SEC morning links

October, 22, 2014
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1. On Tuesday, my colleague Greg Ostendorf wrote about how Auburn freshman Roc Thomas is primed for a big second half to the season. Watching Thomas from afar, I'd have to agree. While he's not as fast as Corey Grant or as powerful as Cameron Artis-Payne, he's probably Gus Malzahn's most explosive running back when it comes to consistently picking up large chunks of yards. But Ostendorf's piece got me thinking: Who are some other potential second-half stars in the SEC? Here are four that come to mind:
  • Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama: A big body at linebacker who is just now beginning to scratch the surface of his ability. He'll be an integral part of stopping the run against LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn.
  • Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: Too obvious? The longer Todd Gurley is sidelined, the faster the freshman back's star rises.
  • AJ Derby, TE, Arkansas: Bret Bielema told me this spring that the former QB had NFL talent as a tight end. We're starting to see more and more of that lately.
  • Brandon Holloway, RB, Mississippi State: A shifty running back with blinding speed that can catch the ball out of the backfield, Holloway is the perfect change of pace to the bruising style of Josh Robinson.

2. The Head Ball Coach took the Florida question in stride. Steve Spurrier says he's not leaving South Carolina for The Swamp to replace Will Muschamp. "No," Spurrier told reporters on Tuesday. "I tell everybody my next move is going to be to Crescent Beach, Fla." It was fun to imagine Spurrier roaming the Florida sideline again, but at 69 years old you knew it wasn't likely, if not altogether impossible. He's comfortable at South Carolina. Things might not be perfect there right now, but the work pales in comparison to what must be done at Florida. The Gators, should they choose to part ways with Muschamp, need a long-term solution, not a splashy stop-gap they'd have to replace sooner than later.

3. Texas A&M is going back to the drawing board. Even the QB position is up for grabs, said coordinator Jake Spavital. But that's not what caught my attention on Tuesday. What piqued my interest was coach Kevin Sumlin's comments about how Saturday's loss at Alabama was an "eye-opener." He said, "This program was founded on three things -- play hard, play smart, be physical." Texas A&M has done none of those things recently. It started with Mississippi State and Ole Miss, but it ended with Alabama breaking its will. There was no aggressiveness from the Aggies' sideline, no fire to show in the second half they're better than the score indicated. They gave up. They wanted to go home. And if you're a coach, that's the worst possible thing you can see. What we're seeing from A&M is that you can't survive in this league on talent alone. You have to have those three things Sumlin discussed, but you have to have them in more than name only.

Tweet of the day

Texas A&M’s 59-0 loss to Alabama on Saturday raised a lot of questions about the Aggies. The team was inferior to the Crimson Tide in all three phases of the game -- offense, defense and special teams -- and the loss brings into question the direction the Aggies are headed.

One of the many areas of concern is a theme that hasn’t drastically changed since last season: the struggles on defense.

Texas A&M’s 2013 defense was poor by any measure. This season began with some promise, but many of the reasons for optimism have gone by the wayside with recent performances. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, in discussing his team’s loss Saturday, noted the Aggies had to evaluate where they are in all three phases of the game and that changes could be in store.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yeldon
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonThe Texas A&M defense has been behind the curve far too often in the past four games.
Defensively, the question is whether the changes need to be in personnel, coaching staff or both. The reasons for the struggles have been varied, but let’s take a look at each season and where the defense is under coordinator Mark Snyder, who is in his third season at the defensive helm.

The 2012 season was by far the Aggies’ best under Snyder. Though depth wasn’t ideal, the combination of experience and leadership in key areas in Texas A&M’s first-team defense is something the group hasn’t had since. Players like linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart, safety Steven Terrell and defensive tackle Spencer Nealy (not to mention the pure pass-rushing production of defensive end Damontre Moore) are what the Aggies have been missing the last two seasons.

That season, the Aggies ranked in the top half or, in some cases, the top third nationally in several categories. They were 26th in scoring defense (21.8 points per game), 37th in yards per play (5.22), 31st in yards per rush (3.72), 43rd in yards per pass attempt (6.72) and 16th in third-down conversions (32.4 percent).

In other areas they weren’t as strong but still respectable, like yards per game (390.2, 57th nationally), rushing yards per game (139.5, 35th), red-zone efficiency (58.1 percent, 51st) and goal-to-go efficiency (71.4 percent, 46th).

