Preview: Alabama seeks to improve play in A&M matchup

Ashlee Woods | @ashleemwoods, Staff Reporter

The first tough test for Alabama comes this week. Nick Saban will face yet another former assistant coach in Jimbo Fisher. Though the spread for this game is around 17 points, there’s a lot of potential for an upset in Tuscaloosa this weekend. 

Alabama will face off against Texas A&M for the Crimson Tide’s first home game of the season. Alabama took this week to focus on improving their play in the second half and preparing for the athleticism of Kellen Mond as they turned their attention to this Saturday’s game. 

Preparing for Kellen Mond 

Senior quarterback Kellen Mond is a dual threat for the Crimson Tide defense. Sophomore safety Jordan Battle gave insight into preparing for Kellen Mond during a press conference earlier this week. 

“He’s a great quarterback,” Battle said. “He can scramble outside the pocket. He keeps his eyes downfied when he’s scrambling. That makes [playing] him even… tougher. We play pretty well in the scrambling quarterback game so we should play well against him.”

Battle also mentioned how having Mac Jones and Bryce Young at quarterback will be helpful in their preparation for containing Mond. He noted Jones’s ability to throw the ball quickly and escape pressure would be a great tool to prepare for Saturday. Last week against Vanderbilt, Mond threw for 189 yards and one touchdown, but he showcased his ability to move around the pocket and create plays, especially on his lone touchdown pass to wide receiver Caleb Chapman. The Tide’s defense seeks to keep Mond in the pocket and force him to make plays with his arm. 

Running the ball

Alabama did a decent job running the ball against the Missouri Tigers last Saturday. Senior running back Najee Harris ran for 98 yards on 17 attempts. He also scored three touchdowns. This Saturday, he — along with redshirt sophomore Trey Sanders and senior Brian Robinson — will face a talented Texas A&M defensive front, including junior defensive lineman Bobby Brown. Harris discussed the challenge of running the ball against the Aggies defense in a press conference earlier this week.

“The whole Texas A&M D-line —[the] defense in general — is a really good defense. They do a really good job at stopping the run,” Harris said. “Their safeties play a huge part in the run game, too. So, you know, the whole team — other than Bobby Brown — the whole front four that they have is all good, including the linebackers and the safeties and the DBs they have. Everybody on that team is a person we can’t not include in the game plan.”

Harris also indicated that the size and athleticism of the Aggies’ front four is another factor in the Aggies’ ability to stop the run. Texas A&M held Vanderbilt to just 105 rushing yards, so Alabama will try to run successfully against the Texas A&M run defense. But Harris thinks that the team is ready for the challenge. 

Executing in the second half 

With all of the good things Alabama did last week against Missouri, the team did have their fair share of struggles. Alabama had trouble finishing plays, especially during the second half of the game. In a press conference earlier this week, sophomore linebacker Christian Harris discussed how the defense will strive to play better in the second half against the Aggies.

“I think in the first half, we did pretty good, but you know we really didn’t finish in the second half, and that’s something Coach [Saban] really wants to focus on,” Harris said. “Especially not giving up points in the fourth quarter is something we really strive on. So, it was a little bit of disappointment in us but like I said, we’re gonna bounce back with it next week.”

Harris mentioned that the team missed a couple assignments on plays, so the defense will correct those mistakes by looking at the tape from last week. Saban echoed the same sentiment in a press conference earlier this week. 

“We also didn’t maintain our intensity throughout the game,” Saban said. “I don’t think we really played with the same energy and enthusiasm in the second half and I think it showed in our performance.”

Saban would continue to say that the players, particularly the new ones, have to focus on maintaining their energy and enthusiasm while sitting on the bench so that when their number is called, they are able to make in-game adjustments and still execute the plays. Texas A&M is also coming off a sloppy performance against Vanderbilt, which included three turnovers for the Aggies. Both teams will look to have a cleaner all-around game come Saturday. 

Playing in Bryant-Denny

Fans and players alike are excited to finally have a football game played here in Tuscaloosa. This year, however, game day at Bryant-Denny Stadium will look a little different. 110,000 fans will not make their way into the stadium, as the stadium will only be at 20% capacity for home games this season. The Quad, also, will look a little empty as compared to years past, as on-campus tailgating is not permitted this season. Junior wide receiver Jaylen Waddle discussed his hopes of having the same energy in Bryant-Denny Stadium this year during a press conference this week. 

“We’re looking forward to having the same home-game feel. Bryant-Denny is a very tough place to place to play so we still want to have that effect on other teams,” Waddle said. 

While the players are looking to use the energy from the fans on Saturday, Saban wants players to mainly rely on themselves for continued motivation throughout the game.

“You can’t really count on external factors like, you know, the crowd and the noise and the band and, you know, a lot of those things that can appeal to your emotion when you’re playing in a game,” Saban said. “Because of the atmosphere, you can’t really… count on that.”

The team is glad to have fans in the stadium and the support from the local Tuscaloosa community, but they recognize that this is an odd year. Players must learn to focus their energy and enthusiasm inward with fans at a limited capacity. 

“I’m sure we’ll have the best atmosphere that we can have relative to the number that we have in Bryant-Denny Stadium, and we’ve always had great support here,” Saban said. “But at the same time, I don’t think that the players can… count on that. I think it’s got to come from, you know, their DNA and who they are and how they choose to compete and create value for themselves and don’t count on external factors to get you going.”