Alabama versus Texas A&M – Game Review

Perhaps no team in all of college football has more time honored traditions than the Texas A&M Aggies. From their Memorial Student Center (a living memorial that honors Aggies who have given their lives in wars), the Aggie Ring, Midnight Yell, the Corps of Cadets and the 12th Man, the Aggies’ traditions are celebrated and honored like no other school in the country.

Along with the time honored traditions above, perhaps there is no other annual Aggie tradition quite like the one where 100,000 A&M fans gather together thinking this is the year Texas A&M football is finally ready for the big time. You’ll recall that the Manziel Heisman play saved the day for an upstart, scrappy little Aggies team and their victory shocked the world. But, since then, the Aggies have been letting everyone know how good they are – however, that rhetoric has been all hat and no cattle. And, for all the love that their beloved 12th Man gets, on Saturday they needed to use a 13th, 14th and 15th man in order to bring down the beast that is Derrick Henry! Can I get a Roll Tide?!?!

Wow – what a day of football that was. The ups of three pick sixes. The downs of blocked punts, fumbled punts and negative plays. The ups of being ahead 21-3 and 28-6 to the downs of clinging to a 28-20 lead. What a wild day. In the end, Bama’s front four, back four and number two were just too much. Somebody cue up “Silver Taps” from the Fightin’ Texas Aggie band for this 2015 bit the dust pretty hard…maybe next year they’ll have what it takes. Anyhoo, on to the review!

Alabama on Defense

From the first play of the game, Alabama began poaching on Aggie passes. Ronnie Harrison barely missed an interception on the first play and, just two plays later, Jonathan Allen’s sack forced a lateral fumble that A&M barely recovered. Bama made it evident early on that Tre Carson (13 rushes for 46 yards) would not be a factor and they limited the supposedly much improved Aggie running game to just 32 total yards rushing. Amazing. And, Bama did this with the help of safeties flying up to provide run support, which makes the secondary play against the Aggies that much more amazing – they stopped the run AND the pass.

The Tide’s front four helped generate six sacks and numerous other pressures while the Bama secondary swatted down seven passes and recorded four interceptions. Heckuva day for both units, eh? Typically, a defense is geared to stop either the run or the pass but on Saturday Alabama stopped both with a brutish, deadly force. Think about this – the vaunted A&M offense scored ONE single solitary touchdown on Saturday. Given Bama’s issues with the spread and the hurried pace, I don’t think anyone expected to see that. And after recording four interceptions, the “Ball Out Belt” was hitting more hands than the “pass arounds” at Lamberts. Welcome to Kyle Field – now home of the Throwed Roll-Tides! Here are some other things we saw during our review…

Grip & Rip: On Saturday, we saw an amazing number of grip and rips by the Bama defensive line and they did it in a “men against boys” kind of way. I’ll show this on Vines later but basically the line would fire off, grab the A&M OL by the jersey (grip) and them rip them to one side or the other. Allen’s pressure that forced the lateral came from this move and it was SICK!

Wide Load: Alabama played the Aggies with a very wide front four at times, lining up both ends outside of the offensive tackles. This provided the edge containment that was so crucial in limiting the Aggies’ running plays. In one instance while defending Kyler Murray at QB, the Bama linebackers even lined up outside of the Bama ends, leaving absolutely no one in the middle and out flanking the A&M tackles on the edges. At the snap, Reggie Ragland looped back inside, closing up the interior of the defense and creating havoc on the A&M line (stay tuned for a Vine on this).

Fade to Black: How many times has Alabama been victimized by the back shoulder fade? A lot, right? Actually, this play has been victimizing cornerbacks from middle school to the NFL – there’s virtually no way to stop it if it’s thrown right. Well, on Saturday Alabama actually defended four of these beautifully. Eddie Jackson, Cyrus Jones and Marlon Humphrey (2) did this exceptionally well. In particular, Humphrey was unbelievably good, knocking down one pass in the end zone and intercepting (I’m telling you, he had one foot down and possession!) another that wasn’t reviewed properly. Humphrey was awesome and we think Mel Tucker has played a role in the progression of the entire secondary.

Athletic Supporters: One of the most impressive things that stood out to me during the review was how much Geno Matias-Smith was involved in run support. Actually, Smith, Jackson and Cyrus Jones all came up huge in run support throughout the day. On a screen to the RB, Jones saw the WR cut in for a crack back block so Jones instantly jumped the screen route and took the back down for a loss. This pushed a subsequent field goal back an additional 5 yards, resulting in a big missed FG at a critical time.

Man in the Middle: Reggie Ragland played another fantastic game running from sideline to sideline and making plays. When defending the run, Ragland beat Aggie RB Tre Carson to the corner, stopping him with a solo tackle after only a two yard gain. Then, Ragland made perhaps the play of the game against the pass when he raced down Allen for a sack from behind. This pushed another Aggie field goal beyond 50 yards, resulting in a big miss. This came at another critical time in the game when momentum had shifted to A&M.

