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Q&A with Roll Bama Roll: Alabama vs. Texas A&M

How does a team have a chance against the Tide? Read on (respectfully).

Texas A&M v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

HAPPY FRIDAY, AGS. We’re here just burning through another workday, so curl up with your caffeinated juice of choice and see what a genuinely thorough and knowledgeable Bama fan thinks about this year’s team, Saban’s dynasty, and various other pieces of the puzzle.

Here’s the flip side of the Q&A on Roll Bama Roll.

[Good Bull Hunting questions in bold. Follow @rollbamaroll for the rest of the week for more great insight.]

Do you ever feel bad for beating Tennessee? I mean it’s really not fair that you get to play them every year when the rest of us have to play real teams like South Carolina.

Playing Tennessee will never get old, nor will it diminish in enjoyment so long as down-home incompetence predominates. Fortunately, with Phil Fulmer running the show that reign of error looks to run unabated for the time being. He hired away the man least qualified to run a staff in the hopes of both destabilizing Alabama’s program and to have a baked-in excuse to eventually Barry Alvarez poor Jeremy Pruitt. And where did that get him, I ask you? Can’t even cover 28 against UTEP at home -- as sin almost as grave to SEC boosters as losing outright to UTEP.

Do you think Saban would have the same amount of success he’s enjoyed at a non-traditional power like say…..Washington State?

Of course he wouldn’t. Nick Saban has had a helluva’ run no matter the college he’s been at. He was awesome at Toledo. He turned around a moribund, left-for-dead Spartans program. Then he did the same at LSU. He is the best recruiter and best program builder of our generation, and the best coach in college football history. But it would be foolish to overlook the favorable institutional structure in place at Alabama (and LSU, for that matter.) He came on campus, made demands, and the money and passion and desire to stop sucking were there. We all capitulated. But the historical bona fides, money, access to ready talent, and weekly high profile contests, simply isn’t there at a place like Wazzu. He’d be a player in the Pac 12. May have even won a natty over the last 15 years. But this kind of run has required being at this kind of place (Did that sound too Notre Dame-ish? Not sure if you noticed, but we’re kind of arrogant sometimes.) It’s honestly one of the reasons we really thought he may leave for Texas or Notre Dame in 2013: Those are other “cement the legacy”-types of places with the money, infrastructure and historical cache to suit his demands and required investment.

I know your audience though. So, I will say this without naked praise of Texas: he’d have hated it there. I think he actually would have been better off at A&M. The Aggies would not demand the glad-handing, pro-am golf, booster clubs, coffee klatch, and all the other shit that Texas would. And you have the piggy bank and built-in adherence to an Authoritarian Strong Man to please him. He’s kind of a tyrant. But, hey, while empire may get a bad rap these days, we’re really enjoying it on this side of the Seven Hills. He’s also a big ole’ redneck with money. And, having known many Aggies, that’s on-brand as hell.

Looking at this year’s Tide team from the outside, I don’t see a BEASTMODE superhuman like Julio Jones or Derrick Henry. Who is the most talented player to watch out for Saturday?

I think the reason there’s no one person on offense (aside from Tua) that really stands out is the result of a couple of things. 1. Most of these starters are from the historical NSD Class of 2017 -- the sophomores are excellent and very close in talent level. 2. Alabama hasn’t been challenged, not really. They may have taken a few shots in the spring game, but Louisville and Ole Miss are hardly up to snuff. We’ve not seen who the ball goes to when it’s a must-make down. And, 3. the offense does such a ridiculous job spreading the ball around that no one has to be the man. There are three legitimate NFL WRs starting on the offense, Freshman WR Jaylen Waddle is dynamic as well -- and the receiving corps goes 12-deep. TE Irv Smith has turned into a force to be reckoned with even if you can shut down the wideouts and stop the run and spy the QB. And the RBs speak for themselves: Najee Harris was the No. 1 back in his class in 2017. Damien Harris was the No. 1 back in his class in 2015. Brian Robinson is “just” a four-star -- see what I mean? The backfield is five-deep. Oh, and they’re playing behind an offensive line with two all-Americans. I hear that backup QB isn’t too bad himself. It is a special offense.

But, if you’re going to try and put the target on one person’s back, let’s go with Jerry Jeudy. I thought he was the best receiver in the last class last year; he just does everything so well. But he never really clicked with Jalen Hurts, who made googly eyes at Calvin Ridley for about 190 targets a game. This year, though, Jeudy’s off to a torrid start -- he already has 6 receiving touchdowns on 11 catches and no one has come close to containing him. Bracket that guy.

I think Damien Harris is the most underrated player in the SEC. Why does this man get no love?

