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Initial Impressions: Alabama Survives Onslaught of Yellow to Drown Aggies in Red

Look at that, the defense does have a pulse

NCAA Football: Alabama at Texas A&M John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

For the third time this season, Alabama has gone into the double digits on penalties. There were many areas of play that left Tide fans with a salty taste in their mouth despite covering a 3-score spread against a top 25 team, but keep in mind that most of those concerns would have been null if not for penalty issues.

The opening drive of the game caused a seismic meltdown in the state of Alabama despite the cooler temperatures, as Kellen Mond and the Aggie offense dinked and dunked their way down the field for 15 plays and over 8 minutes— aided by a couple of offsides calls— and finally capped off by Mond getting a QB sneak for a touchdown. The comment section on our game thread was worthy of it’s own meltdown article.

Fortunately, though, Alabama has an above average QB and some decent receivers (remember, Tua Tagovailoa is only good because of his receivers, and his receivers are actually overrated as well). Tua deftly avoided the early pressure from the A&M defensive front as they feasted on all the hype of two weeks of anticipation and moved the ball down the field with a series of short passes before getting brought to a 3rd and 7 just outside of the redzone. With Kyle Field going absolutely bonkers, Tua surveyed the defense and called his own audible with a couple of seconds left on the play clock, then tossed a quick screen over to the diminutive Jaylen Waddle.

Unlike his namesake, Waddle shot to the right sideline around two defenders before simultaneously breaking both the sound barrier and the A&M defense. For good measure, he also sidestepped a couple of guys before coasting into the endzone. 7-7 good guys, and the Alabama Twitter meltdown dropped out of danger levels.

With the Tide offense smoking, the defense decided that it had to at least show a pulse else they get made completely irrelevant. After an incomplete pass, Anfernee Jennings chased Kellen Mond to the right sideline for a sack that ended up being credited as a tackle for loss. Then on 3rd and 14, safety Xavier McKinney blitzed and took on the left guard one on one. McKinney, who most consider a defensive back, is also now Alabama’s top defensive line prospect. He took the block head on, pushed the offensive lineman to the side, and then shot through to the QB. Mond escaped, but was quickly brought down by a duo of freshmen in Justin Eboigbe and Shane Lee for the first of many sacks for Alabama.

Steve Sarkisian went for the throat after that and had Tua launch a deep shot to Jerry Jeudy, who had danced around his defender for what should have been an easy touchdown. Except that defender took advantage of college rules and tackled Jeudy from behind, choosing the 15 yard penalty over a 65-yard touchdown.

It didn’t really matter, though. Three plays later, Alabama faced a 3rd and 10, and the Aggies sent the house with a cover-0 blitz. Rather than turtling up under a blitz like so many past Alabama QBs over the last decade, Tua quickly identified the vacated spot and flipped a short-area missile to DeVonta Smith on slant, who, with all the quiet grace of a Tesla, sped away from his corner with no safety over the top to interrupt his path to a touchdown.

The Jekyll and Hyde Tide defense went back to Hyde mode, and let Kellen Mond complete a number of passes in intermediate areas of the field as they marched 10 plays for 61 yards. The defense stood tall in the redzone, though, and forced the Aggies to kick a field goal.

Henry Ruggs III nearly took the ensuing kickoff to the house, but was taken down by the punter (and very nearly fumbled the ball in the process). He’ll never hear the end of that one from Jaylen Waddle, who made that same punter miss 3 times later in the game.

After some early success from Najee Harris in a few attempts on the ground, Brian Robinson, Jr. was given the entire 3rd series. He took a quick dump off pass from Tua for 10 yards and followed it up with a 15 yard run, eviscerating the soul of an A&M defender in the process. After the Tide marched up into the redzone, the offense had it’s first setback on a 3rd down play when Jerry Jeudy settled into a hook between some zone defenders and Tua expected him to keep running a crosser. In a moment reminiscent of A.J. McCarron and Barrett Jones, the two quickly got in each others faces about who was right and who was wrong. Joseph Bulovas kicked the field goal off the post, but it bounced in anyway, putting Alabama up 17-10.

The Alabama defense went back to Jekyll mode this time, and Christian Barmore and Terrell Lewis sacked Mond on back-to-back plays to force a quick three and out. Waddle, who’s had some online criticism the last couple weeks for having a “sophomore slump,” decidedly un-slumped today and took the punt back for 43 yards, making the punter look silly before being taken down on the 19 yard line. Two plays later, Tua Tagovailoa rolled to his left and hit Najee Harris on a crossing route, who catapulted himself horizontally through two defenders into the endzone. Imagine a medieval battering ram, but with dreads. And propelling itself. The effect is really about the same.

