The week's off-field happenings have been wildly enthralling, so you'd be forgiven if you didn't remember that games of sizable import are being played this weekend. One of these contests is Alabama versus Texas A&M, and its cachet stems not from the Top 10 poll-placement both teams enjoy --- because modern polls are nothing more than chaffy listicles --- but rather, because both of these teams are very good. And even after one of them loses Saturday --- which, sorry to report, is inevitable --- they will still be very good, just not as good as the other very good team that upended it.
Yes, Texas A&M is legitimately bueno, and that sentiment's been forged not off the heels of early-season patsy-pastings, but instead from beatings of veritable not-bad teams like Arkansas, Mississippi State and Arizona State --- the latter of whom I predict will beat undefeated Utah on Saturday (bonus prediction!). A&M had a rough go against Bama last year. It got its ass kicked, actually. But the number of ass-kickees who started in last year's scarring romp are outnumbered, greatly, by those of which who did not; ipso facto, the majority of the Aggies starters this weekend presumably will not suffer from any panic-inducing flashbacks when the large men in unadorned unis line up across the way --- something a 59-nil defeat could bring about to those who suffered through it. Anyway, unlike last year, the Ags are certifiably battle-tested; but they haven't played anyone Bama-ish, which is why America's first real look at A&M will come this weekend. Should they pull it off, though, they'll get notice, respect and increased expectations, in a single swoop.
But OK, let's talk a bit about Bama -- the team that was unjustifiably "buried" following a still-not-bad loss to Mississippi, and then, in hopes of atonement, re-deified by journos everywhere following a woodshed beating of a Georgia team that is aight at best. I'm not going to provide a bunch of Bama backdrop because its story is well known. Post-UGA saw a flurry of startling over-corrections by a truly contrite media, who, through a number of mediums begged for the Tide's forgiveness and promised to never doubt them again. I'm not sure which overreaction was sillier to witness, the loss to still-contending Ole Miss, or the win over meh Georgia. But, no matter, here we are finally; at a game post-Ole Miss that will likely test both the Tide and the media's commitment to them afterwards, so this all should be fun.
1Alabama's defensive back field better show the hell up. Sure, whatever, Ole Miss enjoyed a lucky break or three against Alabama's defense, but the result wasn't a fluke: ‘Bama's back end has been vulnerable for going on like three years now, and Ole Miss is rather good at tossing the ball. Ole Miss's quarterback, Chad Kelly, is the SEC's second-best QB in terms of passer efficiency rating. His go-to receiver, Laquon Treadwell, has the league's second-most receiving yards. Naturally, a pair of players ranked that high in categories diametrically opposite to Alabama's biggest defensive weakness would presumably give the Tide some trouble. So what do you think the two players ranked first in both of the aforesaid categories could might, maybe, do against Alabama? Kyle Allen --- the most efficient passer in the SEC --- has 13 touchdowns against two picks this season. The majority of his 1,274 passing yards thus far have been collected by frosh wunderkind Christian Kirk, who leads the SEC in receiving yards (519), and can also run straight the hell past or across any defender on Alabama's roster. Kirk is the most gifted Aggie wideout, but he isn't the only one in possession of talent, and that could spell trouble for a Tide backfield that is yet to prove this season it can hold its own against an actually good passing offense.
2A&M sucked at stopping Alex Collins; Bama's RB is bigger, stronger and better than that guy. Arkansas' Collins ran for a buck-fifty against the Ags, and Arkansas as a team ran for 232 yards --- great for them (despite the loss), and not so good for A&M's outlook this weekend. Collins is 5-foot-11 and 215 lbs. --- four inches and thirty pounds less than Derrick Henry, who runs balls for Alabama, and determinedly. A&M's played five games, but only in Arkansas has it seen a certifiably good running back, one that almost single-handedly netted his team a win; and, as pointed out, A&M didn't do so hot against him. Now, John Chavis coordinates outings for A&M's defense currently, and he's had a bit of previous success against Alabama, albeit with slightly different personnel. A&M has talent in its front seven, yes, but that talent is currently more adept at rushing passers than hampering rushers. Henry, it seems, is poised to have a big game. And that's really the moral of this passage, because I'm not sure there's anything A&M can do about this, win or lose.
