More of the same for Tagovailoa and Co. against Texas A&M

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CW / Hannah Saad

COLLEGE STATION, Texas Alabama’s offense looked the same on Saturday at Texas A&M as it has all season. The receivers made eye-popping plays, the quarterback threw with pinpoint accuracy and the offensive line protected him well. 

The only difference in a 47-28 win over division rival Texas A&M was that Alabama pumped the brakes slightly from its usual torrid speed.

Head coach Nick Saban was very clear over the bye week and again after Saturday’s game that the offense’s philosophy would not change.

“If we score fast, which we scored fast a couple times today, I’m okay with that,” Saban said. “It still counts.” 

The Crimson Tide twice scored in fewer than 60 seconds, but seven of its other nine drives took at least three minutes off the clock. In its first five games, only one-third of its possessions lasted at least three minutes.

The continued development of the running game helps the offense “control the game,” to use Saban’s words.

Excluding one sack allowed, Alabama had 30 carries for 165 yards. Seven runs gained more than 10 yards but only one gained more than 15, so the average wasn’t skewed by a few big plays.

Junior Najee Harris finished with 20 carries for 114 yards, the third 100-yard game of his career. He also added a receiving touchdown, his fourth of the season.

The Crimson Tide’s final drive consisted of six rushes for 39 yards and bled the final 4:09 off the clock. In Sabanese, that’s called “taking the air out of the game.”

“I felt we did a good job for the most part, created balance,” Saban said. “We were able to run the ball at the end of the game when we needed to, which I think was a real positive.”

Redshirt junior Landon Dickerson moved from right guard to center, filling in for injured starter Chris Owens. Fellow redshirt junior Deonte Brown started at right guard, his first start since last postseason. 

Junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who threw four touchdowns to four different receivers, complimented Dickerson’s communication with the rest of the O-line. He also said Brown did a good job.

“Deonte is a large, athletic body,” Dickerson said. “He can move, too, and I feel bad for whoever’s on the other side of that pull. He’s a great player and I was excited for him to be out there.”

It wouldn’t be an Alabama game if the team didn’t score a long touchdown on a slant route. 

In the first quarter Tagovailoa, noticing a Texas A&M blitz, threw quickly to junior receiver DeVonta Smith, who sprinted the remaining 47 yards to the end zone for his ninth touchdown of the year.

After the game, Tagovailoa dared opposing defenses to try to defend the slant.

“It’s just that’s what the defense gives us,” Tagovailoa said. “If people say ‘They gotta stop running this, it’s weak that they’re running this,’ stop it. You gotta stop it.”

The touchdown to Smith gave Alabama a 14-7 lead it would not relinquish. Alabama’s touchdown on its opening drive was a short sideways pass to sophomore receiver and Houston, Texas, native Jaylen Waddle, who dipped and slipped between several Aggie defenders en route to his first score of the season. 

Waddle finished with three catches for 48 yards, but he made a much more significant impact on special teams.

Texas A&M punter Braden Mann, college football’s best punter a year ago, punted four times for 199 yards, but Waddle had returns of 43, 42, 28 and 15 yards to erase the advantage. 

Those four Alabama drives began at Texas A&M’s 19-, 26- and 33-yard lines and the Alabama 43. All four ended in touchdowns.

“These guys have a great punter,” Saban said. “Everybody asked me about the great punter and my comment was a great punter is good for us, because we’ll get some return balls. And we got some. So he kicked it far and we returned it far.”

Junior receiver Henry Ruggs III caught a 33-yard touchdown pass from Tagovailoa and also returned four kickoffs for 131 yards. Mann had to make the tackle on two of those returns.

The Crimson Tide scored on special teams too, but it wasn’t a return by Waddle or Ruggs. For the second straight game sophomore Ale Kaho blocked a punt and redshirt sophomore Tyrell Shavers was in position to score the touchdown, but instead of dropping the ball like he did against Ole Miss, Shavers picked it up and ran into the end zone for his first career touchdown.

The first Alabama drive that didn’t reach the red zone was its eighth, late in the third quarter. Of the first seven drives, four ended in touchdowns, two ended in field goals and one ended with an interception in the end zone Tagovailoa’s first pick of the year.

Saban lamented that interception and the team’s 11 penalties, including three on the final drive, as areas to improve moving forward.

“We didn’t really finish the game with class in terms of being able to take the air out of it,” Saban said. “… But I felt like we did a lot of good things in the game today and we obviously have things that we need to work on.”