Texas A&M takes on the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday in a game that doesn’t feel nearly as big as it did just a month ago. But nonetheless, it represents a big opportunity for the Aggies to right the ship in a major way, and another chance for Bama to cement their status as the premier team in college football.
In preparation for this game, we asked a few questions of Brent C. Taylor, an executive editor at SB Nation’s Alabama team site, Roll Bama Roll.
Obviously this game has lost a lot of it’s preseason luster, but what’s the vibe of Alabama fans heading into this game?
I think we mostly would like for it to be a full scorched earth performance from the Tide.... And I believe it will be from our defense. Losing Bryce Young (probably??) though isn’t great, and we’re all very, very aware that A&M has more talent than their results show year in and year out. The Aggie defense could absolutely stymie a Tide offense that’s sputtered a little a few times this season, so we’re a bit nervous this could turn into a low-scoring slog with high-variance results.
Any insights on the QB situation for Bama on Saturday? If we assume Bryce will not be 100%, do you prefer to see him tough it out or let him heal and play Milroe?
Not at all. Saban has, for some reason, picked talking about injuries as his major pet peeve this season. He’s usually been somewhat forthcoming in the past, but he’s been biting off reporters heads about “injury report” questions all season. And when it happened to the QB? Oh boy. So we have no clue if Young is going to play.
If he’s not good to go, I don’t want him out there. A messed up throwing shoulder will all but invalidate a QB. And if you’re down to a using a QB just for his running ability and not actually trying to pass, Jalen Milroe is your guy.
From the outside, Bama always looks like an invincible juggernaut, but what, if any, potential weaknesses have you seen with this 2022 Tide team?
Man, you should read our message boards. We’re the biggest group of worry warts around for fans of a team that has chewed through college football like a buzzsaw for 15 years.
The offensive line in 2021 was easily the worst of the Saban era (I’m talking like >100th in the country in a lot of metrics), and it looked just as bad the first couple of weeks of the season. They shuffled some guys around and have picked up steam the last two weeks, but it’s still a concern. We’re still generally awful at short yardage run plays.
The receivers have mostly underwhelmed (more on that later).
Bill O’Brien is still the offensive coordinator. Which is only fun if you’re a 5-yard stick route enthusiast.
Bryce Young is still freezing up in hostile road stadiums. And also now his shoulder is bum.
The defense doesn’t have any complaints from me at the moment, but a lot of Alabama fans still aren’t a fan of DC Pete Golding, even now that we’re 4 years into his 4-2-5 scheme (I think they just don’t have good taste in modern defense, though).
I guess there’s still the issue that we’re 15 years into Saban’s tenure and still don’t know how to defend the back-shoulder fade without a pass interference, but that’s just something that’s always going to be there.
Bama lost a pair of 1100+ yard receivers in Jameson Williams and John Metchie. How as that position group performed in 2022, and who are some of the names we should know?
To be honest, they’ve underwhelmed. Transfer running back Jahmyr Gibbs is the team’s leading receiver. We got Jermaine Burton to transfer in from Georgia, and while he’s made all his catches and looked fine every time he’s gotten the ball, he’s only getting a couple of targets per game.
Sophomore Ja’corey Brooks will be awesome one game and make some contested catches downfield, then drop two passes the next week. Same with veteran Traeshon Holden. And none of those three guys offer much after the catch.
On the other hand, there’s a whole group of speedy freshmen who are oozing potential in flashes, but also prone to, you guessed it, drops. Kobe Prentice was a surprise starter from week 1 and has made some big plays. And then Isaiah Bond has like 3 total catches, and all of them have been for huge plays.
The one wild card to watch out for here is Jojo Earle. He was a true freshman that worked his way up to a starter mid way through 2021 before breaking his foot and missing the rest of the season. He made his sophomore debut last week and took a screen pass for a TD, so he may be a bigger piece of the puzzle than we realized.
Defensively the Tide seem to be pretty stout this year. Is there anything they’re doing this year that differs from what we’ve seen in years past?
Nope, we just FINALLY have an experienced defense. 2019 was one of Saban’s worst defensive teams, as it was breaking in basically in basically and all-freshman defense and a first time defensive coordinator in Pete Golding, who was also changing the Tide’s scheme from a base 3-4 to a 4-2-5/3-3-5 hybrid. Then in 2020, it was a brand new secondary, and they struggled again before seeming to figure it out right at the end of the year.
2021 was the first time they got back to being elite, in my opinion, but the outside corner play was ultimately their downfall as the guys just kept getting torched down the sidelines.
In 2022, though, the whole transformation seems to have really come together. The front seven brings a lot of guys who were freshmen starters back in 2019, the entire safety group (Jordan Battle, Brian Branch, and DeMarcco Hellams) has now been starting together for a 3rd season. 3 of the 4 linebackers were starters last year. And the cornerbacks, Kool-Aid McKinstry and Terrion Arnold, are immensely more talented and athletic than last year’s starters.
Plus Pete Golding is just getting a lot more comfortable. He was a long-play hire by Saban, and the investment is paying off. As a self-plug, check out my offseason article on how Golding’s defense is centered around the nickel cornerback position.
The line on this game is pretty massive, currently sitting at Alabama -24. Do you see the Tide covering?
Absolutely not. The A&M defense is too talented, and Bill O’Brien has had two good offensive games in a row, it’s time for a stinker. Plus with the QB situation? This is going to be a low-scoring muck fest.
Nick Saban turns 71 this season. With the recent reports that Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen are separating due to Tom’s refusal to retire, do you think Miss Terry finally strongarms Nick into stepping down? Please say yes.
Honestly, this is the first season I’ve really started to think it may be coming soon. For one, with having such a veteran defensive unit plus Bryce Young and Will Anderson as team leaders, if Saban wins a natty this year, I think it will be really tempting for him to go out on top (of course, that 2020 squad was pretty similar, just on the offensive side of the ball).
The real thing that’s bothered me, though, is his press conferences. Saban’s seemed to be losing words while he talks a lot and also misunderstands/mishears a lot of questions. It’s really the first time he’s actually sounded... well... old, to me.
He has got some of his grumpiness back after being weirdly jovial in all of 2021 (which had me worried). So in that regard, maybe he’s going for another decade. Who knows.
Lastly, and most importantly: Why did Alabama struggle so mightily against Texas and why is it all a part of a grand conspiracy to discredit Texas A&M by giving the Longhorns margin of defeat bragging rights?
I knew it would come out eventually....
Look. It’s time you knew. We view A&M as the Texas version of Auburn. Texas Barn, if you will. And while we have no love for the Longhorns (in fact, they’re quite enjoyable to beat... And also really enjoyable to see how happy they were to lose to us this year), we DEFINITELY don’t want anything good for the culty Barn-like schools.
Of course, I mostly just want everyone in the country to lose all the games while Alabama wins all the games, and I rarely cheer for anyone in the SEC, since they all ride our success anyway, so don’t take it too personally :)