I honestly don’t understand this either. Alabama fans know what Damien is about and love that guy. He’s amazing. And as he’s matured, he’s turned into a complete back -- as well as added a breakaway gear. I suspect a lot of the reason he doesn’t get more run nationally is that he splits carries with Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs. By the time the we’ve reached the “running clock, off-the-A-gap dives” point of the game where he could get 10-12 extra carries and 70-80 extra yards, there’s no point in having any starters in. You’re down to “just” Jacobs and Brian Robinson and Ronny Clark. In a way that’s good for Harris personally; Alabama’s penchant for blowouts is adding years to his NFL shelf life. (But, on the down low, he’s one of my five favorite Alabama players ever. He takes zero crap from entitled fans, was his high school valedictorian, is an All-SEC Academic performer, and may be the most interesting and thoughtful SEC players since Arian Foster came down the pipe.)

Do you think Saban is a better coach than Bear Bryant? No, you can’t say they are both great with their own legacies. Choose one.

This isn’t even remotely blasphemous. Nick Saban is the best coach in college football history. Gimme Armani Bear over Arkansas Bear by two touchdowns on a neutral field.

Tua has been exceptional so far this year. It’s easy to avoid unhappy QB’s when you’re dominating, but what is going to happen in a close game?

I dunno. Let’s ask Georgia about what he can do in a close game.

But, I suspect you’re asking if there will be sideline drama, demands to swap up, recriminations, etc. No, I don’t think so. This is firmly Tua’s team, and he won the support of the veterans and won it on the field. Aside from the tangibles, there is a real bromance between he and Jalen Hurts. They are constantly encouraging and coaching one another. Everyone is playing good soldier, doing their best when called upon, and frankly they wouldn’t have a roster spot if they weren’t willing to do so.

What happens if Jalen Hurts transfers to Auburn, is he hated forever?

I don’t know how anyone could hate Jalen Hurts for where he “transfers” -- or even if he does. He will walk away from the Capstone in December an Alabama graduate, his obligation is complete, such as he owes one. And, while he has improved every year as a quarterback, this year especially, who’s to say he will even go somewhere else. Three years of SEC play may have reinforced to him that while he could start elsewhere, he probably won’t get a better shot at being a pro than by staying and learning with a generational talent? Buying a ticket doesn’t entitle anyone to the rest of his life. So, if he goes to Auburn, I wish him well personally, and hope he cries into his stuffed tiger every night during an 0-12 season. Now, if he went to Tennessee? All bets are off.

What do you think is the most important factor in Saban’s long term success at Bama? I think it was his demand that the administration/boosters stay out of his way.

I accidentally answered part of this above. But, yes, it was demanding complete autonomy, complete access to resources, and for the traditionally meddling boosters and admins to GTFO his way -- and we did it all. But it’s not just the winning that he brought back to Tuscaloosa. There has been a well-documented Saban effect on nearly everything: from enrollment, to academics, to the support for other programs on the campus, to charities in the community, to a housing boom, to the billion-plus dollars he has brought to the school in 11+ seasons, to the billion+ dollars in tourism he’s brought the state. He’s been worth every penny and every bruised ego it took to get here.

Really, what does Butch Jones do?

Honestly? I have no idea. I know most analysts break down film and provide extremely detailed stats on tendencies, down and distance, personnel, groupings, etc. Alabama is one of the most data-reliant programs in the country. For all I know, Butch really could be the unsung linchpin of this offense’s success -- or he could be Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie taster for His Majesty, Nicholas Lou the First. And I pissed off some Alabama fans off for saying this, but no matter what he does in Tuscaloosa for $23,000 a year, it takes a lot of gumption and introspection to recognize your failings, swallow your pride, and then go intern for the guy who kicked your ass all because you want to become better at your craft. I think the shorthand for that is “manning up.”

Aside from hiring Gus Malzahn, how does one beat Bama?

This year? Divine intervention? Ebola? THAC0? (if you got that last one, then hello fellow virgin!) I’ve actually given this one some thought. And I think we saw parts of it in play with Louisville and Ole Miss. First off, it’s going to be a shootout. The ole’ “put ‘em in third and long” won’t work. Tua is perfect on 3rd downs and has 4 touchdowns this year in such situations. You’ll definitely need the long ball, and like Ole Miss, you’ll need a powerful, quick back to lean on. I think the Rebels went away from Scottie Phillips too early, frankly. You can’t let this defense play 4-on-5 and drop six guys all night with a roving MLB. You have to make the defense be honest, not let the safeties squat in center field, and then get the linebackers moving in space -- exploit their miscommunications and injuries via smoke draws or shallow crosses, short curls with the tight ends (as we saw with Louisville). Then know when to take your shots and don’t be afraid to do so (a la Ole Miss). It’s a high-risk, high-reward defense. They’ll give up some points eventually if you’re patient and make them stay on the field. And, I think honestly you’ll need some luck. Alabama has lost three games in a decade where it didn’t lose the turnover battle -- and they were even in those three. Nick Saban teams don’t beat themselves.

TL; DR version: reconcile your defense to a high scoring game, play patient but aggressive offense, get some turnover luck, and make this come down to special teams...because, frankly, Alabama has been dreadful kicking this year (#ScheduledTweet.)