It wasn’t supposed to feel this way. Payback, that is.
Nearly a year after the Texas A&M Aggies ruined the Tide’s perfect 2012 season and almost derailed their title hopes, heading to College Station and beating Johnny Manziel and the gang was supposed to feel a lot better.
Instead, after giving up a school-record 628 yards of offense to the Aggies, after allowing Manziel to throw for five touchdowns and 464 yards, and after watching Mike Evans blow by our secondary en route to catching seven passes for 279 yards, instead it feels more like Rocky did after one of his epic bouts. We won, but we’re staggering around and our speech is slurred.
Yeah, yeah, I know we racked up 568 yards ourselves and effectively punched out their lights with a time-draining drive late in the fourth quarter, but…WOW…giving up a school record number of yards? There’s not way I would have combined that stat and winning.
To start the look back, let’s take a look at what I thought it would take to win and then what actually happened…
1) Stop Texas A&M’s running game.
Pre-game: “You probably thought the first comment would be “stop Manziel” or something like that. That’s important (read on), but THE most important thing for the ‘Bama defense is to make A&M one dimensional. It doesn’t matter if the Ags run the Hurry Up No Huddle. It’s still football and the D needs to stop A&M’s running game to force them into second-and-long and third-and-long.”
Post-game: The Tide gave up 164 yards rushing to the Aggies, 98 of which came from Johnny Football so, no, we didn’t stop their running game. A&M’s running backs were never really a factor in the game and you could argue that we did, in some respects, make them one dimensional, but the Aggie’s operated pretty well in that dimension.
2) Have a better pass rush than last year.
Pre-game: “Call it a mush rush or a delayed rush or whatever you want, it just has to be more effective. And by effective, I mean two things: 1) don’t allow gaps in the pocket whereby Manziel can escape; and 2) don’t let Manziel sit in the pocket forever. Our defensive backs, though pretty good, can’t cover the Aggie receivers all day.”
Post-game: The rush was better related to no allowing gaps in the pocket (though Manziel did rush for 98 yards), but we never really touched Manziel in the pocket. He had FOREVER to throw the ball and was accurate when he did.
3) Get off the field on third down.
Pre-game: “I don’t believe we’ll totally shut down the Aggie offense, but we do need to get off the field on a regular basis, something we couldn’t do during the first half of last year’s game. Stopping the running game is important and so is having a better pass rush, but at some point we have to have folks step up, make plays and get A&M off the field.”
Post-game: Third down conversions weren’t as much of a problem because the Aggies rarely got to third down. They racked up 31 first downs (as did ‘Bama), but only had eight conversion attempts. First and second downs were working pretty well for them, I’d say.
4) Don’t turn the ball over.
Pre-game: “Duh. We had three turnovers last year and all three led to destruction. If you’re trying to reverse last year’s outcome, playing better on defense isn’t the only place to look.”
Post-game: Basically, this was the difference in the game. Manziel’s ill-advised throw to the end zone allowed ‘Bama to break their serve and gave the Tide offense an opportunity to get going. Vinnie Sunseri also made a huge play and scored on another interception. Alabama’s lone turnover was a T.J. Yeldon yack near the goal line that probably cut my life expectancy.
5) Score and score some more.
Pre-game: “In my mind, I don’t think the defense could play much worse than they did last year, but I do think it’s possible for A&M to score more. The bottom line is the offense needs to be ready to score in the high 30s. Last year’s first quarter wouldn’t have happened if the offense could have stayed on the field. This year, the gas pedal needs to be to the floor from the first snap.”
Post-game: I have to say this was right on. This game wasn’t over until the end and if the Tide offense had gone into a funk after being up 35-14 we would have lost.
Some other thoughts…
* The college football Nazis need a breather. The almost ejection of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was ridiculous. The penalty on the A&M defender who made a tackle sans his helmet was ridiculous. The horse collar penalty is ridiculous. It’s a dangerous game and people get hurt. I hate that. If the game continues this trend, I’m sure flags are right around the corner.
* I didn’t handle the first quarter very well. That’s all I have to say about that.
* The biggest play of the game, in my opinion, was Cyrus Jones’ pick in the end zone. Manziel had Evans on Fulton on the other side of the play – a combination that obviously worked well all day, but went for the more open receiver on the left. The pass was his worst of the day and it cost the Aggies.
* Freshman O.J. Howard showed up huge yesterday. His fourth quarter reception of 26 yards set up the Tide’s last score and was simply a clutch play. This guy will be a star.
* Once we were up 35-14, the question to my game day texting buddies was “is this enough and, if not, how much do we need?” I really felt like 35 was enough, but A&M came up with the perfect fourth quarter as Gary Danielson noted.
* Again, it’s just hard to fathom a Nick Saban secondary (and a Saban defense) giving up this many yards. The performance by the secondary was ridiculous, but not entirely their fault. As noted above, we had a more disciplined pass rush, but letting Manziel sit in the pocket all day is an extremely bad idea and, ultimately, didn’t work. We don’t have a dominate pass rusher and that’s kind of a big deal.
* I liked the running back rotation yesterday. T.J. Yeldon obviously had a big day stat wise, and Jalston Fowler and Kenyan Drake made for a nice trio. Fowler is a load running north and south and Drake wasn’t much of a drop off from Yeldon.
* I’m a little concerned about the play of Amari Cooper. For the second straight game, he barely made the stat sheet and looks to be whiffing on balls he would’ve caught last year. I’m interested in knowing if defenses are playing him differently or if he’s just off to a bad start.
* Other than perhaps preventing us from changing defensive calls, the hurry up offense run by A&M was pretty much no problem.