Big plays and special teams spark Alabama's 47-28 win at Texas A&M

Courtesy Alabama Athletics
Christopher Walsh

COLLEGE STATION, Tex. — Big plays and special teams are considered staples of games at Kyle Field, and Saturday’s showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 24 Texas A&M proved to be no exception.

Only it wasn’t by the home team this time.

With junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa throwing touchdown passes to four different players, and Alabama tallying 311 return yards, the Crimson Tide beat the Aggies at their own game, 47-28.

“Those guys on our special teams, they were the ones that kind of mediate the shift of the game,” said Tagovailoa, who was 21-for-34 for 293 yards. “They’re the guys that, if we have a good return, they bring the morale of the other guys up with them.”

Although Alabama (6-0 overall, 3-0 SEC) looked sloppy at times and gave up points every time Texas A&M got into the red zone (inside the 20), the Aggies were still no match for their division rival.

It didn’t show very much in the overall statistics, as Alabama finished with a slight edge in total yards (448-389), first downs (25-24) and even time of possession (30:56-29:04).

But the Crimson Tide converted more big plays, had decisive field position throughout the game and were more explosive.

Leading the way was sophomore Jaylen Waddle, who had been overdue for a game like this.

After every other Alabama starting wide receiver had a big game during the month of September, the Houston product totaled 176 all-purpose yards to lead all players. He caught three passes for 48 yards and his first receiving touchdown of the season, along with 128 yards on four punt returns.

“I’m happy for him,” junior wide receiver Henry Ruggs III said. “He’s been kind of quiet all season. I don’t think he had a touchdown before this game. It was just good for him, especially in his home environment.”

Ruggs scored on a 33-yard touchdown and accounted for 131 yards on four kickoff returns. Junior DeVonta Smith had 99 receiving yards and one touchdown on seven catches before finishing the game in the locker room after being ejected for throwing a punch.

The Alabama running game also got into the mix. With graduate transfer Landon Dickerson at center, the line helped Najee Harris have a season-best 114 rushing yards on a career-high 20 carries. He also caught a 16-yard touchdown pass.

“It went really well,” Dickerson said about making his first career road start at center, in front of 106,749 fans at Kyle Field. “We didn’t have many communications problems.”

Meanwhile, despite having some lapses, the defense harassed Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond, who was sacked five times. He finished 24-for-42 for 264 yards and two touchdowns. While Alabama wasn’t able to get an interception, Shyheim Carter did knock out a fumble that safety Xavier McKinney recovered.

“Oh man, it was very meaningful,” said Carter, who also had two pass breakups. “I’m just glad he recovered the fumble.

After getting in a full week of practice for the first time this season due to knee issues, junior linebacker Terrell Lewis had two of the sacks, while senior linebacker Anfernee Jennings and freshman linebacker Shane Lee tied for the team lead with eight tackles. 

Texas A&M (3-3, 1-2 SEC) managed to keep pace with Alabama for exactly one possession, taking the opening kickoff and executing a 15-play drive, for 75 yards, resulting in a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Mond.

“They pretty much make you work for everything,” Mond said.

The result of effective coaching and preparation, it was the longest drive against Alabama this season in taking more than eight minutes off the clock. However, it was arguably the best the Aggies looked all game.

It took just 10 plays for Alabama to answer, with the first of three touchdown throws on third down by Tagovailoa. On the first, Waddle only needed a block from Smith to reach the end zone.

Smith took the second 47 yards on a slant route when Tagovailoa correctly read a safety blitz and threw into the abandoned hole.

Harris had the subsequent touchdown, this time 16 yards on a catch over the middle.

All three scores were on third-and-7 or longer. However, when Tagovailoa went for it a fourth time, across the middle to Jerry Jeudy, he didn’t see the safety on the far side, resulting in his first interception of the season.

Combined with things like 11 penalties and scoring just two touchdowns in five red-zone trips, it was like three steps forward, one step back, all game.

“We have to play smarter,” Nick Saban said.