three newfangled spread offenses. Three mobile quarterbacks. Three losses for Alabama that forever altered Nick Saban's outlook on defense.
This is another good read on the evolution of Alabama's defense. Saban's decision to eschew sheer size in favor of improved athleticism across the front allowed the Tide to stay at the top as offenses trended toward the fast and finesse.
Imagine Bo Scarbrough as the first option on the dive, Jalen Hurts as the second option on the keeper and Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs or B.J. Emmons as the third option on the pitch. Every so often, Hurts could drop back and throw it to Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart, O.J. Howard, etc.
At the halfway point of the season, what Alabama and Hurts are doing just doesn't normally happen in college football. The last true freshman quarterback to lead a team to a national championship was Jamelle Holieway, who led Oklahoma's run-oriented offense in 1985. No true freshman quarterback has won the SEC in its 83-year history. Tennessee's Erik Ainge in 2004 is the only true freshman quarterback to even win an SEC division title. If any team can pull it off, it's Alabama, given how talented it is at virtually every position.
Funny enough, Kiffin often runs what amounts to a modern version of the triple option, just out of a more spread out formation and featuring a smoke screen rather than a pitch back. It isn't terribly surprising that running QBs have more opportunity to succeed early. Classic drop-back passers have to adjust to the speed of the college game as they make their reads. Guys who can run like Jalen allow the coaches to simplify the play book significantly and lean on their ability to make things happen.
For the hundreds of people who work on fall Saturdays as ticket scalpers, this experience has been more the norm than the exception this season in Tuscaloosa. All you have to do is take a look at the Crimson Tide's home schedule to understand why. The first three home games of the season featured particularly unsexy matchups against Western Kentucky, Kent State and Kentucky. Add in a mostly bad SEC slate -- games against Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU are all on the road -- and ticket scalpers have their work cut out for them.
I'm all for entrepreneurship, but have always considered ticket scalpers to be among the dregs of society. There are things that can be bought and sold ethically rather than unnaturally inflating already-too-high prices for concerts and sporting events. While it has been a lackluster home slate, I shed not one tear for these yokels.
The event will begin at 6 p.m. with a 45-minute autograph session featuring both teams and coaches. Student-athletes will be spread throughout the concourse, while head coaches Johnson and Kristy Curry will be at a table in the south concourse. The teams will then participate in a variety of on-court activities including team introductions, a dance contest, a skills competition, a 3-point shootout and a dunk contest with celebrity judges.
Former men's stars Jim Farmer, Gerald Wallace and Mo Williams, women’s alumna Nikki Hegstetter and CBS sideline reporter Allie LaForce will serve as the celebrity dunk competition judges. ESPN College Gameday host Rece Davis will also make a special appearance at the event.
Recruits can also attend the event. Five-star guard Collin Sexton of Pebblebrook, Ga., considered the top prep guard in America by some services, is expected along with all three of UA's current verbal commitments -- Herb Jones, Alex Reese and Galin Smith. Both the men and women are expected to host several top underclassmen as well.
If you're in town for the game, stop by tonight and check out the hoops tip-off. Coach Johnson has something brewing, folks. #BuckleUp
That's about it for today. Have a great weekend.