While Alabama has certainly had its fair share of bad outcomes against division rivals LSU and Auburn, one of the more underrated matchups every year in the SEC is watching Alabama take on Texas A&M. Former Aggie QB Johnny Manziel made it that way; prior to Manziel arriving, Alabama seemed to dispatch Texas A&M regularly and without a lot of fanfare. Manziel seemed to reset the cosmos in College Station, and subsequent quarterbacks have tried (mostly in vain, admittedly) to follow in his footsteps.
Recently, the mantle has fallen to Kellen Mond, a dual-threat senior quarterback who is both the beneficiary and victim of his own streaky play. Alabama comes into this game fresh off a controlling effort of Missouri, while Texas A&M nearly lost to Vanderbilt in the opening week, with Mond having one of his frequent unimpressive games.
Alabama would certainly like to bank on a repeat performance from Mond, but if there’s one thing Alabama fans have learned: Don’t expect less than the Aggies’ best.
Ever since Jimbo Fisher arrived in College Station, he has tried to pull Texas A&M back from being a full-on spread team and introduce more pro-style and running concepts. While the move figures to pay dividends eventually, the immediate results haven’t been great. Against Vanderbilt, Texas A&M looked lethargic and unable to pressure the Commodores’ weak points. Texas A&M comes in ranked 48th out of 72 teams in total offense, which would translate to about 90th if all FBS teams were playing. The Aggies ran the ball better than they threw it in the first game. Alabama’s multiple pro-style attack seemed to have a more physical posture than in the last couple of years, which was expected. The Crimson Tide mostly ran when it wanted to and passed when it wanted to against Missouri.
Mond has been overshadowed a great deal by some of the conference’s younger dual-threat quarterbacks – and possibly by Alabama’s Mac Jones, for that matter. Mond as a senior is not all that different from Mond as a freshman; he is still dangerous with his legs, still seems to make a few how-did-he-do-that throws each game, but overall lacks the accuracy or the raw arm talent to consistently break defenses.
Alabama has mostly dealt with the challenge he’s brought to this game in recent years, but Alabama must contain him when he’s outside the pocket or his veteran experience could rise to the top against Alabama’s young secondary. Mond will run the ball 5-10 times in this game and Alabama must be ready for it. The backup is one of a pair of freshmen, Zach Calzada or Haynes King. Neither played in the opener.
Alabama’s Jones started and put together a solid effort against Missouri, getting into a rhythm early on and then continuing to punish Missouri’s solid secondary. While his speed outside the pocket isn’t anything write about, Jones’ ability to shuffle inside the pocket is already a strength of his game and allows Alabama to depend on its pocket passing packages. Backup Bryce Young has some work to do, but his debut against Missouri featured more good than bad for a freshman playing in his first collegiate action. Advantage: Alabama
Isaiah Spiller and Ainias Smith are a good 1-2 punch for Texas A&M, rushing for 168 yards on just 18 carries in the opener. Those were the only running backs to see action, although the Aggies have four others on the depth chart, a sophomore in Earnest Crownover and three freshmen. Assuming the Aggies stay with the same gameplan against Alabama, Spiller gives Texas A&M an inside runner while Smith is a smaller back capable of getting outside. The rest of the Aggie running game is likely to come from Mond at QB.
Alabama will feature Najee Harris as its lead back, with Brian Robinson Jr. and Trey Sanders picking up the slack. Harris was featured more than Alabama typically has used its primary back recently, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a division of labor somewhat equal to how Derrick Henry was utilized.
