“Everybody was having fun, and doing their jobs,” said Alabama junior linebacker Reggie Ragland, who was one of six Bama players with five tackles. “Everybody just went out, and we just played as one, so of course it felt like Alabama football.”
In addition to his five stops, Ragland turned in 1.5 tackles for loss, including half a sack, and a rather acrobatic interception with the Aggies threatening to avoid the shut out. “I just made an athletic play,” Ragland said. “I jumped up in the air, and I went back to my (high school) basketball days. It was like an (alley) ‘oop.’ I just jumped up, and dunked it.” Bama held the Aggies to 172 yards on but 55 plays. Texas A&M was shut out for the first time under Kevin Sumlin, and for the first time since 2003 when Oklahoma handed Dennis Franchione’s Aggies a 77-0 shellacking.
Senior quarterback Blake Sims said, “Before the game, I looked at every player’s face. I could tell they were ready. I just said, ‘Let’s go out there and have a good time. Sometimes, we think too much. Today, we tried not to think as much. We just went out and played.”
Senior guard Arie Kouandjio, a man of few words, said, “A lot of guys came out ready to play. The results speak for themselves.” That they did.
“We went out there, and balled out, and just had fun,” said junior safety Landon Collins, who had three stops and a pass break-up. “We disguised the defenses, and we tried to confuse the quarterback (Kenny Hill) as much as possible. That, and we were flying to the ball.”
Shutting out a high-powered offense like the one Sumlin’s Aggies run seemed to bring a special glow to the Tide’s defensive players’ faces. “Defensively, any time a (hurry-up, no-huddle) team like that doesn’t put up any points, you have to feel good about the pass defense,” said junior cornerback Cyrus Jones, who had four tackles.
Jonathan Allen had one of the Tide’s six sacks. He left the game with cramps, but is OK, according to Saban. Allen said of the aggressive defense that led to a “goose egg”: “We’ve been working on that all week. I’m glad we did what we’ve been taught and coached to do. It was a great team effort. I have to give all the credit to the coaching staff and all of my teammates. They did a great job of coming together and playing for one another.”
That zero on the board is not to take anything away from a Tide offense that rolled up 602 yards and ran 80 plays after a pair of lackluster road performances. Junior running back T.J. Yeldon led all rushers with 114 yards on 13 carries with two scores. His backup, Derrick Henry, scored once by ground, put up 70 yards on 10 rushes, and carried a screen pass 41 yards for a touchdown. Henry noticed a Yeldon who seemed to be running angry. “T.J. went out there, and ran hard,” Henry said. “He’s a leader on this team.
“We preached all week that we need to go out, relax, and do what we do. We’ve got be able to dominate all three teams: offense, defense, and special teams. Everybody did their job, and dominated their space. That’s the thing I was proudest of.”
Sims seemed to feed off the crowd of 101,821, and went 16-for-27 passing for 268 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no sacks or interceptions. He added 54 yards rushing, including a 43-yard touchdown run on a play he says he could have run better. “I misread it,” Sims said, “but the guys still played hard and blocked who they were supposed to block. I don’t know about luck. It turned out well.”
Another thing that turned out well was the play of the offensive line, even when right tackle Austin Shepherd left with a sprained knee. Sims noticed. “They played very well,” he said of his line. “I’m glad to have them up front, and I trust every guy that’s there. Grant Hill did a great job coming in for Shepherd. I’m just happy to see the way they fought today.”
(One note: True freshman J.C. Hassenauer gave up his redshirt when he entered at center in the final stanza.)
Sims feels the new, “relax and have fun” mantra has some merit. “We just try to get better and better each week as we go,” he said. “As an offense, we practiced hard, and we had one motto: Be better than we were last week. That’s something that happened for us. As a team, we listened to our leaders. Our leaders are starting to be more outspoken.”
Saturday, Alabama played like a team with a new-found confidence. One reporter asked Sims point-blank if this Tide squad was a Final Four team. “I think we are,” Sims said.
And he sounded confident.
The seventh-ranked Tide (6-1, 3-1 SEC) travels to Knoxville next week to face Tennessee at 6:15 or 6:30. Bama has beaten the Vols in all seven of Saban’s previous seasons. Said Kouandjio, “A lot of people care about that game around the program and around the state. We’ll have to prepare hard. That will motivate us.”