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Initial Impressions from the Texas A&M game

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Where does Alabama go from here?

Alabama v Texas A&M Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Well, that happened.

A struggling Texas A&M team, coming off of consecutive losses, put together by far their best performance of the season to take down Alabama. As Saban said after the game, the Aggies shouldn’t be short sold here. That team came to play last night, including QB Zach Calzada, who put up exactly one less yard than he had the last two games combined. They took their best shot, and it landed.

This is nothing new for Alabama, of course. They just usually respond to it better.

There is much blame to go around. The game started off in ominous fashion when Malachi Moore made a bonehead play to get flagged for targeting. No, it wasn’t a malicious hit, but it doesn’t have to be. Say what you will about the rule itself, it has been around long enough now that he has to know better. Brian Branch came in for Moore and was burned repeatedly by Ainias Smith, who led the Aggies with 85 yards on six grabs and two TDs. Moore’s gaffe was just the first of many Alabama miscues on the night.

Main takeaways, for me anyway:

Alabama’s typical killer instinct is missing

There is a reason that this is the first Alabama team to lose to an unranked opponent since 2007.

We first saw warning signs when they let up and nearly let Florida erase a big deficit. There was even some of it last week when Ole Miss was able to move the ball at will in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the best example last night was the trade of special teams touchdowns in the third quarter. The defense got a stop right out of the gate that ended with a blocked punt for a touchdown, only to see the kickoff team give that score right back. What would normally be fuel for a furious Alabama rally was wasted.

I hated Saban’s decision to kick a field goal on 4th and 2 at the 9 yard line for that very reason. The Alabama team we are accustomed to seeing imposes their will at that point. While the running game was strong overall in this one, the coaches clearly don’t trust the team to convert short yardage. This also showed up in the play calling near the goal line.

After Alabama had managed to grab the lead, most fans on both sides likely expected the Tide to roll the rest of the way. The defense had been outstanding for the whole second half, allowing a mere 19 yards on the Aggies’ first four possessions. On the first play after Alabama scored to take the lead, Dallas Turner got a tackle for loss to put the Aggies behind the chains. In years past, this is where Alabama usually cranks up the heat and sacks the QB or forces a turnover.

Alas, the 2021 Alabama squad promptly collided in the secondary to allow a wide open receiver to convert a first down, and would ultimately give up the lead and the game. When Saban talks about leadership, this is what he means. Somebody on the field has to be the alpha dog that makes big plays in big moments and motivates others to do the same.

It just ain’t there, at least not on defense.

Jameson Williams is a bona fide star

If every player on the team competed the way that Williams did last night, Alabama would not have a loss right now. He caught 10 passes for 146 yards and two scores, and made a phenomenal diving catch on the two point conversion to stake the Tide to a seven point advantage. No longer a one trick pony as a deep threat, it seems pretty evident that Jameson is the top receiver on this team. Kudos to him.

Brian Robinson, too

Talk about a guy who left it all on the field. B Rob had 28 touches for 207 yards, breaking many a tackle along the way. I shudder to think where the offense would be without him at this point. The dude is as tough as nails. He did lose a rare fumble but more than made up for it the rest of the way.

Penalties, turnovers and dropped passes doomed the Tide

It is a maddening testament to the talent disparity of these two rosters that the Aggies had to come back late after Alabama dropped 8 passes, committed 8 penalties for 82 yards, fumbled in their own end of the field and threw an interception in the end zone, to say nothing of the coverage busts in the first half. You simply can’t make that many mistakes against any team and expect to win the game.

Henry To’o To’o is struggling

I’m going to give Henry the benefit of the doubt and blame the elbow that perhaps he shouldn’t be trying to play through, but he is struggling. The middle linebacker is the guy who is supposed to be that alpha on that side of the ball, but it’s tough to do that when he isn’t making plays. Henry is constantly being swallowed up by guards and isn’t using his hands well at all, which leads me to believe that his elbow may be a factor. He also took a terrible angle on what would have been a huge tackle for loss on a swing pass, which ended up turning into a first down. Jaylen Moody is still on the roster and should get some looks here.

Something has to be done at right tackle

One doesn’t have to be an expert film analyst to see that Chris Owens is not a fit outside. It boggles the mind that none of the many blue chip tackles on this roster managed to win that job. Frankly, Darrian Dalcourt has been hit or miss at center, where Owens excelled in last year’s playoff. While the offense is still moving the ball, right tackle has been a glaring weakness.

Bryce is super talented, but still has plenty of growing to do

Bryce had a very strong night overall, but still has plenty of room for improvement. The interception in the end zone may not have been a great route by Billingsley, but it was also a poor throw. That ball needed to be thrown with some touch to the back pylon. Also, Williams had beat his man to the inside and was likely the better read anyway. Young’s deep ball accuracy still needs work, and he still isn’t getting the ball out on time in some instances. This was particularly glaring when he couldn’t get the ball out to his hot reads on blitzes.

I think that about sums it up. For the most part the guys played hard, they just didn’t play smart in many instances which goes back to the lack of focus during the week that Saban lamented. Saban was still quite upbeat last night, talking about how all goals are still in front of this team, and they are. The question is whether this game turns into three losses like South Carolina in 2010, or if it galvanizes the team for a championship run as the loss to Ole Miss did in 2015. Time will tell, but the ship must be righted.

Roll Tide.