Bama versus Texas A&M Game Review

It’s funny how every time Alabama woodsheds an opponent, the national pundits rush to their microphones to talk about how deficient and ill prepared for the game Bama’s opponent was. USC, Ole Miss, Tennessee & Texas A&M were all pumped up by the media and had the national rankings to show it. FINALLY, they said, now this team will challenge the mighty Tide!

But, when these highly ranked teams don’t challenge Alabama, many pundits choose to focus on how poorly prepared or undermanned the defeated opponent was coming into the game.

Well, which is it? Is Alabama exceptional because they are beating top 20 teams like a drum or are all of these teams simply getting too much hype from the talking heads in the hopes that someone, ANYONE, can stop the Tide?

This week, the Tide that never seems to ebb eventually drowned the Aggies in a defensive sea full of angry monsters. Hopefully, the media noticed that Alabama misfired and sputtered their way to a 19 point victory over the 6th ranked team in the country, knowing that this Tide is not even close to hitting their high water mark this season.

The offensive line issues from earlier in the season have vanished. Now two-thirds of Lane Kiffin’s play calls are running plays, with the fans screaming for the other third to be running plays, as well. The question marks that surrounded Alabama’s running backs have turned into exclamation points, with Damien Harris, Joshua Jacobs and Bo Scarbourough at times looking like three of the fabled Four Horsemen.

Alas, there is but one remaining question mark left regarding Alabama’s offense and that is Jalen Hurts. Hurts has been a revelation. Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin have a fabulous new toy that they can roll out, zone read and quarterback draw people to death with.  So many options! On Hurts’ clinching 45 yard touchdown run, the play was supposed to be a pass. But, when his read was taken away, Hurts tucked the ball and zigged and zagged his way into a breathtaking 45 yard touchdown run. On the ground, Hurts is amazing.

The beautiful thing about having three or four running backs is that when Damien Harris goes down, Joshua Jacobs can fill his shoes. When Jacobs takes a hit, Bo Scarborough can come in and house one from 85 yards away. On Saturday, Bama’s running back carries looked like this: Harris (17), Jacobs (11) and Scarborough (8). However, no one carried the ball as much as Hurts (21) did.

Passing plays were called but they were rarely well executed. Hurts missed open receivers down the field and inexplicably threw a pass into the midsection of a Texas A&M defensive back who was nowhere near any Bama receivers. Hurts bailed out on several deep shots, choosing instead to leave the pocket and get yardage with his feet. As fun as it is to watch, my butthole stays pretty puckered up whenever he leaves the pocket.

Twenty one carries. That’s a lot. The loss of Eddie Jackson reminds us that on any given play, a player’s season can be over in a snap so we’d really like to see Hurts begin to evolve as a passer.

Anyway, here’s what we saw on Offense this week…

Alabama on Offense

Each time Alabama has given up a critical score this season, the offense has answered immediately on the ensuing drive. With A&M suddenly holding a shocking 14-13 lead, the Tide offense (aided by a roughing the passer penalty) once again rose to the occasion on the next drive and emphatically answered the renewed Aggie challenge with a touchdown. Say what you will about the offense but when push comes to shove, they typically shove their way into the end zone whenever they need to put some points on the board.

On tape, we watched Tennessee gash the middle of the Aggie defense repeatedly so it was no real surprise that Alabama had their way on the ground between the tackles. But, after Josh Dobbs threw for over 400 yards, we expected to see Alabama connect on a few deep throws that were readily available during the game.

At some point, some defense is going to limit the effectiveness of the Tide running game so at some point we really need to see Hurts take the next step in his progression as a passer.

OJ Howard: Welcome back, OJ! It was great to see him catch eight passes on the day but it was even better to see that plays were designed specifically to get this big man the football. The first play of the game was a pop pass for Howard and then there was a little Utah/shovel pass to him later for a big first down. Later, Kiffin designed a beautiful play that slipped Howard out into the flat from his H back position with two outside receivers blocking for him on the edge. With OJ easly outracing the linebacker to the flat, the Tide’s receivers were blocking the only two defenders in the area, essentially becoming a type of slip screen for Howard. On one eight yard gain, Howard had acres of room to run and should have had a much, much bigger play. Nevertheless, it was great to see OJ making plays again.