To follow up the fireworks, freshman linebacker Christian Harris nearly got arrested for murdering the poor fool trying to pull around right end and block him. In the chaos, defensive back Shyheim Carter stripped the ball from Isaiah Spiller and Xavier McKinney jumped on it. With 5 minutes left in the second half and Alabama up 2 scores with a short field, they looked poised to run away with the game after the early scare.

A couple of completions to Jeudy and Smith saw Alabama solidly in the redzone, but the Aggie defense stood stout and stopped Robinson and Harris for minimal game on 3 separate occasions, bringing up a 3rd and long. It had been a money down for Tua and the Tide so far, but this time, things were different. Riding the nations longest streak without throwing an interception, you just knew it was coming. Jeudy ran a crosser in the endzone on the exact same route they argued on a few drives earlier. This time, though, the safety on the right side left his cover-2 zone and cut off crossing route just as Jeudy separated from his man on the left side. The ball was picked, and the streak ended. Good. Get that monkey off of his back.

With two minutes to go, A&M began driving down the field. The Tide defense looked to be keeping things contained, but Anfernee Jennings got shoved into Mond’s shins and got called for a roughing the passer. A few plays later, Barmore went to swat the ball as Mond threw it, and his hand technically connected with Mond’s helmet, the roughing the passer penalty negating another 3rd down stop. The Aggies tried one more play, then kicked a field goal to go into halftime 24-13.

Ruggs again returned the kickoff 40 yards, and, again, was tackled by the punter. Can we recruit Branden Mann to play defense for Alabama? Despite good field position, Tua seemed a little off and Ruggs and Waddle both dropped passes that would have been tough catches, but still catchable. A false start on Alex Leatherwood and an unblocked edge rusher on a PA rollout ended Alabama’s drive and forced another field goal, which, thankfully for my heart, Bulovas converted.

Terrell Lewis got his second sack of the day to force a 3 and out, and Waddle very nearly took another punt to the house. Tagovailoa just missed Jeudy on a deep shot, and twitter was starting to stir up some rumbles about Tua’s deep ball accuracy this season. 3 plays later, he took a snap, pump faked, and then lobbed one into the heavens down the left sideline, where Henry Ruggs was busy leaving his man in double-move purgatory. Ruggs went airborne (though he didn’t have to), and came down with the touchdown.

Trevon Diggs picked off a pass in the flats a couple of plays later, but was called pass interference, as he had grabbed the receiver’s shoulder pads and launched himself forward. It was the right call, but still an impressive feat of athleticism from Diggs.

That’s when the Tide defense took a play out of the defending national champion’s playbook and left the tight end totally uncovered. And when I say uncovered, I mean there was nobody within 20 yards of Wydermyer as he waltzed into the endzone.

After Miller Forristalled a 15 yard run from Robinson with a holding call, Robinson shrugged his shoulders and juked and trucked a couple of people on a dump off pass for 23 yards. The Tide found themselves in a 3rd and 1, and Sark called what might have been my favorite play of the season. Robinson lined up at fullback with Tua under center, and Waddle motioned into the backfield to become a tailback in a traditional I-formation. Tua handed the ball to Brian for a 2 yard FB dive and faked a toss to Waddle in such a 90s throwback that it made NSync jealous.

Unfortunately, the drive stalled and Skyler DeLong got his first chance to punt, which he knuckled into the ground about 25 yards down the field, but got a decent bounce so it officially showed up as a 36 yarder.

The Tide defense forced another 3 and out, and Waddle, again, very nearly took the punt to the house. With a short field, Najee Harris, through sheer force of will, got back to back 15 yard runs to get Alabama into a goal to go situation. Alabama broke out the I-formation again, with Robinson at fullback and Harris at tailback, and Harris motioned out wide. It was eye-candy, and Robinson again took the fullback dive for a 2-yard touchdown. Unfortunately, the extra point was blocked. Bulovas had been line-driving his kicks all day, so it was only a matter of time.

Anfernee Jennings again sacked Mond to open the drive, effectively stalling it from the start. A&M lined up to punt, and this time the human artillery cannon, Ale Kaho, launched himself past the punt protectors, and, for the second game in a row, blocked the punt for what would be a touchdown. The only difference this time is that Tyrell Shavers didn’t drop the ball as he went to recover it. He took his sweet time to make absolutely certain the wide receiver room didn’t get to make fun of him again. Bulovas banged another one off the upright and into the goalposts (he HAS to be aiming for it at this point), and the Tide had effectively put the game out of reach.

