A big reason a lot of fans detest national and regional sports media is its propensity to focus on a notion it feels no one else has realized yet, and run it into the ground.
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Whether it’s breathless, first-game Heisman hype for Auburn QB Bo Nix, or how a large chunk of national pundits got behind the idea of Texas A&M-as-championship-contender, it doesn’t take more than just a reasonably astute college football fan to be able to spot a red herring when one swims by. In the case of Nix, part of the reason for identifying him as an early Heisman contender was the abject panic many writers feel when faced with trying to identify someone – anyone – besides Tua Tagovailoa who is deserving of the award.
In the case of Texas A&M’s premature ascendancy to the top of the SEC heap, it’s not nearly that complicated: A lot of people were looking for a dark horse, and instead found a shadowy donkey.
Texas A&M is 3-2, its losses coming in close-but-moribund games against Clemson and Auburn. Of the remaining three, the Aggies only dominated two of those games, against also-rans Texas State and Lamar. Arkansas, a team the Aggies were supposed to blow out of the water, came very close to an upset, eventually falling 31-27.
Now comes Alabama, by far the most offensively-minded school the Aggies have yet to face. The only way Texas A&M will win this game is to match score for score, and while it’s possible with Kellen Mond triggering things at quarterback – he has demonstrated the ability to move the ball against Alabama in the past – it isn’t likely.
With Jimbo Fisher running things, Texas A&M has become an amalgamation of spread concepts, power-I concepts and a bit of option thrown in for flavor. But Texas A&M ranks just 58th in total offense, mostly due to the failings of a running game that ranks just 97th. Mond has led his team to a ranking of 25th in passing offense, but how much of that is due to stats skewed by a light schedule is still up for debate. Alabama hasn’t exactly played Murderer’s Row either, but the Tide has taken care of business: total offense is 3rd, passing offense 3rd, scoring offense 3rd. Only a running game that ranks a mediocre 55th at the moment is cause for concern.
Kellen Mond’s stat line for the year isn’t terrible. He’s completed roughly two-thirds of his passes, thrown for 1,333 yards and 10 touchdowns. On the other hand, he’s thrown 4 picks and has allowed himself to be sacked 9 times for a loss of 60 yards despite being one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the conference. Mond doesn’t have what most would call a great arm, but he can throw the deep ball. Most problematic for Alabama, he’s one of those Stephen Garcia types that can get on an absolutely killer hot streak, and he has the physical tools to make the most of those opportunities.
Freshman Zach Calzada has settled in as the backup, but he’s completing less than half his passes. Sophomore James Foster, more dangerous as a runner than as a passer, is also in the mix.
For Alabama, Tua Tagovailoa has thrown for 1,718 yards but it’s the TD-to-INT count – 23 touchdowns, no picks – that blow people away. Tagovailoa’s accuracy and efficiency are almost impossible to match. And while Mond has run the fall far more often than has Tua, Tua is only averaging 0.2 yards less per carry. If Mond is playing out of his mind and Tagovailoa is simultaneously having an off-day, this one could narrow up a bit, but only under those circumstances. And Bama’s Mac Jones is a better backup than anyone Texas A&M has. Advantage: Alabama
Neither team has run the ball the way it probably wanted to coming into the season, but Alabama’s Najee Harris and Brian Robinson Jr. are starting to put things together somewhat. Harris is averaging the same amount of yardage per carry – 6.2 – as is Texas A&M’s Isaiah Spiller. Spiller’s counterpart, Jashaun Corbin, was hovering around the 4-yard-per-carry mark, just as Alabama’s Robinson is, but was lost to a hamstring injury. Texas A&M will use Jacob Kibodi as the backup until Corbin’s return.
Alabama uses its third back, whether it’s Jerome Ford or Keilan Robinson this week, more often than Texas A&M uses its third back, which is now Cordarrian Richardson. To put it succinctly, Harris has been more effective than Spiller, which is what carries the day here. Texas A&M does have a fullback – Cagan Baldree – whereas Alabama uses an extra tight end when needed. Baldree hasn’t touched the ball yet this year. Advantage: Alabama
Anyone who goes up in a comparison with Alabama’s four horsemen of Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle is going to come out in second place, but it would be unfortunate to overlook just how dangerous Texas A&M’s top two of Quartney Davis and Jhamon Ausbon really can be. Ausbon is having a breakout season, but Davis has been effective against Alabama in the past. Both have the talent to play at the next level.
Kendrick Rogers, Ainias Smith and Camron Buckley form the next group for Texas A&M, with Rogers in particular being effective in 2019. Neither team has a fantastic situation at tight end – Texas A&M rotates Glenn Beal and freshmen Jalen Wydermyer, while Alabama will use Miller Forristall and Major Tennison primarily, with Kendall Randolph available as a situational blocking tight end.
In just about any method of figuring it, Alabama comes out on top here, as the Crimson Tide is just deeper overall and has more dynamic ability at the top of the depth chart. But Alabama shouldn’t sleep on Texas A&M’s receivers, who will be a test for Alabama’s defensive backs. Advantage: Alabama
Alabama didn’t need to come into this week dealing with an injury, but it appears center Chris Owens might have to sit this one out. In that event, right guard Landon Dickerson would move to center, putting Deonte Brown into the game at right guard. Evan Neal will start at left guard, with Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills as the tackles. For Texas A&M, experienced center Colton Prater gets the call in the middle, flanked by Jared Hocker and Kenyon Green at the guards and Carson Green and Dan Moore Jr. at the tackles.
The Aggies have been decent at run blocking, ranking 32nd in tackles for loss allowed, good for 5th in the conference. But pass protection has struggled at times, with the Aggies ranking just 60th nationally and mid-pack in the SEC.
Ask any Alabama fan how its offensive line is performing in 2019, and you’ll get a mixed bag of evaluations, but statistically Alabama ranks 37th and 17th in TFL and sacks allowed, respectively. Part of A&M’s struggles probably do have to do with the competition the Aggies have faced, as both Clemson and Auburn are capable of making opposing offensive lines miserable. Alabama’s line is coming off two good weeks in a row, but with Owens potentially out for this game, it might be enough to push this one to the Aggies. Advantage: Texas A&M
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