How do you beat these guys?
Alabama is 5-0. They're outscoring opponents 44-8 (231 to 43). They're nearly 27-point favorites over Texas A&M and the game is being played at Kyle Field.
So just skip to the postmortem and pray for no injuries, right?
Well, maybe. Maybe not. Their opponents haven't exactly set the world on fire -- they have a combined record of 11-10 (A&M's opponents, similarly, have a record of 11-10). Still, domination is domination.
So how do you beat the dominator? You need some luck, for sure, but there are few things A&M can do to position themselves for the upset.
Keep running the football. The Aggies are currently second in the conference in rushing at 256 yards a game. They're averaging 5.3 yards a carry and have been consistent all year. They haven't played a defense like Alabama, but the Tide is missing DE A'Shawn Hand (who Rivals somehow ranked higher than Myles Garrett in 2014) with an MCL injury. They're good, but thinner than the usual Alabama defenses. Bama has been great against the run and were last year, but A&M averaged 5.4 yards a carry last year (not including sacks). This is a Keith Ford game. Feed him.
Take your time. The Aggies are not playing the same style of football in any way this year. They're controlling time of possession (32:30), something they've ignored in past years. A&M's scoring drives frequently surpass 4 and 5 minutes, and they're going to have to repeat that against Alabama. The Tide is even more dominant in TOP (33 minutes-plus), but can strike quickly if they so desire.
Slow down Alabama's running game. Stopping someone ripping off 316 yards a game isn't going to happen. The Tide is too good for that. But A&M's interior linemen and linebackers have done a solid job against the run so far. They've got to continue doing that. Missed tackles have been at a minimum, and must continue to be so.
Don't give Hurts the edge. The Aggies MUST be aggressive throughout this football game on defense. They were aggressive last year, but one thing they did not do is keep Hurts contained. He found ways to get up the field when nobody was open. If I'm A&M, I'm attacking up the middle, but Jarrett Johnson, Landis Durham and company must hold the edges. If they don't he'll get loose and pick up huge chunks of yards.
Play like a +8 defense. A&M has done a very good job minimizing turnovers, but have done an even better job forcing them. Alabama has played error-free football, but that eventually has to change. Pressing the issue could lead to big plays, but could also lead to turnovers.
Do all those things, get a little bit of luck and maybe you can stay close.
Alaka's improved impact
Last season, Otaro Alaka had 74 tackles playing middle linebacker. This year, at his natural WILL, he may not get to 74 -- he's on just about an identical pace.
But that's where the similarities end. His impact this year is far, far greater.
Last season, Alaka had 6.5 tackles for loss all season. Against South Carolina last Saturday night, he had 5. He's got 7 for the season and his 3 sacks are already a career high. Translated out over a 12 game schedule, and Alaka is on pace for 74 tackles, 16 TFL and 6 sacks. That's an outstanding season for anyone. Also, his 5 TFL were more than Von or Daeshon Hall ever had in a game at A&M.
Alaka and Tyrel Dodson have, thus far, significantly outplayed A&M's linebacker rotation from last year all by themselves. If they can stay healthy and get some help from Buddy Johnson, Anthony Hines and (eventually) Santino Marchiol, then this group can make a real difference in stopping the annual late-season collapse against the run.
May be different, maybe not
Since the season opener against UCLA, when Nick Starkel broke his ankle and Donovan Wilson broke his leg, the Aggies have largely stayed healthy. The only real serious injury they've had is Jake Hubenak re-aggravating his shoulder. They've gotten through tough games with Arkansas and South Carolina without major incident.
You can't avoid injuries, that's for sure. But A&M seems to be doing a better job of fighting off the injury bug through the first five games of the year. The offensive line has stayed largely healthy (Connor Lanfear could have played against Louisiana-Lafayette if necessary) and the defensive front seven remains good to go.
Alabama brings it another level. If they survive this game without severe wear and tear, then maybe it is time to give Mark Hocke and his S&C program a nod of acknowledgement.
Hard to believe it's the same guy
Kellen Mond is has now completed nearly 56% of his passes (69-126). Last year, Trevor Knight completed 53.3% of his passes in his redshirt senior year. Knight was definitely more of gambler than Mond is at this point in his career, but look at this: take away the 3-17 debacle at UCLA and Mond is completing 61% of his passes. You'll take that in the college game anytime. Once this guy gets truly comfortable, the sky may well be the limit for him.
Pre-K and AK: Not what you think.
In this case, K is Koda. Koda Martin. And he's made a huge difference in the Aggie offensive line's fate.
Pre-K, the line sucked in pass protection. I'm sorry if that word triggers you, but they did. They sucked. They gave up 10 sacks combined to UCLA and Nichols State, not exactly the Steel Curtain or the 1985 Bears. Martin returned to the lineup against Louisiana-Lafayette and, since then, the starters have given up at total of two sacks. That includes to SEC opponents, so I would consider that to be a pretty good job -- and a substantial change from early in the year. I don't know what A&M was thinking by not playing him early, but he has basically kept Mond's blindside on lockdown. Considering Nick Starkel was injured running when the left side of the line collapsed at UCLA, who knows what would have happened had Martin been in there to begin with?