I talked all week about Jimbo Fisher’s insistence on forcing a vanilla early-2000s offense based on slants, outs, and hitches into a spread formation and how it incredibly hard to watch against Vanderbilt. They opened up making it look rather effective against Alabama, as those slants just kept on slowly marching down the field. There was nothing memorable, but it just dragged on for 11 plays while only netting 55 total yards, and ended on a lackluster missed field goal.
It’s 2020. A slow, ball control offense ending in field goals gets you beat. And that’s assuming you even make the field goal. Again, it’s 2020. Why are you even attempting to kick a field goal? #NeverKick.
On the other hand, Alabama took a couple of tentative pokes at the A&M defense with Najee Harris, found them to be a bit stiff up the middle, and then called the touchdown play. John Metchie, hailing from Canada and was just as far down the field as his home country is from Tuscaloosa, stretched out at full speed to cradle in a 50-yard bomb from Mac Jones and then outran his man the rest of the way to the endzone.
A quick stop by the Alabama defense (on the back of a very questionable no-call on what could have been a pass interference on Daniel Wright) saw A&M punting the ball right back to Alabama. A couple of plays later the sophomore Canadian receiver... uh... froze... Aggie defensive Myles Jones on a double move for another 35-yard bomb, though a safety coming over to help kept it from being back-to-back scores.
No matter, Jones dropped back and, under duress, lobbed a perfect sideline fade to Miller Forristall, who leapt up and over his defender and contorted for what I believe was the best catch of his 5-year career at Alabama. From there, Jaylen Waddle got back-to-back screen passes that the Aggie defense was ready for, but Najee Harris capped off the drive with a six yard score after setting up the entire defense to go right and then breaking their collective ankles with a hard cut back through the center of the line.
A&M ran three more unsuccesful plays for what should have been a three-and-out and Alabama running away with things before the 1st quarter ended, but the referees got a make-up call on Daniel Wright on another 3rd down pass interference. This one was much less obvious than the one they missed on the previous drive. All things end as dust, as they say.
That was when things got weird.
After totally suffocating the opposing team through the first 4 drives, running back/receiver hybrid Ainias Smith got some green space down the left sideline. Safety Daniel Wright (man, his name sure is showing up a lot already, and not in a good way) chased him to the sideline and gave him a shove that wouldn’t have knocked a five year old off of their bicycle on their first day with no training wheels. Smith tight roped the sideline while the entire Alabama defense started walking back to the line of scrimmage, and the Aggies had cut the lead to 7 points.
Not to be deterred, Jones fired off a couple of nice crossing routes to Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle for a quick 45 yards, but then had a ball tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by defensive tackle DeMarvin Leal. Mac, for all of the moxxie he’s shown as a QB who can take hits and keep on slinging the ball, was expressly not prepared to tackle a 290 pound charging wall of muscle, and he wilted at Leal’s feet like an alfredo noodle thrown into boiling water.
Fortunately for the Tide, senior Najee Harris put forth a tremendous effort to chase him down from behind (how’s that for long speed, NFL scouts!?) and make the touchdown saving tackle. Unfortunately for the Tide, Wright (again) and another Alabama defensive back both covered the same guy and left tight end Ryan Renick wide open up the seam for a 17 yard touchdown.
In less than a minute and a half of game clock, Alabama had gone from being up by 14 to being tied... All from one bad bounce and two mental mistakes. Football is a fickle sport, and things can change very, very quickly. Never forget that.
Anyway, the teams decided to catch their breaths and traded three and outs. This time when Alabama got the ball back, OC Steve Sarkisian finally FINALLY stopped trying to force the wide receiver screens to work and let Mac Jones work down the field on a couple of 10-yard crossing routes off of playaction. A couple of Najee Harris runs got things to 3rd and 1, and Jones showed off his inner Tom Brady by getting 3 yards on a perfectly executed QB sneak.
Then Sark drew up my favorite play in the book over the last two seasons: the wheel route to Najee Harris. The big man sprinted downfield with Texas A&M linebacker Buddy Johnson hot on his tail. Mac passed up an open Jaylen Waddle just a few yards past the line of scrimmage to drop a fade right into the 2-foot window above Johnson’s head for Najee to go up and just pluck it right out of the air. He hit the ground, and Johnson jumped up signaling for an incomplete pass, not realizing that the 230 pound Harris had just defied at least 2 major laws of physics to absolutely Moss him.