Damien Harris: I love this dude. When we first saw him at the Under Armour All American game, I remarked that he looked to be ahead of TJ Yeldon at the time (and we thought the world of Yeldon coming out of high school). After a tentative freshman season, you can now see what we saw two years ago. Vision, power, speed and quickness are on display each and every time he gets the ball. On five different occasions Harris bolted into the secondary and had just one more man to beat to get to the end zone. Man, he was soooooooooo close soooooooo many times…

WR Blocking: When we first saw Gehrig Dieter, he couldn’t block Lee Corso (with or without the mascot head on). Today, he shows up time and time again making terrific blocks on the outside. And any time Hurts gets to the outside, these receivers become heat seeking gazelles designed to blow up any opponents in Hurts’ way. On Hurts’ 45 yard touchdown run, he bounced to the outside and seemed content to go out of bounds at the 5 yard line. However, Calvin Ridley had other ideas as he cut the last defender down at the knees (sending him off with the trainers in the process) and Hurts was able to saunter in for the final five yards. Ridley and Deiter were both seen scrapping it up after a play was over so you know these boys are looking to mess somebody up on every play.

OL: Alabama named Cam Robinson and Bradley Bozeman as two of the players of the week. Robinson graded out at 89% and limited Myles Garrett’s impact on the game (typically Garrett was unblocked any time he made plays and that was by design). Meanwhile, Bozeman continues to maul people up front and was a huge help to the interior running game.  The OL is really becoming a game changing unit.

Red Zone Woes: The Tide’s offensive philosophy seemed to change once it reached the red zone. After slamming the ball down the Aggies mouth, Kiffin seemingly inexplicably took to the air whenever he was inside the 10 yard line. However, in looking back at the results of the running game inside the 10, it was no wonder Kiffin chose to pass:

  • RUN: Hurts run for (-1)
  • PASS: Pass incomplete to Ridley. Total confusion on what the play was.
  • PASS: Sack
  • Field goal
  • PASS: Pass to Howard for (-2). He was knocked off his route.
  • RUN: QB draw for no gain
  • PASS: Pass incomplete to Ridley. More confusion on the play call prior to the snap.
  • Field goal
  • RUN: Harris runs one yard for first down to the 5 yard line
  • PASS: Five yard pass to OJ Howard for a Touchdown
  • RUN: Hurts run for (-2)
  • PASS: Five yard pass to Ridley for a Touchdown

Four runs: Minus 2 yards

Six pass attempts: 3/6 for 8 yards, 2 touchdowns and one sack.

What you didn’t see from the 10 yard line and in was a power run from the pistol formation.  However, the Aggies stuffed the Arkansas Razorbacks on 10 straight plays inside the two yard line so we think Alabama didn’t feel comfortable running at the red zone defense of A&M.

Hidden Yardage: We absolutely loved how Alabama came off the goal line. With the ball on their own one yard line, the Bama offense ran the same play three straight times in a row resulting in a huge first down. JK Scott then flipped the field from Bama having the ball on their own 10 yard line to the Aggies taking possession 70 yards away at their 20! After the ensuing possession, Alabama took over at their 43 – a 33 yard gain in field position.

Tidebits

  • The pistol formation was very, very good to Alabama’s running game.
  • Kiffin dialed up first down passes 14 times.
  • Alabama’s best success was found running at Myles Garrett.
  • There appeared to be four or five plays where Bama’s offensive players were in utter chaos as the play clock wound down…down…down. Typically, it was a formation issue with players running around aimlessly. On one play, neither Ridley nor Hentges knew the play and yet the ball was thrown in their direction.
  • I love getting the ball to Jacobs on a swing pass. He should have been tackled short of a first down but dude has some skills and he used them to evade two defenders and get a first down. And that leg drive…yes, please.
  • Bo nearly had another lost fumble. He averages one drop per game and he only gets five carries. Not good.
  • On OJ’s touchdown, Alabama used a similar concept that was effective for Arkansas’ tight end. At the snap, Howard initially blocked the end but then he quickly released into the open for the TD.
  • Damien Harris picked up quite a few blitzes and defensive ends during the game. He nearly got killed on one play and then got de-crapitated on the interception return. We were amazed he came back in b/c it looked like he was out cold.
  • We loved the drive that got Alabama into field goal range as that was the best Hurts looked as a passer.
  • The deep shots were available and Hurts must improve here. Otherwise, teams will stack the box and stuff the line of scrimmage with bodies upon bodies.
  • Additionally, nearly every throw was outside the hashmarks. The awful pick that Hurts threw was an ill-fated pass to Ardarius Stewart running a crossing route in the middle of the field.
  • Up 33-14, we didn’t like seeing Hurts carry the football three times on a meaningless drive. He’s way too valuable to be dialing up running plays for him in a meaningless point in the game.

Alabama Defense

Saban’s post game comments focused quite a bit on how difficult it was to stop the Aggies’ offense. Their skill players are top notch and they are one of the very few teams in the country who feature a balanced offense that can beat you via the pass or the run. Holding this unit to 14 points was an amazing feat, especially when you consider this game was the final game in a series of very difficult contests for the Tide. Our only concern coming into the game was exhaustion but Bama showed they have the depth and the attitude to come out and dominate every Saturday. Pretty impressive.

