When Texas A&M walked off the field in Tuscaloosa four years ago, Johnny Manziel changed the future of the program. The Aggies were in the midst of their first season in the SEC, but this one win proved that they could compete at the highest level.
Saturday’s matchup at Bryant-Denny Stadium has the possibility to be just as significant, if not more so. The Aggies are ranked No. 6 in the nation and have gotten off to a 6-0 start for the first time under Kevin Sumlin. Winning on Saturday would send the message that the Aggies deserve a spot in the College Football Playoff.
But while the game is significant, No. 1 Alabama is by far the most dominant team in the nation. To stand any chance against the Crimson Tide, the Aggies will have to play almost a perfect game. Here are five things that have to go right:
Strike from the beginning
Alabama’s team is built to play with a lead better than perhaps any team in recent memory. The Tide can hold on to the ball for vast swatches of the game and take full advantage of over-aggressive defenses by just being better than you.
To stay in the game, Texas A&M will need to keep up from the start. Getting out to an early lead would force Alabama to take a few more chances throwing the ball and open up the possibility of mistakes. If Texas A&M gets down early and has to press to move the ball, Alabama’s superior defense will be able to sit back and convert on every one of the Aggies’ mistakes.
Myles Garrett has to be fully healthy
Garrett is not only one of the best players on Texas A&M, but has a case for most talented individual in the conference. The junior is listed at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, but moves like a tailback while pursuing the quarterback. It’s no wonder he accumulated 24 sacks in his first two seasons with the Aggies.
Unfortunately, Garrett has dealt with nagging injuries this season and even missed a game. His production is down drastically and he’s been limited to just six tackles for loss to this point. Against Tennessee, he was mostly used in third-down situations. Garrett needs to be fully healthy after the bye and ready to take on the most versatile offense he’s ever faced.
Trevor Knight must completely 65 percent of his passes
Texas A&M’s offense has been effective, but surprisingly one-dimensional. The Aggies lead the conference in rushing offense per game, but are closer to middle of the road among quality teams in pass offense. Knight completes just 53 percent of his passes, good enough for No. 13 out of 15 eligible quarterbacks.
Alabama doesn’t struggle often, but spread and tempo concepts at least keep the Crimson Tide on their toes – just look at what Ole Miss has been able to do the past few years. Though Knight’s running ability has been a tremendous boon to Texas A&M’s offense, he still needs to find a way to spread the defense out with his arm and create openings for the running game.
Force Jalen Hurts to win with his arm
Alabama has one of the most devastating running games in college football and Texas A&M isn’t particularly built to match. The Aggies have the No. 25 defense per Football Outsiders, but have a weakness stopping the run. That’s obviously problematic against the Crimson Tide, who rank No. 3 in rushing S&P+.
Texas A&M has no choice but to sell out to stop the run. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts has been an efficient passer, but showed against Tennessee that he can still be inconsistent at times. He managed to step up and still rush for 132 yards and three scores, which ended up being the difference. Texas A&M has to find a way to contain Hurts and the stable of running backs.
Win the turnover battle
Alabama is a machine, but it can be susceptible to turnovers if teams are aggressive. The Crimson Tide have turned over the ball 10 times this season, including three picks and seven lost fumbles. However, Texas A&M has 11 turnovers in one less game – six fumbles and five interceptions to this point.
Playing against Alabama’s defense is tough enough without giving the Crimson Tide offense extra opportunities. Even more pertinent, Alabama is adept at taking advantage of turnovers and scoring defensive touchdowns – the Tide have 11 non-offensive touchdowns this season, as many as the No. 2 and No. 3 teams combined.