Less than two weeks ago, Kyle Field roared throughout all of College Station from a dramatic finish in one of the most exhilarating games in its storied history. Escaping what would have been an all-time collapse, the Aggies triumphed over a top-10 opponent as a top-10 team for the first time since before most current A&M students were born. It was a signature win for the Kevin Sumlin era and solidified A&M as a legitimate contender for the SEC Championship.
A week after that monumental victory, the same opponent we fought so hard to defeat (Tennessee) hosted A&M’s upcoming foe, Alabama, and proceeded to fare about as well as Prairie View A&M did when they faced the Aggies in September. It was an utter demolition and the Crimson Tide’s College Football Playoffs chances went from probable to a bet-my-life-savings certainty.
In the build-up to Saturday’s game of the season, transitive property theory has been ablaze, and the results of A&M and Bama’s games against Tennessee equated to the Aggies having zero chance of defeating the Tide. Despite A&M being the highest ranked opponent the Tide faced so far, some are already looking ahead to see if this is even the toughest game left on Bama’s schedule.
Needless to say, there are not many folks outside the Texas A&M football locker room who believe the Ags will come out of Tuscaloosa with a victory. Which is why I am here to proclaim to the Internet masses and hot take artists everywhere:
Texas A&M is going to beat Alabama this Saturday.
I know what you’re thinking and no, I am not a mole from TexAgs. This is not click bait or being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian. After watching every Aggie game and most Crimson Tide match-ups that weren’t against Western Kentucky or Kent State, I truly believe the maroon and white will be the only undefeated team in the SEC after Saturday.
Granted, this will be far from an easy task. There is no position that doesn’t have a 5-star athlete playing it, and you won’t find another team more disciplined because a simple side-eye from Mr. Saban is more soul-disintegrating than any kind of failure on the gridiron. It will take a phenomenal effort and the team’s best performance in all three phases of the game, but I believe the Ags will get it done and accomplish arguably the greatest win in program history. Here’s why.
THE READ OPTION
GBH native Stringsays raised a great point about A&M’s upset over Bama in 2012.
in 2012 johnny was the main reason we won...but lost in all that was how innovative and creative our coaches were— stringsays (@stringsays) October 18, 2016
He then made the same point that it would take similar creativity from the Ags this Saturday in order to shock the world a second time. While I agree, for whatever tricks Noel Mazzone may have saved for Saturday, they will first be set up by the foundation of A&M’s offense: The Read Option.
When Mazzone first arrived in College Station, his system was described as “orchestrated confusion” based off of the core of a few plays. Simply put, instead of learning a large variety of schemes and formations, the Aggie offense mastered a small sample of plays to make things as simple as possible. This philosophy has proven to be the perfect recipe for an inexperienced offensive line and transfer at starting quarterback. When looking back at the big plays this year, the heartbeat of the “orchestrated confusion” comes from the Read Option.
Six of Trevor Knight’s nine rushing touchdowns and all five of Trayveon Williams’ touchdowns came from this play. What’s made it such a success for the offense is the natural hesitation it creates for the defense. For that split second Knight holds the ball out to an Aggie running back, the defense must be still to see where the ball is going. And in that split second, a game-changer like Williams can run right by you. For example, watch the Tennessee middle linebacker on the touchdown run below.
He stands right in position to make a play if Williams is getting the ball, but the moment it takes to read what is happening causes the breakout freshman to breeze by for an easy score. The defensive hesitation allows A&M’s o-line to get to their blocks on time and simplifies their role to just getting a hat on a hat. It makes for simple tasks on the offense while creating a puzzle for the defensive. This also helps in getting creative with formations/motions while not having to change scheme. The Ags can throw in a wrinkle like putting a returning Ricky Seals-Jones at H-back or motion Christian Kirk into the backfield without having to change any assignments for Knight or the o-line.
The worry this Saturday is Alabama’s supreme athletes will be too fast for our read option. It is legitimate threat, but this play not only creates opening for A&M to strike on the ground but also through the air.
THE DEEP BALL
Alabama's one weakness is giving up big plays: 118th in that category via S&P+ (@SBN_BillC). A&M is 9th in the nation in creating big plays— Andrew Ites (@sportswithjim) October 19, 2016
Multiple coaches (namely Bret Bielema and Will Muschamp) this year made the same statement about stopping A&M’s offense: let Trevor Knight beat you with his arm. With a 53% completion percentage, it’s a fair assessment to make. There have been plenty of times where a simple swing pass goes sailing or into the ground and fans start shifting in their seats uncomfortably. Despite the erratic play, one thing Knight has proven to do quite well is throw the deep ball.
In Mazzone’s scheme, the Ags gained a lot of success by spreading the field with four wide receivers or three-wide with a Y-back and either leave fewer defenders in the box or allow single coverage on our stellar group of skill players. A good example comes from Josh Reynolds’ 51-yard reception that set up for an Aggie touchdown.
There is simply too much to defend, from the read option and the looming threat of Christian Kirk, that Auburn decides to roll with single coverage on Reynolds. The result speaks for itself. From the Ole Miss and Arkansas games, Alabama showed to be a little vulnerable when their opponent goes deep. A well-timed return from Ricky Seals-Jones (who had 6 receptions for 107 yards in last year’s match-up) could create some 1-on-1 battles the Aggies have the ability to win on the outside.
Alabama’s defense is the best in the country for a reason and A&M’s offense will still be stalled multiple times leaving the defense to make plays. After allowing nearly 700 yards to Tennessee, that may be a cause for concern. Luckily, the Aggies had a bye week to heal up and Myles Garrett will be back to playing all three downs so the defense should be near full strength. And when they are at full strength, they can wreak some havoc.
TACKLES FOR LOSS
2015’s Bama was a lot of boom or bust for the Aggie defense. Either Derrick Henry ran wild or the maroon and white swarmed the backfield. Despite Bama’s success that day, A&M was still able to lay some big hits and put the Tide in some difficult situations.
Many from that group last season will be back on the field this Saturday and John Chavis will not play it conservative. If there’s one thing this defense does, it’s make you react to them, not the other way around. There is no better representation than the game-sealing 4th down stop against Auburn.
Coach Chavis has formed a relentlessly aggressive group that will not eat until the prey is dead. While there are adjustments to be made to prepare for the best offense they’ll face off season, it will not change his strategy of disrupting the backfield before any play can be made. It’s what’s given this group the second most takeaways in college football and will certainly put the freshman Jalen Hurts to the test.
YOU CAN ONLY HEAR SO MUCH
16.5— ©laude Junior™ (@_Sledgehamma) October 17, 2016
The number Claude George refers to is the opening line for Saturday’s game. Since that tweet, the number has risen to as high as 19.5. If you’re an Aggie football player, all you have seen or read this week is the superiority of mighty Alabama. Heck, there’s been more debate about whether the Tide can beat the Cleveland Browns than the Texas Aggies.
It has been the story for these players and coaches all year. The expectation continues to be that it’s only a matter of time before the Ags crash down to earth like 2014 and 2015. It was the same story four years ago, and the same things were being said about our opponent.
These points could all be retorted with, “It’s Bama,” and it’d be a valid argument. The Tide are the best team in the country and will not be rattled by the moment. In two days, they will go up against an aggressive and eager opponent with nothing to lose.
This Saturday, that combination will lead to a special day in college football.