Bama-A&M Lives Up to the Hype
by Rob Scichili
Alabama and Texas A&M played a game for the ages on Saturday, one that lived up to expectations that had been building ever since the Crimson Tide raised another crystal football in the BCS National Title Game last January.
It was a matchup between the reigning Heisman Trophy winner vs. the No. 1 team in the nation, played at one of the best game day atmospheres in Kyle Field. Alabama coach Nick Saban had reportedly spent the last eight months scheming how to stop Johnny Manziel, getting counsel with everyone from NFL coaches to US Secret Service.
Maybe he needed nine months to prepare instead of eight.
Manziel was the best player on the field, slicing and dicing the vaunted Alabama defense for 562 yards of total offense, including an A&M record 464 through the air and five touchdowns. The Aggies rolled up 628 yards of offense, the most an Alabama defense has ever allowed.
It was almost enough.
Alabama came out as the victors in a 49-42 final. It was a shootout that few saw coming, especially Coach Saban.
“I certainly didn’t think they would score 42 points,” he said. “We were trying to rush five guys and keep Manziel in the pocket and Evans has his way with us.”
That would be Mike Evans, who introduced himself to a national TV audience with seven catches for 279 yards. Evans’ 95-yard TD catch and run in the fourth quarter to draw the Aggies within seven points was the second-longest pass play in A&M history.
So how did the Aggies lose this game? It came down to two costly turnovers, a highly efficient Bama offense led by quarterback A.J. McCarron, and A&M’s defense (or lack thereof).
Alabama’s offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. McCarron’s jersey was as white and clean as it was when he came out for warm-ups, and that’s not a good sign for the Aggies. McCarron was never pressured or hurried, and he executed the game plan to perfection.
A&M jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead and it looked as though it would be a repeat performance of last year’s game in Tuscaloosa in which the Aggies led, 20-0, at the end of the first quarter.
Instead, McCarron and the Tide reeled off 35-straight points, including a flea-flicker bomb to DeAndrew White and a pick-six that bounced off an Aggie helmet into the arms of safety Vinnie Sunseri, who rambled 73 yards the other way. Bama led, 35-14, with 12:41 left in the third quarter.
There’s Aggie saying that goes, “I’ve seen ‘em win and I’ve seen ‘em lose, but I’ve never seen ‘em quit.”
They wouldn’t quit on this day either.
Manziel and the offense kept coming back, chewing up yards and scoring more points. The only problem – so did Alabama.
The Tide’s lone miscue was a T.J. Yeldon fumble at the A&M 4-yard line in the fourth quarter, setting up Manziel’s bomb to Evans.
The Aggies again cut it to one score once with just 15 seconds left, but they were unable to secure the on-side kick to give them one more shot at a hail-mary.
Manziel proved once again that he is one of the best players in the nation and a repeat Heisman contender. At last, it is about football and not tweets, autographs and over-analyzed unsportsmanlike penalties against Rice.
Both of Saturday’s quarterbacks should be in the final running for the stiff-armed trophy. McCarron was brilliant in his own right, going 20-for-29 for 334 yards and four touchdowns. And he has the advantage of his team earning the win vs. a top-10 team on the road.
The game was truly great theater. CBS had to be giddy with the way the contest worked out, earning a 9.0 rating and a 21 share – the largest viewing audience for an afternoon regular season college football game since 1990.
This is all part of A&M’s growth and development into the SEC. While only one touchdown separated the Tide and the Aggies on Saturday, the real difference could be seen at the point of attack when Bama had the ball. The Tide has seasoned veterans who have waited their turn to play. A&M has some fantastic young talent on the roster along the D-line, the only problem is that they are mostly true freshman, and there are more solid verbal commitments from 2014 high school seniors cued up. These kids simply need time in the weight room and reps on the practice field.
Alabama and A&M each lost valuable players along their D-lines from last year. The difference is that Bama can simply reload due to consecutive years of recruiting and developing. The Aggies are on their way, but they need to stay the course and be patient.
This Texas A&M team is one of the best in the country, despite the defensive shortcomings. They have a great shot of winning 10-or-more games, simply by outscoring the opponents alone.
Bama, meanwhile, is in the driver’s seat for the SEC West title and a berth in the SEC Championship Game, as well as a third-straight national title.
Could they meet again in the BCS Title Game, ala LSU-Bama in 2011? Chances are slim. But for one Saturday in early September, we were treated to a whale of a game that lived up to the hype.
We can only hope for so much in the Rose Bowl come January.