Texas A&M Football vs. Alabama Key #3: Protecting the QB
I outlined the particular concern here for the Tide in my earlier column, but this is a bit of a strength-on-strength when it comes to the Alabama DL versus the Aggie OL. A&M has only given up 6 sacks all year, and boast a sack rate allowed (number of sacks divided by total pass attempts) of only 3.74% (#31 in the nation). Alabama’s defense has a sack rate of 9.39%, good for 19th in the nation. How that matchup plays out will be interesting. However, the converse here is a complete mismatch. Alabama is 132nd in the nation in sack rate allowed, and Texas A&M is 1st in the nation in sack rate—by about 1.5 percentage points (in other words, the distance between the Aggies and the second-place team is about the same as the distance between the second-place team and the sixth-place team).
Texas A&M Football vs. Alabama Key #4: Ground Attack
Both the Tide and the Ags have been great when defending against the run so far this year. Both have shown cracks at times—Auburn was able create space a time or two against the Aggies (though they never broke open a huge run), but the A&M front was able to limit them overall with the havoc they created in the backfield. Alabama has been stifling up front, but their most recent game against Mississippi State showed that there may be some matchups to take advantage of there. How much Milroe can contribute with his rushing ability should play in for the Tide, but the Aggies have not had much trouble with running quarterbacks yet this season. A consistent ground game for either team will take a huge amount of pressure off of the QB it benefits. It remains to be seen whether either team will be able to muster that, however.
Texas A&M Football vs. Alabama Key #5: Money Down
Inefficiencies created on early downs have really helped the Aggie defense hone the third best third-down defense in the nation. Opponents are often facing long distances to convert, which allows the Aggies to keep everything in front of them. Arkansas seemed like they would buck that trend, starting 4/5 with several long conversions, but finished 1/10 after that point. Alabama has been middle-of-the-road so far this season, converting 46% of the third downs they’ve faced, but their ability to sustain drives hasn’t exactly been impressive so far. The Aggies, conversely, have converted 50% of the third downs they’ve faced, and the Tide average allowing 33%, a similar mark to Auburn when the Tigers came into Kyle to face the Aggies two weeks ago. A&M’s ability to halt teams on third down combined with their stinginess in the red zone (see key #1) could make points tough to come by for Alabama outside of big plays.