John David Mercer -- USA Today Sports
3True freshman receivers that wear No. 3. They're but mere freshmen, Christian Kirk and Calvin Ridley, and yet, their respective teams' place on either side of the outcome could well rest on their backs. We've discussed Kirk; he leads the league in receiving yards blah blah. Numbers are great and all, but have you actually seen the man play? Gracious he's dynamic. And not just in situations where he's asked to run a route, beat a defender, catch and score. No, he returns kicks and punts with equal aplomb. Going back to the numbers: he's totaled 417 yards on special teams to this point, bringing his all-purpose yard average to 191 a game. Like Kirk, Ridley is swift and shifty and just flat-out good. Like Kirk, Ridley leads his team in receiving (385 yards on the season, 260 yards in the last two games). Kirk pretty much came out of the gate hot, and Ridley is just now hitting his stride, a stride that pretty much matches Kirk's step-for-step; I said earlier there isn't a defender on Alabama's defense who can keep up with Kirk. The same applies to A&M's defense and Ridley.
4Oh, you know who's really gonna be tested? Both offensive lines. A&M runs the ball every now and again, usually using Tra Carson to do so. He's fared well so far: 450 yards, four touchdowns. The guys blocking for him aren't totally new; A&M brought back three starters this season, but last year's left --- and best --- side, well, they left at season's end. The Aggies' front hasn't exactly struggled this season, but the d-lines they've stood opposite of have been OK, I guess? Anyway, Alabama's whole front seven, and the back-ups behind them, feature more front- and second-line talent than another defensive unit in country. They rush the passer OK, but it's tossing around ball-carriers they specialize in. And when A&M inevitably hands that ball off, the guys tasked to block for the carrier of said ball will need the push of their lives --- and repeatedly --- just to hopefully create a stalemate, which is the best possible outcome against ‘Bama's front, really.
Conversely, as noted earlier, A&M is rather good at rushing ball-passers. Alabama attempts the downfield pass every now and then, and it goes generally well. Though A&M's front seven as a whole isn't bad, its defensive end, Myles Garrett, is the baddest son of a b---- on the field whenever he takes one. Garrett leads the conference in sacks (7.5), and leads also in creating o-line-related piss stains. Bama's line --- its tackles are Cam Robinson and Dominick Jackson --- have given up only seven sacks this season, but only one of those came against Ole Miss, who has by far the best defensive front the Tide have faced thus far. They did allow four hurries in that game, however --- an also critical stat. And, as good as Ole Miss star Robert Nkemdiche is, his pass-rushing skill doesn't match Garrett's. We'll see what happens, but advantage Garrett over everyone until proven otherwise.
5But Bama's front seven, how will it handle a running quarterback? Quarterbacks, actually. The indisputable constant thorn for Nick Saban's teams have been opposing quarterbacks who can tuck the ball and take the hell off. Kyle Allen can do this; people forget, though, because he's a good thrower. Allen is second on the team in rushing with 136 yards and two scores and, if Bama lets its guard down, Allen will not hesitate to cradle and scamper. Kyler Murray is A&M's freshman quarterback who plays sporadically but built a five-star high school resume largely off of his legs. He throws averagely, and Bama will probably not expect for him to do so should he enter the game. But. If Murray and OC Jake Spavital can somehow loosen the Tide up with Murray's arm? Hooboy, we'll see if Saban's boys have learned how to contain a dual-threat yet or not.