Stand by Your Man: As our W2W4 indicated, Allen was a much bigger threat at QB than Kyler Murray. Sumlin seemed to panic, stating at halftime that Allen had lost his confidence after the two pick sixes and he needed Murray to provide some juice. Two sacks and a pick later, all of Murray’s juice was consumed by the Tide.

Kick Stand: The Aggies trailed 28-20 when they blocked a Bama punt, setting them up at the Bama 29. Four plays later, Bama had the ball and was on the move to make it a 31-20 game. How? First Marlon Humphrey defended a back shoulder fade so well that he nearly (I say he did!) picked it off. After an over thrown ball to the end zone (where pass interference was smartly waved off), Ragland recorded his sack and the play of the game (and another hit on Allen that clearly impacted him) as he pushed A&M backwards into a missed FG. Gary and Verne were audibly sad. Then Bama scored on the next possession and the game was over for all intents and purposes.

Pick One: The interesting thing about Minkah Fitzpatrick’s first pick and the first pick of the game was the play made by DJ Pettway. A&M rolled their offensive guard over to pick up the unblocked end (Pettway) in pass protection. With the OL moving laterally, he could not anchor well and was subsequently deposited by Pettway into Allen’s lap. This forced the high throw and the first pick six of the day.

Pick Two: Up 21-6 and with momentum clearly donning the helmet of the 12th man, Eddie “Action” Jackson turned the game when caught an overthrown pass and scooted 93 yards for a touchdown. Man, that return was just a blast to watch. Two plays earlier, Marlon Humphrey had DRILLED Allen in his right arm on a blitz and it seemed evident that the helmet shot from Humphrey had an effect on Allen’s arm. Credit Cyrus Jones for the initial block on the return and then, 80 yards later, Jones delivered the final block to get Eddie into the end zone. The blocking on this return was just awesome – whoever is working on the interception return drills may want to work on the punt and kick returns as well…

Pick Three: Jackson’s second pick was exactly the reason it is advantageous to move a cornerback to safety. Before Murray released a long pass up the sidelines, Jackson was already covering the ground between the hashmarks and the sideline. Eddie got there in plenty of time and showed the ball skills and range of a corner that makes this Tide secondary something nasty to deal with.

Pick Four: The second pick six by Minkah Fitzpatrick was the result of a communication issue between Allen and his receiver. But, credit Fitzy for being in position and certainly credit him for a sweet return into the end zone. Fitz kind of had it in third gear when he turned up the sidelines but when he saw a clear path he turned on the jets! Again, there was fabulous blocking on this return, as well.

Tidebits

  • A&M ran a couple of screens that were read quickly and destroyed by the Bama D. Bama absolutely kills screens as their reads are spot on.
  • A&M felt so bad about their quarterback situation that they even asked Tre Carson to throw a pass. I’m not sure if Carson is left handed or right handed but I can tell you that his was a horrible attempt at throwing a football.
  • Ronnie Harrison showed well throughout the day with a deflected pass, a sack and a pass broken up. Much of the media hype goes to Minkah Fitzpatrick (and with good reason) but Harrison has become a key defender in Bama’s dime package. He’s been outstanding.
  • Bama recorded six sacks. The line was aggressive and that was the key to stopping the A&M attack. Well, that and having defensive backs who can catch a football.
  • I’m not totally sure what happened on the touchdown pass to Seals-Jones. The Aggies crossed their receivers but it appeared Cyrus Jones was expecting help in the middle. However, the middle was completely and totally vacated – similarly to the Arkansas touchdown pass last week. This cut the score to 28-20 – I bet you almost forgot the game was that close at one time.
  • I haven’t seen the number of hits Bama put on the Aggie QBs but I think the Tide had more hits on Aggie QBs than Michael Jackson’s career or Rob Ford at a bong convention.

Alabama on Offense

Believe it or not, it was a fairly uneven day for the Tide on offense. Sure, Derrick Henry pounded out 236 yards on the ground but Jake Coker had just 138 yards passing. When you mix in the multiple penalties and the 16 negative plays on offense, well, it’s just not good. To a large degree, the loss of All SEC center Ryan Kelly certainly sabotaged Alabama’s ability to control the line of scrimmage but many of the Tide’s issues appeared to be self-inflicted. To the good, Kiffin called 45 running plays to only 25 passing plays (again, even with A&M selling out to stop the run) so our fears about Lane getting bored with calling running plays appear to be going by the wayside.

