Sunday, November 11, 2012

What we learned in Texas A&M’s upset over Alabama

image We learned a lot from Texas A&M’s upset over Alabama yesterday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The result wasn’t shocking or wholly unexpected. This was on many observers’ upset alert since Alabama had to pull a Death Valley Rally last week to beat LSU. But it did bring a cold dose of reality to Tide faithful hoping for the BCS’ first repeat.

This is a young team that is still forming its own sense of identity as it matures and gains experience.

We can end the AJ McCarron Heisman talk. AJ is as fine of a quarterback as any in recent memory. He’s a leader and a playmaker. But he is no Heisman trophy candidate and shouldn’t ever really have been mentioned as one. That was one of his worst outings as a starter. He’ll get over it quickly and bounce back strongly, but when you’re relying on the QB in this league, AJ is not the caliber of signal caller you need. It’s not a dig or a bash. It is what it is.

The preseason warnings about lost starters proved prescient. Alabama lost six starters from the 2011 defensive unit, including Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw at LB, Dre Kirkpatrick at CB and Mark Barron at Safety. A lot of those fears were forgotten when the Tide defense destroyed Michigan and the vaunted Arkansas passing game. There is no lack of talent on the Alabama defense, but there is something of an experience and leadership gap between last year’s squad and this one. It showed.

Alabama lacks a beastly pass rusher. There is no one on the Alabama defense who is an unblockable pass rusher. There are good gap players, good run stoppers and good end sealers on the front seven. But there is no Marcel Dareus and that’s the one thing that kept Alabama from worrying Johnny Manziel last night.

The lack of depth at tailback is a problem. Alabama doesn’t have a back capable of running the football 25 times, and it changes the offensive playcalling philosophy. It gets Alabama out of its most comfortable Neanderball strategy of smashmouth running to set up the passing game. Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon combined for 27 carries, while AJ attempted 34 passes.

The Death Valley Rally game took a toll on the team. No one will admit to it, but the physical, mental and emotional state of the team—including the coaching staff—took a beating in Baton Rouge. A&M was the third straight Top 15 team Alabama had faced in the last three weeks. It is difficult enough to maintain focus and intensity during an eight game SEC slate but asking such a young team to do so has its price.

The offensive line is still one of the best in college football. This is a unit that should have been relied on more yesterday as the game wore on. Texas A&M has a capable and talented defense, but it lacks the depth that would have gotten them off of the field if Alabama had pounded the rock more. The depth in the backfield aside, 27 carries for a measly 125 yards is not Alabama football. Which brings us to…

We’d like the final drive back, please. AJ’s downfield strike to Kenny Bell to set up a first and goal was the best call in the drive. The next four consisted of one rush and three pass attempts, the last one resulting in the game killing INT.

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