Alabama’s Offense vs. Defense for Texas A&M Football
Let’s start with the headline here: the Tide bring in to Kyle Field what can courteously be called a leaky offensive line this weekend. The defensive front they will be facing is nothing short of ferocious, notching 14 sacks and 30 TFLs in the past two weeks alone.
Even so, you may well say that this is unlikely to be repeated against the Tide; those numbers are nigh unthinkable for three games in a row. This is true as far as it goes, but I would point out that even after the wreckage wrought upon them by the Aggie defensive line, both Arkansas and Auburn still rank better than the Tide in sacks allowed per game—Auburn averages 3 sacks allowed per game and Arkansas averages 3.6 sacks allowed per game, while Alabama averages 4 sacks allowed per game. The broader category of tackles for loss allowed per game paint no rosier a picture for the Tide; they are tied with Arkansas at 7.4 TFLs allowed per game (again, this is considering the 15 that Arkansas just allowed to Texas A&M football last week) and are behind Auburn, who allows an even 7 per game.
All that considered, it is not exactly out of the question to consider that the Aggies might have similar success to the last two weeks against Alabama’s front. By my calculations, the Tide have the worst sack rate allowed in the Power 5, giving up a sack on 15.63% of passing attempts (for context, Arkansas is tied for 2nd-worst in P5 with a 12.41% sack rate allowed [A&M had a 29.17% sack rate against the Hogs] and Auburn is 6th-worst in P5 with a 11.03% sack rate allowed [A&M had a 23.33% sack rate against the Tigers]).
A large part of those woes up front for the Tide have to do with the fact that they have a QB who has a penchant for holding onto the ball too long. Milroe is loath to fire passes to his receivers unless they are running wide open; conversely, though, when he tries to operate under pressure, he more often than not makes poor decisions. Pressure, then, seems to be the key to stopping the Alabama passing game (what else is new?); if you can cover well in the time it takes for the rush to get home, Milroe will either take a sack or make a poor decision.
This doesn’t, however, mean Texas A&M football should blitz all the time. Milroe’s limitations mean that it is consummately difficult for the Tide to move up and down the field with regularity, and when they enter the red zone (perhaps that should be an if, given the fact that the Aggies have allowed a grand total of 1 red zone possession in 2 conference games) it will be even tougher for him to operate in a much smaller window. Of course, his ability to scramble can and must factor in there, but if you stay disciplined as a spy—Cooper’s speed and explosion will be valuable here—you can neutralize that as well.
The Alabama run game overall does not stack up favorably against what has been an extremely stout Aggie rush defense so far this year. The Tide average 4.09 YPC this year (82nd in the nation) and Texas A&M football has allowed an average of 2.88 YPC. On a YPC basis, no opponent this year has yet reached more than about 73% of their rushing average against the Aggies, and no opponent has reached more than 77% of their average rush success rate.
The best hope the Tide have is their long ball. Milroe can throw it beautifully when given time and when he has a downfield receiver streaking open, and Texas A&M football has not been the best at preventing that consistently, though the defensive strategy has changed significantly since they played Miami (and I’m talking about more than just blitz rates here). If Alabama can consistently connect down the field, they will have a shot, but the prospect of sustainably creating and finishing quality possessions is daunting for the Tide offense as currently comprised.