Superman: How on earth did Verne AND Gary miss the fact that a 300 lb man flew thru the air to sack Trevor Knight? I mean, the man caught air! At 300 lbs!!!! Eventually someone in the truck told them about the play about 15 minutes after it happened but I have no idea how they failed to mention it during the play! Jonathan Allen completely dominated this game and is now (I kid you not) getting Heisman consideration! Allen totaled six tackles, four hurries, a sack, a fumble recovery and touchdown. Or, it just another Saturday for Allen…

Weak Sauce: How about that “attempted” tackle by Trevor Knight against Jonathan Allen, eh? Given Alabama’s struggles in the red zone, don’t you know that Sumlin and Chavis wanted one more opportunity to stop the Tide offense in the red zone once again? Instead, Knight attempted to….fall down? We are not sure what it was that Knight was doing on the play but it certainly wasn’t a tackle. As a result, Alabama scored seven points instead of three or zero (I’m sure we all would have felt confident in another field goal attempt, right?) and the game was over. Oh, and if you see a replay of this play, watch the Aggie lineman that faceplants at the two yard line…hilarious!

Scoring: I hope you aren’t taking this unprecedented scoring outburst by the defense for granted. You are witnessing history. Five fumble returns. Four interception returns. Three punt returns. Alabama is just two non-offensive touchdowns away from tying the all-time record (14) set by Southern Mississippi in 2011.

Nickel > Dime: Saban said the Tide defense was giving up too much yardage on the ground in their dime package so in the second half they switched to playing a 4-2-5 nickel package. This effectively stopped the run and forced A&M into being one dimensional.

Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!: It was soul crushing to see Jackson helped into the medical tent. The tent is 20 rows below where we sit so we could see the pain and agony on his face as he came to the realization his season and Bama career was over. Not many teams can replace a first/second round draft pick with a 5-star defensive back but that’s exactly what Alabama will do when Tony Brown takes a key role in the dime package. However, Brown is the last bullet Jeremy Pruitt has in his defensive backfield gun. The next injury will result in some inexperience young ‘un having to play a critical role on the defense.

Foster: Reuben Foster was outstanding in this game, shooting gaps and running sideline to sideline to make tackles. He’s been exceptional and has been every bit as dominating as Allen has on the season.

Tidebits

  • Alabama contains the edge rushes better than any team in college football. Each Saturday they put on a clinic.
  • The only thing Bama’s defense shuts down more effectively is the bubble screen to wide receivers. A&M’s receivers must have gone over to the sidelines and begged Sumlin to not call that play anymore before one of them got killed.
  • Pruitt sent numerous blitzes but, typically, the blitzers were either Foster up the middle or Fitzpatrick off the edge. Each blitz seemed designed to blow up any potential running plays.
  • Alabama’s defense blew a couple of coverages on Aggie backs out of the backfield. On one particular play, Foster blitzed, leaving Fitzpatrick in man to man against the back. However, Fitzy forgot about his coverage responsibility and the back was left running free down the sidelines. They tried this play a couple more times, exposing Alabama’s coverage but thankfully either the back didn’t turn around for the ball or he dropped the ball at his feet. Whew.
  • I really don’t think Knight has any clue where any of his center’s snaps are going. Ever.
  • Marlon Humphrey’s interception was a mirror image of a pick that Knight threw against USC. It was absolutely beautiful coverage and an outstanding understanding of where Knight wanted to go with the ball. Hump fell off his underneath coverage responsibility and slid underneath the deeper corner route. Excellent film study and recognition there.
  • Tim Williams popped Knight a couple of times after handing off on the zone read. Just a friendly reminder that Knight needed to keep handing off. Loved that.
  • A&M’s second touchdown drive was set up on a play that saw Alabama jump offsides. The majority of the defensive players stopped, including Ronnie Harrison. Once he started back, it was too late and Knight converted a huge 3rd & 11 down the field.
  • After Alabama took the lead at 20-14, the Aggies actually crossed the 50 four times and could have stayed in the game. Instead, these were the key plays that ended the drives:
    • 3&10 at Bama’s 47: Running back dropped the ball on an open wheel route
    • 2&12 at Bama’s 48: Knight sacked by Williams for a loss of 14. On the next play (3rd & 26), Ryan Anderson forced the fumble and Allen rumbled in for a 26-14 lead.
    • 3&15 at Bama’s 40: Knight incomplete pass to Reynolds (dropped)
    • 4&15 at Bama’s 40:  Knight throws ball away  (Allen & Anderson forced throw)
    • 3&5 at Bama’s 25: Knight sacked by Tim Williams for a loss of 13.
    • 4&18 at Bama’s 38: Knight sacked by Hand for a loss of 3.
  • The Tide generated 5 sacks on the day. And now average 3.86 per game – good for 3rd in NCAA. Alabama has generated 3+ sacks in each of first 8 games which is the most since TCU in 2008.