Derrick Henry is the obvious positive here, especially when you consider he eclipsed his career high in yards rushing in the first quarter alone. However, this site will once again praise the work of Jake Coker as he has certainly proven himself to be a tough, rugged competitor and a leader of men. Let’s take a look at a few observations from the offensive side of the football…

Running Man: Henry once again showed off his patience, strength and surprising speed as he completely and totally dominated the Aggies in the first quarter and throughout the game. A&M’s puzzling decision to open up in a 4-2-5 alignment opened the door to a massive day for the massive Henry. While Kelly was in the game, more times than not the Bama OL consumed the Aggies, opening up significant holes in the defense for King Henry to exploit.

Next Man Up: When Kelly left the Ole Miss game last year due to injury (he also missed the Arkansas game the next week), Bradley Bozeman was the next man up at the center position. This time, JC (not CJ as Gary would have you believe) Hassenauer was thrown to the wolves and on many snaps he was eaten alive. Interesting that the next man up was JC and not Bradley…

Swing Dance: One, count ‘em, one swing pass gained any yardage whatsoever. Poor blocking and a slow, telegraphed delivery seem to be the issue. The toss to Derrick Kief was particularly perplexing because Kief isn’t exactly shifty when he gets the ball. Of course, you have to keep throwing these in order to open up the passes that were so effective against Georgia.

Shake N Break: Kenyan Drake, wherefore art thou? Even before suffering the thigh bruise, Drake appeared to be sluggish each and every time he got the ball. The one time he had open field, he actually tripped over his own feet. Sigh. Besides Drake being surprisingly ineffective, once he got hurt the staff appeared to have zero confidence in playing either Damien Harris or Bo Scarborough. In fact, the staff actually put an injured Drake back in the game before entrusting Harris or Scarborough with any snaps. If Drake is limited against Tennessee, it will be interesting to see how they take some of the workload off of Henry. Henry had 33 touches and seemed to receive treatment for back spasms at one point early in the game – it will be interesting to see how (or if) they will ease the big man’s burden in the backfield this coming week.

Play of the Game: On 4th & 2, the Alabama line was shuffling with just five seconds to go on the play clock. Cam Robinson slid in between Jackson and Taylor, leaving just Pierschbacher and Greene on the left side of the line. The line finally got set with just 2 seconds left on the play clock and Saban raced down the sidelines to call a timeout. Just before he got to the ref, Kiffin literally blocked Saban out and physically put Saban’s hands down as the ball was snapped. The Bama offensive line was obviously heavily overloaded to the right and at the snap the entire line moved in that direction. Coker paused to the right and then tossed the ball out to the left to Henry, who was by himself and left to deal with three Aggie defenders. All three of the defenders bit on the influence of the line’s move to the right and Henry, using wicked stiff-arm, was able to outrace the defense and turn the corner for a critical fourth down conversion. I mean, folks, he was out there by himself. There were zero actual blocks that allowed him to turn the corner…

Oh Captain, My Captain: Even though Coker only threw for 138 yards, to me it was his play that charged up the team when things were getting tough. First, when things began to come unraveled after A&M’s punt return – two false start penalties, a frenzied crowd and a new center – it was Coker who was seen calming the troops down. Later, after the Aggies missed a FG but were establishing momentum, Coker shook off a sack, eluded a defender and then got popped only to stay on his feet to get popped again and again. In the end, it was a four yard gain instead of ten yard loss but it was a “never say die” call to arms from the Bama QB. The fourth down toss to Henry occurred later in that same drive and the drive itself resulted in a FG and some much needed breathing room for the Tide and it was all set up by this gritty play. We loved the odd impromptu QB reverses that Coker used, as well!

Tidebits

  • There was an obvious difference in the blocking when center Ryan Kelly left the game. Sure, A&M started using a five man front a lot more but many of their looks were the same as they were in the first half.
  • Myles Garrett has one heckvua vertical leap – he nearly changed the game when he almost batted a screen down to himself. Scary moment.
  • The screen call to Henry was a thing of beauty. It came at a critical time when Alabama desperately needed to make a play. Getting Henry into the open field against defensive backs is almost cruel and unusual punishment.
  • As Danielson noted, when Coker went back to pass he seemed to identify the Bama receiver that #21 Brandon Williams was covering. Williams is a converted running back and he sure seemed to be struggling with his new corner position.
  • An unheralded play that received little attention was where Coker somehow snagged an errant snap from the new center and still pulled off a play action pass to OJ Howard.
  • In the last two quarters, A&M brought a huge number of A&B gap blitzes, overloading the middle of the Alabama line and overwhelming the backup center. If Kelly is unable to play against Tennessee, look for the Vols to use the same tactic.
  • Ardarius Stewart really needs to do a lot better competing for 50/50 deep balls. That is all.

