Alabama kept on rolling in a blowout win over Ole Miss. The last two weeks have been the most dominant such stretch in the history of the program under Nick Saban. Can the Crimson Tide continue that momentum against a Texas A&M squad that is more dangerous than most realize?
Here are the three keys to this one:
Stay strong on third down
There are many stats from the last couple of weeks of Crimson Tide dominance that are impressive, but perhaps the most startling is what Alabama did to both Vanderbilt and Mississippi on third down. Saban’s defense has allowed just one third down conversion in the last 23 such attempts by offenses against them. This stat is a huge reason why Alabama won those two games by a combined score of 125-3.
It is not just the third-down defense that is impressive, though the ability to get the other offense off of the field does help. Alabama has been almost impossible to move on first and second down, meaning that so many of those failed attempts were on third and long. You cannot win a game if your offense is never on the field, something Alabama will hope to show Texas A&M.
Protect the quarterback
While Alabama’s pass rush took a while to get going this season – though they did find themselves last Saturday – the Aggies have had no such issues. This is something over a surprise given that Texas A&M saw defensive end Myles Garrett taken with the first overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. It is even more shocking that the Aggies also lost sack specialist Daeshon Hall to the league in the third round. With those two gone you would expect the pass rush to suffer, but A&M clearly knows how to recruit at the position.
TAMU leads the SEC in sacks with 20 on the season, a number that is tied for second nationally. In their last two games, the Aggies have a ridiculous 13 sacks. The Alabama offensive line has been off the charts good for the last couple of weeks, but this defense is really going to test their ability to protect Jalen Hurts when he drops back to throw the ball downfield.
Run the ball
The flip side of the A&M pass rush being so good is that their rushing defense is ready bad. This is going to be a big problem against an Alabama team that has a whole slew of running backs – and a quarterback – who are going to dominate on the ground. Alabama doesn’t look for massive plays early from its run game. Saban is content to wear down the opposition early with his big runners like Bo Scarbrough, knowing that eventually, the defense will be sick of stopping the big man. With Hurts dancing around the edges and Damien Harris being so effective in 2017, this rushing game is going to be way too much for the Aggies to handle.