By Jess Nicholas
Oct. 19, 2014
Saturday’s win over Texas A&M didn’t just set an Alabama record for most points scored in a quarter (35, in the second frame). It also set a TideFans.com record for most incorrect game preview of all time.
That second record was set both in the objective realm and the subjective realm. Objectively, the pregame pick of Texas A&M 27-24 was off by a total of 62 points (Alabama was underscored by 35; A&M was overscored by 27). Subjectively, the game played out almost precisely the opposite of the way it was foreseen.
And that’s the reason that suddenly, Alabama can get excited about its season once again – provided it can harness whatever fount of emotion it tapped into against the Aggies.
Texas A&M was picked to have the better quarterbacks, wide receivers, offensive line, special teams and trench matchups. With the exception of special teams – Alabama’s week-to-week results are too erratic at the moment to make anyone feel comfortable – you could throw away the other research. Blake Sims outplayed Kenny Hill, Texas A&M’s wide receivers didn’t show up, and most surprisingly, the Aggie offensive line rolled craps all day long. Alabama didn’t just win the battle of the trenches, it dominated them.
So what actually happened Saturday? Where did this level of domination come from?
After a loss to Ole Miss two weeks ago and a nail-obliterating, one-point win over Arkansas last Saturday, there weren’t too many Bama believers left in the college football realm, and certainly not outside the list of Crimson Tide season ticket-holders. Nick Saban seized the cloud of doubt emanating from the home fans and media, stirred in some motivational advice from Alabama golf coach Jay Seawell, and turned it into a rallying cry for his team.
The only questions tonight are whether Saban had any idea just how big the floodgates were that he was opening – and whether he is capable of regulating the flow of emotion over the next several weeks.
It’s unlikely that anyone knew just how dramatic Alabama’s transformation would have looked against Texas A&M, or that Alabama even had the ability to transform in the first place. The conventional wisdom among observers was beginning to center on the notion that Alabama’s win over Florida had been a mirage, that the meat of the SEC schedule would be too much and that recent struggles against Ole Miss and Arkansas were indicative of the rest of the season.
While Texas A&M’s defense leaves a lot to be desired, Alabama still deserves praise for how it approached this game and how it executed a gameplan to perfection. The second quarter of this game could not have played out any better for Alabama if someone had ordered it off a menu.
But the real challenge will be keeping this level of intensity, emotion – and not to mention, fun – going for the remainder of the season. Alabama’s playoff future depends on it.
Here’s the Five-Point Breakdown for Alabama-Texas A&M:
1. Emotion, emotion, emotion. Alabama hadn’t played with much of it against either Ole Miss or Arkansas, save for the defense’s second-half effort against the Razorbacks that seemed to grow to a crescendo in the fourth quarter. This game, though, was something different from start to finish. Alabama opened on a high and kept it up for four quarters. College football is so closely tied to emotion, that when one team (Alabama) has it and the other team (Texas A&M) doesn’t, matchups and stats suddenly mean very little. Alabama simply overran and overpowered Texas A&M, and the amount of desire Alabama showed during the game was as striking as the lack thereof shown by Texas A&M.
2. Alabama focused on the little things. Alabama was never flagged in the game. There were no communication-driven penalties, a big plus over past weeks. Alabama took a calmer approach to playclock management, and took the time to get the details right. These are usually things teams require an off-week to polish up, but Alabama managed to do it in a standard week. Unlike the emotional tenor of this game, which sometimes can’t be replicated week to week, an increased focus on the details can become habit, which bodes well for Alabama’s future.
3. Alabama dominated the trenches, and thus, the game. Texas A&M’s offensive line was probably a bit overrated coming into this game anyway, but Alabama did an expert job of identifying where the biggest holes were (speed containment over right tackle, gap discipline at the guard slots) and punished Texas A&M for not having a plan to fill them. Alabama was able to apply pressure with four- and five-man rushes, and recorded six sacks along the way. Moreover, Alabama moved Kenny Hill out of the pocket on several occasions, and forced Texas A&M to go with rollouts that took away half the field. Alabama built a lead so quickly that A&M had to practically abandon the running game, but it likely wouldn’t have mattered. Alabama frequently put up snap-to-contact times of 2 seconds or less, which kills both running games and pocket passing. Offensively, center Bradley Bozeman and right guard Leon Brown played their best games, but the real issue was that Texas A&M’s tackles couldn’t get off blocks. Couple that with linebackers that are laterally limited and not very strong, and it’s easy to see how Alabama controlled these tactical aspects of the game.
4. Special teams did their jobs. With the exception of a late, long kickoff return, Alabama fairly well shut down the Aggies’ return game. Reuben Foster made highlight-worthy tackles on three consecutive kickoffs, and his absence on the final kickoff was probably the reason for Texas A&M’s long return. Alabama made changes to its punt return units, putting an extra returner back with Christion Jones, and the extra player was responsible for directing traffic. It’s too early to call it a trend, but it’s a good start.
5. Alabama’s offense loves the home field. This is something Alabama will still have to work on, because there are too many big games away from Bryant-Denny Stadium still left to play. Quarterback Blake Sims has looked exceptionally calm and composed at Bryant-Denny, but less so on the road. Overall, the offense appeared more confident, more aggressive and more apt to shake off bad plays against the Aggies, and it’s a behavior we’ve already seen this year in games against Florida, Southern Miss and Florida Atlantic. There’s certainly nothing wrong with being strong at home, but Alabama needs to figure a way to take that act on the road.