Nick Saban had good news and bad news after his top-ranked Alabama team’s come-from-behind 33-14 win at home over No. 6 Texas A&M. First, the good news: his team’s defense and running game wore down the Aggies after the Crimson Tide had fallen behind 14-13.
“I thought that we did a pretty good job covering,” Saban said of that defense. “We made really a lot of mistakes in the first half, not necessarily in coverage, but in some adjustments to some of their motions. One time, we didn’t play the right coverage on a formation, and they hit a critical third down on us. The quarterback (Trevor Knight) made a couple of runs on us on third down situations, but we had somebody assigned to him that didn’t get the job done like we want him to. But all in all I thought our guys did a pretty good job of covering.
“At least we made (Knight) make some tight throws, and they weren’t able to do it, especially with pressure. They were not consistent enough to make a lot of explosive plays in the passing game, and that’s real key to these guys. They are a very, very good offensive team, and very difficult to defend, with the skill guys they have, the running back they have, and the quarterback they have. It’s very difficult to defend all those guys.”
Saban said Bama did a better job against the run in the second half because of a key adjustment: going from “dime” (six defensive backs) to “nickel” (five coverers). “We talked about it at halftime, and we just said, ‘We’re going to go do this,’” he said. “We did (the switch) because they were hitting a lot of five, six and seven yard runs, which was getting us behind the sticks.
“In the dime, we’re filling the box with a safety, but when you play ‘nickel’ you’ve got a linebacker. There’s a big difference in that (against the run). Their runners are heavy, and they do a good job of making a few extra yards after contact at times, so when we play ‘nickel’ we’re a lot bigger, and we’re a lot bigger on the edges, and that’s very helpful against this (Aggie) team too because they’ve got a lot of perimeter (running) plays, so that adjustment was very beneficial to us.”
The game has some momentum swings. “I was very concerned about the first drive they had in the second half,” Saban said. “They went through us pretty quickly and effectively, and we didn’t do a very good job of covering. That’s when we made the adjustment (to nickel defense from dime), and I thought our guys really did a good job after that. (No “pool through a tin cup” reference, but it was implied.)
“The momentum of the game changed from the end of the first half to (after) the beginning of the second half, and the (big) offensive drive right after they scored (to go up 14-13). We always tell our offense, ‘The most critical time and the best time to score is after the other team scores.’ I said it today in the huddle. So, when they scored, and we went down and scored, that was big in answering, and it helped the momentum of the game. We got a break on the roughing the passer (penalty) on that drive that gave us a first down on third down, but we took advantage of it and were able to score a touchdown down in the ‘Red Zone,’ (on a 4-yard Jalen Hurts pass to Calvin Ridley), which was really important.
“We played better on defense, and shut them out after that, and made some critical stops, and also got a turnover for a (Jonathan Allen) touchdown, so I think he defense did a great job from that time on, in terms of the way they played.”
Asked about the downfield blocking that allows guys like Harris (125 yards rushing) and Hurts (93 yards) to succeed, Saban said, “I don’t think there’s any question about it: our receivers have done a fabulous job, and it really shows their willingness to do whatever they need to do because, to be honest with you, we have some guys that are capable of making some explosive plays. Sometimes, we miss assignments on those plays and we’ve missed on them more than we would like all year long. To see those guys be unselfish, when they block and do the things they need to do to help us make explosive runs, and do what’s best for the team speaks volumes of them as team players and great competitors.”
Asked specifically about the job Harris did, Saban said it could have been better had the sophomore not been battling nagging injuries. “I thought that Damien (Harris) did a really good job,” Saban said. “He had a chance to break a couple of runs, but he’s been nursing some leg injuries, and I don’t think he had that same burst today that he’s had, and he didn’t have it last week (in the win at Tennessee), but he’s a tough guy that really did a great job out there for us, and really had a great night.
“I was a little concerned with how well we would be able to run the ball against these guys, and I think we did a really, really good job of blocking in the offensive line, of controlling some really good players that they have up front. They play a lot of ‘sync’ eight-man fronts, a lot of pressures, so I was really pleased with the way our offensive line and our team was able to handle some of that stuff, and we were able to effectively run the ball in this game.”
The Tide out-rushed the Aggies 287 yards to 114 while outgaining the visitors in total offense 451 yards to 278. Bama held the ball nearly 36 minutes. Those type numbers please Saban.
Jonathan Allen’s 30-yard fumble return for a touchdown was his second of the year against a ranked team led by a quarterback who had beaten Alabama in the past. It broke open a close game and put the Tide ahead 26-14 with 21 seconds left in the third quarter. Said Saban: “I think it was a huge play in the game. It was still a very close game, and at that point we hadn’t really stopped them. It was a long yardage situation, and we got ‘gas’ coming off the edges, and they ran kind of a counter-type, boot-type kind of play, and we had good ‘edges.’ Somebody (Ryan Anderson) knocked the ball out, and I think that was the real turning point in the game, because I think it changed the momentum in the game, so those (non-offensive scoring) plays are always huge in games, but that one was especially huge in this game.”
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Then the bad news: senior safety Eddie Jackson’s Alabama career is over. “On a down note, Eddie Jackson has a fractured leg, and he will be out for the season,” Saban announced. “Eddie was a fantastic player for us, and a great leader. I think he’s an All-American player at safety, at least in my book, and we’re certainly going to miss him. What a great player, and what a great competitor, and what a great guy to have in this program for the time that he’s been here. He’s done a fantastic job for us, and I’m just sick for him and his family. I hate it. That’s one of the things about sports, all sports, that we all have to deal with sometimes is injuries. It’s unfortunate, especially when it happens to a great guy and a very good player. We’re going to certainly miss him.”
Video by A.P. Steadhamnull