Last year, D.J. Durkin’s proved to be a bit of step back from the Mike Elko defense in 2021, but much of that was due to so many freshmen getting thrust into starting roles. Well, that seems to have paid off, and now most of the depth chart is filled with former top recruits with 1+ years of experience behind them.
They run a 3-3-5 defense that, unlike most teams who run it, truly use 3 defensive linemen and stick with it for most plays. Shemar Turner, McKinnley Jackson, and Walter Nolen are a phenomenal trio of big men up front, and Durkin is often willing to rush just those three guys. The trio has combined for 8.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. Plus, Shemar Stewart and Isaiah Rakes rotate in quite regularly to keep things fresh... And Alabama fans should recognize every single one of those names as top recruits that the Tide was in the race for .
Now, when they bring a 4th rusher, linebacker Edgerrin Cooper is the designated blitz guy, and the 3rd year starter leads the team with 9 tackles for loss and another 3 sacks, plus a big fumble return TD vs Auburn.
The secondary is where things have been a little more spotty for the Aggies. Some of it is scheme, in my opinion. Durkin is determined to keep his safeties way too deep while keep the outside corners pressed, and it seems like there tends to be a lot of open space in between zones. Again, the production from the front 7 has pretty much made this a moot point, but the secondary is rarely breaking up passes or intercepting them - mostly relying on making tackles after the catch.
5th year starter Demani Richardson returns AGAIN and brings a veteran presence to the safety position. He’s paired up with similarly-aged Boston College transfer Josh DeBerry, who leads the team with 5 passes defended.
On paper, this is a matchup that isn’t great for Alabama. The Tide has really struggled along the offensive line for much of the season, and facing one of the highest-producing front-sevens in college football isn’t ideal.
Even if the Aggie secondary gives Jalen Milroe some holes in zones to hit, will he have time to see them?
On the other hand, I think there is some hope that, most of Alabama’s blocking struggles have come from speed rushers and stunts. Meanwhile, A&M’s big three make most of their hay with pure power and athleticism... And while Alabama’s OL may not be the fastest, they are similarly big and built to win against those types of players.
Meanwhile, having three 300-lb linemen on the field is less of a norm in college football these days, for one big reason - Rushing QBs just destroyed that strategy in the previous decade, and Jalen Milroe can flat out fly.
According to the Draftkings Sportsbook, this game is basically a toss-up, with Alabama favored by 1 point with an OU of 46.
I think I’d take the over here, as I think the potential for defensive touchdowns in this game are pretty high, and I think things could get closer to 30 points for either or both teams.
The game will be broadcast on CBS in the 2:30 pm CT for the SEC prime time slot on Saturday, and should be the main spectacle of the afternoon.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.