It was a tough week for the Aggies in Starkville. Texas A&M struggled on both sides of the ball, giving up big plays on defense and surrendering four sacks on offense. Next up for Texas A&M is a road trip to Tuscaloosa to face the No. 1 team in the nation, the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Aggies have their work cut out for them but let’s talk about what they will need to do if they want to have a hope of pulling off the upset.
In Week 5, the Mississippi State Bulldogs were able to constantly pressure Max Johnson through the use of blitzing linebackers and stunting linemen upfront. It wasn’t a scheme too dissimilar from what A&M has struggled with all season but Mississippi State was able to execute to a higher degree, sacking the quarterback four times, rushing the QB on most throws where he wasn’t sacked, and eventually forcing Max Johnson from the game due to injury. Regardless of whether Johnson is healthy enough to take the snaps on Saturday or if Haynes King will be under center - an emphasis has to be placed on keeping the quarterback upright.
There are two problems to address here from what I saw on film in Starkville. First, the offensive line has to communicate better. It is an issue that has plagued this unit since the Sam Houston State game, but it really reared it’s head this past Saturday. Too many times, free rushers were allowed to come from the interior nearly untouched to hit the quarterback. What Bryce Foster and the rest of this unit will have to work on, and I’m going to sound like a broken record here, is identifying pressure pre-snap and making adjustments based on what they see. This isn’t an easy task, especially when a team brings as many rushers as Mississippi State did - but it will be vital to prevent whoever the quarterback is from ending up looking at the lights in Bryant-Denny every play.
The second issue is that the quarterback also has to be able to address those rushers quickly. Going into this game, we highlighted the fact that Mississippi State was going to bring pressure using blitzers throughout the contest. Part of it may be an issue of scheme but Texas A&M has to get better of getting rid of the ball quickly at the quarterback position to help an offensive line that is struggling to protect against pressure. If you have an issue with an aspect of this offense, such as dealing with pressure, you can’t afford long developing passing plays. Jimbo did a fantastic job of scheming for Bama in 2021 with quick releasing passes and eye candy (motioning receivers and backs) pre-snap to help give the offense chances. Of course, even if Alabama chooses not to send pressure, Will Anderson is more than capable of causing havoc on his own. I do have to pause the analysis for a second to say that he is an absolute joy to watch on tape.
In the running game, A&M will have their work cut out for them. It is undoubtedly the strength of this offensive line but Alabama is incredibly difficult to get momentum going against. Bijan Robinson was largely stifled in Texas’ meeting with the Tide earlier this year and while the Hogs ran for almost two hundred yards, it took them 51 attempts to get there. Perhaps employing some toss game with Devon Achane, who due to his speed is a different type of back than Bama has seen could produce success but I’m not holding my breath.
DJ Durkin seems to be committed to a three-man front for the Aggie defensive line in spite of the struggles A&M seems to have had against the run and in pressuring the quarterback. I would prefer to see Texas A&M get back to more four-man fronts to alleviate some of the pressure from both the linebackers in their run fits and the defensive backs in the amount of time they are being forced to cover. Perhaps it is a personnel issue up front where Durkin doesn’t feel comfortable with the inexperience in the defensive line group but if the Aggies are going to continue to play three-man fronts, there are adjustments that need to be made after Mississippi State threw for over three hundred yards and averaged six yards per carry on the ground.
The Alabama offensive line is strong, as expected. I don’t think the backers and line match up particularly well with the Tide, and even if they do Alabama has a plethora of weapons with the ability to hurt Texas A&M’s defense. I’d like to see Texas A&M mix alignments and disguise coverages to confuse the Tide pre-snap. Through the first five weeks of the season, Texas A&M has been too vanilla up front allowing offenses to trust their pre-snap reads. This is also a big factor in why opposing teams have been able to keep their quarterbacks upright when facing the Aggies. Offensive lines are able to communicate for the most part even when blitzes are coming.
If Bryce Young is in, A&M saw their success against him last year (relative success, the Alabama QB still threw for 369 yards) come from pressuring him. That’s a dangerous prospect with Milroe in the game, however, as the talented back up is a terror with his legs. Either way, I expect a higher dose of the run game from Alabama after the Tide ran for 317 yards against Arkansas. Which brings me back full circle to the gameplan from DJ Durkin. I really hope this is the week we see more four-man fronts from Texas A&M. If not, I think Jahmyr Gibbs and this Tide offense will have the Aggies in a bit of trouble early and often.
Unique to barbecue in Alabama, especially the northern half of the state, is their Alabama White Sauce. The mayo-based condiment wasn’t my favorite at first but I have grown to respect it over the course of my barbecue travels. Feges BBQ (they sell the sauce by the bottle, go buy it, it’s wonderful) here in Houston is the first place that really got me addicted to it’s potential on poultry products and beyond but my trip to Austin this past weekend just happened to coincide with a a special offering from 5th-ranked Texas Monthly joint, LeRoy & Lewis. Their smoked half chicken served with the Alabama White Sauce that had kick courtesy of horseradish was absolutely delightful. It was a perfect example of Texas offset smoking over post-oak being complimented by a sauce straight out of Crimson Tide country, a match made in heaven. Of course the rest of the spread from LeRoy & Lewis was delightful as well and I’d encourage you all to visit if you make your way over to Austin.