Texas A&M and Bama have both rebounded after Week 2 losses to get to 4-1 and 2-0 in SEC play. They now face one another Saturday at Kyle Field with sole possession of first place in the SEC West on the line. The stakes in this game have never been higher.
To get a feel for how they’re feeling on the Alabama side of the fence, we had Brent C. Taylor of SB Nation’s Alabama team site, Roll Bama Roll, answer a few of our questions. Enjoy.
While Alabama certainly still has everything to play for, and is considered the favorite in the SEC West, this doesn’t really feel like the juggernaut they usually are. What’s the general pulse of the fanbase five games in on this team?
Oh we are generally distraught.
Last year was a rough one. Alabama entered 2022 with the best player in all of college football, a returning Heisman QB, and a whole lot of experience on both sides of the ball... And turned it into a season where they lost twice and got penalized about a million times. It was just a disorganized, poorly disciplined team that seemed to fall apart in every road game. For a fanbase that’s been accustomed to making the National Championship almost every year, that’s going to come as a disappointment. Here’s the thing, though: All the same problems keep recurring, and they go back to 2021.
Even in wins, road game Bryce Young and Alabama a lot of problems. Slow starts on offense, a bunch of OL penalties, bad snaps. Then when the offense would seem to start figuring things out, the defense would fall apart in the second half. It’s a trend spanning three seasons now, and that’s what has Alabama fans very nervous and doing a good bit of infighting over the root of the problem.
It’s easy to blame Bama’s offensive struggles on not having a 1st Round QB talent for the first time in what feels like forever. But are there other contributing factors?
The QB is definitely an issue. Jalen Milroe has the arm, the accuracy, and BOY does he have the running ability. He just... won’t pull the trigger. There have been so many times when he could have just bolted and gotten 30 rushing yards but kept hesitating wanting to find someone open. And then he’ll get just a little bit of pressure and take of scrambling to the right, rather than just throwing the quick, easy pass. In both cases, he takes a 1 yard gain, and the offense stalls. Rinse and repeat. When he just decisively does something, it tends to go well. But until he will do it, the offense will continue to stall.
WITH ALL OF THAT SAID, the offensive line was pretty much a disaster for 2.5 games. When your center is snapping the ball along the ground like he’s at a bowling alley every snap and the freshman left tackle looks like he’s never once blocked a speed rush in his life, it’s kind of hard for any of us to pinpoint anything else on the offense that could be going right or wrong.
Outside of those two small things, I love most of the rest of Alabama’s team!
Defensively, y’all seem to still be quite stout. We all know Dallas Turner and Kool Aid, but who are some other names we should know?
This is the best defense that Nick Saban has fielded since 2017. Hiring Kevin Steele to replace Pete Golding has been a majorly positive move for Alabama. Just the whole attitude has changed from a defense just trying to limit the opponent to a defense that wants to dominate. They’ll give up the occasional long ball or a QB keeper on the backside by being overly aggressive, but I’ll take that when it means they’re making opponents earn every single yard, rather than just giving up 5 yards at a time.
Definitely, watch out for Chris Braswell, the edge rusher opposite of Turner. Braswell is a year older and finally got his chance to start this year after backing up Will Anderson for three years. He’s not quite the freak athlete that Turner is, but he has a better blend of power rush moves to go along with the quickness, and he’s often the guy moving a QB off of his spot first while Turner cleans up with his gazelle legs.
In the secondary, pay attention to Caleb Downs. The true freshman is a total stud and tackles like a freight train. He’s added a level of speed to the back end that Alabama has lacked the last few years.
Every season there are aspects of the team that gel/improve week by week, and other problems that seem to persist. What’s one aspect of y’all’s team that has made big strides, and what is one that continues to be an issue?
We’ve seen a lot of improvement from the offensive line as a whole against the two Mississippi teams, particularly in pass blocking. Milroe isn’t being pressured immediately on dropback, and the running game has been pushing a bit better. I’d also like to mention that the WR and TE groups have been outstanding every single time the ball has come to them this year, which has been a nice change after nearly leading the country in drops in 2022.
As far as problems persisting: I mentioned this earlier, but the fact that our center can’t snap the ball straight is just embarrassing. Seth McLaughlin is a senior in his 3rd season as a starter, and, somehow, this whole thing got in his head, and now a good 50% of his snaps are off target, and probably 1/4 are aimed at Jalen Milroe’s shins. I don’t know what the answer is, since he was fine in previous years. But last week against Mississippi State, there weren’t any disastrous ones, but it was to the point where we were all cheering on the occasions when Milroe didn’t have to reach outside of his body to catch the snap.
These games have been insanely close each of the past two years, even against some mediocre A&M teams. Any notion as to why that is?
In 2021, it was an early harbinger of Alabama’s road struggles over the next two seasons (it’s mental. I think Saban needs a new team psychologist.), and just one of those games where some rando QB like Zach Calzada decides to be great for one game of his career. It happens. Last year, our entire offense was based around the “Bryce, go do something” strategy, and throwing Milroe in for his first ever start with no semblance of an actual offensive gameplan under Bill O’Brien was a disaster. Fortunately, A&M was mediocre at best and Alabama survived.
Say Bama loses this game and one other to go 9-3. Do you think there would be substantive changes made? While it’s by no means a bad year, it’s certainly below the traditional Saban standard.
Probably not. The substantial changes were made after last season, with both the OC and DC being replaced. And while the offense as a whole has been pretty gross due to bad OL play and an indecisive QB, the overall vibes of the team and the defense have been a lot better. Saban will probably want to keep the continuity on defense, and hope that either current freshman Dylan Lonergan or 2024 freshman superstar Julian Sayin can turn the offense around.
A&M has list some painful recruiting battles to Bama over the years (Christian Harris and Jaylen Waddle come to mind). Who is one player on A&M’s roster you wish could have ended up in Tuscaloosa?
Man, I REALLY wanted Le’veon Moss. Just a total, complete package at RB, and I was super disappointed at the time when he decommitted. And it hurts even more to see him looking so good so far this season.
Alright prediction time. In addition to the final score, how do you see this one playing out?
I’m taking the Aggies with a 27-23 win. Overall, I think Alabama looks pretty decent on offense, scoring on five total drives but a lot of drives end in field goals for the Tide, and one scoop-n-score on a sack gives A&M a higher score than you’d expect.