For the second straight week, Texas A&M’s trench units have pieced together solid if not flawless performances. Next up for the Aggies is a chance to take the lead in the SEC West when Alabama comes to Kyle Field. The Crimson Tide represents both the biggest test and the highest stakes Texas A&M has faced at this stage in SEC play. What do the Aggies need to do in the trenches to claim victory on Saturday? Let’s dive into that.
Against both Auburn and Arkansas, Texas A&M established the run to the tune of 200 yards rushing. Establishing that run game will be a big part of settling in Max Johnson and opening up downfield options in the passing game. Alabama has a rich history of stuffing the run with guys like Quinnen Williams and Jonathan Allen. Though the Tide don’t have one guy who’s stepped up and looked like a run stuffer of that magnitude, they have had strong performances against both Ole Miss and Texas in the rushing game. However, I do think there is a bit of vulnerability in the middle as Mississippi State was able to rush for 154 yards.
A big piece of the issue I noticed for Ole Miss in the run game was the desire to get on the edges and try to beat Bama outside. Alabama does an excellent job of east-to-west pursuit. Running on the edge will not be effective against this team. It will be a slog of a game attempting to get things going in the tackle box but I think A&M’s chances of getting the run game going are better there than looking to get sweeps around Alabama’s edge defenders.
In the passing game, Max Johnson is going to be pressured. While Trey Zuhn has yet to allow a sack per PFF, Dallas Turner is likely the best pass rusher Zuhn has faced to this point in the season and may just be the best left on the schedule as well. Alabama certainly misses Will Anderson but Turner is the leader in sacks in the conference for a reason. When Turner goes up against the right side of the line he’s going to get his share of wins but I am hyper-fixated on Turner vs. Zuhn as a key matchup for Saturday.
If Zuhn can hold up well against Turner or his fellow edge defender Chris Braswell, I think A&M’s receivers can get open against this Alabama secondary based solely on time. If not, I worry about Max Johnson rushing to get the ball out. I also worry about Chase Bisontis holding up against these edge defenders - Turner and Braswell are immense challenges for a true freshman.
Over the past two weeks the Texas A&M defense is averaging 15 tackles for loss. The Aggies are also pressuring the quarterback at an incredible clip compared to last year. The fruits of Texas A&M’s defensive line recruiting efforts seem to be paying off.
The Aggies will need yet another incredible defensive line performance as they take on an Alabama offense with an amazing rushing attack led by running back Jase McClellan and quarterback Jalen Milroe. This won’t be the first dual-threat quarterback the Aggies have faced but in my opinion, Milroe represents the biggest threat with his legs thus far.
To create havoc and limit the damage done by the Tide’s run game, the Aggies will need to deal with a massive offensive line that has three players over 350 pounds. Luckily for the Aggies, Walter Nolen and McKinnley Jackson possess the combination of strength and get-off that can give this Tide offensive line trouble.
I think the Aggies can get Alabama behind the chains with continued aggressive play in the front seven. From there, Texas A&M will look to slow down the Tide’s passing attack.
I think with a mix of looks, pre-snap disguises, and exotics, the Aggies can confuse Jalen Milroe. However, the Aggies will also need to be disciplined to contain Jalen Milroe. Alabama has struggled in pass protection at times this season, partially due to the aforementioned size limiting quickness and partially due to the fact that Alabama doesn’t have the game-breakers at the wide receiver position that they have had in the past. Alabama is near the bottom of the SEC in sacks allowed - something that should have the Aggie defensive front salivating.
Truthfully, I think the Aggie defensive front can get after Milroe and force the Tide QB to make errors. He’s grown since committing three turnovers in a single quarter last year against A&M in Tuscaloosa but so too has the Texas A&M defensive front. Milroe is very efficient in the short game and has the arm strength to hit big plays on an Aggie secondary that still has issues in the back end. However, if A&M can force Milroe to make intermediate throws that is when the Aggie defensive line can really pin their ears back and pressure Milroe. And that matchup will determine the course of the game in what I think is trending toward a defensive slugfest.
The stakes for the Aggie football team are higher than they’ve ever been in the Jimbo Fisher era with the SEC West driver’s seat on the line when Texas A&M and Alabama meet. With this in mind, I thought it fitting to go with a steak of sorts for this week’s fare.
Feel free to boo.
The raspberry chipotle pork steak from 1775 Texas Pit BBQ in College Station, TX represents not just one of the best bites in barbecue but one of the best bites I had in all my food travels over the past year. If you aren’t tailgating with food ahead of the game on Saturday, I’d highly recommend looking into a visit to the elite joint just west of town before kickoff. This joint remains extremely underrated in my opinion and is well worth your time.
Pop in, grab you a delicious raspberry chipotle pork steak, and let’s watch the Aggies and Tide do battle.