When a quarterback throws three pick 6s, that's going to be top of mind for just about everyone. Let's begin with...
Kyle Allen's rough day.
In last week's "3 Things" article previewing this game, I said the following:
Kyle Allen will be the key for Texas A&M.
Why Kyle Allen? Because, no offense to Tra Carson and the A&M offensive line, the Aggies will not win this game by running the ball. Alabama is one of the best run defenses in the country, and while A&M might be able to grind out some yards here and there, odds are Alabama will make A&M one dimensional. And that dimension will be passing.
Allen is coming off of two straight turnover-free games and seems to be growing each week. He ranks 12th nationally in QBR and 10th in passer rating. With an extra week to prepare, A&M should have a plan for success dialed in. So can Allen execute that plan and avoid turnovers? If so, A&M will have a great chance to win.
Alabama is, no surprise, ranked in the top 10 nationally in yards per pass allowed, at just 5.1. When the yards are that hard to come by, avoiding turnovers becomes that much more important.
Unfortunately for Texas A&M, Allen didn't seem to be himself and threw three passes that ultimately resulted in touchdowns for the Alabama defense along with a few others that were ill-advised.
He was pressing from the very beginning and seemed rattled, rushing throws, not setting his feet, not feeling pressure, and just not playing at the level of previous weeks.
It's impossible for those of us outside the program to know exactly what happened or why. But the fact is, it's almost impossible to win when letting the other team score multiple defensive touchdowns. In the last 15 years, there have been 155 teams that have returned two interceptions for touchdowns, and only 12 of the 155 have lost. There have been just five teams prior to Alabama yesterday that have even returned three interceptions for touchdowns, and all five won, as you'd expect.
Even taking out the touchdowns, since 2000, teams that throw at least four interceptions in a game are 49-558. So a team cannot win when throwing the ball away so much. (One interception was thrown by Kyler Murray Saturday.)
Some comparisons have been made to the 2012 A&M-LSU game, when eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel had his roughest day as an Aggie, throwing three interceptions and completing barely 50% of his passes. It's a good comparison. In fact, Kyle Allen's day was eerily similar to Manziel's that day.
- Allen: 20/40 (50%), 263 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT's, 98.5 passer rating
- Manziel: 29/56 (52%), 276 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT's, 82.5 passer rating
In case you're wondering, LSU also bottled up Manziel as a runner that day, holding him to 27 yards on 17 carries. It was the only game of Manziel's career that he did not account for a single touchdown.
That was Manziel's seventh start as an Aggie. This was Kyle Allen's 11th. The point with all of this is that having such a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day is rough, but it's not unprecedented, and even one of the all-time greats of the game had a similar performance, at home, DURING his Heisman-winning season.
What happens next is important. For Manziel in 2012, he responded by taking his game to a new level and closing out the year with six straight wins. Will Kyle Allen follow that path? Will this be looked back on as the low point that spurred him to greatness? Or will it linger? We shall see.
The Aggie defense has an uncanny ability to make stops.
After giving up somewhere around a thousand rushing yards in the first quarter, the Aggies managed to stiffen up and keep the game competitive, forcing numerous punts and making several big plays. It was stunning, really.
Defensive Coordinator John Chavis certainly has the skins on the wall and the experience to guide a team through a tough first quarter and get them back on track. After the disastrous first quarter, the next three quarters were actually won by the Aggies when Alabama had the ball. When it was all said and done, Alabama had rushed for 5.73 yards per carry, which was less than what Mississippi State ran for against the Aggies, and just .2 ypc more than what Arkansas did.
I don't know if Chavis saw something and changed a specific plan of attack after the first quarter or if it was just as simple as shoring up a few assignments, but what started out as a game of "man, Alabama is just on another level" ended as more of a "the A&M defense actually won the day and the Aggies would have won the game if not for the turnovers."
What's really impressive though is when you look at the way the season has gone, the Aggies have been doing this almost every week. Second half performances defensively against Arizona State, Arkansas, MSU, and now Bama without a single late game letdown are enough to constitute a trend. When looking ahead, the LSU game is the only other game on paper in which the A&M defense might be overmatched. Hats off to John Chavis and the entire Aggie defense for sticking with it Saturday and making stops when put in difficult situations.
Special teams are the strength of this A&M team.
Much credit should be given to Jeff Banks, A&M's special teams coordinator. Since he arrived, the Aggies have been very good on all special teams units. Kick coverage is always good, kick returns have been great (Speedy Noil last year, Christian Kirk this year), kickoffs have been great, punting has been great, and place kicking has been anywhere from good to great.
At no time was this more evident than yesterday. Christian Kirk ignited the crowd and kept A&M in the game with his second quarter punt return for a touchdown. Myles Garrett then blocked a punt in the third quarter, and let's not forget the fumble and subsequent recovery right before that by A&M's punt coverage team.
Taylor Bertolet was strong on kickoffs and was 2-4 on kicks over 50 yards, which is acceptable.
All in all, special teams are what kept A&M in the game with huge plays made to flip the momentum. The same can be said for the Arizona State game (Kirk's punt return for a touchdown). The Aggies have been solidly consistent all year with flashes of brilliance. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned that punter Drew Kaser is 2nd in the nation in punting this year.
As we keep discussing the ups and downs and strengths and weaknesses of the offense and defense, the fact is, special teams have been the best of the three units and it really isn't close. They've been the most consistent unit and have been responsible for a handful of the biggest plays. Keep an eye on that as we enter the second half of the season. As the Michigan game showed yesterday (and the Longhorns a couple times earlier in the year, among other teams), games are won and lost on special teams just like they are with offense or defense.