Another fall Saturday, another Alabama victory.
The Tide faced its toughest test of the season Saturday and passed with flying colors, dispatching the previously unbeaten Aggies 33-14 in a game that wasn’t as close as the scoreboard would suggest. The Tide dominated the stat sheet in every way imaginable and, outside of two possessions sandwiched around halftime where the Aggies gained 155 of their 275 total yards and all of their points, completely snuffed out Texas A&M’s offense.
Indeed, this was as dominant a defensive performance against a high quality offense as you will find. Superstar freshman RB Trayveon Williams came in averaging a robust eight yards a carry, but managed only 23 yards on 9 carries against Alabama. He took a back seat to the bigger Keith Ford, who gutted out 4.1 tough yards per carry. Besides the fact that there were no lanes to run through for the smaller Williams, Sumlin probably went with a bigger pass protector in Ford to ensure that QB Trevor Knight could finish the game after Williams was posterized by Jonathan Allen on an early sack. If not for a single busted assignment on a 4th down zone read with a minute to go in the first half that allowed Knight to get loose for 27 yards and one uncharacteristic missed tackle by Allen that afforded Ford his 15-yard gain, the Tide could claim a virtually perfect performance against the run.
The Tide was equally dominant against the pass, harassing Knight for five sacks and holding him to 14/31 for a pathetic 164 yards. Like most opposing quarterbacks, Trevor was running for his life most of the afternoon and found few windows to throw through. He did manage to throw a gorgeous touchdown pass to stake the Aggies to a brief one point lead early in the third. Harrison was in good position on outstanding sophomore WR Christian Kirk, but Knight dropped a perfect ball over Kirk’s shoulder, just between Harrison and the sideline, and Kirk managed to corral it just before stepping out of bounds with Harrison battling to knock the ball loose. That throw and the one run were about the extent of Knight’s highlight reel. Jonathan Allen got this week’s defensive TD on a scoop-and-score after Ryan Anderson disrupted a handoff.
Offensively, the Tide was efficient all afternoon as Lane Kiffin leaned on his running game. Damien Harris was the star on the ground, gaining 128 yards on 17 carries. Jalen Hurts added three total TDs and nearly 100 yards rushing, but the downfield passing game is still rough. Jalen missed at least two wide open receivers, and the Aggies knew that Kiffin would have absolutely no interest in passing the ball in the red zone. This is a concern, as the Tide was forced to attempt three field goals in the first half after reaching goal-to-go territory. Had two of those opportunities turned into touchdowns, this one would have been a laugher in the fourth quarter. While it is wonderful that the offensive line is able to maul people in the run game, championship teams require a little more balance in terms of stretching the field. Something tells me that Hurts will be working hard on this part of his game over the bye week.
Special teams were excellent outside of Griffith missing another chip-shot field goal. It’s hard to figure out what ails Adam, as he generally strikes the ball very well. He’s far too talented to consistently convert only two-thirds of his attempts. There must be some inconsistency in his approach or his swing that leads to inaccuracy left-to-right. JK Scott kicked the air out of the ball again on his two punts, and Eddie Jackson performed well on punt returns before ending his season with a leg fracture on the last one.
Needless to say, losing Eddie is a huge blow to the secondary. He is not only very talented, but was also the senior leader of the unit. A cursory glance at his Twitter mentions is telling - Eddie is among the most beloved members of this team. He will undoubtedly be on the sidelines for the balance of the season, offering inspiration to the defense. Hopefully the team will create a silver lining in using his injury as a rallying point.
In the post-game, Saban said that Hootie Jones will take over at free safety with Tony Brown at money, which suggests that Ronnie Harrison will now stay at strong safety in all groupings rather than shuttling between safety and money. It is certainly a luxury to have a junior five-star waiting in the wings in Brown. After the game Jonathan Allen said of Brown, “I’m not worried at all. He’s a defensive lineman playing defensive back. He’s a dog, he’s a dog. I’ll take him against anybody. Just his mentality, the way he handles himself. He’s just an animal. He’s a different type of guy.”
This is Tony’s chance for redemption after some off-field issues. Hopefully he sees that and takes advantage. Of course, the Tide will also have to identify a new punt returner. Xavian Marks will likely be a prime candidate. He is explosive and seemingly built for the role, but Saban has lamented his tendency to let the ball hit the ground too frequently.
Fortunately, the Tide will now have an extra week to figure it out before preparing for the trip to Red Stick to open a tough November slate featuring the two foes who hate Alabama more than all others, both riding high and feeling good about themselves. Leonard Fournette is back from injury and looked as explosive as ever against Ole Miss. He will undoubtedly be motivated to run wild and prove that last year’s game was an anomaly, and LSU’s defense has plenty of athletes. It gets no easier from here.
For now, however, we can enjoy another satisfying victory. Alabama has now won twenty consecutive games and is undefeated entering November for the first time since 2013. Soak it up and enjoy the off week.