Alabama vs. Texas A&M: 10 Things We Learned in Tide's Win
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
After the months of hype surrounding the Week 3 clash between No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Texas A&M, Nick Saban’s club made a statement by leaving Kyle Field with a 49-42 victory.
The offensive struggles that were prevalent in the season opener against Virginia Tech disappeared, and the defense was able to force Johnny Manziel into a pair of crucial turnovers that helped the Tide leave Kyle Field with a huge win.
What are the main takeaways from the 2013 season’s biggest game to date?
10. Tide Receivers Step Up
Sophomore receiver Amari Cooper was the headliner of the Tide’s stable of pass-catchers entering the season.
While Cooper was held in check, veteran receivers Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood and DeAndrew White each had touchdown receptions of more than 20 yards, burning the Aggies' secondary.
AJ McCarron hit 10 receivers against Texas A&M. Their performance validated the high expectations placed on a group that is as deep and talented as any that Saban has fielded.
9. Aggies Defense Needs Work
Texas A&M’s offense has become one of the most explosive units in the country under Kevin Sumlin.
However, it was the defense that failed the Aggies in their bid to knock off the nation’s top-ranked team.
Texas A&M was unable to generate any heat on McCarron, and it allowed the Tide’s running game to gradually wear the team down in the second half.
Until the Aggies can build a more solid foundation on defense, they will struggle to beat programs such as Alabama and LSU.
8. Tide OL Rebounds
The main storyline entering this game was whether Alabama’s offensive line could rebound from a subpar performance two weeks ago.
The Tide’s offensive outburst was possible thanks to the outstanding play of Mario Cristobal’s maligned unit. Alabama rolled up 568 yards of total offense—including 234 yards on the ground.
McCarron was rarely pressured, and the line asserted its will in the second half and helped the Tide milk the clock and cruise to victory.
Given all the criticism this unit took in the past two weeks, this performance was a strong signal that the game against Virginia Tech was an aberration.
7. Mike Evans Is a Monster
The numbers are eye-popping.
Mike Evans hauled in seven passes for 279 yards—including a 95-yard touchdown reception midway through the fourth quarter that pulled the Aggies within striking distance.
That’s an average of nearly 40 yards per reception against Nick Saban’s defense.
Considering the 6’5”, 225-pound Evans is a redshirt sophomore, his performance is sure to grab the attention of NFL personnel and make him a candidate to turn pro early.
6. Tide Defense Struggled, But Made Key Plays
Similar to last season’s meeting, the Aggies jumped all over the Tide from the opening kickoff. Texas A&M looked to be in a strong position to pull off another shocking upset after racing to a 14-0 lead seven minutes into the game.
Manziel dazzled on designed runs, and he made big plays through the air by going down the field—especially when he looked in the direction of receiver Mike Evans.
Manziel rolled up 562 yards of total offense, and Evans torched the Tide’s secondary, making seven catches for 279 yards and a touchdown. Rub your eyes if you would like to, but those numbers are real.
However, the two turnovers the defense was able to force turned out to be the difference in the game.
Corner Cyrus Jones picked off a fade route in the second quarter, and safety Vinnie Sunseri’s nifty 73-yard pick-six gave the Tide a commanding three-touchdown lead early in the second half.
While Saban and Kirby Smart can’t be happy with all of the yards and points the defense allowed, the Tide were still able to make a few key plays at opportune moments that helped them escape with a win.
5. Manziel Is Still the Most Explosive Player in College Football
Despite all of the controversy Manziel generated in the offseason, his performance against the Tide proved that he’s still the most dangerous player in the country.
Manziel accounted for 562 yards of total offense and five touchdown passes, and he produced plenty of jaw-dropping plays that had fans in attendance and those watching on television holding their breath.
Although it wasn’t enough to earn his team another victory over Alabama, his presence gives Texas A&M a chance to rebound and have another strong season.
4. Tide Defense Still Has Issues
While the defense was able to make plays at key moments, the sheer numbers that the Aggies produced have to be alarming to Saban and Tide supporters.
Texas A&M piled up 628 yards of total offense and averaged nearly nine yards per play on a defense that is used to bullying opponents into submission.
While the secondary did come up with a pair of crucial turnovers, Manziel threw for 464 yards and five scores. With senior Deion Belue leaving the game due to injury, the situation at corner is something likely to keep Saban and Tide fans uneasy when they face another high-powered offense.
Additionally, the Tide’s pass rush was virtually nonexistent. Those two areas will have to improve if the Tide hope to slow down potent offenses later in the season.
3. Tide's Identity Lies with Offense
Alabama has been a team whose identity traditionally lies with its running game and its defense.
However, it was the offense that stepped up to carry the team to victory against the Aggies.
With the team trailing 14-0, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier trusted McCarron to dig out of an early hole.
Considering the defense gave up the most points in a game since Saban’s arrival in 2007, the offense proved that it is capable of leading this team in its chase of a third consecutive national title.
2. McCarron Excels on Big Stage Again
Manziel and McCarron were billed as polar opposites entering this game, but the Tide’s field general once again rose to the challenge on the big stage.
With his team facing a 14-0 deficit, McCarron calmly lead a six-play, 75-yard drive capped by a beautiful 22-yard scoring strike to Kevin Norwood. That would be the first of four consecutive touchdown drives that helped his team take a two-touchdown lead into halftime.
McCarron went 20-of-29 for 334 yards and threw four touchdown passes. More importantly, he avoided the game-changing turnovers that doomed the Tide in last year’s game against the Aggies.
1. Tide's Mental Toughness Prevails
Alabama fans undoubtedly felt a sense of deja vu midway through the first quarter. As Manziel sliced through the Tide’s vaunted defense on the Aggies' first two drives, the mental toughness that Saban instills in his teams helped them to respond like a championship-caliber team.
Saban also likes to remind his team that it has yet to accomplish the goals set by its predecessors. While that is true, his team showed a tremendous amount of resiliency in one of the nation’s most hostile environments.
In particular, the offensive line answered the bell after two weeks filled with questions and criticism.
While there are sure to be more bumps along the road, Tide fans have to be thrilled with how the team responded to what is sure to be one of its toughest tests of the season.