Alabama on Special Teams

Our hearts and prayers go out to Eddie Jackson who was lost for the season with a fractured leg.  Not only was Jackson electrifying as a punt returner but he was an essential component as the key safety in the Bama defensive backfield.  With the defections of three DBs this season (Burgess-Becker, Smith and Sheffield), there is officially no more depth in the secondary for Alabama.  Former 5-star Tony Brown will be inserted into the dime packages with Minkah Fitzpatrick moving to safety.  One more injury and you’ll need to consult your local roster to figure out who is in the secondary.

Adam Griffith.  We love ya man but…wow.  Whenever he is lining up for a kick on the right hash, grab your rosary beads, bible, rabbits foot and four leaf clover and then ask Bear for a big ole favor.

We mentioned JK Scott above but his value in flipping the field should not be underestimated.  Alabama gained 33 yards in hidden yardage thanks to this punting phenom.

Final Thoughts

Alabama has officially completed their roughest and toughest stretch of the season.  Nick Saban and his staff have navigated a brutal road schedule and now stand essentially two games away from being right back in the playoffs for an unprecedented third year in a row.

The week off couldn’t come at a better time with Fitzpatrick having two weeks to prepare for his new role at safety.  Alabama’s secondary will be called upon to go toe to toe with Leonard Fournette and any casualties coming from colliding with him in the open field could be costly in a number of ways for the Tide.

This small, fast defense will be tested between the tackles by LSU so it will be interesting to see how the staff uses the next two weeks to get guys like Josh Frazier, Johnny Dwight, OJ Smith and Raekwon Davis into the rotation and into the thick of the fight.  November 5th is setting up to be a completely different type of game that could force the Alabama offense to be at their best on the road in Death Valley.

 

 

 

 

 

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Alabama vs Texas A&M – Stats vs PAC 12 Teams

In an effort to provide you with the the most detailed analysis on the interwebs, the Notorious PAB decided to delve into the two PAC 12 games the Tide and Aggies have played.  Alabama, of course, opened the season against USC while Texas A&M opened against UCLA.  Here is his additional analysis for the season openers….

Bama and Texas A&M Against Non-SEC Power Five Opponents

Introduction

While perusing the Bama and Texas A&M schedules, we discovered an interesting coincidence.  Both opened their respective 2016 campaigns against Pac-12 teams.  Ranked teams, no less, and both representing institutions from sunny California.  (Actually, the Pac-12 reaches inland all the way to scenic Boulder, Colorado; but then again, the Big 10 has 14 teams, so details like this are obviously not important when it comes to “branding.”)

In the spirit of “buy one, get one” and “half-price sale,” we’ve gone ahead and examined those games in some detail.  If doing so adds any value, great.  If it doesn’t, well… what do those hippies and celebs in La-La Land know about football anyway?

Performances Versus the Trojans and Bruins

To date, the Tide has played two non-FBS teams – Western Kentucky and Kent State – while the Aggies have faced one program from outside the Power 5 Conferences: Prairie View A&M.  Not to discount the efforts put forth by the Hilltoppers, Golden Flashes and Panthers – much respect for all those young men – but we’re not going to include data from those games in this article.

Looking at non-conference, FBS opponents, both Bama and the Aggies opened their seasons against then-ranked teams from the Pac-12.  Bama defeated the Southern California Trojans, 52-6 in the Advocare Classic on September 3 in AT&T Stadium. USC was ranked #20 going into that game.  The Aggies bested the UCLA Bruins in one overtime, 31-24 on that same day, in a contest played at Kyle Field (their home stadium).  The preseason AP poll had the Bruins slotted at #17.

Both USC and UCLA are now in the midst of disappointing seasons.  The Trojans are 4-3 overall, 3-2 in the Pac-12.  (To be fair, USC has played four Top 25 teams to date).  The Bruins’ record is 3-4 overall, 1-3 in the conference.  It is, however, specious reasoning to evaluate past events based on what we know and how we feel currently (ask any competent historian).   So we’ll look a bit closer…

Bama vs. USC

Here’s what you need to know about Bama’s effort against the once-mighty (*) Southern Cal Trojans: (a) two freshmen played QB for the Tide; (b) USC was ahead 3-0 at the end of the first quarter; (c) the time of possession was essentially even – 29:17 for the Men of Troy,  30:43 for Bama; and (d) the final score was Tide 52 – USC 6.   Even using “Common Core” math, that’s a 48-point difference.

