Texas A&M learned the hard way on Saturday that one must be nearly flawless to dethrone Alabama.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide boast a defense that ranks among the top 10 in several statistical categories, and it showed during a close contest that turned into a 33-14 rout of the Aggies.
Although the score does not reflect as much, Texas A&M was in position to take down the No. 1 team in the country. However, similar to two weeks ago against Tennessee, when the Aggies forced seven turnovers and still needed overtime to escape with a victory, an inability to close was evident. This time, it proved costly.
After a disheartening start that included Alabama jumping out to a 13-0 lead, Texas A&M responded in a major way.
A missed 29-yard field goal from the Crimson Tide cracked the door open, and Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin capitalized. Likely upon making the realization that there is no wearing down the Alabama defense with a methodical approach, the Aggies turned to taking shots down the field — and it worked.
Following back-to-back runs to begin the ensuing drive, quarterback Trevor Knight delivered a strike to wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones for 25 yards into Alabama territory. Knight converted on fourth down later that drive with a 27-yard run, setting up a touchdown pass to Josh Reynolds that got Texas A&M on the board in the final minute of the first half.
Then, for a few minutes, it seemed as if the Aggies had turned the tides — and the Tide — in their favor.
They opened the second half with a six-play, 75-yard drive, capped by passing plays of 33 and 25 yards, respectively. Suddenly, the same Texas A&M that looked hopeless late in the second quarter held a 14-13 lead over the No. 1 team in the country.
The Aggies forced Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts into a third-down incompletion on the following drive, potentially setting the table to open up an eight-point lead. Unfortunately for Sumlin’s squad, though, a yellow flag on the ground altered the trajectory of this game.
The transgression was a roughing the passer penalty, and the Crimson Tide were given new life. They answered with a touchdown nine plays later. The Aggies crumbled down the stretch, proceeding to give away a fumble returned for a touchdown by Alabama’s Jonathan Allen. They also allowed Hurts to dismantle the defense on a dazzling 37-yard touchdown run that put the game away — and put a monumental highlight on the Heisman resume of the true freshman signal-caller.
As Sumlin is well aware, there is no room for missteps like this against an opponent of Alabama’s stature.
“You really had five minutes in the game that really determined what happened,” Sumlin said.
“We extended the drive with the roughing the passer, then we extended the drive again on that drive with, I think, an offsides. You back that up with a fumble returned for a touchdown, and in a game like this, against a team like that, that can’t happen.”
Texas A&M was on the cusp of the type of victory that is talked about for decades. Instead, the Aggies join Auburn and LSU as a one-loss team in the hunt for the SEC West Division title.
The difference between the Aggies and these two: They have now lost control of their destiny.