Revisiting Saban’s losses to Texas A&M

Blake Byler, Assistant Sports Editor

Throughout Nick Saban’s tenure as the head coach at Alabama, different teams among the SEC West have risen and fallen to challenge the Crimson Tide. 

In the past few years, the national media has been anxious to crown Texas A&M as Alabama’s biggest threat, with the Aggies’ recent success on the recruiting trail as well as the hype that always surrounds teams led by former national champion head coach Jimbo Fisher.  

Many thought this weekend’s game between No. 1 Alabama and Texas A&M would have College Football Playoff implications given its preseason selection as CBS’s once-a-year primetime game, but even though the Aggies sit unranked after two unfortunate losses, there is no room for Alabama to count Texas A&M out. 

The first time a Saban-coached Alabama team met Texas A&M was in Bryant-Denny Stadium in November 2012. It was Texas A&M’s first year in the SEC, Alabama sat at No. 1 defending its 2011 national title and the Aggies were led by a hotshot redshirt freshman taking the college football world by storm, named Johnny Manziel. 

Alabama came into the game off an emotional comeback victory over No. 5 LSU, and certainly showed signs of a big-game hangover. Texas A&M exploded out of the gate, holding a 20-0 lead over the Crimson Tide after one quarter. 

Manziel torched Alabama both in the air and on the ground, throwing for 253 yards and two touchdowns in the game, and added 92 yards rushing to go with it. One of those touchdowns was dubbed Manziel’s “Heisman moment,” where he avoided a sack and bobbled the ball in his hands before escaping the pocket and finding his man for a touchdown right in front of the Alabama student section. 

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron threw for 309 yards in the comeback attempt, 136 of which went to freshman phenom Amari Cooper. McCarron kept his calm after the slow Alabama start and worked to bring the Crimson Tide back into the game, bringing Alabama within five points of the Aggies with five minutes to play. 

Alabama had a chance to win the game, facing fourth-and-goal from the two-yard line. McCarron was intercepted at the goal line, leading to the Crimson Tide’s lone loss of the 2012 season.  

The loss proved inconsequential as Alabama moved on to win the 2012 BCS National Championship, but the game elevated Johnny Manziel to national stardom as he would eventually win the 2012 Heisman Trophy. 

For the next near-decade, Texas A&M competed with Alabama but was routinely unable to conquer the Crimson Tide. The Aggies fired head coach Kevin Sumlin and brought in Fisher to get the program over the hump, hoping to eventually knock off Saban once again. 

This brings us to 2021. 

Texas A&M was unranked, but the game against Alabama was selected for the CBS primetime game in the preseason after the Aggies nearly made the 2020 College Football Playoff. Alabama was undefeated, led by quarterback Bryce Young and was favored by 18 points in the game. 

The game itself could be easily described as crazy, with touchdowns happening in every imaginable way. 

Texas A&M jumped out to a 24-10 lead in the second quarter thanks to some offensive ineptitude from the Crimson Tide, but Alabama regained some momentum in the third quarter with a blocked punt in the end zone that resulted in an Alabama touchdown. 

The Aggies immediately took the momentum back with a kickoff return that went 96 yards for a score. 

Alabama then found its offense, feeding wide receiver Jameson Williams and scoring 21 straight points to take a 38-31 lead with just over five minutes left. Texas A&M and quarterback Zach Calzada did not back down, scoring a touchdown, getting a stop and executing a last-minute drive to set up the game-winning field goal from kicker Seth Small. 

The win not only fulfilled Fisher’s preseason promise that he would beat Alabama, but it marked the first time in Saban’s career that he was defeated by one of his former assistants.  

If Alabama isn’t careful, it could suffer the same fate it had last year by overlooking the Aggies again. On paper, there are plenty of reasons for Alabama to stay motivated — from last season’s loss to the hunt for a national title to Saban and Fisher’s personal and public feud that took place in the summer. 

Saban recognizes the similarities between this season’s meeting and last season’s, and he isn’t letting his team, or the public, forget what happened. 

“I was talking about rat poison last year when we played this game,” Saban said Monday. “Nobody would listen, players wouldn’t listen, y’all didn’t listen. They had lost the week before. We were big favorites. It was like no big deal. Just show up for this game, go play the next game.” 

Regardless of Texas A&M’s record, there is plenty of intrigue surrounding the game that will all come to a head at kickoff, at 7 p.m. CT Saturday night on CBS.

Questions or comments? Email Austin Hannon (Sports Editor) at [email protected]