Neither Robinson nor Sanders had particularly effective 2020 debuts against Missouri; Robinson dropped a sure touchdown pass and Sanders had problems getting out of the gate in his first college action – although to be fair to him, most of his carries came at the end of the game when Missouri was overloading the run blitz. Spiller and Smith would probably be second and third on Alabama’s depth chart behind Harris if the units were combined, so this is not a runaway lead for Alabama by any stretch, but the Crimson Tide’s Harris is worth extra points in almost any two-team comparison. Advantage: Alabama
Texas A&M has a clear edge in one place, and that’s tight end, where Jalen Wydermyer is probably one of the best two or three younger tight ends in the conference. He’s a good blocker and very effective as a wide receiver. Alabama has no one like him, but the Tide does have better tight end depth. A&M’s backup is a smallish Kansas grad transfer, Ryan Renick, who was not used much at his former school, and a converted defensive end, Max Wright, is listed third but rarely plays.
Injuries hit A&M hard in the preseason, with two freshmen, Baylor Cupp and Blake Smith, going down with a shoulder and knee injury, respectively. This will be the second straight year Cupp has lost his season to injury.
Alabama will start Miller Forristall at tight end, with Carl Tucker being the likely co-starter when Alabama uses two tight ends. Cameron Latu played a bunch against Missouri and appears bigger and more comfortable at the position in his second year after coming over from defense. Jahleel Billingsley provides depth at H, and Kendall Randolph will play there around the goal line. Alabama also may be missing a key reserve, Major Tennison, but Forristall gives Alabama a good receiving and flex-TE option and Tucker and Latu looked good enough blocking last Saturday that the loss is muted somewhat.
As for receiver, when Jhamon Ausbon opted out for the 2020 season, it took away A&M’s most reliable deep threat by far. Texas A&M lists 10 receivers on its depth chart with no clear starter at any of the three positions. Caleb Chapman and Jalen Preston had 4 catches apiece against Vanderbilt but combined for less than 10 yards per reception. Kam Brown, who had 2 catches in that game, is tentatively listed as the third starter. The one thing this trio does have is height; all are 6’2” and up, but none of them are particularly physical. Of the 10, only one, Hezekiah Jones, is an upperclassman. Chase Lane figures to be one of the top rotational players at least, catching a couple of balls against Vandy.
Alabama doesn’t have a problem with not knowing its starters, but depth has yet to fill out. Starters DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and John Metchie III played all but a couple of snaps against Missouri, with Slade Bolden and Xavier Williams the primary expected backups. Alabama might get true freshman Javon Baker back this week after he sat out the opener; Baker turned a lot of heads in fall camp and is a physical receiver.
Having Smith, Waddle and Metchie in the game ever snap, though, didn’t prove to be an issue, at least not for the first game. All three are physical blockers, and Metchie especially showed out as such against Mizzou. Smith and Waddle are pure showtime as wideouts, better by far than anyone Texas A&M has. Waddle’s Game 1 production alone almost equaled the entire Texas A&M team from the first week. Advantage: Alabama
Texas A&M came into the year needing to fill just one vacant starting position, and the Aggies did that with a fifth-year senior (C Ryan McCollum). The rest – guards Jared Hocker and Kenyan Green, tackles Dan Moore Jr. and Carson Green – are holdovers from a year ago. It’s a solid group with a lot of experience, and comes into this game ranked in the top 10 in both sacks allowed and tackles for loss allowed after the first week.
Alabama’s starters looked solid against Missouri, with guards Emil Ekiyor Jr. and Deonte Brown and tackles Alex Leatherwood and Evan Neal flanking center Landon Dickerson. Ekiyor was the only one to draw any concern about, and that was mostly after Neal got dinged up and eventually moved to left tackle to get some reps there.
Alabama’s second unit needs to put up a better performance if called upon in this game. Kendall Randolph had a rough time, to be kind, at right tackle in Neal’s place. Chris Owens got work at center but seemed to have some of the same issues as a year ago. How this shakes out as the year goes on is anyone’s guess, because Alabama doesn’t figure to get many chances to build depth during an all-SEC schedule. But Texas A&M isn’t necessarily in any better shape; four of its five reserves are freshmen.
Alabama needs to continue to improve, but after watching how the starters dominated Missouri when Alabama’s offense was still running all its plays, we’ll give the Tide the benefit of the doubt. Advantage: Alabama
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