The 2013 season, on the other hand, was easily the worst so far. With those aforementioned veterans moving on as graduated seniors (or in Moore’s case, early entry into the NFL draft), the Aggies plugged in a ton of youth and were a porous unit for virtually the entire season.

Last year’s defense ranked worse than 100th nationally in yards per game (475.8), yards per play (6.36), rushing yards per game (222.31), yards per carry (5.38) and red-zone efficiency (71.4 percent).

Their rankings in several other areas weren’t much better. Those included scoring defense (32.2 points per game, 95th), passing yards per game (253.46, 95th), yards per pass attempt (7.56, 91st), sacks (21, 84th) and third-down conversions (41 percent, 78th).

That brings us to 2014, where the Aggies have shown statistical improvement in every one of the above-mentioned statistical categories. A solid start in the first four weeks of the season against South Carolina and three non-Power 5 teams in nonconference play gave the illusion of marked improvement.

In addition, increased depth, particularly along the defensive line thanks to the 2014 recruiting class, has helped. A pass-rushing presence that was sorely missed last season has been found in a player like true freshman Myles Garrett, a four-star recruit who is closing in on Jadeveon Clowney's SEC freshman sack record.

Depth is still thin at linebacker, however, where the Aggies dismissed a starter this offseason (Darian Claiborne) and lost another to injury in the season opener (A.J. Hilliard). In the secondary, there’s a mix of veterans and youth, seemingly plenty of depth but much inconsistency in terms of performance.

While the start to this season was good, the past four games, which have all been against SEC opponents (Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama) have established an alarming trend. The Aggies’ defense is trending statistically worse in that four-game stretch.

In just the last four games, the Aggies have allowed 42.5 points per game, which ranks 119th nationally. Yardage numbers have been poor, too: yards per game (495.8, 110th), yards per play (6.96, 117th), rushing yards per game (255.75, 117th), yards per carry (5.78, 117th) and yards per pass attempt (8.89, 115th).

In key conversion areas, Texas A&M has also struggled. The Aggies' third-down conversion defense in the last four games (41.2 percent, 75th nationally) is about where it was a season ago. Similar traits apply for red-zone efficiency (68.2 percent, 103rd) and goal-to-go efficiency (76.5 percent, 72nd).

And while the numbers tell enough of a story, so do a layman’s eyes. It doesn’t take a genius to understand the Aggies are struggling defensively. Just look at Saturday’s game against Alabama and watch Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims evade about six Texas A&M defenders en route to a 43-yard touchdown run. Or Amari Cooper catch eight passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Or T.J. Yeldon run for 114 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. The Aggies allowed 602 total yards -- poor any way you slice it.

Senior linebacker Justin Bass put it plainly after Saturday’s game.

“You can’t play defense if you can’t tackle,” Bass said. “It’s as simple as that. ... If you don’t tackle, you aren’t going to win games.”

Life at the bottom of the standings

October, 21, 2014
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The Bottom 10 inspirational thought of the week:

I know how it feels when you have to start again

Now there's no one to save me

I know how it feels when the world is gonna end

But they'll see

I'm gonna make a comeback

I'm gonna dig six feet up tonight

I'm gonna get it all back

I'm gonna make a comeback this time

-- "Comeback," Redlight King, from "The Avengers"

The Bottom 10 is coming back. Big time. Sick of being ripped, clipped and emotionally stripped, the Bottom 10 bunch spent Week 8 -- gulp -- winning.

Idaho ... winner.

Appy State ... winner.

Kent State ... winner.

Vandy ... winner. Last week. Against a Football Championship Subdivision team. But still, a winner.

For the second straight week, our No. 1 team was victorious. For the second straight week, our most tenured No. 1 team, UMass, won. And for the third straight week, we here at Bottom 10 HQ, located behind a closet door blocked shut by David Pollack's free weights, were forced to take a long, hard look at the metrics used to determine who sits atop, er, abottom our rankings. Smelling the smoke coming from our collective earholes, Brad Edwards walked in, pointed at the "L" column in the standings and said, "That should work."

Oh yeah ...

With apologies to Steve Harvey, Bill James and LL Cool J, here's this week's Bottom 10.

1. SMU (0-6)


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Danny Kanell and Adam Rittenberg look back on Texas A&M and South Carolina from week 1. Did the first big game of the season point us in the wrong direction?
It wasn’t that long ago that Texas A&M departed Tuscaloosa, Alabama, feeling on top of the college football world.

