Revenge may be a dish best served with piping hot Texas barbecue this week.
No. 9 Texas A&M will try to stay undefeated in Saturday’s highly-anticipated clash with No. 10 Alabama at Kyle Field. The one-loss Crimson Tide might not possess the same top-to-bottom talent as it has in recent years, but plenty still expect Nick Saban’s squad to take care of business after dishing out a 59-0 rout of the Aggies last season. Las Vegas seems to agree, as the Aggies have been tabbed 4-point home underdogs by most major sports books.
Are the Aggies being overlooked? Let’s break down why Texas A&M can upset the mighty Crimson Tide this weekend:
Kevin Sumlin’s offensive style presents a huge mismatch
Earlier in the week, Saban went so far as to say that the Aggies’ skill position players will be the best his team has faced this season. That may be a coach paying his opponent lip service, but it could just as easily be an admission that the hit-or-miss Tide secondary will have its hands full. The group certainly handled the pro-style offenses of Wisconsin, Arkansas and UGA this season, which rely on their running games and often operate out of the I-formation and two tight end sets. But Chad Kelly, working in the Ole Miss spread offense, averaged nearly 19 yards per completion in his team’s 43-37 win.
The Rebels receiving trio of Laquon Treadwell, Cody Core and Quincy Adeboyejo is excellent, so it’s saying something if Saban thinks the Aggies are better in that area. Sophomore Kyle Allen is just as good as Kelly, and with a bona-fide freshman star in Christian Kirk plus Ricky Seals-Jones, Josh Reynolds and Speedy Noil, they certainly could have the more potent offense. That’s a scary thought.
Reggie Ragland, Reuben Foster and Dillon Lee are all excellent linebackers, but Saban and Kirby Smart could find it almost impossible to keep those three players on the field at one time when the Aggies are running the no-huddle with four wide receivers. Although Alabama may be holding opponents to a just 3.98 yards per play — the best mark in the SEC — Texas A&M has the perimeter speed to work around a fearsome front seven.
This is not the defense you remember
Since being hired away from LSU, defensive coordinator John Chavis has taken Texas A&M’s top recruiting talent and converted it into a stifling, dangerous and fundamentally sound defense. If you don’t believe me, check out the numbers:
Opponent third-down conversion rate: Improved from 40 percent (2014) to 29.6 percent (2015)
Takeaways: Improved from 13 in 13 games (2014) to eight in five games (2015).
Scoring defense: Improved from 28.1 points per game (2014) to 21 points per game (2015)
Premier pass rusher Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall have already combined for 12.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss, and they’ll be putting Jake Coker’s poise to the test for 60 minutes on Saturday.. Defensive back Donovan Wilson is another NFL-caliber talent at Chavis’ disposal. Tailback Derrick Henry has the ability gash the interior of the Texas A&M defense, which has allowed over 180 yards rushing per contest this year, but that may not be a viable every-down option if Alabama allows the Aggies to take control early.
This is a program-defining game for the Aggies
Sumlin enters Saturday with a 33-11 record since becoming the coach in College Station. However, he is 15-11 in the SEC and 1-2 against the Tide, including the 2014 drubbing at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Playing in front of what should be a rowdy home crowd at the redone Kyle Field, Saturday presents the perfect opportunity for Texas A&M to both take revenge and further assert itself as a legitimate College Football Playoff contender by knocking off a program with the name-power of Alabama.
This is the game circled on the calendar, the one in which Sumlin opens up his bag of tricks and has his offense throttling forward at 100 mph from the get-go. The Aggies will take an early lead, and they are simply too talented not to hold on for the win.
Prediction: Texas A&M 38, Alabama 32