Najee Harris just ran this wheel route like a WR. What a catch too. pic.twitter.com/3lXci7V8NO— Chris Hummer (@chris_hummer) October 3, 2020
It wasn’t quite a touchdown, but Najee got his anyway, as the big guy is pretty much an automatic 6 points within 5 yards of the goalline. 21-14 Bama.
The Alabama defense got to a 3rd down before giving up ANOTHER 3rd and long to tight end Jalen Wydermyer on a busted coverage. I was screaming in a couple of group texts about wanting the team to bench Daniel Wright, and, obviously, was immediately forced to eat my words. Will Anderson and Josh Jobe combined to force Kellen Mond into a rushed throw, and Wright broke on the out route from his safety spot like a hawk diving on a hapless chipmunk and picked it off in stride, racing 47 yards for another Crimson Tide touchdown.
Credit to the Aggies for not giving up here, though. Mond marshalled his forces and they chipped their way right back down the field, getting into Alabama territory. They were pretty much having their way with the Alabama defense over the middle of the field, and on a 1st down play, Mond dumped one off to receiver Kam Brown in flats with no defender within 15 yards. It could have been a massive play, but Jordan Battle, the sophomore phenom at safety, flew in from off screen and stopped him stone cold, one-on-one in the open field. He just flattened the dude. Battle is only in his second game as a starter, but he just oozes raw talent and is only going to shoot up in the national media as he gets more and more playing time.
The Tide front-seven stuffed back to back runs on 2nd and 1 and 3rd and 4 with Christian Barmore obliterating the entire middle of the offensive line on the 3rd down play. Jimbo Fisher opted to go for it on 4th, and do-everything speedster Ainias Smith found himself matched up with a hybrid defensive end Chris Allen sprinting across the middle of the field. Absolutely inexecusable for a defensive coordinator to allow that to happen. Fortunately for the Tide, Smith dropped the wide open pass that likely would have been a touchdown, and all ended well.
The Alabama offense marched their way right back down the field with a combination of runs and passes to pretty much every receiver on the roster to get into the redzone. Then Mac really showed his willingness to throw to covered receivers, lobbing a perfect, spiraling fade to the back edge of the endzone, where Devonta Smith was pinned against the back line, but had his man turned around. Smith, who will be trying out for professional ballet soon, spun in the air to catch in over his man and tapped his toes in bounds for Alabama’s 5th touchdown of the half.
Devonta Smith. UNBELIEVABLE catch pic.twitter.com/ijurCsV3XM— Aaron Torres Sports Podcast (@AaronTorresPod) October 3, 2020
A&M wisely opted to kneel the ball and go into the locker room without any more dominant demonstrations from the Tide.
The second half went much faster, and Alabama stayed with the first team most of the way through as A&M kept having just enough success to keep Saban from ever feeling quite comfortable enough to start subbing in the 2s. Alabama started with an ugly 3-and-out, with Mac missing a wide-open deep shot by the length of a Mountie hat to none other than John Metchie streaking down the field on 3rd down.
A&M responded with the most boring drive ever. Racking up 12 plays and over 5 minutes of possession while only netting a total of 40 yards and settling for a field goal. Sure. Fine. Just keep wasting clock.
Three penalties in succession (holding, illegal shift, and a false start) likely had Nick Saban ready to go nuclear, but our QB, Mac Jones, learned his craft from none other than Tua Tagovailoa. And sometimes, you just need a little bit of extra space to throw the ball. On 2nd and 22, backed up against his own goalline, Jones faked a hand off, pump faked, and then launched a 45-yard strike to Jaylen Waddle, who did his absolute best to outrun the throw. He had to slow down to secure the catch and the trailing defender was certain he was going to catch up to make the tackle.
Except he forgot the one unbreakable law of the universe: you don’t catch Jaylen Waddle from behind.
87-yard touchdown for Waddle. Alabama leads 42-17.
A&M responded with another rather ridiculous 12 play drive that only got them 52 yards and ended on a 4th down incomplete pass. Alabama finally decided to actually run the ball and kill some clock, with Brian Robinson Jr. taking 6 carries for 40 yards to slowly drag the ball down the field and finish it off with a nice confidence-boost field goal for Will Reichard.
Unfortunately, the Alabama defense didn’t quite do their job and finish off the game right here, as they let Ainias Smith get wide open up the seam for a 50 yard gain. Once the Aggies got into the redzone, Smith just absolutely toasted Dylan Moses in a one-on-one fade to the back of the endzone, and A&M got the 24 points.
