Following Alabama’s 27-19 win on the road at Texas A&M, Nick Saban remarked that he was growing concerned with all the good press and praise being hurled in his players’ direction. “All that stuff you write about how good we are…it’s like poison”, he reminded reporters on Saturday night. “So I’m asking [my players] ‘are you going to listen to me, or are you going to listen to these guys?’”.
If Saban is to get his way, and the Alabama-adulation is dialled-down this week, it will simply be a product of the impossibly-high standards the Crimson Tide set themselves through the first five weeks. As Saban also announced last night, “we’re not going to beat everybody 66 to 3”. For almost any other team in the nation, an 8 point victory in College Station – one of the toughest environments in the game — would be lauded. The Aggies, who are in some ways unlucky not be 5-1, played with a level of intensity on the defensive side of the ball that surpassed anything the Tide have faced this year. However, as will always be the case with a team seeking perfection, this Alabama performance will be poured over and scrutinized; mistakes, of course, will be magnified and weaknesses amplified. But if we wish to be categorical, the most we can say is that the Crimson Tide are indeed human.
Too Close for Comfort in the 4th
In what was a pedestrian night for Jalen Hurts and the Alabama offense, the Tide’s defence was required to step-up in a way they haven’t been since the team’s week one encounter with Florida State. Kellen Mond’s third quarter touchdown pass set the game up for an exciting conclusion, inducing a sense of nervousness that had become almost alien to the Alabama faithful. This was followed by a blocked punt from inside the Alabama end-zone, which resulted in a safety, and there was a feeling that the momentum might be shifting in the Aggies favour. Good clock-management and heavy defensive pressure kept A&M at bay, but there were nonetheless a number of tense moments in that fourth quarter.
Problems in the passing game – Hurts threw for just 137 yards – and a relative lack of explosiveness in the rushing attack meant that Alabama showed some vulnerability last night (it was also the first time in 37 quarters that the Tide coughed up the ball). A&M wasn’t the team to capitalize, but the Aggies have given hope to the rest of the SEC, and not just Auburn. Still the best team in the country? Yes. Invincible? No. Saban now has work to do and his team should be energized, particularly with Georgia on the march – and on that point, we need to talk about the Bulldogs.
Georgia is Making a Case for the Playoff
It’s impossible not to feel some semblance of sympathy for Vanderbilt. Not only have the Commodores’ last two home games involved comprehensive destructions at the hands of the two best teams in the SEC, but on both occasions Vanderbilt Stadium was overran with opposition supporters. Plenty of salt fit for brutal wounds.
Georgia’s visit to Vanderbilt yesterday tracked the blueprint laid out by Alabama two weeks ago. The Bulldogs ran the ball aggressively (racking-up more than 400 yards rushing), and placed a high price on limiting the Commodores passing game. While not quite as successful as the Tide, who restricted Vanderbilt to just 37 yards in the air, Georgia barely gave quarterback, Kyle Shurmur, room to breath. The Bulldogs 45-14 win over Vanderbilt marks the team’s second straight destruction of an SEC opponent on the road – and both came after a comprehensive win over Mississippi State at home in Week Four, and a close one on the road at Notre Dame in their second outing of the year. All in all, the Bulldogs are the proud owners of one of the most impressive résumés in the country.
With all this in mind, Georgia has put itself firmly in the playoff conversation. There is, of course, a long way to go, and it remains to be seen whether the SEC could be represented by two teams in the playoffs. But if Georgia’s resurgence under Kirby Smart has done anything, it has stymied talk of a decline in the SEC. The question of whether Georgia can get past Florida to take the SEC East crown now looks to be largely academic. The Gators performance against LSU will only galvanize a Bulldogs outfit that ought to be scared of nobody.
The SEC title should still be Alabama’s to lose, but the key takeaway from the first six weeks is that the Tide now have company. Auburn still awaits Nick Saban’s club, and Georgia will have to be bested in, you guessed it, Georgia, if Bama is to reach the playoffs unscathed. Fortunately for the Tide, the type of poison Saban referred to should now evaporate. In College Station, Alabama received precisely the kind of medicine it needed. The team isn’t invincible, and they’ll need to keep that in mind if they’re to get past the Bulldogs on 2 December at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.