Was it really that one-sided?  Consider:

Total yards:     Bama 465                                                  USC  194 

First downs:     Bama 15                                                   USC 11

Passing:           Bama 12/18 ; 223 yards; 1 INT            USC  18/37; 130 yards; 1 INT

Rushing:           Bama 45 att ; 242 yards; 5.4 y/att   USC 30 att ; 64 yards; 2.1 y/att

Third downs:    Bama 6/15 (40%)                                 USC 4/18 (22.2%)

Fourth downs:  Bama 1/1 (100%)                                 USC 0/2 (0%)  

The only area of the game in which USC held any advantage was turnovers.  Bama suffered one INT and one fumbles lost; USC threw one INT.  Number of first downs was close (15 vs. 11), but that stat is skewed by four big-gain plays made by the Tide.

We’ll note three aspects of Bama’s play:

= balance: 223 yards passing and 242 yards rushing;

= efficiency: 60% pass completion rate and 5.4 yards/attempt on the ground;

= explosive plays: 39- and 71-yard TD passes; 46- and 71-yard runs.

Winning high-profile, national-audience, kickoff games at neutral sites against strong opponents is pretty much old hat to Coach Saban’s Bama squads.  Even so, this one stands out.  B E A T D O W N !

* “Once-mighty…”  We think that’s fair: six Heisman Trophy winners; 80 consensus All-Americans; .700 overall winning percentage; 33-17 bowl record (.660); 38 conference titles; two BCS championship appearances (2004 and 2005) and one BCS title (2005); and some of the most stunning cheerleaders to ever pick up a set of pom-poms.

Aggies vs. UCLA

First things first: A&M’s 31 – 24 win over the Bruins in College Station was an upset.  UCLA was ranked #16 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll, while the Aggies, with 81 points, were the second team below the cutoff (Miami/FL had 159 points).  Ranking teams before any games are played is an inexact science at best, but this was an unexpected outcome.

Total yards:       A&M 442                                              UCLA 468 

Passing:             A&M 22/42; 239 yards; 1 INT         UCLA  26/47; 343 yards; 3 INT

Rushing:            A&M 41 att; 203 yds; 5.0 y/att      UCLA 40 att; 125 yds; 3.1 y/att

Third downs:     A&M 4/15 (26.7%)                           UCLA 5/18 (27.8%)

Fourth downs:   A&M 1/2 (50%)                                UCLA 1/2 (50%)  

UCLA’s superior passing attack (+104 yards) was undercut by three INTs.  A&M’s rushing was better, generating +78 yards on only one additional attempt.  (The UCLA running game continues to be a serious problem.)  Interestingly, A&M had fewer first downs – 23 vs. 28 – despite a heavier reliance on the run game (45.9% of its total yardage vs.  26.7% for the Bruins).

UCLA trailed 24-9 at the start of the fourth quarter, then the Bruins scored on a 9-yard TD run (4:19) and a 62-yard TD pass (2:39).   In OT, the Aggies used eight plays to cover the 25 yards and add seven points.  UCLA managed 20 yards on seven plays when they got the ball, failing to score.

This was an important win for A&M and started the Aggies on the path to their 6-0 start.  But giving up two TDs in quick succession late in the fourth quarter is a red – or crimson, if you prefer – flag.  A&M had the Bruins down, but could not keep them down.  Given Bama’s big-play ability, having a modest lead as the clock winds down should give A&M cause for concern.

For a look at the original post, click this link to see the statistical analysis of the two common foes of Alabama and Texas A&M.

W2W4 – Alabama vs Texas A&M

Pretender? Or contender? That is the question.  Is Texas A&M’s undefeated record and #6 ranking in the country warranted ? Are they actually that good?  Or, is this yet another Aggie season built on smoke & mirrors, soon to be wrecked once again in Nick Saban’s Bryant-Denny house of horrors?

Pretender? Or contender? That’s this week’s Nancy “Red” Drew’s mystery of the week.  Let’s get out our notepad, magnifying glass and tweezers and take an in depth look at the Texas A&M Aggies.  This week’s W2W4 features intel from A&M’s games against Tennessee, Arkansas and South Carolina so we’ve gathered a ton of clues for you this week…

Alabama on Offense

Texas A&M’s “much improved” defense comes into this game ranked 98th in total defense!  We aren’t sure how that constitutes “much improved” but that’s what you’ll hear during Saturday’s broadcast.  Yes, this Aggie defensive group is so good they allowed 684 yards to the same Tennessee team that the Tide held to just 163 yards last week. So, they have improved over what, exactly?  A speed bump?

Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis employs a high risk, high reward strategy as the play caller for the Aggies’ defense. A&M’s defense is small and fast. Chavis uses their speed to attack the passer and he uses run blitzes along with 7, 8 and 9 man fronts in order to outnumber the blockers and shut down the running game.

