Texas A&M is a huge underdog against the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday, with the line currently at Bama -24. And with starting QB Max Johnson reportedly out with a broken thumb, the Aggies’ prospects look bleak. But what do the stats tell us? Well, they mostly agree with the Tide being the better team. But if you’re desperate to cling to some semblance of hope, here are some areas where the Aggies have a perceived advantage (or at least a chink in Alabama’s armor) heading into the game in Tuscaloosa.
Would it surprise you to learn that Alabama is the most penalized team in the SEC? They committed 15 penalties for 100 yards in their win over Texas, and added 10 more for 101 yards against Arkansas last Saturday. For the season, the Tide are the most penalized team in the SEC, averaging 8.6 flags per game.
Obviously they’ve managed to overcome this in all of their games up until now. But if these penalties continue, and happen at opportune times (negating a big Bama play or extending an A&M drive), they could be a part of the path to A&M staying in this game.
Alabama’s defense has been dominant in virtually every category, but turnovers is not one of them, as they have only forced two turnovers so far this season (worst in the SEC). Bama has also been EXCEPTIONALLY lucky with fumbles, putting the ball on the turf seven times this season but losing only one of them (the Aggies have fumbled eight times and lost four). Their overall turnover margin is -3, the same as A&M’s.
This isn’t breaking news, but the team that ends up on the positive side of the turnover battle has a greatly increased chance to win. We saw this play out last year when the Ags forced Bryce Young into two critical turnovers in the first half. The Aggie defense had several interceptions slip off their fingertips last Saturday. If a couple of those plays get made, you never know.
Everybody reading this is aware that Devon Achane is an absolute weapon in the kick return game, averaging 34.25 yards per return with one return TD on the season. But did you know that Alabama kickoffs result in a touchback less than 60% of the time? It certainly seems like there will be opportunities for Achane to make an impact play on special teams in this game (let’s hope it’s a game-changing play similar to last year’s).
Conversely, A&M leads the conference in touchback percentage (86.36%) and even when the kick is returned, the Aggies lead the SEC in fewest return yards per return (11.67). Those stats are also good for No. 3 and No. 2 nationally, respectively.
The punt game
Texas A&M P Nik Constantinou may be middle of the pack when it comes to yardage 43.36 yards per punt, good for 8th in the SEC), but he las landed 10 of his 22 punts inside the 20 yard line, giving A&M a significant field position advantage. The height he has put on his kicks also has led to excellent, with 16 punts not returned at all, and the six that were only returned for an average of 2.17 yards (No. 2 in the SEC).
The Tide lead the conference in punt return average (21.14 yards per return) and have two punt return touchdowns on the season, so limiting their ability to have room to return will be key.
You may have noticed that there aren’t any categories regarding offensive or defensive yardage/points. There’s a reason. On paper, things do not look good for A&M this Saturday. The margin for error for A&M is razor thin if they want to pull off the upset, which is concerning when this team has shown a tendency to make major errors every week so far this season. But if there were ever a great time to finally put together a complete game, it would be this weekend.