Special Teams

  • Welcome back JK Scott!!!! Punts of 56, 46, 55, 56, and 49 yards were a welcomed sight!
  • Adam Griffith – you made two field goals in a high pressure game! You go, boy!
  • But, Bama gave up a second blocked punt on the season and nearly had another one blocked in the A&M game.
  • And Cyrus Jones fumbled a punt return.
  • And Damien Harris let balls bounce all around him and didn’t seem to know the rules about returning a kick from the end zone that was originally touched in the field of play (he could have downed the ball).
  • And we gave up a punt return for a touchdown. Sigh.

Final Thoughts

The game opened up with Kevin Sumlin telling Allie LaForce that he was going to play some cat and mouse games with the Tide defense. Well, let it be known that mice don’t fare well against elephants. Squish!

Defensively, the Tide has now stuffed three outstanding running attacks in Wisconsin, Arkansas and Georgia, and throttled the vaunted passing attack of the Aggies. Few, if any, defenses have the versatility and ability to matchup well against both styles of offenses. The Tide’s defensive backs had SEVEN passes broken up which indicates they maintained outstanding coverage throughout the day. Making things a bit easier for them was Alabama’s front four which generated a ton of pressure on Saturday. Instead of taking a slow push or picket fence approach, the Tide’s front four stunted, looped and twisted their way into the backfield (while DBs and LBs occasionally blitzed, as well) for six sacks.

Offensively, Alabama still has a ton of work to do. Penalties, negative plays and poor blocks continue to plague the Tide in a “two steps forward, one step back” kind of way. It’s a credit to the talent on the team that they are often able to overcome their own self-inflicted wounds! To the good, Kiffin once again smartly leaned on the running game and the result was a soul crushing loss for the Aggies and a critical victory for the Tide in their Quest for the West!

Extra Point – Announcing/Refereeing

I have never, ever used this space to complain about the officiating or the announcing. That’s not what we do here at the Lighthouse and it’s not what we are about. However, sometimes things come up that we just have to discuss in this space and this, sadly, is one of those times. BTW – I had decided to address both the announcing and the refereeing in this space even before I began receiving the video montage of missed calls by the referees…

First, we begin with the announcing. SEC fans have long known that Uncle Verne, bless his heart, typically doesn’t know where he is, or who is playing, and we’ve grown accustomed to him butchering names, plays, teams, etc. No biggie. But, on Saturday’s broadcast there was something that really stood out to me – he was dying for A&M to make it a competitive game. In my game review, my notes consistently called out the fact that Verne was excitedly losing his mind on all of the A&M scoring plays and he even yelled several times after some perfectly mundane first down catches by the Aggies. However, on the Alabama scoring plays, there was no inflection in his tone. No excitement in his voice. Zip, zero. Nada. Perhaps he was napping when Bama had the ball. Maybe he thought the game was a fait accompli and that Alabama would win easily and he was saddened about that. Either way, when a dude houses a 93 yard interception, I expect more from Verne than a snooze. Meanwhile, Gary Danielson echoed Verne’s dismay by simply saying a muted and sad “wow.” I walked away from the broadcast thinking that Gary and Verne simply couldn’t bring themselves to get excited about the bully that is Alabama beating up on the hapless little Aggies. Exciting plays deserve equal time and equal euphoria from the broadcast team and, for the first time in my life, the broadcast team was so bad that it actually caught my attention. It’s a national broadcast, yet a lot of Bama fans get their panties in a wad when the broadcast team isn’t acting like Eli Gold. That’s ok – they aren’t supposed to be fans of either team. But I do expect equal time and equal emphasis on the calls and this time they fell well short of my minimal expectations.

*Also, a note to CBS: Johnny Manziel hasn’t played in College Station in two years. Yet, there were no less than SIX references to Manziel during the broadcast.

Second, we have to address several calls by the referees. Again, I have very low expectations of referees. I expect some calls to be missed. I expect the refs to call more penalties on one team than another and I expect the beneficiary to be the home team more times than not. However. This game was a joke. There was an egregious hit on Coker that was the epitome of a helmet-to-helmet launch that happened right in front of the ref. It was the very definition of targeting yet there was no call. Then Calvin Ridley was yards out of bounds (after they missed that his knee was down several yards and seconds earlier) when he was destroyed by an Aggie missile well out of the field of play. Again, no call. At least they threw a flag on a blatant Texas A&M block in the back on a punt return…of course they picked that flag up and said there was no flag (it was so bad that Gary Danielson even was emphatic tht it should have been called!). But, the worst of the calls was the Marlon Humphrey interception along the sidelines – I swear he had possession and one foot down but the refs refused to review it! Again, I expect bad calls but this was awful.

Thankfully, Alabama won the game anyway so our comments about the announcing and the refs can’t really be considered sour grapes. However, both stood out to us in a very negative way and I felt it necessary to address it in this blog. I’m typically not that guy … but wow. Ok, rant over.

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