The round-robin tournament at the top of the SEC between Alabama, Texas A&M and Tennessee will conclude this week with the Aggies heading to Tuscaloosa to take on the Tide in the SEC on CBS game of the week.
Both teams' most recent win is over the Vols -- Texas A&M is coming off of a bye week. While Texas A&M was preparing for the Tide after its overtime win against Tennessee two weeks ago, Alabama was dominating the Vols in Knoxville by a 49-10 final.
This Saturday, the Aggies and Tide meet in a top-10 showdown that could very well decide the SEC West title race.
Date: Saturday, Oct. 22
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Texas A&M: Can the Aggies keep from turning over the football? You can do everything else right against Alabama, but if you turn it over against the Tide they will turn that into points. Alabama has 11 non-offensive touchdowns this year, eight of which have come from the defense on interception or fumble returns. In the Tide's biggest games against Tennessee, Ole Miss and Arkansas, they have five defensive touchdowns.
Trevor Knight is the rare quarterback with great memories of facing an Alabama defense after his Sugar Bowl performance three years ago with Oklahoma against the Tide. If he can avoid giving the ball away, the Aggies have the talent on both sides of the ball to challenge Alabama. If not, it could get ugly in a hurry in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama: The emergence of freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts as a dangerous dual-threat weapon for Lane Kiffin has been impressive to watch. Hurts commands the Alabama offense and gives them all kinds of opportunities to throw in new wrinkles and evolve in ways the Tide have not had in the past. Hurts has a fantastic arm and can hurt you through the air -- he threw for nearly 300 yards against Arkansas -- but his tremendous speed and ball-carrying ability have made the Alabama offense terrifying.
Kiffin has happily tossed in read option looks for Hurts while also adding in some run-pass options -- the same thing that used to kill the Tide when opponents ran it -- to great success. Against Texas A&M, those plays are going to be important to keep one of the best defensive lines in all of college football on their toes. Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall are as good as it gets rushing the passer, but when Hurts runs the ball it can neutralize even the best pass rushers -- ask Derek Barnett. Look for a lot of designed runs for Hurts to keep Garrett and Hall at bay, and if Texas A&M can't fill and stop those runs it will be a long day for the Aggies defense.
Players to watch
Justin Evans, DB, Texas A&M: Garrett and Hall are the key cogs for the pass rush, but Evans is the Aggies' leading tackler, filling and attacking from his safety spot in the run game and short passing game. Alabama will take the occasional deep shot in search of the big play, but the Tide's bread and butter is throwing the ball underneath and running the football.
When you add in Hurts' ability to run, that's a lot of stress and pressure placed on second- and third-level defenders to make tackles in space. Evans is as good as the Aggies have at that, so if the Aggies are going to slow the Tide's offense down his name will have to be called a lot.
Eddie Jackson, S/PR, Alabama: There are some return men that you just don't challenge, and Jackson is rapidly entering that category. He put an exclamation point on the win over Tennessee by opening the fourth quarter with a return touchdown. Jackson averages 25 yards per punt return and his impact on field position, even if he doesn't score a touchdown, could be huge in this game. Oh, he's also a pretty good defensive back with 21 tackles, two pass breakups and an interception (that he returned for a touchdown).
Matchup to watch
Texas A&M offensive line vs. Alabama defensive line: The Aggies held up reasonably well against the Vols' defensive front in pass protection and were great at creating holes for the running game. Alabama's defensive line is a different animal altogether. The Tide have pass rush specialists like Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson that come off the edge with blazing speed, interior push from Da'Ron Payne -- and then there's Jonathan Allen, who can work inside or outside and cause serious problems.
The Aggies have been much improved this season up front, getting good push in the running game and keeping Trevor Knight relatively clean in the pocket. No one expects them to dominate the Tide up front, but the Aggies need to win some battles in the running game and stay out of obvious passing situations in third-and-long when the Tide put in the pass rush specialists and let them tee off.