In the modern college football game, the one thing teams must have in order to keep pace with the contenders is production at the quarterback position.
Not everyone has to have a Mac Jones or a Trevor Lawrence, but teams absolutely must have competency at the position, with the ability to change the game. Texas A&M might have had that at the beginning of the year, in the form of dual-threat Haynes King, but an early ankle injury knocked him from the lineup, and since then the Aggies have been going with a traditional pocket passer, Zach Calzada.
The results have not been up to par, and now the Aggies find themselves the owner of two losses, and outside the top-25 rankings altogether, a disappointing fate for a team originally thought to be a national title contender.
Still, Alabama must take the game seriously. It’s at Kyle Field, not one of the easiest SEC venues. The Aggies have a solid defense and a good running game, and Alabama lost two key players in a win over Ole Miss last week, RB Jase McClellan and DE Drew Sanders. McClellan is done for the year.
Nick Saban called this matchup a “trap game” in his weekly press conference. It could be more than that, if the Aggies finally play up to their potential.
Jimbo Fisher is often regaled as a groundbreaking offensive coordinator, but his career numbers suggest otherwise. While Fisher is certainly an accomplished coach, his best attribute is probably his recruiting prowess. As a coordinator, his teams are often effective, but not necessarily big stat generators. From primarily a power formation, this A&M team ranks 82nd in total offense, 57th in rushing and 85th in passing. The Aggies are 110th in passing efficiency and 100th in scoring. Alabama will utilize a multiple, pro-style passing spread that ranks 26th in total offense, 65th in rushing, 21st in passing, 4th in passing efficiency and 3rd in scoring.
Zach Calzada has a strong arm, but has been a liability thus far rather than a strength of the offense. Calzada has completed only 53.9 percent of his passes for 744 yards and a 109.4 QB rating over 5 games, and even though Haynes King started the first two games, Calzada played in each. Calzada has thrown 5 touchdowns but also 4 interceptions. His backup, freshman Blake Bost, has yet to see action. Calzada is not completely a statue in the pocket – he’s rushed 23 times for 31 yards, a 1.4-yard average that includes yardage lost to sacks – but he’s not really a threat to move the ball with his legs.
Alabama will start Bryce Young, who is 108-for-148 (73.0%) for 1,365 yards, 17 touchdowns and 2 interceptions (185.6 QB rating) on the year. Alabama’s backup, Paul Tyson, would stand a good chance at unseating Calzada for the Aggies’ starting job were he to switch teams. This one isn’t particularly close. Advantage: Alabama
Texas A&M has had much better success on the ground, thanks to the combination of Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane. The two average just under 7 yards per carry combined, although touchdown production (4 total) hasn’t been as high as expected. Part of that stems from a red zone offense that ranks just 104th nationally; the rest likely comes from a passing game that can’t keep defenses backed off the line of scrimmage.
Alabama’s Brian Robinson Jr. is coming off the game of his career, although he still trails Spiller in production everywhere but in the number of touchdowns he’s scored (6). The question in this game, and beyond, is what Alabama’s depth chart will look like. Jase McClellan tore an ACL against Ole Miss and is done for the year. Roydell Williams now becomes the primary backup, with Trey Sanders now the third back. Expect both to play in this game, with the biggest question for both being how well they can protect the quarterback in passing situations.
Beyond that, Alabama has several options for a fourth running back. Wide receiver Christian Leary appears to be the most likely possibility, although LB Demouy Kennedy played running back in high school and could move over. Safety Kristian Story was a dual-threat quarterback, and there is a slim chance third-team QB Jalen Milroe could be part of the plan.
Alabama has three walk-ons on the roster, and redshirt freshman Jonathan Bennett has good high school film although he’s smaller (5’8”, 175) than Alabama would like at that position. Bennett has already dressed out for a couple of games earlier this year. Even with McClellan, Texas A&M would have probably taken this category. Without him on the Bama sideline, it’s a clear edge for the Aggies. Advantage: Texas A&M
The issues at quarterback have affected the production at wide receiver, but the reverse is also true to an extent. Texas A&M had one premier receiver coming into the year, Ainais Smith, and while Smith leads the team with 20 receptions, he has amassed only 200 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The Aggies’ most dangerous receiver is probably TE Jalen Wydermyer, who has caught 15 passes for 176 yards (11.7 avg.), but just 1 score. Wydermyer is an uncommon talent even for an SEC tight end, and Alabama has been hurt by him in the past. Production falls off substantially after these two, with the other starters – Caleb Chapman and Chase Lane – combining for 14 catches for 202 yards (14.4 avg.) and no scores. Depth is in good shape, though, as the Aggies have a complete second unit (Demond Demas, Muhsin Muhammad III and Jalen Preston), each with multiple catches.
Alabama has gotten good big-play production from Jameson Williams; John Metchie III has, like Texas A&M’s Ainais Smith, become an unlikely possession receiver. Alabama has gotten excellent production from tight ends Cameron Latu and Jahleel Billingsley while slot receivers Slade Bolden and JoJo Earle have been solid. Texas A&M has better depth at receiver while Alabama is deeper at tight end. The production favors Alabama but A&M has just as much talent and potential. Really close call here. Advantage: Alabama
The most disappointing development by far for Texas A&M has been the offensive line, which has been wracked by injuries and hampered by ineffective performance at the same time. Against Alabama, the Aggies will start a true freshman at center, Bryce Foster, now that Luke Matthews has been injured. Kenyon Green and Layden Robinson will start at the guard spots, with Jahmir Johnson and another true freshman, Reuben Fatheree II, at tackle. The Aggies have started eight different linemen this year and have used upwards of a dozen different combinations. Alabama will start Darrian Dalcourt at center, with Javion Cohen and Emil Ekiyor Jr. at the guards and Evan Neal and Chris Owens at the tackles. Dalcourt’s shotgun snaps were a problem against Ole Miss, but the line otherwise mauled the Rebels and is playing at a high level right now. Texas A&M is ranked 94th in sacks allowed and 95th in tackles for loss allowed, similar poor numbers to those put up by Ole Miss coming into its game against Alabama. Advantage: Alabama
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