Instant Analysis: Alabama beats Texas A&M, remains contender in SEC West

Alabama maintained its status as an SEC contender by beating Texas A&M, 41-23, in College Station.
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Alabama survived another huge road test on Saturday, beating Texas A&M 41-23 at Kyle Field. Here are three thoughts on the Crimson Tide’s victory.

1. Derrick Henry reminded us how important he is

Lookout, Leonard Fournette. Another SEC running back just made a strong case for the Heisman Trophy.

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Henry set his career-high in rushing (153 yards) by the end of the first quarter and also came through when the Tide needed him late. After Texas A&M rallied to make it a 28-20 game in the third quarter, Henry converted a fourth-and-two on the Tide’s ensuing possession to keep the drive alive. That series ended with a 32-yard field goal from Adam Griffith to add to Alabama’s lead.

Henry, who finished with 236 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries, is the most important part of Alabama’s offense. The Tide’s offensive line did a stand-up job of opening holes against Texas A&M’s defensive line on Saturday, and Henry took advantage. At this point, it’s unclear whether any SEC defense can contain him.

2. Kevin Sumlin hasn’t proven he can win big games

A win over Alabama would’ve given Texas A&M its first 6-0 start under Sumlin and its first overall since 1994. It also would’ve proved the Aggies were for real in the SEC. Instead, Texas A&M ended the day looking less like a contender than a pretender.

Given the recruits Sumlin has lured to College Station, Aggies fans have to be frustrated. Their offense, which has the potential to hang with the SEC’s best, couldn’t get out of its own way for much of the day. Quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray combined for four interceptions, and Alabama took all three of Allen’s miscues to the house for touchdowns.

It’s not unreasonable to wonder if Kevin Sumlin can ever win big in College Station. We’ve seen examples of Texas A&M looking like a top-tier program—including the Aggies’ 2012 upset of Alabama in Tuscaloosa—but Sumlin has struggled to repeat that success at home. Counting Saturday, the Aggies are 1-6 against top-10 opponents at Kyle Field under Sumlin. That’s not a record that instills much confidence in his ability to lead Texas A&M to the College Football Playoff.

Perhaps it’s too early to bury the Aggies, who have only lost one game this season, in the SEC title race. But recent history suggests they won’t rebound. This team and this coach have a lot to prove.

3. Alabama needed this win in the SEC West race

Some observers believed the Tide’s home loss to Ole Miss in September signaled the end of the program’s dynasty. It now looks like a minor setback, as Alabama remains in the thick of the SEC West race.

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Since falling to the Rebels, Alabama has won four straight games, a streak that includes two victories over previously unbeaten SEC foes (Georgia and Texas A&M). Now the Tide hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Aggies in the conference race. So even if both squads win out, Saban’s crew would book tickets to Atlanta.

There’s still a lot on the line SEC play. Unbeaten LSU meets Florida on Saturday in Death Valley, and that Tigers squad must travel to Tuscaloosa in November. Plus, as the loss to Ole Miss proved, Alabama is not invincible. But a victory over Texas A&M was just what Saban and company needed to get back on track.