Texas A&M Football: Why the Aggies Would Beat Alabama If They Played Again
The Texas A&M football team lost to the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide 49-42 during the fourth week of the season. If the two teams met today, the Aggies would come away victorious.
Both teams have improved since they met earlier in the season. The Aggies have made multiple personnel changes since they faced the Tide.
They have different starters on both sides of the ball. Those changes and the simple maturation of a young defense have made the Aggies a better team.
Alabama has been dominant on both sides of the ball since they faced the Aggies. The Tide defense allowed 42 points to Texas A&M and 36 points combined in their seven other games.
This is a look at why the Aggies would beat the Tide if the two met on the field today.
The Emergence of Travis Labhart
Texas A&M sophomore wide receiver Sabian Holmes started in one of the slot positions against Alabama. He finished the game with one reception for negative-one yard.
Senior walk-on wide receiver Travis Labhart had one reception for 12 yards against the Tide. He had a breakout game against Ole Miss with eight receptions for 97 yards.
Since the Alabama game, Labhart has transformed himself into a reliable slot receiver for the Aggies. he has caught 24 passes for 288 yards with two touchdowns in the Aggies' last six games.
Labhart has become somewhat of a security blanket for Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel. In this way, he has begun to fill the role that was vacated when Ryan Swope graduated.
Aggies Have Fixed the Back End of Their Defense
The Aggies have made some personnel changes in their secondary since the Alabama game. Clay Honeycutt started at free safety against the Tide.
His play against Alabama was so poor that he has not started a game since. Junior Deshazor Everett moved from cornerback to free safety after the Alabama game.
Junior safety Floyd Raven eventually recovered from the collarbone injury he suffered against SMU, and he is now the starting free safety. His recovery allowed Everett to move back to his natural position of cornerback.
The Aggie defense is not going to be a dominant unit. However, Raven's play at free safety has helped solidify the secondary and prevent so many explosive plays from the opposition.
Gavin Stansbury Has Woken Up
Texas A&M junior defensive end Gavin Stansbury started on the strong-side against Alabama and finished the game with one total tackle. Maybe it was because he missed two games due to suspension, or maybe he just did not have the right motivation.
Whatever the case, Stansbury has been playing the best football of his career during the Aggies' last three games. He has been all over the field for the Aggies' defense during a three-game stretch that started with Alabama.
Stansbury had nine tackles with no tackles for loss and no sacks during the first four games of the season. During the last three games, Stansbury has registered 26 tackles with three tackles for loss and three sacks.
He has transformed himself from an invisible player to a difference-maker. Stansbury has given the defense a consistent pass rush, which was missing earlier in the season.
Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder has taken to flipping Stansbury back and forth from the strong-side to the weak-side. He has responded with the best football of his career.
The Aggies Found a Middle Linebacker
Texas A&M junior linebacker Donnie Baggs started at middle linebacker against Alabama. Baggs started the first three games of the season at middle linebacker and had struggled immensely to get of blocks and make plays.
As a result, the Aggies' run defense was a sieve during those games. The Alabama game was no different as the Tide rushed for 239 yards and five touchdowns, while averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
The Aggie coaches benched Baggs after the Alabama game and moved true freshman Darian Claiborne over from outside linebacker to the middle.
Claiborne responded by becoming the Aggies' best overall linebacker. He has tremendous instincts and is able to get off blocks and make plays.
Claiborne is second on the team with 61 tackles on the season. He has also had six tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and an interception on the season.
With his play in the middle, he has solidified the Aggies' run defense. The Texas A&M defense is not going to be an elite unit in 2013. However, with the personnel changes the coaches made, the defense would play well enough to allow the Aggie offense to outscore the Crimson Tide.