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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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Texas A&M pitcher Chris Cortez (10) reacts during Texas A&M’s game against Oregon at the NCAA Bryan-College Station Super Regional at Olsen Field on Saturday, June 8, 2024. (CJ Smith/The Battalion)
One step away
June 8, 2024

Going after Goliath

Photo by Photo by Cassie Stricker

Senior defensive lineman Zaycoven Henderson and sophomore Tyrel Dodson celebrate after a crucial play during the game against Arkansas at AT&T Stadium on September 23, 2017.

From their electric receiving corps to their Heisman candidate quarterback to their gruesome offensive line, there’s no secret the Alabama Crimson Tide offense is a well-oiled machine. The Texas A&M defense was on their game in last Saturday’s win against South Carolina but will need to up their performance even more as they host the Crimson Tide on Saturday night.
The Aggie run defense was incredibly porous against Arkansas two weeks ago, allowing the Razorbacks to run 226 yards. However, the Aggies plugged the holes in last week’s game, holding South Carolina to just 26 rushing yards.
The key to the Aggies success against the South Carolina run game was duo linebackers Otaro Alaka and Tyrel Dodson who combined for 14 total tackles. The duo was so strong that they eliminated the run as an option for the Gamecocks in the fourth quarter and made them throw the ball which proved fruitless.
The run defense will need to be repeat that kind of performance in order to keep up with Alabama’s running back corps that has three running backs with over 200 yards. The Crimson Tide present a lethal one-two punch with freshman running back Najee Harris, known for his speed, and powerful junior running back Bo Scarbrough who is challenging to bring down.
Aggie junior defensive lineman Jarrett Johnson said in order to contend against a multidimensional team like Alabama, the run game has to be established early and momentum has to be on the Aggie side right out of the gates.
“It’s important to make sure that they don’t start the game off fast, so to stop them from starting off fast, we need to start off fast,” Johnson said. “He who strikes first wins, and that’s the philosophy that we’ll have to implement in this game.”
The Alabama offensive line has done a phenomenal job of getting past their opponents’ defensive line and getting blocks on linebackers, opening enormous holes for their running backs. Johnson recognizes that they’ve got to match Alabama’s physicality on Saturday.
“We’ve got to bring pressure, fill gaps and shed blocks,” Johnson said. “We have to control the line of scrimmage and you can’t let those guys push you back and open up seams. We can’t let their offensive line climb up to the second level.”
After losing Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall, questions surrounded the inexperienced Aggie pass rush, but the unit has found immense success and currently ranks second in the nation in total sacks (20) and fourth in the nation in sacks per game (4.0).
The Aggies game against Arkansas seemed to be a real turning point for the unit as they erupted for six sacks. The Aggies followed it up a week later with seven sacks against South Carolina.
Junior defensive end Landis Durham came to Texas A&M as a linebacker but has found success with his hand in the dirt this season, leading the team with 5.5 sacks. Two of those sacks came in his strong performance last Saturday against the Gamecocks, leading to Durham’s recognition as the SEC Defensive Player of the Week.
Highlighted by Durham, the pass rush will have their work cut out for them trying to get to Alabama’s dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts who is mobile in the pocket. Hurts was dominant in his freshman season and has turned it up a notch this season especially in his ground game, running the ball 55 times for an average of 8.4 yards per carry.
“[Hurts’] gotten better and he continues to get better. They’ve advanced in their (Run-pass Option) packages but, they’re moving the ball down the field and they’re also taking some more shots down the field,” A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said.
In order to have a chance in this game, the Aggie pass rush needs to get to Hurts and find a way to force Alabama’s offense into turning the ball over, something they have yet to do this season.
Durham said he is confident the Aggies will be the team to force that first turnover of the year.
“That will be huge [to get that first turnover], we’ll be looking forward to changing that for them,” Durham said.
The Texas A&M secondary has been an area of weakness this season, as they continually have blown coverages that lead to easy touchdowns for the opposing team. This weakness has allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for an average of 291.6 yards per game against the Aggies.
The secondary will need to step their game up and keep a keen eye on a loaded receiving corps highlighted by Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley, who A&M Head Coach Kevin Sumlin recognized as a scoring threat every time he touches the ball.
“He’s an explosive player, he is fast,” Sumlin said. “He’s bigger than you think he is, he’s very quick and he’s become a really good route runner which has become a little bit scary. He can make the big play but he can also be a run after catch guy.”
In order for the Aggies to remain competitive against Alabama, the secondary needs to be rock-solid and can’t afford to have the miscommunication mishaps that have plagued them throughout the season thus far. Senior defensive back Armani Watts needs to continue his vocal leadership in order to ensure the secondary corps is on the same page.
Despite the enormous game that lies ahead, the Aggie football team is treating it as just another game, emphasizing the importance of going (1-0), which Sumlin has preached all year.

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