To the good, the Aggies’ blitz heavy defense ranks second in the country in forcing turnovers, generating 17 this season (seven of them came in one game against Tennessee). Additionally, the Aggies are ranked 16th in the country in sacks – averaging 3.3 per game (Bama is #1 with 3.86 per game). These Aggies want to disrupt the line of scrimmage and just last year they recorded 15 tackles for loss against Alabama.

When you blitz consistently, you put your defenders at risk of giving up the big play and that’s exactly what has happened to Chavis this season. Texas A&M’s aggressive defense has generated sacks, picks and tackles for loss, but they are extremely susceptible to giving up the big play.  The Aggies rank 13th in the SEC in giving up plays of 10 yards or longer. Chavis’ charges have given up a staggering 105 plays over 10 yards. Yowza.

We suspect you’ll see more tackles for loss than you want to see during this game but you should also see some long runs and huge plays in the passing game. Here’s what to watch for when Alabama has the ball…

Here Comes the Boom: Look out Jalen Hurts, the nation’s career leader in sacks will be coming through Cam Robinson’s neighborhood this week. Myles Garrett (#15) is a sure fire NFL first rounder at defensive end. He has size, speed and length, and the week off should have done wonders for his bum ankle. Garrett is a game changer and he’ll have to be neutralized in order for Bama to move the ball.  Garrett still relies primarily on his speed rush around the edges and doesn’t have quite the toolbox that Tim Williams has.

System Overload: So how does one neutralize Garrett and combat the numbers that Chavis will throw at the line of scrimmage? Look for Alabama to continue to use multiple tight ends this week in an effort to out-physical the smaller Aggies at the line of scrimmage. The beauty of guys like OJ Howard and Miller Forristall is that they both have the ability to split out wide as receivers, as well. We think tight ends will be a huge key to this game as they will have to help against Garrett and help against the blitzing safeties, corners, linebackers and team waterboys, as well.

Like Butter: Tennessee actually went the opposite way, using an empty backfield and spreading the Aggies out by using five wide receivers. With the defense spread across the field, the Aggies weren’t able to disguise any blitzes and they played way, way, way off in coverage. UT quarterback Josh Dobbs was able to hit a huge number of quick passes against the off coverage and this completely eliminated the fierce Aggie pass rush.  If Alabama does spread the Aggies out wide, they should be able to successfully play pitch and catch against the off coverage.

It’s Tricky: Throughout his tenure at Alabama, Lane Kiffin has done the complete opposite of what you’d think he’s going to do (on and off the field). When Alabama lines up with multiple tight ends, he’s looked to throw the ball down the field off of play action. When Alabama has spread the defense out, he’s tried to gash the opponent with an interior run. It’s going to be fun to see how Lane attacks the speed & quickness of this smaller Aggies defense.

Shot, Shot, Shot: Chavis will be asking his corners and safeties to lock up Bama’s receivers in man to man all game long. The Aggies will be hell bent on stopping the run since Alabama rushed for over 700 yards in the last two games. If I were Chavis, I’d make Jalen Hurts prove he can beat me thru the air so I would crowd the line of scrimmage with bodies.  This means there should be huge opportunities in the passing game for the Tide. Look for Kiffin to keep his tight ends and backs in to block on first down and challenge the Aggies down the field.

Slot, Slot, Slot: Kiffin will have to play a chess game with Chavis with his slot receivers. Chavis blitzes from the slot on nearly every play so it will be fun to see how Kiffin aligns his receivers to defeat this. Bunch formations could be called upon to confuse the coverages and allow the hot receivers an easy out route against the blitz. If you see an Aggie defender in the slot, more times than not he’s coming (and the safety jumps the hot route).

Play Action:  Against Tennessee and Arkansas, the Aggie linebackers and safeties were extremely aggressive on early downs as they tried to fill gaps and stuff the running game.  This really opens up the middle of the defense and all three opponents we watched took advantage.

