The Aggies and Crimson Tide meet in Tuscaloosa on Saturday afternoon
The second Saturday of SEC action for the 2020 college football season continues with Alabama hosting Texas A&M. The showdown between the Aggies and Crimson Tide is a crucial game within the SEC West but also a good measuring stick for both teams. Texas A&M looked sluggish in its opener against Vanderbilt, while Alabama handled its business in a 38-19 victory over Missouri. With the unusual offseason, it wouldn't be a surprise to see both teams up their performance with a week to knock off the rust this Saturday.
Alabama opened the 2020 season as the favorite to win the SEC and is picked by most to reach the CFB Playoff. Coach Nick Saban’s squad missed the four-team playoff for the first time since its inception last fall, but the roster is loaded once again. Quarterback Mac Jones played well in relief of Tua Tagovailoa and delivered a steady debut against Missouri last Saturday. The backfield is arguably the deepest in college football, and the line could be the best in the nation. The return of linebacker Dylan Moses bolsters a defense that wasn’t up to the normal Alabama standard of play in 2019. Holding the Tigers to just 4.4 yards last Saturday was a good first step to get this group back on track.
While Alabama has to be feeling good about its opener, Texas A&M probably left last Saturday in a different mood. The Aggies averaged 6.8 yards per snap, but turnovers, penalties and a lack of conversions on third downs limited the offense to just 17 points against Vanderbilt – a game coach Jimbo Fisher’s team was heavily favored to win. Fisher is establishing a new culture and has built a good foundation through the recruiting ranks. Texas A&M is 18-9 since Fisher took over prior to the 2018 season. The next step for Fisher is pretty simple: With an experienced two-deep coming back for 2020, the Aggies hope to challenge for the SEC West title.
Alabama holds a 10-2 series edge over Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide have won each of the last two matchups by at least 19 points. The Aggies’ last victory against Alabama came in 2012.
Texas A&M at Alabama
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Alabama -18
When Texas A&M Has the Ball
Texas A&M’s offense wasn’t overly prolific in the opener against Vanderbilt (17 points). However, this unit averaged 6.8 yards per play and ran for 183 yards on just 27 attempts. After a sluggish debut, the Aggies have to do a better job of limiting turnovers and finishing drives with touchdowns in order to win on Saturday against arguably the best team in the SEC.
In addition to the mistakes made against Vanderbilt, Texas A&M’s offense won’t take off without better play from quarterback Kellen Mond. In games against top 25 teams last fall, Mond averaged only 5.9 yards per attempt and connected on 55.6 percent of his throws. In three previous games against Alabama, Mond has connected on 56.7 percent of his passes for 697 yards and four touchdowns to three picks. He’s added 202 yards and three scores on the ground and rushed for more than 90 yards in each of the last two matchups in this SEC West tussle. Mond connected on 17 of 28 throws for 189 yards and a touchdown last Saturday against Vanderbilt, leaving plenty of room to improve for this week and beyond.
While it’s clear Mond has to play better in bigger games, it’s not solely on his shoulders. Texas A&M’s offensive line was inconsistent in 2019 and needs to generate more push in the ground game against the Crimson Tide. In the last six matchups between these two teams, Texas A&M has not finished a game with more than 130 rushing yards. Running backs Isaiah Spiller and Ainias Smith are an effective one-two punch but running room could be limited against a defense that held Missouri to just 69 yards on the ground. In addition to more production out of the line, Texas A&M’s receiving corps remains unsettled. With Jhamon Ausbon opting out, the team is replacing its top three statistical receivers from 2019. Caleb Chapman (four), Jalen Preston (four) and Chase Lane (three) led the team in receptions against Vanderbilt. Don’t be surprised if freshman Demond Demas and Moose Muhammad get a longer look in the rotation this Saturday.
Alabama’s defense didn’t pitch a shutout against Missouri, but there were plenty of positive signs. The Crimson Tide allowed only 4.4 yards per snap, 16 of the 19 points scored came deep into the second half, and the unit racked up eight tackles for a loss. The return of linebacker Dylan Moses to full strength should make a big difference in the play of the front seven. Mond’s ability to move around will create a few challenges for Alabama’s defense, while a talented (but unproven) group of receivers should test a revamped secondary.
When Alabama Has the Ball
Despite having to replace Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback and Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy at receiver, expectations remained high for Alabama to own one of the top offenses in college football. Against Missouri, the Crimson Tide averaged 6.1 yards per snap, converted 9 of 14 third-down attempts, and scored touchdowns on five of their first seven possessions. Quarterback Mac Jones was considered the front-runner to replace Tagovailoa after his solid play late in the 2019 season. However, holding off true freshman (and five-star recruit) Bryce Young wasn’t going to be easy. Jones won the job out of fall practice and connected on 18 of 24 throws for 249 yards and two touchdowns in the opener. Young also got into the game (54 passing yards) and could receive playing time in a good chunk of Alabama’s games.
In addition to having two capable quarterbacks, coordinator Steve Sarkisian has weapons to deploy at running back and receiver. Behind arguably the best offensive line in college football, the backfield is led by Najee Harris (three rushing scores against Missouri, Brian Robinson and Trey Sanders. Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith combined for 16 grabs in the opener, as both players assume even bigger roles in the passing game following the departure of Jeudy and Ruggs. After the win against the Tigers, Sarkisian probably didn’t have too much to be upset about, but Alabama has some room to grow when it comes to running the ball (3.1 ypc).
Texas A&M’s defense was expected to be a strength in 2020, and this unit delivered a strong performance in the opener. Vanderbilt was limited to 3.8 yards per snap and no play gained more than 27 yards. Additionally, this group generated 10 tackles for a loss, two sacks, and forced a takeaway. While the Aggies had a good showing in the opener, slowing down Alabama’s offense is a different challenge. Can Texas A&M’s defense force a couple of takeaways and win the battle in the trenches to slow down the ground game and put pressure on Jones?
The last two games between these two teams haven’t been close and it’s tough to see that trend changing on Saturday. Texas A&M’s defense is likely to win some battles, but can the offense generate enough points to keep pace with Alabama? How well Kellen Mond performs is likely to determine just how close the Aggies can keep this game. The Crimson Tide simply have too many weapons, while the defense should keep Mond in check to pull away for a comfortable victory in the second half.
Prediction: Alabama 38, Texas A&M 17
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