THREE TO WATCH
Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M. Obvious pick, the quarterback. But when a player's team's success hinges on said player's arm, legs, demeanor and poise, you should watch. Allen is a microcosm of A&M as a whole: kind of unnoticed despite a successful start, and would be the talk of America should Saturday yield a successful outing. A&M as a team didn't have wild expectations entering 2015, but mostly because of the crappy defense it's fielded the past few seasons. A&M's passing game prowess, however, was met with zero skepticism. And perhaps that's why some have been underwhelmed with the Aggies' passing numbers, and in turn, aren't yet believers in them, or Allen. The outings haven't been bad, of course, but where are the video game-like stats?! Don't be fooled, though: the Aggies could have the big outing any damn time, even Saturday. Regardless, Allen will put pressure on the Tide's DBs, possibly the most pressure they have or will face this year. And if he can throw in a few timely scrambles as well, it would just about throw the entire Bama defense out of whack.
Jake Coker, QB, Alabama. Look, A&M ain't likely to slow down Derrick Henry a whole bunch, but on the off chance that Henry rushes for only, say, 90 yards and a TD, Coker might actually have to do something this game. He's put together a good one before, against Georgia, and A&M's defense isn't that dissimilar from the Dawgs': solid up front, ehhh behind it. So theoretically, Coker could be in for a solid outing. I'd imagine A&M will be doing everything in its power to hinder Henry from turning his carries into essential unabated wind-sprints, and, with a fully-loaded box, Saturday could offer Coker some nice passing opportunities downfield. Since Georgia really isn't that good, the supposed hostility of a Sanford Stadium crowd lasted, like, a quarter or so. With A&M apparently being a much better outfit, and the Kyle Field crazies a definitely better and louder crowd, Coker's gonna have to display his own poise in a maniacal environment, and for 60 minutes, at least.
Christian Kirk, Do-It-All, Texas A&M. Kirk's gonna be in the spotlight this game, because 1) he is very good, and 2) he lines up just about everywhere. I'm on record in saying that Alabama's defense can't keep up with Kirk; but it'll be the Tide's special teams defenders that could ruin any surprise shutdown of the receiver side of Kirk. Kirk's already had a 79-yard punt return touchdown this year, and in his first game, which was a big one. He's unafraid of spotlight, or weighty moments. He can flip the field if not outright score on KO returns. This is additional to his receiving abilities. Alabama better watch this man, and carefully, all game.
Troy Taormina -- USA Today Sports
Let's nutshell this thing: Bama can't defend the pass all that well, A&M can't stop the run for sh--. So defensively, we'll call it a push. A&M's quarterback is better than Bama's, but Bama's running back is better than A&M's. Another push. Hmm. I mean, Nick Saban greater sign Kevin Sumlin. But Christian Kirk greater sign Alabama's special teams. Alabama's coming off consecutive weeks of games that challenged in their own way: one more of the emotional variety --- albeit briefly --- against UGA, the other a more physical affair against Arkansas. Meanwhile, A&M just chilled and watched other people get beat up last week. So, freshness advantage, A&M. A&M got beat the hell down last year, and is pissed. Alabama is always pissed. Push. But, but, A&M is at home.
(Look, let me say this real quick. Alabama is one of the best teams in the nation. Even after it loses to A&M in double overtime on Saturday, by a score of 37-30, Alabama will still be one of the best teams in the nation. And no, Bama isn't fading, but the bastards can't win the division every season. Sometimes there are other teams good at playing football, and sometimes Alabama will have to play them, and sometimes they will lose. This is how things work. And I don't want to see any bullsh-- about the falling of Saban's dynasty on Sunday.)
So anyway, yeah, I think A&M comes out and hurts Bama through the air early. And though Henry will get his, John Chavis is gonna coordinate things to where eventually Henry will be slowed a bit, and Coker has to pass, but then Myles Garrett will sack him, and Kyle Field goes nuts, and A&M gets all passionate and energetic. Watch out for Kyler Murray, too. Why do I feel like A&M has a nice little package set up there? And Christian Kirk, a special teams TD, that's gonna help things immensely. But again, in case you missed it: Texas A&M 37, Alabama 30 (2OT)