Kellen Mond and the fighting Aggies weren’t going down without a fight, though. The Alabama front 7 had been getting pressure all night (crazy), and were licking their chops at racking up more sacks. Unfortunately, that led to them dropping the concept of the “mush-rush” and left some gaping holes as they shot upfield after Mond. He scrambled for a whole bunch of yards on a few different plays before lobbing a beautiful dime into the back corner of the endzone to his tight end, who high-pointed the ball over McKinney. On the following two-point conversion, Mond was under pressure and threw the ball into the stands out the back of the endzone.

But wait! Safety Jordan Battle was flagged for pass interference, despite the fact that he and the receiver were basically just standing beside each other and both jumped while the ball went 10 feet over both of their heads. Mond scrambled to the right corner on the next try and dove into the endzone as Shyheim Carter tried to knock him out.

With 8 minutes left in the game, Alabama was given the chance to test out their game-icing ability. Aside from a 25-yarder from Najee Harris, A&M mostly kept the Alabama offense under control, and DeLong shanked another punt for 22 yards. He drew the full game’s worth of ire of Nick Saban over that one. Have we seen the last of Skyler? Stay tuned next week for another installment in the saga of the Alabama kicking game.

After giving up another 22-yard scramble to Mond, the Tide defense forced a turnover on downs. Despite a number of penalties, including DeVonta Smith getting ejected for retaliating after getting body slammed and punched, Alabama moved the chains a couple of times and ran out the rest of the clock. Final score: 47-28


-Pretty much everyone agreed that Tua Tagovailoa looked a little off today. If “off” is 293 yards, 4 touchdowns, and a pick on 34 attempts, I’ll take it.

-I’ve been very critical of Shyheim Carter this year for his tackling, or lack thereof. But he a awesome today, with a couple of strong solo tackles and a few critical pass breakups.

-Meanwhile, Trevon Diggs and Pat Surtain II also showcased tremendous ball skills on a couple of occasions. This Alabama defense has it’s issues, but, for once in a decade, the cornerbacks aren’t one of them.

-And how about that pass rush? 5 sacks and 7 tackles for loss. Terrell Lewis, Anfernee Jennings, and Chris Allen were determined to make Mond pay for any pass he attempted. Lewis in particular looked like a demented pterodactyl as he closed in on the QB with his 10-foot wingspan outstretched. Christian Barmore also got the first significant playing time of his career, and, other than the very weak penalty call, created a lot of havoc in the backfield.

-128 punt return yards for Jaylen Waddle and 131 kick return yards for Henry Ruggs. A&M’s special teams coverage was absolutely pathetic, and Alabama ruthlessly took advantage of it. Those hidden yards really added up, giving the Tide short field position time-after-time.

-The absence of Chris Owens at center was definitely not noticeable. Landon Dickerson filled in admirably, and Deonte Brown looked a lot better in week 2 since his return from suspension. There is a very real chance that Owens just got Wally-Pipped. Harris and Robinson combined for 165 rushing yards on 30 attempts (5.5/carry). That is officially #RTDB status, and against a top-20 defense that mostly stymied Clemson to boot.

-Seriously, just take a deep breath. Despite Alabama’s generational QB not playing his best game, each of his receivers dropping the ball once each, and the Tide racking up 11 back-breaking penalties, they still put up 47 points and covered the spread on a defense that’s a top-25 unit in pretty much any category you can think of. They ran the ball effectively and passed it even more effectively.

Aside from getting gashed on some scrambles by an athletic veteran QB, they totally shut down the A&M run game, and ended just as many drives with killer sacks as they did give up points. The defense had a few ugly moments, but they also ended their fair share of drives. If they can keep doing that, then it’ll give Tua and the offense enough breathing room to beat any team in the nation.

Don’t forget, Texas A&M was widely considered a top-10 team before dropping close games to Clemson and Auburn— both also top ten teams. This isn’t some patsy that Alabama let hang around in the game... this is a top 25 unit that the Tide blew out (again, they covered the spread) in a hard fought game that saw the defense, running game, and special teams all have to contribute as the passing game slowed down a little bit.

Not every team Alabama plays is going to have a John Rhys Plumlee or Kellen Mond at QB scrambling for 100 yards. This is not and will never be one of Saban’s better defenses. But if they can cause enough havoc in the backfield (like they did tonight), then this offense will have the chance to win any game they’re in this season.

Roll Tide!