It had the potential to be one of the games of the year, No. 1 Alabama meeting No. 6 Texas A&M. It had the potential to be a thriller and a showdown between two SEC title contenders.
Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide aren’t much for dramatics, though. They’d rather just take care of business.
Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) beat the Aggies (6-1, 4-1 SEC), 33-14, on Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, both living up to its No. 1 ranking and dispelling any thoughts that A&M was the biggest contender to the Crimson Tide’s SEC crown. By the numbers, it wasn’t anywhere near a close contest, though Texas A&M did keep it competitive until midway through the third quarter.
Per usual, the Crimson Tide got better as the game went on, and found a way to close the door on Texas A&M in the final 20 minutes. This was yet another game Alabama dominated.
Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts made another case to be mentioned among the contenders for the Heisman Trophy this season. Though he did throw two interceptions, he completed 15-of-25 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns. As has been the case of late, he made his presence felt on the ground. Hurts led Alabama in rushing attempts with 21 and he turned those rushes into 93 yards and a touchdown.
His score was a classic dual-threat moment. He made Texas A&M defenders miss and displayed both speed and vision in the open field for a 37-yard run.
— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) October 22, 2016
“He’s a great rusher- we knew that,” Texas A&M defensive back Justin Evans said of Hurts. “He’s the second leading rusher on the team so we knew what he could do. He got out a few times and he hurt us.”
Running back Damien Harris led the way for Alabama with 128 rushing yards and tight end O.J. Howard was impressive with eight receptions for 69 yards and a score. Receiver Calvin Ridley also caught a touchdown pass, which concludes the rundown of Alabama’s offensive scoring.
But of course, the Crimson Tide are never satisfied with just scoring on offense.
Senior defensive lineman Jonathan Allen scooped up a fumble in the third quarter and took it to the house for a 29-yard touchdown. Allen’s score was Alabama’s ninth defensive touchdown of the season (tops in the nation) and his second fumble return for a score on the year.
— Football Is Life (@FB1SLIFE) October 23, 2016
Just as impressive, Alabama has now scored at least one defensive touchdown in each of its last four games. Not only have the Tide been able to stop opponents, but Bama has been extremely opportunistic as well. The fumble return against Texas A&M wasn’t Alabama’s only takeaway. Sophomore Marlon Humphrey was able to pick off A&M quarterback Trevor Knight with 5:10 to go in the second quarter.
Speaking of Knight, especially relative to his recent production, the Crimson Tide were able to basically shut him down — something that was undoubtedly one of the keys to an Alabama win. Knight completed just 14-of-31 passes for 164 yards. He did throw two touchdowns, but also the aforementioned pick.
He also rushed for only 24 yards, and the Crimson Tide held him scoreless on the ground. In fact, no Aggie rusher was able to find the end zone against Alabama’s stout defensive front, which made the win all the more impressive.
Consider this: Texas A&M rushed for 353 yards as a team against Tennessee (Knight had 110 of those yards and three touchdowns), 366 yards against Arkansas, and 203 rushing yards against UCLA to start the season.
Texas A&M has a great rushing attack, so the fact that Alabama was able to shut it down points to the real strength of this Crimson Tide team.
“Really good, and they always do,” Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said when asked about Alabama’s play up front. “I said Tuesday this team is very talented and their front, they roll guys in. Stayed fresh. Linebackers, I thought, really played well in the first half. We saw some different things from Alabama. They gave us some different fronts, some dime packages, some different things. Very, very creative in what they did.”
Injury Overshadows Big Win
In a game and season that have been full of positives for the Crimson Tide, the team did receive bad news regarding one of its star players.
Senior defensive back Eddie Jackson fractured his leg against A&M. Saban spoke about his star safety after the game:
“Eddie was a fantastic player for us and a great leader. I think he was an All-American player as a safety, at least in my book. We’re certainly going to miss him, but what a great player, what a great competitor, and what a great guy to have in this program for the time he’s been here. He’s done a fantastic job for us and I’m just sick for him and his family.”
The injury ends Jackson’s college career, an Alabama journey in which he played all four seasons since his freshman year in 2013. Last season, Jackson was an All-SEC first team player and a second team All-American, according to Walter Camp and the FWAA. He led Alabama with six interceptions (two for touchdowns) and set an Alabama record with 230 yards accumulated from interception returns.
He finished his final season for Alabama with 24 tackles and one interception returned for a touchdown.
“We’re certainly going to miss him,” Saban said.
The question becomes: Will the rest of the SEC be able to take advantage of that absence in the coming weeks?
Based on what Jackson’s teammates did against Texas A&M, it’s not likely.