Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A number one ranked football team was hanging on for dear life when out of the blue its defense caused a fumble and returned it for a touchdown. Truth is stranger than fiction, and it happened again Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Alabama was clinging to a 6-point lead in the third quarter against Texas A&M when an Aggies handoff play was blown up by Bama linebacker Ryan Anderson, who stripped the ball from the A&M ball carrier, The next ball carrier on the play was Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, who picked it up at the Aggies 29 and took it in for a breathing room touchdown.
Alabama added a 37-yard touchdown run by – wait for it – freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts in the fourth quarter as the Crimson Tide defeated the Aggies, 33-14.
No. 1 Alabama improved to 8-0 overall and 5-0 in Southeastern Conference play and No. 6 Texas A&M suffered its first loss of the year, falling to 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the SEC.
Alabama has an open date next Saturday. The Crimson Tide returns to action Nov. 5 with its final road game of the season at LSU. The Tigers also have an open date next week. CBS will televise the Bama-LSU game in prime time.
Alabama had only a 13-6 halftime lead, and after the second half kickoff it took the Aggies only about two minutes to go 75 yards and move in front by 14-13. A&M quarterback Trevor Knight completed his second touchdown pass of the game to Christian Kirk for 25 yards to cap a 6-play, 75-yard drive and make it A&M 14, Bama 13 after Daniel LaCamera kicked his third quarter extra point.
Fortunately, Alabama wasn’t finished.
The Tide took advantage of a third-down hands-to-the-face penalty against Texas A&M that kept a drive alive at midfield.
Bama got first downs in the drive on a scrmble by Hurts, a Hurts pass to Calvin Ridley, a run by Damien Harris, and a big 19-yard run by Hurts that set up a first-and-goal at the 2. First-and-goal had not been good to the Tide in the first half, but on second down Hurts hit Ridley on a four-yard TD pass. Adam Griffith’s extra point kick put the Tide back on top at 20-13.
After an exchange of punts, Texas A&M had the ball at its 34. The Aggies picked up one first down when a runner escaped the clutches of Allen and got out to the Alabama 46. But then the Tide defense took hold. A completed pass lost two yards and then Knight was sacked by Tim Williams for a loss of 14. A deep handoff try to A&M tailback Keith Ford was busted up by Ryan Anderson and Allen picked it up and went 29 yards for the Alabama touchdown – Allen’s second fumble return for a TD this year, and the Tide’s fifth and ninth defensive score. Bama went for two, failed, but still had the lead at 26-14 going to the fourth quarter.
One couldn’t help but think back to last week when Anderson confessed that he wasn’t a fan of those defensive plays that turn Anderson into a blocker, but considering the tradeoff he likely didn’t mind another defensive TD.
Alabama got only one score in the final period, but A&M got none as Bama wrapped up its 19-point win.
The final touchdown of the game followed one of the most unfortunate incidents of the game. Eddie Jackson had just returned a punt for 17 yards to near midfield, a play that would be his last this season. The All-America safety candidate suffered a season-ending broken leg on the play.
Alabama took only 3 plays and 1:17 to complete the 47-yard drive as Hurts scrambled out of a pass call, broke up the middle, then to the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown. After Griffith’s kick made it 33-14, there was still about 12 ½ minutes to play, but there were no more points.
Other than the one Alabama made with its third consecutive win over a ranked team and fifth this season.
Alabama’s first half was a case of what-might-have-beens. The Crimson Tide drove to within potential scoring position on five occasions and came out of it with two field goals and one touchdown. Bama missed one short field goal and had a long field goal chance negated by penalty.
The Tide’s first two possessions were just what might have been expected. In the Aggies previous game, against Tennessee, the Vols had success running, and Bama took advantage of its running game.
Following the opening kickoff, Alabama opened the game with a new wrinkle, a short pass over the middle to tight end O.J. Howard. But then it was Damien Harris on a 30-yard run to the Texas A&M 39, a Jalen Hurts run for 17 to the 22, and two Josh Jacobs carries to a first-and-goal at the 10.
And then things changed. Hurts lost a yard and had a pass tipped at the line of scrimmage, before a quarterback scramble lost back to the 15. On fourth down, Adam Griffith kicked it to 3-0 with his 32-yard field goal.
Alabama got the ball back at its 27 and mixed in some passes to Calvin Ridley. A pass to Ridley gained 9, and then Harris ripped off a run of 16. Another pass to Ridley for 9, and Harris ran for 3 and a first down at the Texas A& 36. Jacobs then had a run for 5 and great effort on a short pass to gain 11 and a first down at the A&M 20. Back-to-back runs by Jacobs and Harris made it first-and-goal at the 9.
A first down pass to Howard managed to lose 2 yards, a Hurts run failed to gain, and a pass was incomplete.
Bama’s second goal-to-go opportunity resulted in another field goal, Griffith hitting from 28.
A Bo Scarbrough fumble on the final play of the first quarter was fortunately for Alabama recovered by ArDarius Stewart and the Tide continued the drive in the second quarter to a touchdown.
A Utah pass to Howard got 14 and a first down on third-and-7 and then Harris ran for 30. On first down at the 15, Hurts went for nine yards at left end and got the first down at the 5. Goal-to-go, and this time the Tide delivered with Hurts passing to Howard on the right side for the touchdown. The drive had covered 88 yards in 9 plays and given Bama a 13-0 lead.
Alabama seemed to be in good shape when the Aggies shanked a punt out of bounds at the Alabama 43 with six minutes left in the second quarter. But on third down, Hurts had a pass intercepted by Claude George at the 40.
Fortunately, Alabama matched the takeaway on the next play, Bama cornerback Marlon Humphrey picking off one of Trevor Knight’s passes at the Tide 25.
A great catch by ArDarius Stewart got the drive off to a fine start, a 45-yard gain to the A&M 30. After a false start, Hurts hit Howard for a 21-yard gain to the A&M 14.
And then the offense stalled again. Three plays gained only 2 yards. Adding to the frustration, Griffith missed a 29-yard field goal attempt.
Knight then took the Aggies on an 8-play, 80-yard drive. He completed a pass to Ricky Seals-Jones for 44 yards, ran for 27 yards himself, and finished it off with a 9-yard pass to Josh Reynolds with fewer than two minutes to play until halftime to close the gap to Alabama 13, Texas A&M 7.