Garrett, Allen key to Aggies win against Alabama

Kev Connaghan breaks down the biggest matchup of Week 7.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Garrett, Allen key to Aggies win against Alabama

It’s the biggest week of the season so far, with a number of top teams facing off in potentially season defining contests. One such is the crucial SEC West matchup between Alabama (5-1) and Texas A&M (5-0) in College Station. The Crimson Tide trounced the Aggies 59-0 in Tuscaloosa last year, but this promises to be a much closer encounter.

Having already suffered defeat at the hands of Ole Miss, this is close to a must-win game for Alabama. It’s difficult to imagine that they could go on to win the West with two divisional losses on their record; mathematically possible, but highly unlikely.

Texas A&M have taken large strides defensively under the tutelage of John Chavis, but just how far they have come remains to be seen. The Aggies have a little more leeway than Alabama, a loss would hurt, but they would have to win out afterwards to ensure they remain in the hunt for the SEC.

So, with plenty to consider, here are the key areas to focus on when each team has the ball:

When Alabama has the ball

As always the Tide favor the ground game, and if it’s productive they can lean on it heavily. Running back Derrick Henry is the work horse, he has a +1.2 rushing grade on the season and is averaging 3.3 yards after contact per carry. While fellow back Kenyan Drake has impressed in a complimentary role, earning a +8.4 overall grade, +3.1 as a receiver – Drake has lined up as a wide receiver on 15.4 percent of his snaps.

Both Mississippi State and Arkansas found a little joy on the ground against Texas A&M, but not as much as they would have liked. That’s because the Aggies defensive line have played the run relatively well, with their 11 most used linemen all grading positively in run defense, none more so than true freshman DT Daylon Mack who has a +8.2 grade against the run.

If the Aggies do limit Alabama’s rushing attack, then that puts the onus on their inconsistent QB Jake Coker, and the passing game. Coker has graded positively in three games this season, yet still has a -8.2 overall grade. Coker showed signs of life against Georgia at with a +1.7 grade, but followed that with -5.0 last week against Arkansas. Coker has an accuracy percentage of just 48.6 when pressured, and that’s less than ideal when coming up against Aggies DE Myles Garrett.

Garrett has the fourth-best pass rush grade among edge rushers in the nation at +15.5, with seven sacks and 19 total pressures. He can be utterly dominant, but he still has to prove that can he do so week in, week out in the SEC. Against Alabama in 2014, Garrett registered just one QB hurry, and will need to fare better against Alabama LT Cam Robinson this time around if the Aggies are to win.

When Texas A&M has the ball

Sophomore QB Kyle Allen is starting to live up to his status as a top recruit. After a rough outing against Arizona State to open the season, Allen has put together four-straight positively graded performances. His +3.0 overall grade compares very favorably with the -20.4 grade he earned as a freshman. Allen has been creating big plays as both passer and runner. He has a +4.6 grade on passes thrown 20+ yards downfield, and has gained 198 yards on the ground on 31 carries.

True freshman WR Christian Kirk has been Allen’s favorite receiver, he’s been targeted 47 times, fellow WR Josh Reynolds is second on the team with 28 targets. Kirk is averaging 16.2 yards per reception, and ranks fifth in the nation with 334 yards after the catch. That demonstrates the ability to play in space that makes Kirk a dangerous returner, and helped him earn a +2.3 grade on punt returns.

Alabama have one of the best defensive fronts in the nation and will seek to put Allen under pressure at every opportunity. DT Jarran Reed is playing at an All-American level at +27.6 overall, and linebacker Reggie Ragland is up there with him at +15.8 overall. They have five defensive linemen and six linebackers with overall grades of +5 or greater. The story is similar in the secondary where the five most used payers all have grades of +3 or greater.

If Myles Garrett can win his battle with Cam Robinson, the Aggies can make things very uncomfortable for the Crimson Tide offense. That would give them a real chance to press their case for being among the nation’s elite teams. But to do that they likely need Kyle Allen to be at his best against a formidable Crimson Tide defense.

| Analyst

Kevin has been an analyst at Pro Football Focus since 2014, with a particular focus on college football.

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