Alabama’s Defense vs. Offense for Texas A&M Football
This is a much more precarious matchup for Texas A&M football than the one we just examined. The Tide defense is legit. Kevin Steele has had Jimbo’s number the last few times the two have faced off—of course, Steele will be crossing swords with Petrino this time more so than Fisher. Alabama has stifled opponents outside of allowing a couple of big plays in week 2. However, there are a few edges that the Aggies might have here.
First and foremost, I’ll say this: I expect Steele to run a pretty aggressive defensive scheme against Max Johnson. Max can struggle at times against pressure, much more so than Conner does. Alabama has talented corners that will try to jam the Aggie wideouts at the line, throwing off timing, and stick to them like glue on quick underneath routes. This was the same recipe that Steele used as Miami’s DC last year against the Aggies, and it worked for the most part—almost the entirety of A&M’s offense that night was made up of Devon Achane and Ainias Smith (to be fair, Evan Stewart did not play in that game).
That said, this is not just a Steele defense—this is a Steele-Saban defense, just like the Aggie offense is a Petrino-Fisher product rather than simply one or the other. The coordinator may be making the calls, but the underlying system is the same. Jimbo has excelled at scripting against Saban’s defenses since he’s been in College Station (just look at 2021), and Petrino has excelled in scripting, period, this year. I expect to see the Aggie coaching staff work the TE position early and often here and utilize some presnap motion to create man-beating matchups and routes.
Another edge here might have been exposed last week by Mississippi State. The Alabama defense had heretofore been all but entirely intransigent against the run before last week; however, the Bulldogs seemed to get some things working on the ground against the Tide when running to the edge. The 4.4 YPC gained by MSU was by far the most allowed by the Tide this year (next highest was 3.72 to USF), and that despite the fact that State came in averaging the fewest YPC of any Power 5 opponent Bama had yet faced. Was this purely an aspect of the game that the Tide were unprepared for in their game planning for their contest in Starkville or a legitimate crack in their armor? If the Aggies can crack the impregnable wall of Alabama’s rush defense, a lot of pressure comes off of Max Johnson. Jimbo has shown an acuity when it comes to scheming run plays against tough rush defenses, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see some early success here as well when the Aggies are in their script. The play of emerging top back Le’Veon Moss will be huge here, both on handoffs and swing passes.
More than anything, Texas A&M football needs to execute the scheme. The Aggies can ill afford even a single turnover in this game, so they need to bounce back from the three they committed in a single half last Saturday. More than one Aggie player had some bad drops against Arkansas; such plays cannot happen against Bama. They need to play within themselves, not press, and take the game one play at a time. If they play clean, penalty and turnover-free football, there will be no question that they are a better team than the Tide.