We’ve been quite good in these special editions this year, nailing down 3 of 4. So, let’s see if we can ruin a good thing by tackling a team that Alabama has played poorly against of late, in a place where they’ve traditionally struggled: Texas A&M in the Hate Barn.
The Aggies come into this game on a bit of a tear. Since dropping a contest to Miami in Coral Gables, the Ags have been on a tear — winners of three straight, all covers, and all by double-digits.
So too has Alabama looked a lot better since its back-to-back bumbling against USF and Texas. The Tide have demolished both Mississippi teams, covering both, and allowing about 10 PPG in the process. But, more importantly, it is a team that seems to have slowly cultivated something of an identity, an identity that had been sorely missing early in the season.
Who has the advantage here, and why?
Alabama -2.5 at Texas A&M
This was a weird spread, as though Vegas could never really get a handle on either team. Some books had it as high as -8, others -5...then when a consensus emerged, it was the Crimson Tide by just under a field goal.
Can ‘Bama get that? Let’s see:
Aggie Tale of the Tape
By many respects, this game is very even overall, though each team possesses some distinct advantages. It has been weird to watch power-running A&M drop to a team that is merely middling in toting the ball (67th), while at the same time become one that is among the most efficient in the nation passing (6th). Even more unusual is that Aggie is doing this with their backup QB. Call it the Bobby Petrino effect. The man can scheme passing games.
However, while Alabama has the best secondary in the country, it is also a team that has fallen back in stopping the run. Texas, USF and Mississippi State all teed off on the Tide front four. We can make excuses for that: new lineups and new positions, developing continuity and chemistry, more recently injury etc. But they still happened. And make no mistake, the Alabama front will be tested by an outstanding Texas A&M offensive line that allows few TFL, and that powers over teams on the inside. A healthy Alabama is necessary, and we simply don’t know that going into this contest. While Trez played a great game, the loss of Lawson was felt, and particularly the loss of Oatis. Bully was able to mostly neutralize Keenen and still get to the edge. While Max Johnson isn’t the same option threat that MSU posed, expect some of those looks, especially if Oatis is out.
On defense for the Aggies, their game plan is simple: Crash the line with their monstrous DL talent. They are among the very best in CFB at penetrating the line of scrimmage and wrecking running games. Alabama is...well, Alabama. Among the worst in the country at preventing negative plays at the LOS, and by far the worst team you’ve ever seen snapping the ball. Communication is improving somewhat, but College Station is an exceptionally loud venue, and unlike the Cowbell Corner, you would expect the crowd to be both much larger, and much louder for much longer. Seth will need his very best game of the season. I just don’t know that he has it in him, if we’re being brutally honest.
More worrisome is a pass block that is frankly even worse than the interior running game. A new quarterback who doesn’t fully understand the position, being placed in extremis time and time again is not a formula for moving the chains.
And, as we have seen repeatedly the last few years, when those guys are getting beat up front, they have a propensity to take penalties. Against Texas, the team was a disciplinary disaster. Even excluding that contest, the Tide is just barely above average in taking flags. It’s a more disciplined team than last year, but it’s by no stretch a disciplined one.
You can almost bank on these blown-up running plays, some bad sacks, and above-average penalties to cost Alabama some points in a game where it can scarce afford them. Those inefficiencies are baked into the datasets to be sure, but how many big games have we seen lately where they become amplified on the scoreboard? One gets the sense we’re staring at another one. That is especially true given that Aggie is 3rd in the country in 3rd down defense; it’s not allowed anything close to 50% on the year, and only one team even hit 33%. The Tide absolutely cannot afford wasted snaps, yet we’re going to see them. Promise.
At least the Tide have the schematic brilliance of Tommy Rees to bail them out!
Tide Tale of the Tape
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Alabama has its own overwhelming advantages. It is a far superior team in ball discipline. While the Tide is at +6 on the year, and has turned it over just once in its last three contests, the Aggies are remarkably careless. They throw a lot of interceptions, and are among the nation’s worst in +/-. They don’t force a lot of turnovers, either. And they are, on average. even less disciplined than Alabama in the hankie game, drawing almost 7.5 flags a tilt. On defense, while it is a team that is very difficult to drive the field on, it has been prone to surrendering explosive plays. That is how Miami beat them, in fact. While Alabama (39th) hasn’t always been the best at sustaining drives — last week was a good outlier week — It is in the Top 20 in generating explosive plays.
Special teams is also a clear advantage for the Tide. We’ve not seen much out of the return game this year, and Kool Aid had the dropsies last week, but the tandem of Burnip and Will Reichard are the best in the nation. Overall, ‘Bama’s special teams are second despite not having any return game to speak of whatsoever. The Aggies are a very mediocre 46th. The Ags also have given up some explosive plays in the return game. If Kool Aid can get a seam, he will be a threat.
And, for a team that needs to throw to win, A&M’s passing game is at a distinct disadvantage against a gambling Tide secondary that has forced three fumbles and picked off eight passes. Evan Stewart could have a big day because of that, but Caleb Downs has been outstanding at Free, and Mal has been given a new, tougher physical lease on life at the Star. That said, I do anticipate the breakout Aggie superstar to house one and pick up a few big plays. He’s simply too good. And asking the Tide front seven to get there every time is perhaps too much.
Don’t look for very much scoring here by way of long sustained drives. These teams are simply too good on 3rd down (Alabama surrenders just 33% in their own right), and if Alabama is healthy, the linebacking corps should be able to put Aggie into throw-or-die situations every bit as much as the converse is true. The team that can be patient, that can force the most busts and discipline breakdowns can pressure the other team into those ill-considered passing attempts. The Tide does have the benefit of a far more versatile quarterback under center, and Jalen Milroe’s legs could be the deciding factor here. He has more touchdowns off busted plays than he does via designed runs.
It’s not going to be a pretty game by any stretch. I fully expect it to be sloppy, with a lot of flags, a lot of false starts, a lot of busts on both offensive lines, and a few haymakers swung at one another. The team that can generate the most of them, and the team that can win the field position war forcing ill-considered impatient plays, is the team with the best chance to pull away in a tight contest.
But, at the end of the day, Alabama’s punting game, Will Reichard’s leg, Milroe’s care with the ball, the ‘Bama secondary, and A&M’s propensity to turn it over decide this one...and it’s to the Tide’s advantage.
The Tide win the +/- battle to overcome shooting themselves in the foot, and two long Will Reichard field goals decide it.
26-20 Alabama, subject to the caveat that the Tide are healthy.
Pick your poison:
This poll is closed
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