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Fun With Numbers: Texas A&M vs. Alabama

Previewing the Alabama game with advanced statistics

NCAA Football: Alabama at Texas A&M Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Fun With Numbers. You know the drill at this point, we’re here to look at the stats, make wild assumptions and be absolutely miserable together. And we call this a “fun hobby” or a “passion”. Because we’re idiots.

How’d We Do Last Week?


Check the bottom left picture for Bill Connelly’s post game box score.

Everything the Aggies had done well against Arkansas (mainly red zone defense and preventing big plays) went out the window, and the Aggie offense continued to sputter.

Silver linings? Moose Muhammad looked great and the Aggie defense played well on the rare occasions they forced State into 3rd and long situations.

Look, I mentioned in last week’s FWN that this game had scared me since before the season started, and that’s when I thought this was going to be a really good football team. At the end of the day, it’s not the same as an Appalachian State loss or anything on that level, but it doesn’t bode well for some of these other matchups later in the season if the Ags can’t get their kinks worked out.

What Do We Know?

The Aggies roll into Tuscaloosa as massive underdogs, not necessarily uncommon but somewhat disappointing. The FEI and SP+ both predict the Aggies to cover the 24 point spread, but not by much. Should be fun.

Aggie Offense vs Tide Defense

Same song, different verse. The Aggies aren’t doing much on offense right now outside of Devon Achane and a few big plays they’ve managed to hit through the air. They lack an identity, they lack cohesiveness, and they’re going up against a really good defense this weekend.

The Crimson Tide is up to their usual scary ways on this side of the ball, only giving up 29 points in 4 games before Arkansas nearly doubled that up with 26 in last week’s matchup. The Front 7 is ridiculously good, with 15 sacks and 40 Tackles For Loss so far. The secondary is still coming along after losing both of last year’s starters at corner, but overall, this is exactly what you’d expect from a Nick Saban defense.

Aggie Defense vs Tide Offense

The Aggie Defense had a fairly rough go last week against the Bulldogs, but they still show a lot of promise. They have to shore up the front against the run (injuries in the Front 7 haven’t helped) and find ways to generate Havoc going forward if they want to make good on that promise, but the pieces are mostly there.

Bill O’Brien is kind of the antithesis to Mike Leach in every way possible, but the Tide offense is still scoring points. The OL isn’t getting as much push up front as you would expect from a crew this experienced, the wide receiver group is not as explosive as it was just a couple of years ago, and they’re relatively untested this season (Texas is the best defense they’ve faced all season at 23rd in the DSP+ and held Alabama to just 20 points). Still, they’ve got weapons across the field, and in case you forgot... they are Alabama.

Special Teams

I have nothing to add here. Go read Robert’s post here and end this section on a high note.

Anything the Numbers Don’t Tell Us?

You didn’t think we’d get this far into an article about Bama without mentioning the $30 million dollar elephant in the room do you?

Never mind the fact that Saban could have just said “We need to be utilizing NIL better than what we are now if you guys want me to continue winning.” to a group of donors.

And never mind that Jimbo simply could have said “I think our program has navigated these new waters very well, and while the NIL deals certainly help our recruiting efforts, I think there are a lot of other things that contributed to our success this past year.”

Never mind all that, because what we got was certainly more entertaining during the dullness of the offseason.

But now the season is here. A matchup that looked like it could have SEC West implications has lost some of it’s shine, the Aggies limping in at 3-2 with some significant injuries but still with a decent sized target on their back. Alabama has remained undefeated, but QB Bryce Young doesn’t seem likely to play in this game.

I’m sure there is still some fire from both teams, A&M players appreciated their coach going to bat for them, Alabama players haven’t forgotten last years loss or things said about their coach. If both teams were healthy and the Aggies were playing better, this all might be more fun to talk about.

What’s the Verdict?

Last year when this week came and the Aggies were 3-2 with disappointed losses, a messy offense, and a lack of hope, I deemed this post “___ With Numbers”. You could argue that’s even more apt in 2022.

After the Alabama game, there are six games left on the schedule, and very few of them feel like easy wins. The Ags will have to be a different team going into the second half of the season if they want to change the narrative of 2022, so let’s talk about what we should hope to see going forward.

On offense, this is an opportunity to revamp and simplify things a bit. Max Johnson is likely done for the majority of the season, and so it appears that Haynes King will be taking the snaps again. The offense has been playing a little better as a unit than it was when we last saw King as a starter, but the injury bug hasn’t stopped at Johnson and Smith. King simply has to take care of the ball better if he is going to remain the guy going forward, but more consistent OL play would also help. The Aggies also need some sort of threat to emerge in replacement of Smith, a guy who has given Alabama trouble every year he has played them. Evan Stewart has already established himself as a major target for this offense, and Donovan Green is coming along as well. But guys like Yulkeith Brown, Moose Muhammad, and Chase Lane have been in the program for a couple of years, flashed potential at times, and need to start capitalizing on playing time to give this offense some juice.

Defensively, Durkin’s group needs to improve against the run and find a way to make some Havoc plays, particularly up front. Overall, they seem to lack the aggressiveness we expected to see from a Durkin defense. This week, they’ll be facing a really impressive rushing attack and a young QB. Eliminate chunk plays on the ground, find a way to get pressure off the edge on Milroe, and see if you can force a mistake. That’s a tough ask, there’s plenty of youth and injuries on this side of the ball as well, but if the Aggies want a chance to keep this one close, the defense will have to keep them in it like they have most of the season.

My Prediction: I expect Alabama to play very simple on offensive and instead be aggressive on defense. I like the Tide wins 31-17. The Aggies cover and get to a much needed bye week for all of us.

What Else Am I Picking?

It’s been an up and down season for me picks wise, but we persevere.

  • Oklahoma State (-9.5) vs Texas Tech (SP+: OK State by 12, FEI: OK State by 9.4)- Second road game in a row for Tech, and the Pokes are quietly building off last season’s success.
  • Alabama vs Texas A&M Under 51 (SP+: 52, FEI: 51)- Like I said, I think Saban goes old school with the ground-and-pound style and keep things easy for Milroe, and I expect our offense to struggle against this defense.
  • Kansas (+7) vs TCU (SP+: TCU by 7.3), FEI: TCU by 12.9)- Throwing the numbers out on this one. I’m weirdly in love with this Kansas team.

Final Notes

Thanks again for reading. We’re all doing the best we can here, and things may get better. They may get worse too, but we’ll deal with that when the time comes.