Alabama thought about running the ball to kill some more clock, but sometimes, you just gotta take what the defense gives you. This time Metchie sprinted past Myles Jones (again), covering the man’s feet with maple syrup on his way by.* It was a nice 63 yard touchdown to get Alabama up to 52 points and officially put everything into true garbage time.
*thank goodness Metchie didn’t score any more. This was the last Canadian pun I had left.
A&M substituted in some back-up QB who actually looked pretty good, especially as a scrambler. He marched the offense right back down the field into the endzone, but the game ended when freshman DB Malachi Moore boxed out his man on a back-shoulder fade and in the most alpha move ever, secured the interception as the receiver could only watch in horror and push futilely against Moore’s back.
FINAL: Alabama 52, Texas A&M 24— Alabama Crimson Tide | AL.com (@aldotcomTide) October 3, 2020
Malachi Moore closes out the game with his first career interception. pic.twitter.com/kg5irNfZHL
Yeah. That freshman is gonna be good.
- Man, how about Mac Jones? He had a couple of misses and wasn’t perfect, but what QB is? He only threw for 435 yards and 4 touchdowns on a laughable 27 attempts, and the lone interception was just a great play by a defensive lineman to get the tip. Jones has absolutely zero fear at throwing to covered receiver if the defender isn’t looking, and he LOVES chucking it deep.
That kind of gunslinging might get us in trouble at some point, but I’m of the school of thought that a powerful deep-passing offense wins games.
- That was made possible by a pass-blocking line that only allowed one sack (that was honestly a coverage sack) and was nearly perfect. On the other hand, they were unable to really create any room for Najee Harris to get rushing yards. Of course, we saw the same thing early last season before Najee really got going halfway through the year.
- John Metchie was the 5th WR for Alabama last year. He’d have been a superstar as a freshman at nearly any other program in the country.
- Sark continued his trend of trying to force screens and swings early in the game until he’s ABSOLUTELY certain they aren’t going to work (usually about three failures later than most of us fans wish he’d quit on them). Once he does, the offense morphs into one that utilizes play-action crossers, fades, and deep shots to absolutely dissect the defense.
I won’t pretend to understand his repeated early-game fascination with screens, but once he quits on those, man does he show why so many QBs want to play for him.
- The Alabama defensive line fought to a stalemate with a talented, senior laden Aggie OL. Justin Eboigbe seemed to stand out the most to me from the interior guys, and both Chris Allen and Will Anderson blew up their fair share plays.
- Speaking of Anderson, his best moment came when Ainias Smith once again caught a ball down the left sideline, making a defensive back look silly. It looked like we might get a repeat of the long touchdown from Smith early in the game, but Anderson shot in from offscreen and actually ran him down. That kind of speed at 240 pounds is a sight to behold.
- Similarly, Christian Harris continues to be absolutely dominant, whether tackling running backs in the middle, chasing guys to the sideline, or covering the speed WR convert, Ainias Smith, down the field.
It took Golding a while, but after Smith toasted enough Alabama players, he started moving Harris to man-cover him, and that pretty much ended that until Smith once again found himself matched up with a safety at the end of the game.
- The three cornerbacks were phenomenal. Jobe and Surtain only gave up 1 catch between them if I remember correctly, and it was a quick slant on the first play of the game. Moore did give up a few catches, but always made his tackles (quite emphatically) and broke up a critical 3rd down. Plus that game-ending interception was a thing of beauty.
- On the other hand, the non-Battle safeties struggled. Wright had that one interception that made up for it, but he also had a couple of penalties and way more than his fair share of guys running wide-open up the seam as he double covered someone else. DeMarcco Hellams subbed in for him in the 4th quarter, and immediately did the exact same thing, letting Smith go right by him for 50 yards.
- Between the safety breakdowns and allowing Smith to be covered by pass rush linebackers in Anderson and Allen multiple times, Pete Golding definitely did not have his best showing at slowing down a speedy running back that can be used as a receiver. He just didn’t have an answer until he put Christian Harris on the guy, and even then didn’t stick with it. You can be sure other teams are going to exploit that.
Overall, though, we’re nitpicking a game where Alabama absolutely dominated the #13 overall team that many had pegged to be the 2nd best team in the SEC West. Defensively, there were some mental and communication issues that Golding HAS to fix, but the tackling and defensive speed is night and day from what we saw last year, even with Dylan Moses still looking a bit slower and stiffer than his 2018 self.
And on offense, man oh man. This team lost Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, and Jedrick Wills (four top-20 draft picks in from the passing game part of the offense), and looks just as deadly and explosive as they did the year before.
The team is far from perfect, but they are absolutely looking the part of a National Title contender.