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The Battalion

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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Graduate G Tyrece Radford (23) drives to the basket during Texas A&Ms game against Nebraska in the first round of the 2024 NCAA Tournament at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee, on Friday, March 22, 2024. (Kyle Heise/The Battalion)
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Despite offensive inconsistency, Alabama defense remains strong entering A&M matchup

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Photo by Photo by Kyle Heise

Sophomore QB Max Johnson (14) throws during the Southwest Classic against Arkansas on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Kyle Heise/The Battalion)

For all the talk of No. 11 Alabama football having a “down” year through five games, one thing has remained consistent from elite Crimson Tide teams of the past: tough, hard-nosed defense.
Set aside the talk of an inconsistent offense and struggles at the quarterback position. This season’s Alabama team may not have the high-scoring, big-play offense of years past, but it has more than made up for it on the defensive side of the ball.
After allowing only 18.2 points per game in 2022, the Crimson Tide has held opponents to just 14.2 points per game this season, a figure that ties for 17th in the country and ties for second in the SEC behind No. 1 Georgia. In conference play, Alabama has held No. 16 Ole Miss and Mississippi State to a collective 27 points after both teams entered averaging over 30 points a game.
On the other hand, the Texas A&M offense has seen a considerable boost in its production this year, averaging 38.6 points after tallying just 21.8 and 23.4 points through five games in 2022 and 2021, respectively. Just as the Crimson Tide are reaping the rewards of bringing in defensive coordinator Kevin Steele in the offseason, the Aggies’ hire of offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino is paying off.
Petrino breathed life into an offense that was in need of a change in playcalling, as evidenced by the past two seasons. The former Arkansas coach’s “feed the studs” philosophy of putting the ball in the hands of the team’s top playmakers is on display with a talented cast of wide receivers, led by sophomore Evan Stewart.
The Frisco native leads A&M with 24 receptions and four touchdowns this season, split between sophomore quarterbacks Conner Weigman and Max Johnson. Since the announcement of Weigman’s season-ending foot injury last week, Johnson hasn’t missed a beat taking the reins of the Aggies’ offense.
Johnson averages 11.8 yards per completion with six touchdowns while demonstrating an effective ability to sense defensive pressure and scramble out of the pocket. With prior experience as a starter at LSU and with A&M last season, the case could be made for Johnson as one of the top second-string quarterbacks in the nation.
“That’s the goal, to be ready when your jersey number is called,” sophomore offensive lineman Dametrious Crownover said. “To be ready to step on the field and not miss a beat.”
After passing for 210 yards and rushing for 57 more against Arkansas last week, Johnson and his offensive line will face a greater challenge against an Alabama pass rush that specializes in making opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket.
Junior linebacker Dallas Turner leads the SEC with 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles while ranking fifth in the nation with 1.1 sacks per game. Turner takes over a linebacking corps with big shoes to fill following the departure of SEC Defensive Player of the Year Will Anderson Jr. and Henry To’oTo’o.
He’s complemented by senior linebacker Chris Braswell, who adds 3.5 sacks with 5.5 tackles for loss for second on the team in both categories. He returned his first interception of the season 28 yards for a touchdown in the Crimson Tide’s 40-17 win over Mississippi State last week.
Alabama’s strong pass rush will put the spotlight on an A&M offensive line that has shown much improvement this season in giving the quarterback time to make plays, whether it be with his arm or his legs. After allowing 25 sacks last year, the unit has allowed just seven through five games.
That improvement is especially critical given the loss of star running back Devon Achane to the NFL. As the Aggies continue to break in a trio of running backs, it’s vital that the offensive line creates opportunities for the rushers to make plays.
“Just the growth in each other, the trust in each other that we’ve grown since last year,” Crownover said. “I think we are definitely more of a solid unit, and that was one of the big things that we worked on coming in over the summer. Just holding each other accountable to our work on the field and outside the field.”
Freshman defensive back Caleb Downs anchors an Alabama secondary allowing 184.2 passing yards per game and five touchdowns through the air this season. Downs’ 40 tackles are good for fifth in the SEC. Redshirt sophomore defensive back Terrion Arnold and junior defensive back Kool-Aid McKinstry — yes, you read that right — have five and four pass breakups, respectively.
Steele took over the Alabama defense after just one season at Miami in which opponents averaged 26.8 points per game against the Hurricanes in a 5-7 campaign. Miami took on A&M at Kyle Field in Week 3 of the season, falling 17-9 in Johnson’s first start as an Aggie.
With two strong defenses going head-to-head at Kyle Field on Saturday, Oct. 7, points will likely come at a premium. If that’s the case, the team that blinks first and allows big plays may be the one that comes out on the losing end of a crucial SEC matchup.

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