Tidebits

  • Safeties – The Aggie safeties are uber aggressive. Alabama will take several shots at them via play action on first down. This will happen early and often.
  • Zone Read – Both South Carolina and Tennessee had success in running the zone read at A&M. When the Aggies do not stack the line of scrimmage and get their numbers into the running lanes, they tend to get pushed around. If you see A&M in a standard 4-2 look, think zone read. Both the USC and UT quarterbacks had huge gainers in the zone read as the Aggie ends were dazed and confused.
  • Cushion – We said it above but A&M is leery about getting beaten over the top so, therefore, their corners play way off of wide receivers. This opens up bubble screens and hitches (and should allow Hurts to get the ball out quickly).
  • Snap Count – Against USC, the Aggies jumped offsides several times. We’re not sure the young true freshman QB is ready to vary the snap count but we bet it’s been talked about this week.
  • Interior Runs – The speed of the A&M defense sure makes it hard to get to the edges. However, aside from Daylan Mack (#5), the middle of the Aggies defense can be brutalized. Tennessee ran for the majority of their 282 yards between their offensive tackles.
  • Backfield in Motion: The Aggies blew coverage after coverage on Alvin Kamara out of the backfield so there should be opportunities in the passing game for Bama’s backs. Slip screens were especially deadly against the Aggies.
  • Goal Line:  Against Arkansas, A&M put 11 men on the line of scrimmage and stuffed them on 10 plays inside the two yard line.  Alabama will have to spread the Aggies out around the goal line in order to get favorable numbers.  Attacking off the tackles would be the best option.
  • Pass Interference: Look for the Aggie corners and safeties to get called for multiple PIs this week.  They will be locked up in one on one situations and Bama’s receivers will have the upper hand in this matchup.
  • OJ Howard: Tennessee, Arkansas and USC found a ton of room with their 3-star tight ends. OJ should have a huge day in the passing game this week.  Arkansas’ tight end would chip on Garrett and then release late into the open middle of the field.
  • Key Defenders: Edge rushers Myles Garrett and Dashon Hall are disruptive and big Daylon Mack is a load at defensive tackle. However, their best playmaker is #6, Justin Evans. He’s asked to do everything for the Aggies and NFL.com actually named him as the defensive player of the midyear in college football.
  • Josh Dobbs:  Dobbs passed for 402 yards against the Aggies.  I mean…

Final Offensive Thoughts

John Chavis will be bringing the house this week but his blitzes will be designed to stuff the running lanes with Aggie jerseys. Lane Kiffin will be challenged to find a way to attack this but not in a way that puts the game squarely on Jalen Hurts’ shoulders. The Aggies force a ton of turnovers so Bama must attack the defense but try to limit the risk. Look for play action on first down and then zone reads whenever Bama can get Chavis into a regular 4-2 look on defense. Bama’s OL should consistently win at the point of attack when A&M’s numbers do not overwhelm them.

Alabama on Defense

Alabama’s defense is coming off a victory that saw them absolutely thrash the Tennessee Vol offense. The Vols had an exceptional running back, a running quarterback who could throw it just well enough to make some plays and they had a couple of playmakers on the outside and Alabama completed dominated each one of them.

Well, this week Alabama faces an exceptional running back, a running quarterback who can throw it just well enough to make some plays and numerous playmakers on the outside. The key difference between UT and Texas A&M is, of course, their offensive lines.

The Tennessee line was just a line drawn in the sand and the Tide easily swept it away. The Aggies’ line is much more stout and they’ve been able to move opposing defenders in such a way that’s allowed A&M to lead the conference in rushing.

Gone are the days of the “Chuck N Duck” Sumlin offenses. Today’s offense features a nice, balanced attack that emphasizes an outstanding running back in Trayveon Williams and a very good running quarterback in Trevor Knight. Williams and Knight are running the zone read offense about as well as it can be done and the Aggies are currently ranked 7th in the country in rushing offense.

However, a closer look at the Aggies’ opponents reveals that the top ranked rushing defense they have faced is South Carolina, who checks in as the 50th ranked rush defense in the country. Alabama, of course, has the #1 rushing defense in the country. Toto, we’re not playing Kansas anymore…

When Trevor Knight is asked to pass, that’s when things get a little wonky for the 5th year senior. He’s completing just 53.5% of his passes and is the 10th rated passer in the SEC. Comparatively, Jalen Hurts is completing 63.5% of his passes as a true freshman. All of this suggests that if the Tide can force Knight to throw, then Bama stands a good chance of winning on Saturday. Here’s how they can do it…

When I Move, You Move: I’m an avid watcher of ESPN Film Room and this week they did a great piece on Trevor Knight’s issues as a passer. When you come into the game completing only 53% of your passes, you have issues and Mr Knight certainly does. If Knight sets his feet and fires to his primary target on time and in rhythm, it’s a beautiful thing to see. However, as soon as Knight becomes antsy and starts patting the ball and nervously moving his feet, all bets (and passes) are off. Look for Jeremy Pruitt to blitz throughout the day with the intent to move Knight from his spot and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. Pruitt will be adding a fifth and sixth rusher consistently this week.

Lefty, Lefty, Lefty: For a fifth year senior, Knight makes several true freshmen mistakes. For one, he stares down his primary receiver on every pass attempt and he refuses to work thru his progressions. This means he stares down the route until gives up on it and then tucks and runs. Knight is most comfortable staring (and throwing) to his left, as that’s where the vast majority of his successful throws go. Therefore, look for Alabama to load up numbers against the right tackle and blitz off of Knight’s left side. This should force him to his right and into some uncomfortable throws.

Land of Confusion:  Knight has difficulty throwing the ball between the hashmarks.  I don’t know if it’s just too much traffic or that he just can’t see very well but, either way, he isn’t good at throwing down the middle of the field.

