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Alabama vs. Texas A&M Preview: When the Crimson Tide has the ball

A&M’s defense is loaded with former 5-star talents. Can they put it all together?

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Texas A&M Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Going through the Texas A&M depth chart, there’s a LOT of names of players that I remember being priority targets for the Crimson Tide in past recruiting classes. Tunmise Adeleye, Shemar Turner, Walter Nolan, and McKinnley Jackson are all starting on the defensive line now, and freshman Denver Harris is getting some playing time in the secondary.

The Aggies are only giving up 17.8 points per game so far in 2022, an output that has them solidly as a top-25 defense. It’s not quite the top 5 unit they had last year, but they’re still a talented, stout group.

New defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has brought pretty much the dead opposite scheme to the team than last year’s DC, Mike Elko. Whereas Elko blitzed incessantly, Durking is more of a rush-three, drop-eight, don’t get beat deep kind of defensive coordinator.

As such, the Aggie’s pass rush and sack production, as well as their run defense, has taken a significant hit from last year, while their explosive passing rate has improved.

Part of the issue is also that Adeleye and Jackson have both been out with injury, so a trio of freshmen in Nolan, Shemar Stewart, and Anthony Lucas have all been rotating in trying to get production despite a 3-man rush scheme. Shemar Steward leads the team with 1.5 sacks... Which is... Not great. They have all of 6 total sacks on the season so far.

LBs Chris Russell and Edgerrin Cooper have some solid production so far and have combined for 6 tackles for loss. The two bring a good bit of experience to the front 7 and are active, athletic players in hook zone coverages and chasing down stretch runs.

In the defensive backfield, nickel corner Antonio Johnson leads the team with 46 total tackles - 10 more than Russell at LB. Like Alabama, Texas A&M has placed that nickel corner in a prominent role for attacking the run and making plays on the edges of the line. Along with him, safety Demani Richardson returns for his 4th year as a starter, and he leads the team with 3 pass breakups and a couple of forced fumbles. His running mate, Jardin Gilbert, also has the team’s only interception so far.

Obviously, it’s hard to give a good prediction on how this will go, as we still don’t know if Alabama is going to be playing with Bryce Young or Jalen Milroe at QB. In 2021, Young fared much better against these bend-but-don’t-break schemes than he did vs. the blitz heavy schemes. But will that apply to Milroe? Who knows. I actually think he might struggle with some of the patience required to methodically drive the ball down the field.

I think this is going to be a tough one for Alabama’s offense. A bit of a slog of a game overall. Let’s go with 28-31 points for the Tide.

Roll Tide!