Texas A&M football vs. Alabama: 2022 (24-20 Tide Victory)
Another year, another game against Alabama immediately following a disappointing loss to Mississippi State!
I think I was somewhat confident headed into this game. I thought the Aggies had a puncher’s chance, at least. As with much of the 2022 season, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop with the massively talented freshman class, especially on defense. So when the news came out that it would be Jalen Milroe, not Bryce Young, that the Aggies would be facing, I felt like Texas A&M football could really make some noise.
The game that ensued, as everyone reading this knows, was very up-and-down. It felt like every single yard that the Aggies gained was a victory, whereas it felt like Alabama could run the ball at will. The Aggies once again won the turnover battle—by a 4 to 1 margin!—but it was the one interception thrown by Haynes King that ended up dooming the Maroon and White. Had he held onto the ball or thrown it away, Alabama would not have been able to knock through the field goal at the end of the half, and the Aggies could have kicked to win at game’s end rather than being forced to try for a touchdown from two yards away.
Something present in this game is a factor that has been huge in many games between these two: the four minutes directly before and directly after the half. Far too often, this has benefitted the Tide much more than the Aggies, and that is exactly what happened in this game. The game went from being tied to being a ten point margin just like that. Whether or not Texas A&M football is the team receiving the ball in the second half, this is a huge tipping point momentum-wise. You have to enter the half as the team with the mojo going, something the Aggies did do against Arkansas, and capitalize on that coming out of the half, something they did not do against the Hogs.
Milroe has doubtless improved as a passer, and he only had a few attempts in this game, but the Aggies were able to severely limit Alabama’s success through the air. Part of that had to do with the fact that the Tide were getting whatever they wanted on the ground for the most part, but Milroe had very little downfield success even when he was looking for it.
On the Aggie side, Evan Stewart and Moose Muhammad came up big. The TE position, though responsible for one of the Aggie touchdowns, didn’t contribute nearly as much in terms of yardage. Still, the difference in quality when it comes to the wideout talent, even with what was a completely anemic passing game last year for the Aggies, was very evident in the 2022 matchup. Evan Stewart and Moose Muhammad both made some big plays in big moments, even though the Aggies ended up coming up short at the end of things.
So what can we take away for this year’s matchup? Well, as I said previously, the four minutes going into and coming out of the half are huge. I think the turnover factor can be a bit of a Rorschach test—either you consider this an unrepeatable fluke, or you see them as the result of an aggressive defense playing hard against a young QB. I would lean towards the latter. As opposed to the fumble in 2021 that was the result of a muffed handoff, most of these turnovers were created by an opportunistic Aggie defense—Walter Nolen putting his helmet right on the football during a tackle, Fadil Diggs stripping Milroe when streaking off the edge for a sack, Jardin Gilbert reading a deep pass attempt and jumping the route, etc. Another takeaway is the lack of success that backs not named Jahmyr Gibbs had against the Aggie front, even with as leaky as the run defense was last year. Milroe, McClellan, and Williams combined for 30 carries for 132 yards, just over 4 yards a pop. Milroe had a 33-yarder in there at one point, but the rushing success was not exactly bursting off the screen for Alabama, even with a much better offensive line than they have so far this year.
It remains to be seen whether these are edges that the Aggies will take advantage of. Every matchup takes on its own particular character. Each team is different by year. But I think there are definite things we can draw on when looking at these individual matchups and players and how each team has changed from then until now, and use that to project forward. If I’m correct, I think Texas A&M football is in a good spot come 2:30 CT on Saturday.