Top-ranked Crimson Tide come to Kyle Field to take on the upset-minded Aggies
The order of events may have shifted for Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher in Year 2 on the sidelines in College Station, but the results are lining up as a deja vu having to face then-top-ranked Clemson, No. 8 Auburn and now No. 1 Alabama before hitting the second half of the regular season with the same results posted in 2018. Come Saturday at Kyle Field, the No. 24 Aggies (3-2, 2-1 SEC) will try and remain above .500 when they take on the Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0) in an interesting SEC West showdown.
The Tide head into Texas with a full head of steam sitting atop the polls thanks to one of the nation’s best offenses led by one of the early Heisman Trophy favorites, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa leads several SEC passing categories including touchdowns (23), QBR (225.1), and has yet to throw an interception in 148 attempts. Alabama is churning up 555 total yards of offense, 381 of those coming through the air. Due to another wave of early departures to the NFL and a stack of injuries, the Bama defense has regressed from year's past, giving up 325 yards per game. But the defense has a bend but don’t break mentality holding the opposition to 15 points per contest.
Statistically, A&M is Alabama’s little brother attacking the opposition with quarterback Kellen Mond’s arm and a defense that can be relied upon and is proving to be tough as teams enter the red zone. Mond is third in the SEC in passing yards (1,333) but is not stretching the field vertically, averaging just 7.4 yards per completion. The defense is holding teams to 18 points a game and is one of the nation’s best cutting teams off at 300 yards each time out.
Alabama at Texas A&M
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 12 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Alabama -17
When Alabama Has the Ball
Given Alabama’s long successful history under head coach Nick Saban, a great offense, no matter how they go about it, is produced right along with a salty defense. Since the 2010 season, the year after Saban won his first title in Tuscaloosa, fans and media alike have waited for that first true test the Tide faces each year to better gauge the product on the field; this will be their first test. The best defense Alabama has faced so far is Duke, ranked 42nd out of 130 FBS teams, and the best offense they have seen is No. 46 Ole Miss. A&M will be the first to put up quality resistance on both sides of the ball.
When Tua Tagovailoa is in the pocket, he has a wealth of talent waiting for the pigskin. DeVonta Smith leads the Tide in yards (537) and touchdowns (8) on 31 receptions. Tagovailoa's other favorite target is Jerry Jeudy (38/488/6). The ground game is producing 174 yards a game, tied at 54th nationally, powered by Najee Harris (54/337/1) and Brian Robinson Jr. (46/198/2).
Given the level of competition played, A&M’s defense might be one of the more overlooked units in the nation. The team is holding foes to 108 yards on the ground and 191 passing. Ends Michael Clemons and Tyree Johnson do a good job of sealing the edge and closing the pocket. Defensive tackle Buddy Johnson is the force up the middle with a team-high 27 stops. Corners Myles Jones and Roney Elam lead the team with two picks apiece.
When Texas A&M Has the Ball
After seeing Clemson and Auburn, the Aggies are battle tested on offense. Mond picked it up against Auburn completing 31-of-49 attempts for 335 yards with two scores. Lining up on the outside, the Aggies have three top-notch targets taking in passes; Jhamon Ausbon (32/446/2), Quartney Davis (23/288/4), and Kendrick Rogers (17/200/0). Watch for freshman slot receiver Ainias Smith. Smith has caught a touchdown pass in three consecutive games.
Bama has yet to take on a ranked team, but the defense is allowing 135 yards a game on the ground. Last time out, Ole Miss went wild rushing for 279 yards. With Jashaun Corbin (hamstring) out for the season, can A&M take advantage with freshman running back Isaiah Spiller? Spiller, A&M’s leading rusher (255), has two 100-yard rushing games, albeit against Texas State and Lamar. Auburn held him to nine yards and Arkansas stuffed him zero yards on seven attempts, which is hard to do.
After watching Alabama’s tape in the South Carolina game, Jimbo Fisher has to be licking his chops at the opportunities to exploit the Crimson Tide defense. True freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski completed 36-of-57 attempts for 324 yards with two TDs and an interception. Free safety Xavier McKinney is having another big season for Alabama leading the team in tackles (41). Trevon Diggs has been the leading ballhawk with two picks from his corner spot.
In Alabama’s two SEC games they have given up 459 yards (South Carolina) and 476 (Ole Miss); one would think Texas A&M can do something similar. If Alabama cannot get after Kellen Mond in the pocket, this will be a shootout. If not corrected, the Aggies' downfall in this game will be their rushing attack. Against Arkansas, Jacob Kibodi rushed nine times for a team-high 38 yards. If it is Kibodi or Isaiah Spiller, an Aggie needs to be around the 90-yard mark with about 130 total rushing yards to pull off the upset.
Alabama owns the all-time series 9-2, including last season's 45-23 victory in Tuscaloosa. This one should be a tighter outcome thanks to a less experienced Bama defense.
Prediction: Alabama 45, Texas A&M 35
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.