After a lackluster showing in a 17-12 victory over Vanderbilt, Texas A&M walks into the toughest of tests this Saturday, traveling to Tuscaloosa to face perennial powerhouse Alabama. The Aggies haven’t beaten the Crimson Tide since their first conference matchup in 2012, and really haven’t even been competitive since Johnny Manziel’s departure. And with a 17-point spread, it would be easy to assume A&M will once again get beaten in convincing fashion.
But that outcome is not a foregone conclusion, and if you look hard enough, there are reasons for optimism heading into this game. So if you’re looking for some hope that A&M can pull off the impossible, I’m here to boost that confidence. If you think we are gonna get our doors blown off, I’m here to inject some doubt into that opinion. With that in mind, let’s dive into our Optimstic Outlook for this week’s game.
Why should we be optimistic?
Much was made of A&M’s returning players from the previous season, bringing back the most production in the SEC. Meanwhile, Alabama is tied with LSU for the least returning production in the conference. And while Bama is certainly used to having players leave for the draft, 2020 saw the Tide match their own record for the most players they’ve ever had drafted in the first three rounds (9). Yes, those replacing those players are also extremely talented, but Alabama will be a younger and much less experienced team than they were a year ago. And especially early in the season, following an unorthodox offseason, that lack of experience could matter.
Alabama’s win was convincing. Was it dominant?
Look, the Tide were up 28-3 at halftime and QB Mac Jones was wearing a headset before the end of the third quarter, so I’m not gonna sit here and pretend they struggled at all with Missouri. But on the spectrum of Alabama wins, 38-13 is pretty pedestrian. With Tua Tagovailoa leading the charge in 2018-2019, Bama averaged more than 46 points per game (including more than 42 points per game in SEC play), so even with Jaylen Waddle and a bevy of other weapons, perhaps this Alabama offense won’t be as lethal as it has been in recent years.
The Aggie defense has the potential to be elite
Lost in the ugliness of last Saturday was just how well the A&M defense performed. In a game where the offense turned the ball over four times and special teams gave up a safety, the defense gave up only 10 points, 150 yards passing and 105 yards rushing, all while also forcing two turnovers of their own. While Bama is a stiffer test, the Aggie defense walks into Tuscaloosa ranked in the top 10 in both scoring defense and total defense. The Tide offense may still be more talented, but that gap has seemingly never been closer.
A&M’s biggest problems from Vanderbilt are fixable
Aggie fans are no strangers to underwhelming victories against supbar competition. And while it was difficult to take too many positives away from last week’s game, the negatives might not be as negative as what we have seen in years past. Despite fans’ complaints about Kellen Mond’s accuracy, A&M’s biggest problems were turnovers and penalties. Fumbles are frustrating. Penalties can stall drives. But both are the result of sloppiness, not a lack of skill. Even the maligned A&M offense did move the ball, gaining 372 yards and only punting twice. I’d much rather have these seemingly correctable problems than see an offensive line that can’t protect their QB or a defense that can’t tackle (and we’ve seen both of those before).
A&M was far from perfect in their first game, but this offseason was far from normal. First game jitters and rust were inevitable, and caused some surprising results. Yes, Alabama is an infinitely tougher test than what A&M just faced, but A&M should also be a much tougher opponent than the Tide just faced as well.
It’s a tall task, but games like this are why you become a college football fan. For the times when nobody but the most optimistic of your own fans is giving you a chance. Even if it’s unlikely, a win is always possible. Let’s do this.