Baby Got Back:  Boy, Trayveon Williams (#5) is outstanding.  He’s got a ton of speed and is waaay more physical than he looks.  I like him a lot and he’s the shifty kind of back that can get big yardage if he finds a crease.  Da’Ron Payne and Dalvin Tomlinson will need to control the middle of the line and we think they should fare pretty well.  A&M’s left guard and center appeared to get pushed around a few times on film.

Captain Kirk:  Christian Kirk (#3) is the primary weapon in the passing game.  They typically throw him a ton of bubble screens and then work him out of the slot in an effort to get him lined up on a linebacker.  He’s a handful but most of his catches are within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Goal Line:  Look for A&M to stay in the shotgun and run the zone read in short yardage and goal line situations.  This should allow Alabama to get penetration into the backfield.  Alabama should bring some pressure off of Knight’s left as that’s where he usually goes around the goal line.

Edge Containment:  Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson will continue to be asked to contain the edge in a big, big way this week.  A&M loves to leave defensive ends unblocked and the Tide has countered this by sending their ends on heat seeking missions.  Look for Bama’s unblocked ends to disrupt a number of plays this week.

Shots, Shots, Shots:  Marlon Humphrey, Anthony Averett and others will have to do a much better this week in defending the one-on-one deep balls.  Arkansas and Ole Miss took advantage of the Tide in on-on-one situations and A&M will most certainly do the same.  The Tide will be bringing pressure so it will be up to the DBs to hold up in man coverage.

Tidebits

  • Knight throws mostly to his left and almost 100% of his throws are outside of either hash. He made big mistakes against UT and USC when he threw down the middle of the field.
  • When A&M lines up trips (three wide receivers) to one side, look for Knight to throw towards the other side to his single receiver. When he throws to the trips formations, he’s usually targeting Christian Kirk (#3) in the slot.
  • When they go deep, look for #11 – Josh Reynolds. They like to line him up as the single wide receiver and have him attack man coverage with a deep route.
  • At the goal line, look for Trevor Knight to fake a handoff up the middle and then run to his left. He’s much stronger than he looks and has crashed in for several touchdowns off of this play.
  • A&M’s backs are horrible at picking up a blitz. Yet another reason to, you know, blitz.
  • The Aggies throw an incredible amount of bubble screens out wide. Bama usually shuts these down easily but their tackling will be tested on Saturday.
  • The Aggies show a ton of fly sweep action.  Any time you see Reuben Foster or Shon Dion-Hamilton by himself as a single linebacker then look for the zone read.  A&M checks the numbers game and they love getting a 5-on-5 situation with their offensive line.  Of course, Pruitt will be reinforcing his numbers with his safeties so it should be a helluva chess match.
  • Delayed blitzes seemed to be effective against the Aggies.
  • Alabama’s defense has allowed 63.9 rushing yards, which leads the nation by more than 20 yards per game.

Final Defensive Thoughts

Unlike Alabama defenses of the past, Jeremy Pruitt is going to bring pressure against the Texas A&M offense.  The broadcast will talk about the day young Trevor Knight lit up the Alabama defense.  In that game, Knight was 32-of-44 for 348 yards and four touchdowns.  However, that was the most maddening defensive effort the Tide has put forth in a long time.  Instead of switching up coverages and blitz looks, Smart just blitzed CJ Mosley up the middle on every play.  Knight then just rolled away from the pressure and took advantage of man to man coverage down the field.  Rest assured that will most certainly not be the game plan this week.

Alabama on Special Teams

As usual, the Tide should own a considerable advantage in field position this week.  JK Scott is the second ranked punter in the conference while A&M checks in 7th in the SEC in average yards per punt.

Meanwhile, Christian Kirk is ranked second in the conference in punt return average but, unfortunately for him, he ranks behind Alabama’s Eddie Jackson and Xavian Marks.  Kirk is a dynamic weapon, though, so we’d be very happy to see him not get a chance to make a return.

The Aggies do hold a considerable advantage at place kicker.  The Aggies have hit 12 of 16 kicks, three of which were over 40 yards.  With his bad miss against Tennessee, Adam Griffith is now ranked 11th in the SEC by hitting just 66.7% of his kicks this year.

Final Thoughts and Prediction

The statistical analysis we posted last night (thanks to the Notorious PAB) is proof positive that these two teams are very, very different.  While the Aggies struggled mightily against Arkansas and Tennessee, Alabama had no real issues dispatching them quickly.  A&M features a well balanced offense this time around but if their running game gets stuffed (as it should), then the game will fall squarely on the shoulders of a quarterback completing just over 50% of his passes.  Folks, that ain’t good enough to beat this Bama team.

Final Score:  Bama 42     Texas A&M 20