No. 13 Texas A&M hits proving ground at No. 2 Alabama
No. 2 Alabama and No. 13 Texas A&M each opened their Southeastern Conference-only seasons with wins last week. The results were about the only similarity.
The Crimson Tide opened up a 35-3 lead less than five minutes into the third quarter on their way to a 38-19 victory at Missouri, but the Aggies were sloppy throughout a 17-12 squeaker over Vanderbilt.
“A victory is a victory, but all three phases didn’t play how I thought we could or how we can,” Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We made the plays when we had to, but, man, too much inconsistency. We’ve just got to get them to play better and that’s my fault.”
Texas A&M will have to up its level of play a few notches if it is to make the trip back from Tuscaloosa on Saturday with the kind of win that would justify a preseason top 10 ranking.
A 31 1/2-point favorite against Vandy, the Aggies made things hard on themselves with three turnovers and eight penalties for 50 yards. It took a fourth quarter interception by Leon O’Neal deep in A&M territory for it to hang on to its lead.
A&M got a good game from running back Isaiah Spiller, who ripped off a 57-yard run to start the second half and finished with 117 yards on just eight attempts. Senior quarterback Kellen Mond hit on 17 of 28 passes for 189 yards with a touchdown.
Fisher said Mond had “four or five throws that we wish he could have back” and pointed to a renewed focus on ball security after Mond had three fumbles.
“We have to keep playing better around him too. As a quarterback, you can have 100 plays [and] play 97 of them perfectly,” Fisher said. “Those two or three bad plays, you touch the ball every time, can affect the outcome of the game no matter what that scenario is. You have to understand that, and you have to be perfect as a quarterback. That’s just the way you have to think.”
Alabama wasted no time demonstrating its superiority against an outmatched foe. Mac Jones was an efficient 18 of 24 for 249 yards and two touchdowns, while Najee Harris pounded out 98 yards and three touchdowns on 17 attempts.
The defense collected three sacks and a pair of turnovers, limiting Missouri to 69 yards on the ground and not allowing a touchdown until the final nine minutes.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that it was a good win for the opening game of the season,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “Any time you can win a game in the SEC, you have to be happy about that. I thought we played well in the first half, which shows the preparation and focus the players had.
“We also didn’t maintain our focus and enthusiasm throughout the second half, and it showed in our performance. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get a lot of players to make improvement throughout the week so we can play better.”
Fisher pointed to turnovers as a critical key Saturday. Vanderbilt pounced on three of the Aggies’ five fumbles last week.
“You can’t give them anything. You have to make them earn everything,” Fisher said. “Turnovers and big plays affect the game more than anything and third down conversions in your red zone opportunities. You look at every game, that’s the biggest things it does. We have to take care of the ball on offense, not give them those opportunities.”
Alabama has dominated its series with the Aggies, winning seven straight since Johnny Manziel led A&M to a 29-24 upset victory in Tuscaloosa in 2012 with a performance that propelled him to the Heisman Trophy.
School officials at Alabama plan to limit the crowd to about 20,000 fans, roughly 20 percent of capacity at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
–Field Level Media