The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide went into their much-hyped showdown with sixth-ranked Texas A&M with the added distraction of the allegations by Yahoo Sports. Alabama weathered it all and pulled off a massive victory Saturday. It wasn’t all pretty and it was even ugly at times, but at the end of the game Alabama won 49-42 on the road in College Station, avenging last year’s loss in Tuscaloosa to the Aggies.
The entire Alabama offense put on one hell of a performance after a mediocre opening game two weeks ago. Things started off shaky with a poor three-and-out on the first possession. But senior quarterback AJ McCarron settled the offense down and took control. The Aggies crowded the line early to force McCarron to beat them, and he did just that, throwing for over 240 yards and three touchdowns in the first half.
The offensive line struggled mightily in the opener against Virginia Tech, but McCarron was never seriously rushed and never sacked. The rebuilt line opened massive holes for the running backs, and provided ample time for the passing game. Outside of a few false start penalties, the line really put on an excellent show. Freshman OJ Howard and junior Brian Vogler at tight end were both excellent blockers in the running game and both made big catches, with Howard in particular having a great day.
The play calling was absolutely superb. Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier knew coming in that Texas A&M would sell out to stop the run, so he put the ball in McCarron’s hands early and truly called a great game in the first half. He even threw in the flea flicker, which we’ve seen McCarron run to perfection every time it has been run over the past three years. In the second half the running game was used more and it really wore on the tired A&M defense, adding much needed balance.
The best playcall of the day might just have come from AJ McCarron himself. Before the third and goal late in the fourth quarter from the five-yard line, Saban was thinking about running the ball to set up a field goal. McCarron put the ball in his own hands, however, and hit Jalston Fowler on a bootleg for a wide open five-yard score as the A&M defense was completely suckered on the run. If that play looked familiar, former Tide quarterback Greg McElroy scored against Auburn in 2009 on a very similar play in a very similar situation.
C.J. Mosley put on a hell of an effort as well. Mosley was forced to spy Manziel repeatedly and at the same time was all over the field on his way to making 12 tackles on the day. Vinne Sunseri also made a massive play in the third quarter, picking off a Manziel pass and returning it 73 yards for a score on an electrifying return.
The Alabama defense looked ugly early in the game, mainly due to the spectacular play of Johnny Manziel. On multiple occasions Alabama defenders seemed to have Manziel dead to rights in the backfield, but he was able to make a play out of nowhere. In the first half, for example, Jeoffrey Pagan had Manziel in the backfield on third and long but couldn’t bring him down. Manziel threw up a prayer that it was incredibly completed on a jump ball. That could have been a backbreaker, but the Alabama defense responded when cornerback Cyrus Jones intercepted a Manziel pass in the end zone; one of two INTs by the Tide defense on the day.
Cyrus Jones had a tough day, minus the one interception, as he was beat multiple times, including the 95-yard pass to Mike Evans late in the game. Jones was put in a tough situation as he had to play a lot, with senior Deion Belue leaving the game early due to a toe injury. On several plays Alabama defenders just lost sight of their man as Manziel scrambled around; something that defenses have to anticipate due to Manziel’s athleticism.
Penalties were undoubtedly the ugliest part of this game for the Crimson Tide. Alabama was penalized a total of 12 times for over 100 yards, a rarity in the Saban era. A few calls were very questionable; the most obvious being the targeting penalty leveled against HaHa Clinton-Dix in the second quarter. Dix was pretty clearly going after the ball when he collided with the receiver, and even touched the ball before the receiver. Even worse, his helmet never made contact with the receiver’s helmet. Per the new rule he was ejected from the game, but the review correctly showed he was not targeting. This controversial rule will surely cause even more problems as the season progresses.
The Kouandjio brothers, Arie and Cyrus, had an excellent game, opening holes for running backs and protecting McCarron, but they were also both penalized multiple times for false starts. This could obviously be attributed to the loud atmosphere at College Station, but at the same time that can’t happen as often as it did if the Tide want to be successful.
All in all, it wasn’t a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but in a game when the offense knew it would have to score points to keep up, it stood up and performed. The defense made several big plays and kept Manziel at bay. Alabama moves to 2-0 and has the Texas A&M monkey from its back.
Final stats from the game:
AJ McCarron: 20-29, 334 yards, 4 TD
TJ Yeldon: 25 carries, 149 yards, 1 TD
Kenyan Drake: 7 carries, 50 yards, 1 TD
Jalston Fowler: 4 carries, 37 yards
DeAndrew White: 4 carries, 82 yards, 1 TD
OJ Howard: 3 catches, 68 yards
Kevin Norwood: 3 catches, 52 yards, 1 TD
Brian Vogler: 3 catches, 24 yards
Amari Cooper: 2 catches, 34 yards
Kenny Bell: 1 catch, 51 yards, 1 TD
Christion Jones: 1 catch, 12 yards
Jalston Fowler: 1 catch, 5 yards, 1 TD
TJ Yeldon: 1 catch, 4 yards
Kenyan Drake: 1 catch, 2 yards
CJ Mosley: 12 tackles
Landon Collins: 7 tackles
HaHa Clinton-Dix: 6 tackles
Cyrus Jones: 5 tackles, 1 INT
Denzel Devall: 5 tackles, 1 forced fumble
Vinnie Sunseri: 4 tackles, 1 INT, 73 yards, 1 TD
Jeoffrey Pagan: 4 tackles
John Fulton: 4 tackles
A’Shawn Robinson: 3 tackles, 1.0 tackle for loss, 1.0 sack
Christion Jones: 3 tackles
Adrian Hubbard: 3 tackles, 2 pass breakups
Jarrick Williams: 2 tackles, 1 tackle for loss
Tana Patrick: 2 tackles
Dillon Lee: 2 tackles
Ed Stinson: 2 tackles
Reggie Ragland: 2 tackles
Trey DePriest: 2 tackles
Maurice Smith: 2 tackles
Brandon Ivory: 2 tackles
Xzavier Dickson: 1 tackle, 1 tackle for loss
LaMichael Fanning: 1 tackle
Nick Perry: 1 pass breakup
Cade Foster: 7/7 XPs
Cody Mandell: 3 punts, 53.0 yards per punt, long: 60 yards
Christion Jones: 1 punt return, 5 yards; 4 kickoff returns, 83 yards