TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) – Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M have celebrated a colossal win and endured a humiliating loss at Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Now, they’re back.
The sixth-ranked Aggies return Saturday to face No. 1 Alabama in a matchup of the Southeastern Conference’s last unbeaten teams and a game that’s every bit as important as any previous meeting.
It’s even more intriguing with the Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0) having edged closer to the Texas A&M style of speedy tempo and quarterback runs. The Aggies (6-0, 4-0) haven’t abandoned that formula by any stretch but have taken over the role of the SEC’s top running team that would seem more ‘Bama’s domain traditionally.
No wonder Tide coach Nick Saban said “we’re full of challenges for this week.”
“This is one of those season-defining games for us,” Saban said.
For both teams. It’s the second time in four seasons that the SEC West showdown has featured No. 1 versus No. 6 and the third Top 10 matchup in that span. The budding rivalry has produced classics like the Johnny Manziel-led 2012 upset by the Aggies in Tuscaloosa and ‘Bama’s 49-42 win a year later. It’s also supplied Alabama’s biggest beatdown against a ranked team, a 59-0 win on the Aggies’ last visit two seasons ago.
Such a one-sided outcome seems unlikely this time but Alabama is a whopping 18-point favorite coming off dominating performances against Tennessee and Arkansas.
Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight, who led Oklahoma to a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama as a redshirt freshman, said the Aggies have this game in its proper perspective.
“We’re not over-emphasizing this week and that’s not discrediting Alabama and what they’ve done,” he said. “But this isn’t the end all, be all. This is the seventh game of our season. We still have a bunch of games after that and we realize and respect the opponent that we’re playing but we’re not making it on a pedestal or anything like that.”
Here are some things to watch in Saturday’s Texas A&M-Alabama game:
TOP 10 LIST: Alabama has grown accustomed to playing much-hyped games, going 23-6 against Top 10 teams since 2008. The Aggies have fared pretty well, too. They’ve won a school-record three road games against Top 10 teams under Sumlin, including that 29-24 win in 2012 that was the program’s second win over a top-ranked team.
RUNNING QBS: Both defenses will have to be wary of quarterback runs. Tide freshman Jalen Hurts and Knight rank second on their respective teams in rushing, but nobody comes close in reaching the end zone on the ground. Knight has run for nine touchdowns and 502 yards, Hurts has produced 428 yards and eight TDs.
NON-OFFENSIVE TDS: Alabama’s special teams and defense are on a roll when it comes to scoring, accounting for 11 touchdowns this season and at least one in nine straight games. It would be hard to top the last meeting with the Aggies, when the Tide scored on three interception returns . Sumlin cites a number of factors, luck not being among them.
“A lot of them are two-way players in high school and frustrated they only get to play defense,” he said. “They are letting the world know about it.”
PASS RUSHERS GALORE: The game features some of college football’s premier quarterback chasers. Texas A&M has bookends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall and ranks third in the nation in tackles for loss (9.7 per game). Alabama counters with Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson. All five players rank among the Top 86 in sacks.
“Their front is ridiculous, best way I can put it,” Sumlin said. “As good as there is in football.”
YOUNG RUNNERS: Led by Texas A&M freshman Trayveon Williams, this game features five of the SEC’s top 20 runners. All but Knight are freshmen or sophomores. Williams is leading the league with 117.3 rushing yards per game.