TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When they go low, he goes high. That thought turned Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen into Superman on Saturday afternoon against Texas A&M.
“The previous third down, I had gotten cut,” or blocked low, Allen said, “so I had it in my mind I was just going to try to go over him the next opportunity I got. And thank goodness it worked.”
Worked? More like work of art, arguably the defensive play of the college football season so far — although there is plenty of competition from his teammates.
Upon the Aggies’ sixth offensive snap of the game, Allen blew by left guard Colton Prater and saw running back Trayveon Williams lunging for his legs again, so he leapt. In one jaw-dropping motion, a fully-horizontal Allen cleared Williams and hurled himself into the chest of quarterback Trevor Knight for a sack.
More nightmare fuel from top-ranked Alabama’s truly terrifying defense, and it was just the beginning of the Crimson Tide’s 33-14 destruction of sixth-ranked and previously undefeated A&M that begs the question: Can anyone handle these guys?
Allen and Alabama choked the life out of the Aggies offense, which came in averaging 532.8 yards and having yet to produce fewer than 422. They got 278 yards against the Tide (8-0, 5-0 SEC), who racked up 11 tackles for losses, 5 sacks and 9 quarterback hurries.
“The front did a really good job of pressuring the quarterback, which was huge,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. “It threw off the timing in the passing game, so that was a really good thing for our defense.”
Like heat-seeking missiles, they screamed into A&M’s backfield with even more urgency than 102,000 fans at Bryant-Denny Stadium who were without flushing toilets Saturday.
Knight and the Aggies (6-1, 4-1) mounted a minor scare, scoring quick-strike touchdowns with 38 seconds left in the second quarter and barely two minutes into the third to take a 14-13 lead, but that disappeared in a blink.
Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts directed a go-ahead touchdown drive and then Superman swooped in again. The fourth quarter was rapidly approaching and Alabama, which had unbelievably scored a nonoffensive touchdown in its previous nine games, still didn’t have one against A&M.
“We were saying it since the second quarter: ‘We gotta score, we gotta score,’” defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick said. “It’s just a huge momentum swing when we can score and relieve pressure on the offense. It really is demoralizing.”
So, Allen snatched the Aggies’ soul with 21 seconds to go in the third quarter, when linebacker Ryan Anderson jarred the ball loose on an awkward handoff. Allen scooped it and scored from 30 yards out, his second and the Tide’s ninth defensive touchdown of the season.
“It’s huge for us,” tight end O.J. Howard said, “but for them, it’s gotta be horrible.”
Worse: hopeless. What are opponents to do with Alabama when it scores a dozen nonoffensive touchdowns in eight games? That’s almost as many as South Carolina’s offense has scored this season.
Hurts was uneven at times Saturday and still not dialed in on the deep ball, but he was electric again with his legs, and an output of 164 yards passing, 93 yards rushing and 3 total touchdowns from him was (and almost always will be) more than enough. Because, mercy, that defense.
“After we got (behind), I thought it was great competitive character on their part,” Saban said. “We scored on offense, scored on defense, controlled the ball.”
It is a championship formula, one that has the Tide marching toward another appearance in Atlanta — and the College Football Playoff — in methodical fashion. After a bye week, they still have a road trip to LSU and home games against Mississippi State and rival Auburn. There might be a scare in there somewhere.
The loss of senior safety Eddie Jackson to a broken leg on Saturday also was not insignificant, and it would be a crippling blow to any other defense. But this one?
“Next man’s going to have to step up, and we’re going to hold him to the same standards,” Allen said. “We gotta circle the wagon, rally around the DBs and try to help them out as much as possible. (But) they’re going to be fine. We’re going to be fine.”
At this point, who could argue with that? Who would argue with him?