Texas A&M finds themselves in a very familiar situation this weekend. They are off to a hot start this season and making some noise in the SEC, they are highly ranked, and are playing some pretty good football. This week they will be making the trip out to Tuscaloosa, Alabama and will try to knock off the defending national champion Crimson Tide and try to take control of the SEC West for the first time since they made the move from the Big 12.
While the Aggies are undefeated and off to a great start, Alabama has looked absolutely dominant defensively, and their true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has been showing that he has a very bright future ahead of him in Tuscaloosa. The last two trips to Tuscaloosa couldn’t be at further ends of the spectrum for A&M. In 2014 they were absolutely demolished by Alabama to the tune of a 59-0 shutout, as absolutely nothing went right for the Aggies that day. Flashback to 2012 though and the entire college football world watched as future Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel led the Aggies to a huge upset victory over Alabama. This go round, the Aggies will be double digit underdogs (+17) to the Crimson Tide, which isn’t exactly unfamiliar territory for them in this matchup either.
This is an intriguing matchup for me because I think there could be some areas that A&M could potentially give Alabama some trouble, but I could also see things potentially getting out of hand and snow balling like previous matchups I’ve seen the Tide participate in. In order to beat Alabama it is incredibly important to have a quarterback that has a steady hand and is able to make a few big plays in the matchup.
Alabama fans are very familiar with A&M quarterback Trevor Knight when he made a name for himself against them in the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma a few years ago. While Knight’s passing numbers may not jump off the screen at you so far this year, it’s the added dimension of him using his feet to hurt defenses that has helped the A&M offense move the chains and has led to some big plays over the past few weeks. The biggest thing for Knight is that he is going to have to play his cleanest game of the season on Saturday for A&M to have a shot in this one. Knight has thrown five interceptions so far this year Alabama has scored a non-offensive touchdown in every game this year, so to say they are capable of forcing turnovers and making game changing plays on that side of the ball is a huge understatement. If Knight makes a mistake with the football on Saturday, Alabama is more than likely going to make him pay for it on the scoreboard one way or the other.
Another important dimension to watch here is the balance of the A&M offense as the game wears on. True freshman running back Trayveon Williams has been dynamic for the Aggie offense in 2016 and has taken the pressure off of Knight. Williams has already tallied 704 rushing yards heading into this matchup, and he will probably need his best game to date as an Aggie against a stout Alabama front seven. If Williams is able to get going early, that should allow A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to get Knight into a comfort zone early in that hostile environment that is Bryant-Denny Stadium.
One last thing I will be watching is how the A&M defense is able to bounce back after giving up a lot of points and yards against Tennessee in their last matchup. Alabama has done a pretty good job of protecting Hurts to this point, but they will have a very tough task ahead with Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall coming off the edges. Cameron Robinson vs. Myles Garrett is going to be must see TV, as both them should have their names called pretty early in the NFL Draft in 2017. I could potentially see Garrett and Hall forcing Hurts into some mistakes by getting him uncomfortable early and allowing A&M’s playmakers on the back end of the defense with Justin Evans and Armanti Watts making some big plays to grab the momentum.
This game has a chance to be a fun and entertaining matchup like we all saw in 2012, but it also has the potential to look like the past couple years and be an absolute boat race in favor of the Crimson Tide. It will be interesting to see how things play out if either team gets down big early and has to rally from a big deficit. For Alabama, a win makes their stranglehold on the SEC even tighter and a win for the Aggies puts them in a position that they haven’t been in a very long time, and that is a chance to win a conference championship and make a national title run. I will have my popcorn popped and my feet up and relaxed for this match up on Saturday.