3 reasons why Texas A&M could upset Alabama
Here we are. Seven weeks into the season and the SEC West champion very well may be decided this weekend. In what will be one of the biggest matchups all season, undefeated Texas A&M travels to Tuscaloosa to try and pull off the unthinkable: taking down No. 1 Bama. Nick Saban has assembled a wildly talented team (what’s new) that has looked virtually untouchable so far this year. With an elite defense, a surprisingly poised freshman quarterback and their always successful ground game, the Crimson Tide are the heavy favorites to repeat as national champions this season.
That being said, it’s not unrealistic to think that the Aggies have a legitimate chance of stealing a win this weekend. This A&M team has had a special season of their own, sitting at 6-0 for the first time in 22 years and boasting the deepest, most SEC-ready roster they’ve had since joining the conference. Between Trevor Knight at quarterback, a dominant rushing attack and an opportunistic defense, the Aggies have found themselves a winning formula this season and we’ll get to see just how far it can take them this Saturday. They’ll have to be firing on all cylinders, but Texas A&M might just have the right combination of talent, scheme and impact players to walk away with a win.
Here are three reasons why the Aggies can do just that and pull off the upset over Alabama this weekend:
- Big play potential downfield
Aggie quarterback Trevor Knight (67.0) hasn’t been the most consistent passer this season, but if there’s one area he’s stood out it’s been when throwing the ball deep. While his underneath accuracy leaves some to be desired, Knight has been one of the best in the nation this year when pushing the ball downfield. Among all Power-5 quarterbacks, Knight has the 14th-best accuracy rate at 41.0 percent on throws traveling 20 or more yards in the air and ranks 11th with 529 passing yards on deep attempts. Over the course of the season he has made several key downfield throws that have flipped momentum for the Aggies, exactly what he’ll be looking to do again this week against Alabama.
One key matchup to watch in this area will be A&M wide receiver Josh Reynolds (77.7) versus Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey (78.6). Reynolds has lined up on the offense’s right side on 88 percent of his snaps while Humphrey has been the left corner on 92 percent of his plays, meaning the two should see each other quite a bit on Saturday. Reynolds has been one of the best deep threats in the nation this year, catching 50 percent of his deep targets and ranking fifth with his 294 receiving yards on 20+ yard throws. Humphrey has been susceptible to getting beat deep this season, allowing a 46.7 percent completion rate, 208 receiving yards, two touchdowns and a 104.9 QB rating when targeted beyond 20 yards downfield. With Humphrey guarding him this weekend, the opportunity should be there for Reynolds and Knight to connect a few times on deep attempts which could be just the spark needed to ignite this A&M offense.
- Jalen Hurts’ struggles under pressure
Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts (79.2) has proven to be more than capable of leading the Alabama offense this season and has graded out as one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC through seven weeks. He’s shown the ability to limit mistakes through the air and make impact plays on the ground, but as with most players there is one glaring weakness in his game. For Hurts, that area most in need of improvement has been his performance when under pressure. As you’ll see below, Hurts’ QB rating drops from an impressive 119.1 from a clean pocket to just 31.3 when facing pressure. Additionally, his 25.6 percent completion rate on plays under fire is the third worst rate in the nation among Power-5 quarterbacks this season.
The Alabama offensive line has done a fairly good job of keeping Hurts clean this year, but this week will be their biggest test yet as they face a Texas A&M defense that is PFF’s third-highest-graded pass-rushing unit in the country. Defensive end Myles Garrett clearly grabs the headlines on this defense, and deservedly so. His 89.6 pass-rush grade is the best in the nation this season, while he ranks second in pass rushing productivity rating (15.5) and fourth in total pressures (32). The troubling prospect for Alabama is that even if they do somehow slow down Garrett this week, there are a host of other playmakers for the Aggies ready and waiting to fill the void. Daeshon Hall (79.7) bookends the line with Garrett and has been impressive in his own right, ranking 11th at his position with 25 total pressures this year while defensive tackles Kingsley Keke (78.3) and Zaycoven Henderson (79.5) have each provided consistent pressure up the middle. With the talent and depth A&M has up front and an aggressive defensive scheme that blitzes 48.6 percent of the time, Jalen Hurts should be seeing pressure on a frequent basis Saturday. If the Aggie defense can capitalize on that pressure and force Hurts into an untimely mistake or two, it could be the open door they need to steal momentum, and possibly the win.
- Dominant Aggie ground game
One of the most surprising aspects of A&M’s undefeated start is just how dominant their rushing attack has been this season. A weakness the past few years, the Aggie ground game has proven to be one of the most productive in the country and has been a key reason why they’ve been able to close out several of their wins this season. Other than a vastly improved offensive line, freshman running back Trayveon Williams (77.9) has been the biggest difference maker on the ground for the Aggies and is currently the 11th-highest graded back in the country. He’s averaged 5.06 yards after contact per attempt and ranks eighth nationally in elusive rating with 27 forced missed tackles on just 95 total touches. Williams has also provided the Aggies with the home-run threat they were lacking, leading the nations’ running backs with a 57.1 breakaway percentage and 11 runs of 15 yards or longer. Williams hasn’t done it alone though, as Trevor Knight has brought a new dimension to the A&M offense with his added running threat from the quarterback position, something that has been a thorn in the side of past Nick Saban defenses. On 43 designed QB runs this year, Knight has picked up 425 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, several of which have come in crucial moments late in the game.
Texas A&M’s ability to sustain drives with their running game and avoid quick three and outs will be integral to their success against Alabama. Additionally, positive gains on early downs will make for more manageable third-down situations, which will ideally help keep the Bama pass rush at bay. It must be noted that the Crimson Tide front seven will be the best they’ve faced this season, but the Aggie rushing attack has excelled against several stout defensive fronts already this year. If Williams, Knight and the rest of the A&M offense can continue that trend this week, it will go a long way towards helping them pull off the upset.