AJ McCarron and the Tide offense committed three costly turnovers that thwarted their chances for a comeback against Texas A&M.
One week after escaping Death Valley with their national title hopes intact, the Alabama Crimson Tide were unable to orchestrate another miracle comeback after falling behind 20-0 in the first quarter against the Texas A&M Aggies.
Alabama fell to the Aggies by a score of 29-24, with a number of self-inflicted wounds in the fourth quarter ultimately damaging their hopes to repeat as national champions.
Faced with another chance to steal a victory away from the jaws of defeat, Tide quarterback AJ McCarron threw his second interception of the game in the end zone on 4th-and-goal with less than two minutes remaining in the game.
Nick Saban’s defense gave up more than 400 yards of total offense for the second consecutive week, and the Tide became the latest SEC power to fall victim to the brilliance of Aggies freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Where did Alabama go wrong in defeat, and what issues will Saban and his staff have to shore up moving forward?
Here are 10 things we learned from the Tide’s loss to Texas A&M.
The sentiment above is not meant to serve as an excuse, as opposed to stating a fact that has been proved over time.
After demolishing Michigan in the season opener, the expectations were raised considerably for Alabama’s chances to repeat as national champions.
In the seven convincing wins that followed, the Tide had become the odds-on favorite to capture their third crystal football in four seasons.
While those hopes appear to be dashed for the moment, the battles Alabama has been through in the past two weeks sheds light on why it has been nearly two decades since Nebraska was the last team to earn back-to-back national titles.
Considering that Alabama lost a game in November last season only to reappear and ultimately capture its 14th national title, it would be premature to write the Tide off altogether.
The Aggies converted their first seven attempts on third downs, which helped them race to an early three-score cushion.
In fairness, Manziel made his share of plays that were nearly indefensible—such as his first-quarter touchdown pass to Ryan Swope.
But the Aggies defense was able to find a way to generate timely stops that the Tide simply could not match.
After a pair of rough efforts the last two weeks, Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart have to go back to the drawing board to try to find ways to help their defense get off the field more consistently.
Texas A&M’s defense set the tone early in the game by forcing Alabama to a three-and-out on its first series, but what happened on the Tide’s second series would define how the Aggies were able to score a landmark upset.
Facing a third down near midfield, McCarron fired a pass over the middle that was jarred loose from Kenny Bell and fell into the hands of Aggies linebacker Sean Porter.
That would be the first of three costly turnovers for Alabama’s offense—including two interceptions for McCarron (more on that later).
The first two turnovers were converted into touchdowns quickly by Manziel, and the last one sealed the Tide’s fate on what would be their last possession.
Alabama responded with the resiliency expected from a championship club after digging themselves an early hole.
However, the Tide had their share of opportunities to take the lead after cutting the deficit to just six points at halftime.
Alabama took its second possession in the third quarter down to the Aggies' 11-yard line before stalling and settling for a 28-yard field goal by Jeremy Shelley.
That was the second of five possessions that Alabama had in the second half where they could have taken the lead with a touchdown—with Shelley’s field goal resulting in the only points gained from two trips inside the Aggies' red zone in the final two quarters.
One of Alabama’s biggest advantages entering this game was its ability to run the football behind a stout offensive line with a pair of bruising running backs in Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.
Despite trailing for one possession for most of the second half, and Lacy enjoying a day in which he averaged nearly six yards per carry on his 16 totes, Alabama largely relied on its passing game in the game’s clutch moments.
The Tide were held to just 122 yards on the ground (with Lacy accounting for 92 of those yards)—including just 16 yards rushing in the fourth quarter on five attempts.
Lacy managed just two carries on Alabama’s four possessions in the final period.
While some of the credit should go to Texas A&M’s defense, Tide supporters may be left to scratch their heads at the play selection in the waning moments of the game.
AJ McCarron entered the game against the Aggies buoyed by his heroic performance in the Tide’s improbable triumph a week earlier against LSU.
While the junior would toss his 20th touchdown strike of the season and pass for 309 yards on the afternoon, his streak of passes without an interception was ended at 292 after Porter’s pick in the first quarter.
However, after trailing for the entire game, McCarron was a mere six feet away from punctuating a climactic sequel to “The Drive.”
That production was halted when Aggies defensive back Deshazor Everett stepped in front of Kenny Bell in the end zone and snatched away the Tide’s hopes for another unbeaten season.
The loss marks just the second defeat in McCarron's 23 starts as the Tide's field general.
One of the bigger subplots entering the game was how Alabama’s defense would fare against Texas A&M’s explosive, no-huddle offense.
The Aggies looked like a machine in the first quarter in racing to a 20-0 lead, and making it look fairly easy against the SEC’s top defense.
The Aggies ran 77 plays (compared to just 65 for the Tide) and the frenetic pace with which Manziel runs their attack appeared to leave the Tide’s defense gassed in the fourth quarter.
Another interesting fact about this game was that both teams had feasted on its opponents in the first quarter by jumping out to big leads in the first 15 minutes.
Texas A&M had scored touchdowns on its opening possession in six consecutive games, while Alabama had yet to give up a touchdown in the first quarter all season.
Clearly, something had to give in this showdown.
The Aggies decisively gained the upper hand early on, and essentially put the Tide in a hole that was too deep to recover from.
What makes a team like Alabama so tough to defeat is the discipline that Saban’s clubs usually play with.
Texas A&M did not play perfect, but it did not turn the ball over nor did it commit crushing penalties at crucial points in the game.
In a shocking twist, the Aggies played like the team that was composed, confident and at home on the big stage when the pressure mounted.
On the other hand, the top-ranked Tide made several costly mistakes—most of which occurred in the decisive fourth quarter.
Alabama coughed up two turnovers and had one last chance to get the ball back wiped away due to an offsides penalty when the Aggies were prepared to punt on 4th-and-short.
Those are the types of mistakes that teams cannot afford to make if they hope to remain in the hunt for the national title.
The aura of invincibility that Alabama’s defense seemed to carry through the first two months of the season took a serious dent after the Tide’s escape at LSU last week.
With the Aggies potent attack invading Bryant-Denny Stadium a week later, the sense was that the Tide’s defense would be motivated to restore order.
After allowing 853 yards of total offense in the last two weeks, the holes on that side of the line of scrimmage have been fully exposed.
In particular, the Tide’s secondary was carved up yet again after allowing the Aggies to hit four completions of 20 yards or more—including three in the fourth quarter, culminating with Manziel’s 24-yard scoring strike to Malcome Kennedy that put A&M up by 12 points with less than nine minutes to play.
While Alabama is still considered to have one of the nation’s top defenses, it is clear this unit is a work in progress and needs to become more consistent before it can reach the level of the school's great defensive units from the past.