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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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A&M’s upset bid falls short in 26-20 loss to No. 11 Alabama

Senior+DB+Demani+Richardson+%2826%29+and+Alabama+WR+Jermaine+Burton+%283%29+talk+after+a+play+during+Texas+A%26amp%3BMs+football+game+against+Alabama+at+Kyle+Field+on+Saturday%2C+Oct.+7%2C+2023.+%28Chris+Swann%2FThe+Battalion%29
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Senior DB Demani Richardson (26) and Alabama WR Jermaine Burton (3) talk after a play during Texas A&M’s football game against Alabama at Kyle Field on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Chris Swann/The Battalion)

It was a tale of two halves for Texas A&M football against No. 11 Alabama on Saturday, Oct. 7.
The Aggies started off strong on both sides of the ball in the first half to claim a 17-10 halftime lead, but didn’t roll with the Crimson Tide’s punches in the final two quarters as Alabama escaped College Station with a 26-20 win and first place in the SEC West.
A&M outgained Alabama in yardage 203-148 at halftime while establishing its will upon the Crimson Tide’s porous offensive line with four sacks. While the Aggies seemingly entered the second half with the most momentum, the Crimson Tide controlled the game for the final 30 minutes.
“I guess you could say [Alabama] wanted it more,” graduate wide receiver Ainias Smith said. “When they were down at halftime, they never backed down. They kept fighting. I felt like we kept fighting all the way towards the end. Our defense was doing tremendous, and we’ve just got to capitalize more on offense.”
Alabama responded with 196 yards in the second half, compared to just 103 by the Maroon and White. A&M’s lockdown run defense maintained pressure on the pocket, limiting the Crimson Tide to a mere 23 yards on the ground. Sophomore quarterback Jalen Milroe was held to -31 rushing yards thanks to six total sacks from the Aggies’ defensive line.
But, the dual-threat signal-caller hurt A&M in other ways. Milroe showed the damage he can do with his arm, tallying 321 yards and three touchdowns through the air. Most often, senior wide receiver Jermaine Burton was on the other end of the aerial attack, catching nine passes for 197 yards and two scores.
“They got the ball out quicker,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “They changed their passing game, they started quick passing and getting it out a lot quicker … We still got some pressure on [Milroe], but he was doing a good job of getting in a rhythm and they changed up what they were doing a little bit.”
Burton used his large frame to gain the upper hand on contested throws and didn’t make it easy for A&M defenders to bring him down. Graduate defensive back Josh DeBerry began the game in coverage of Burton, but was later relieved by sophomore defensive back Deuce Harmon.
What truly held the Aggies back in the second half was their lack of offensive firepower. The home team picked up just two first downs in the third quarter while possessing the ball for four fewer minutes than the Crimson Tide. A&M had just one pass play of 15 yards or more in the second half after having five such plays in the first half.
Sophomore quarterback Max Johnson put forth a solid effort with 239 passing yards in completing 14 of 25 passes, but faced consistent pressure in the trenches from Alabama. Johnson was sacked five times, four of which came in the second half, while finishing with -3 rushing yards.
The Crimson Tide further flexed their defensive muscles by holding A&M to 67 yards in the run game for an average of 1.9 yards per carry. An ineffective rushing performance coupled with a quarterback forced to scramble often isn’t a recipe for success, particularly against coach Nick Saban and Alabama.
“They play the run very well,” Fisher said. “I wanted to run it better, you’ve always got to have balance … We knew it was going to be hard sledding running the ball, but we wanted to keep running it to keep them honest and keep it balanced.”
A&M had its fair share of opportunities between two Alabama turnovers and an unmatched home field advantage. Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. matchup captivated the A&M campus as 108,101 fans filled into Kyle Field. As the third-largest in program history, that crowd made its presence felt from start to finish, leading to nine false starts by the Crimson Tide.
“The crowd was definitely rocking the whole game,” Smith said. “Even when we got down to the end, they were still believing in us. I was telling the guys on the sideline, ‘keep your head up and keep faith.’ The crowd played a tremendous part in the defense’s success.”
The Crimson Tide were held to a three-and-out on their first drive before the Aggies responded with a 22-yard field goal off the leg of junior kicker Randy Bond. A 31-yard pass between Johnson and sophomore wide receiver Evan Stewart moved A&M downfield as it didn’t shy away from the deep ball.
The same could be said for Alabama, as Milroe found Burton on a 45-yard strike down the right sideline to set up graduate kicker Will Reichard’s 39-yard field goal.
The Crimson Tide took advantage of a missed coverage in the Aggies’ secondary to kick off the second quarter, as sophomore wide receiver Isaiah Bond broke free down the middle of the field and reeled in a 52-yard touchdown toss from Milroe.
At 10-3, A&M didn’t remain down for long, as a 46-yard punt return by graduate wide receiver set the stage for Johnson to find his brother, sophomore tight end Jake, wide open in the left side of the end zone. With 10 minutes before halftime, the Johnsons’ 22-yard connection knotted the score at 10.
The Aggies kept their foot on the gas, launching an 11-play, 53-yard touchdown drive that chewed up five minutes and 38 seconds of game clock. Sophomore running back Le’Veon Moss rounded out the possession with a 1-yard bulldoze into the end zone, putting A&M up at the break.
However, it wasn’t the same A&M squad in the final two quarters as the Aggies’ offense lost the spark it played with in the first half. The defense had its moments, but not enough to overcome lackluster play on the other side of the ball.
Sophomore defensive back Bryce Anderson picked up the game’s first takeaway with an interception of Milroe to extinguish Alabama’s hot start to the half. The Beaumont native cut off the pass and returned it 15 yards, but the momentum shift didn’t last long.
The Aggies gave it right back to the Crimson Tide when Johnson’s pass was underthrown, allowing freshman defensive back Caleb Downs to dive for the pick. Alabama capitalized on the short field at the A&M 39, as Burton held onto a 15-yard touchdown pass from Burton to tie the game at 17.
Following a conservative A&M punt on 4th-and-1 at the Alabama 45, Milroe and Burton stayed in sync before the third quarter came to a close. Milroe found Burton down the middle of the field before he shook off a tackler and trudged into the end zone for a go-ahead score.
“We’ve got to be better playing the deep ball and being prepared as a defense, getting those stops that we need to get,” Anderson said. “It was all on us, it was nothing that [Alabama] did.”
One of Burton’s few miscues swung the game back in the Aggies’ favor at the start of the fourth quarter. The receiver made an 11-yard catch before senior defensive back Demani Richardson forced the ball loose at the Alabama 29, where Anderson recovered the fumble.
It looked as if A&M would be forced to settle for a field goal, but the Crimson Tide had other plans. Senior linebacker Chris Braswell came around the edge to block Bond’s kick and recovered it at the Alabama 37-yard line.
The Aggies’ defense kept the Crimson Tide at bay in the possession, but Alabama came away with points nonetheless when Max Johnson was called for intentional grounding in the end zone. The safety put Alabama up two possessions at 26-17 with six minutes to go and upped the sense of urgency for A&M.
The Aggies responded with a 20-yard field goal from Bond to get within a touchdown, albeit with time dwindling as 2:11 remained. Alabama faced 3rd-and-7 with two minutes remaining to raise fans’ hopes for a comeback, but Milroe sank them as he connected with senior running back Jase McClellan on the run for a first down and eventual victory.
Now 2-1 in conference play, A&M looks to right the ship next week when it takes on Tennessee on the road. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m.

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