TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The body language on the visiting sideline told the story.
Players and coaches were demonstrating the look of a lost cause, their hands on their hips while repeatedly glancing up at the clock as it continued to tick down. Only this wasn’t at the end of the University of Alabama’s 33-14 victory over Texas A&M, but early in the fourth quarter Saturday.
It’s a look the Crimson Tide have seen many times and know well. It’s why so many fans didn’t leave Bryant-Denny Stadium early because they wanted to relish this victory a little. Texas A&M came in eager to show it was ready to be a College Football Playoff contender, only to be reminded why Alabama has won four national championships under Nick Saban.
The convincing outcome begs the question: Can anyone beat Alabama this season?
Right now, it looks like the answer is a definitive no.
Michigan has played only one ranked team. Clemson hasn’t been the dominant team of a year ago and needed a missed field goal at the gun to win last week. Washington’s resume includes a subpar, overtime win at Arizona, which is 2-5 and winless in the Pac-12.
In contrast, this was the third time this season that Alabama supposedly faced its biggest challenger in the Southeastern Conference—Ole Miss and Tennessee being the others—and so far it has denied them all. The Rebels, of course, had won two straight in the series, and the Volunteers were ranked ninth before getting drummed by the Tide 49-10 last week.
Alabama was also facing its third straight ranked opponent, which is the kind of scheduling gauntlet most good teams—even many championship-level ones—fail to get through. Consequently, with Texas A&M coming off a bye, the Aggies thought they might be hitting the Crimson Tide at the right time.
Instead, the Aggies ended up tipping their hat to their hosts, conceding just how good the opposition had been.
“They’re a great team,” Texas A&M safety Justin Evans said. “They’re the No. 1 team in the country.”
In addition to Evans, offensive lineman Avery Gennesy and linebacker Claude George also used the word “great” to describe the Crimson Tide. Senior quarterback Trevor Knight was right behind them.
“Give them all the credit in the world,” Knight said. “We had, I would say, probably five or six minutes in which we didn’t play really good football, and they took advantage of it. When you’re the No. 1 team in the country, that’s what you do.”
Even though Texas A&M came in with a 6-0 record, it had a deficit in every major category, including rushing yards (287-114), total yards (451-278), third-down conversions (7-of-14, 5-of-16) and time of possession (35:50-24:10).
Defensive end Jonathan Allen’s scoop-and-score touchdown and freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts’ jaw-dropping 37-yard end-zone run sucked the life out of the Aggies sideline.
Texas A&M had managed to come back and take a brief lead after giving up 303 total yards in the first half, only to see Alabama counter with the equivalent of a sledgehammer.
“I’m not taking anything away from Alabama,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “They created their situations. They finished it off. They do that to a lot of people.”
That’s because no one can match Alabama’s pass rush, speed or overall talent level. The list of teams that could possibly beat the Crimson Tide is short.
Alabama came into this week leading the nation in rushing defense. Texas A&M freshman running back Trayveon Williams finished with 23 yards on nine carries.
Mobile quarterbacks haven’t been able to do much, either. Knight’s 27-yard carry helped set up the Aggies‘ first touchdown right before halftime, but he finished with 24 yards on 13 attempts after getting sacked five times.
“Those are guys who are going to play on Sundays,” Knight said about Alabama’s pass-rushers, and he meant all of them.
All this following a week of being under the national microscope as the No. 1 vs. No. 6 matchup attracted numerous national news outlets and even ESPN’s College GameDay to Tuscaloosa. Broadcasting from the area known as the Walk of Champions in front of the stadium, analyst after analyst basically said the same thing: Alabama is a complete team that can win a number of different ways.
“I don’t have any question marks for Alabama. I don’t think anybody does,” ESPN’s self-described tape junkie David Pollack said. “There’s no glaring weakness you go, ‘All right, they’re not very good there.’ It’s like standing next to an All-American, next to an All-American…”
It wasn’t all good news for Alabama, however, as it lost one of those All-Americans. Saban announced after the game that senior safety Eddie Jackson was done for the season after suffering a fractured leg.
“We’re certainly going to miss him,” the coach said.
Jackson’s season will end with 24 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, two passes broken up and an interception return for a touchdown. He averaged 23.0 yards per punt return and scored twice more. Earlier this season when asked to describe Jackson in one word, Allen said, “playmaker.”
Perhaps that will be the crack that opponents next try to exploit, although A&M could not during the final minutes. Alabama has also already faced all of the top passers that it’ll see during the regular season.
The Crimson Tide will have their bye week to figure out how to proceed. They inserted Hootie Jones in Jackson’s place and added Tony Brown to the dime package, but preseason concerns about the secondary depth are becoming reality. Freshmen Deionte Thompson and Shyheim Carter will move up behind them.
Alabama will then face the two teams that often prove to be the most difficult obstacles of any season: LSU and Auburn.
The Crimson Tide visit Death Valley in two weeks and close at home against Auburn, which racked up 543 rushing yards in manhandling No. 17 Arkansas on Saturday. While both teams are much improved after early-season struggles, there’s nothing to indicate Alabama will have the same kind of slip-up that befell Ohio State on Saturday night.
Alabama’s biggest rival matches up better than any other opponent the Tide have faced and might be the only thing between Alabama and a third straight appearance in the playoff.
“That’s a good football team,” Sumlin said.
Actually, Sumlin‘s team classifies as good. Alabama’s great.
Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter: @WritingWalsh.
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