COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Texas A&M gets a do-over in taking on the nation’s No. 1 team.
The 24th-ranked Aggies (3-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) struck out against then-No. 1 Clemson a month ago and now host top-ranked Alabama (5-0, 2-0) on Saturday. So they well understand the challenges presented by that scenario, even if Texas A&M struggled offensively in a 24-10 loss at Clemson on Sept. 7.
“You’ve been in that environment once, now you get to do it at home,” Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Hopefully you’ll learn from those situations and learn that those No. 1 teams are No. 1 for one reason. They play very well. At the end of the day, they play well, and that’s what you have to do. We have to go and play well. You can’t get caught up in what we’re trying to do and the emotion in the game.”
Both teams are coming off open dates, giving them an extra week to heal up and prepare. Texas A&M is one of five schools to face the No. 1 team twice in a season since the poll began in 1936, having also done it in 1970.
Even as 16 ½-point underdogs, the Aggies are trying to become the first team to challenge the Tide this season. Nobody else has come closer than 24 points or even slowed down quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the Tide offense.
“All in all, this is a really good team from top to bottom,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said of Texas A&M.
The Aggies’ challenge is to contain an Alabama offense that is averaging 51.8 points per game, or try to keep up with the Tide offensively. In his first true road game of the season, Tagovailoa passed for 444 yards and five touchdowns against South Carolina .
“You’ve got to create big plays,” Fisher said. “You’ve got to score points because they’re going to get points. I mean, they’re going to get points.”
Texas A&M does go against a freshman-laden Tide defense . Quarterback Kellen Mond could find some room to run considering Mississippi freshman quarterback John Rhys Plumlee ran for 109 yards against Alabama two weeks ago.
Tagovailoa has been on a huge roll lately. He has thrown for 16 touchdowns in the last three games, including a school-record six against Mississippi before the open date. He hasn’t thrown an interception in 148 attempts and is coming off a 418-yard, six-touchdown passing performance against Mississippi . He also ran for a seventh score.
Turnovers have been a big difference with these two teams. Alabama leads the SEC with a plus-8 turnover margin while Texas A&M and South Carolina are tied for last at minus-2.
Alabama center Chris Owens is “very questionable” for what Saban described as “a little knee problem.” If he can’t play, Landon Dickerson can move over from right guard as he did against New Mexico State.
If Texas A&M has a clear edge, it’s probably with the kickers and punters. The Aggies’ Seth Small has made 8 of 10 field goal attempts this season and has three 50-plus yarders in his career. Punter Braden Mann has a career average of 50.2 yards and has been even better against SEC and ranked teams. Alabama freshman placekicker Will Reichard has also handled punting duties at times in place of a struggling Skyler DeLong. Reichard has only made 4 of 7 field goals, though, and is trying to return from a hip injury.
“I feel like our special teams is just as good as (theirs),” Fisher said.
SABAN VS ASSISTANTS
Fisher is trying to become the first former Saban assistant to beat their ex-boss as a head coach, even if he, Georgia’s Kirby Smart and South Carolina’s Will Muschamp and others get tired of hearing about it. They are collectively 0-17 against Saban and most of them haven’t been close, with an average margin of 41.6-14.2.
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