Upon Further Review: Alabama at Texas A&M

Alabama Athletics
Christopher Walsh

Under normal conditions having seven tackles for a loss including five sacks, and 10 passes broken up would be considered a pretty good day for a defense.

Yet Alabama still gave up 28 points and 389 total yards at Texas A&M on Saturday.

On the positive side, redshirt junior Terrell Lewis was able to practice for the entire week leading up to the game, and along with senior outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings gave the Aggies fits.

They combined to made four tackles for a loss, including three sacks.

“We kinda, basically as a defense, wanted to nut up and come out there with the intensity like ‘We have to make people earn it,’” Lewis said. “We have to make people earn everything they get because that’s the ’Bama way of doing things.”

One of the obvious negatives, though, was the 15-play touchdown drive to open the game, lasting 8 minutes and 3 seconds.

“Anxiety as a defense,” Lewis said was a factor. “Young guys on the field, hearing that crowd and all that stuff like that. Kinda had to get guys settled in.”

Nick Saban had a different take:

“They were running the ball a little bit out of some formations that we thought might be throwing formations and so we just had to make some adjustments to the formation into the boundary,” he said. “We made a couple mental errors on the adjustments which left people open. But once our players settled into understanding what they were doing, we at least took those things away.”

Texas A&M finished with seven explosive plays (Saban defines them as a pass 17 yards or more, or a run 13-plus yards). The three in the running game were all by quarterback Kellen Mond in the second half after Alabama already had a sizable lead.

“They had to earn it after that,” Lewis said. “We were definitely kind of inconsistent at times but definitely stepped up as a defense responsibility-wise.”

It’s all about experience, because with five-plus true freshmen playing (depending on the formation), Jimbo Fisher’s team went after Alabama’s inexperienced players, who took another important step in their development.

Play of the game: The blocked punt for a touchdown sealed the victory, but the first one set the tone. After Texas A&M opened the scoring Alabama answered with sophomore wide receiver Jaylen Waddle’s 31-yard touchdown off a swing pass that benefitted from a block by junior wide receiver DeVonta Smith.

Player(s) of the game: Alabama had three players who finished with 100-plus all-purpose yards and scored a touchdown. Junior running back Najee Harris had 114 rushing and 19 receiving; junior wide receiver Henry Ruggs III had 33 receiving and 131 on kick returns; and Waddle had 48 yards receiving and 128 on punt returns.

Statistic of the game: Alabama had 311 total return yards compared to Texas A&M’s 24. The Aggies started every possession inside their own 25-yard line.

10 things you may not have noticed

1] The offensive line: Don’t be surprised if the coaching staff sticks with these five moving forward: Alex Leatherwood, Evan Neal, Landon Dickerson, Deonte Brown and Jedrick Wills Jr. Alabama averaged 5.0 yards per rushing play and the only sack of Tua Tagovailoa was off a botched naked bootleg during which none of the linemen missed his assignment.

2] The running game: Three signs that Alabama is on the right track in the ground game: The Crimson Tide converted a third-and-1 with ease, it ran in a touchdown after entering the red zone, and it had 93 rushing yards on 13 attempts while trying to run out the clock in the fourth quarter (which would have gone better without some penalties).

3] A new leader: By our unofficial count, Smith had a game-high 83 yards after the catch and has taken over the team lead from junior wide receiver Jerry Jeudy. The Crimson Tide is averaging 238 per game.

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Six games into the 2019 season, and no one has slowed Alabama's receivers.Alabama Athletics

4] Christian Harris: The freshman interior linebacker took a high hit from Texas A&M right tackle Carson Green during the first possession, specifically on the play that was whistled dead so officials could review where running back Isiah Spiller was down on third-and-4. He was replaced by redshirt sophomore Markail Benton.

5] Third-and-long touchdowns: Tagovailoa had three. He had only four third-down passing touchdowns this season coming into the game.

6] Red-zone numbers: This was the first game this season in which Tagovailoa’s completion percentage inside the 20-yard-line was under 50 percent. He was 3-for-7 with one touchdown and one interception. Of his 27 touchdown passes so far just eight were in the red zone.

7] You don’t see this kind of stat very often: Only seven defensive starters for Texas A&M had more tackles than senior punter Braden Mann.

8] Quarterback hurries: The official statisticians credited Alabama with four, two by Lewis, and one each by linebackers Shane Lee and Chris Allen. By our count, the Crimson Tide had at least 22 pressures. Considering the pounding Mond took, as the quarterback was knocked down at least 13 times not including rushing plays, we’d like to think he’d agree.

9] Penalties: Alabama was flagged for 10-plus times for the third time this season, which CBS reported was the most during the Nick Saban era. A lot of them were directly reflected in the scoring as well. The Crimson Tide had at least one penalty during the Aggies’ first four scoring drives. A penalty also played a part in Alabama having to settle for a field goal.

10] The Clemson comparison: Alabama’s 448 total yards were the most given up by Texas A&M this season. On Sept. 7, then-No. 1 Clemson managed to tally 121 rushing yards on 33 attempts, and 24 pass completions for 268 yards. The Tigers won at home, 24-10.

Bonus: This guy ...