Alabama Football: Areas of Concern in Crimson Tide's Quest for Title Defense
John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE
Saturday night, the once unstoppable force met Johnny Manziel.
Unfortunately for Alabama, Texas A&M's freshman signal-caller saved one of his best performances for the No. 1 team in the nation and led the Aggies to a stunning 29-24 victory over the Crimson Tide.
While there's no need to push the panic button, Alabama's first loss of the season exposed some holes on both sides of the ball for the team that was considered the best in the country by a significant margin.
Offensively, the Tide out-gained the Aggies, 431 to 418, but that didn't make up for a big area of concern for Nick Saban's team: ball security.
After posting a stellar 19:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio through his first nine games, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron threw two picks in the loss to Texas A&M, including a back-breaking one in the end zone on what should have been the game-winning drive.
McCarron's two turnovers definitely didn't help, but with 309 passing yards and a TD, this loss wasn't all on his shoulders.
Freshman running back T.J. Yeldon combined a lack of productivity with a critical fumble in what was one of his most disappointing performances this season.
Although he's been sensational for most of the year, Saturday's fourth-quarter fumble was the second in as many weeks for the former 5-star recruit, and that could pose a big problem for Alabama going forward.
Nick Saban loves to get the ball in the hands of his running backs, but not if they turn over the rock.
With 754 rushing yards and nine total touchdowns, Yeldon is probably the most talented, explosive skill player on the team, but if the turnovers continue to be an issue rather than an anomaly, then he could be on the bench more than the field.
In general, the offense shot itself in the foot with some untimely penalties and the offensive line didn't dominate in the way we have grown accustomed to seeing.
Of course, facing future NFL players like Damontre Moore and Sean Porter will make any offensive line look shaky, but for the best line in college football to produce just 122 net rushing yards is unacceptable.
Defensively, the Tide were exposed in the secondary too often by Manziel.
Despite racking up four sacks, it never felt like Alabama controlled the line of scrimmage, and for the most part, the Tide's pass rush hasn't been elite this season.
Alabama is just the No. 20 team in sacks (27), and only two players have at least 4.0 sacks.
What is the biggest area of concern for Alabama's pursuit of its third title in four years?
For a team that's been bolstered by premier front seven players who can get after the quarterback, it appears this year's squad doesn't have an elite defender like Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw or Marcell Dareus.
Even after the loss, the Tide should still have a solid shot at the BCS Championship if they win the SEC title.
However, with Georgia as the likely winner of the SEC East, Alabama could once again have its holes exposed against the Bulldogs.
Georgia features one of the conference's best passers in Aaron Murray and a ferociously talented defense that can shut opponents down in both the run and pass game.
The Tide are without a doubt one of the top three or four teams in the country, but they're far from flawless.
Maybe this year they don't have to be.
But if Saturday's performance showed us anything, Alabama's quest for a championship defense won't be as easy as we once thought.
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