The Aggies had an eventual Heisman Trophy winner, an up-and-coming coach and made a loud statement after upsetting the then-No. 1 Crimson Tide, 29-24, on Nov. 10, 2012.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsThe woes of quarterback Kenny Hill and Texas A&M are only growing after a blowout loss at Alabama.
That seminal moment in Texas A&M history was less than two years ago, but it might as well be 1939, because that’s about how long ago it feels after the Aggies returned home from the site of their past triumph, bruised and battered after taking a 59-0 whipping from Alabama this past Saturday.

Suddenly, after their worst defeat since a 77-0 loss to Oklahoma in 2003, the Aggies are at a crossroads in their third SEC season.

Serious questions must be asked. It’s one thing to lose to a top-10 team like Alabama. It’s quite another to be utterly destroyed.

“However you cut it, that performance was unacceptable and embarrassing,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said.

Never in his seven-year head coaching career had Sumlin led a team that got shut out, and how it’s addressed will say a lot about the coach. Last Saturday’s loss was Texas A&M’s third straight and they’ve come by an average margin of 30.3 points. This is uncharted territory for him. Never have Sumlin's teams been dominated like how the Aggies have recently.

“I think we need to evaluate where we are and whenever something like this happens, you can't stick your hand in the sand and say, 'Hey, we're going to keep doing the same stuff,'” Sumlin said. “We've got to make some changes. What those are, I couldn't tell you right now. But the bye week comes at a good time for us.”

Offensively, the Aggies are the worst they’ve been since they entered the SEC. After ranking in the top five nationally each of the past two seasons in scoring offense, yards per game, yards per play and QBR, the Aggies have fallen out of the top 10 in each of those categories. In third-down conversions, an area they were No. 1 in 2012, they’re now 48th. They’re struggling to run the football, ranking 80th in rushing yards per game after ranking 11th nationally in 2012 and 45th last season. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital’s unit doesn’t share any resemblance to the group that dominated South Carolina on Aug. 28.

Defensively, the Aggies couldn’t be worse than they were a year ago, when they were last in the SEC in most major statistical categories, including scoring, yards per game, yards per play, rushing yards per game and red zone efficiency.

After a better start to this season, Texas A&M is beginning to trend in the 2013 direction again. The Aggies are last in the SEC in rushing yards allowed per game, 13th in yards allowed per game, 12th in scoring and 12th in yards per play. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder is staring down a second consecutive season of poor defensive results.

On the field, quarterback Kenny Hill has struggled. So has the Texas A&M offensive line, once considered the strength of this program. The receivers, who looked spry and fierce early in the season, have wilted lately. The running game appears nonexistent.

Defensively, the Aggies have yielded an average of 255.7 rushing yards per game in their past four games. If extrapolated over the whole season, that would rank Texas A&M 121st nationally in the category. That means the job isn’t getting done in the front seven. The Aggies have had their inconsistencies in the secondary as well. Just check out what Alabama’s Amari Cooper did: eight catches, 140 yards, two touchdowns.

It wasn’t even two full months ago when a confident Sumlin sat before reporters in the moments after Texas A&M's 52-28 domination of then-No. 9 South Carolina, presumably sending a message about the future, post-Johnny Manziel.

“I think what we did tonight kind of showed that we’re not a one-trick pony,” Sumlin said that night. “We’re not going anywhere anytime soon.”

The jury may still be out on that one. Those words resonated that night and -- given the perception of what South Carolina, a program coming off three consecutive 11-win seasons, was supposed to be -- it gave initial validation to the words. The Gamecocks turned out to be fool’s gold and the Aggies, once ranked as high as No. 6 in the country but now out of the top 25, look that way, too.

The Aggies, who went 20-6 in their first two SEC seasons, reaped plenty of benefits from their early SEC success. It accelerated the fundraising for a $450 million redevelopment of Kyle Field. Millions were spent to renovate the football complex.

Sumlin received two raises and is getting paid $5 million per season, which is in the tax bracket of head coaches who have rings. The assistant coaches got raises, too. On social media the Aggies say they run this state (#WRTS). It’s hard to justify that claim when they have yet to beat a top-25 team in their home stadium since joining the SEC.

All those resources were spent with building a championship-caliber program in mind. Nobody said it was going to be easy, but this past Saturday’s events and what has transpired the past three weeks is cause for some soul searching.

SEC bowl projections: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
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The SEC’s ability to get two teams into the College Football Playoff field is what should and will generate the most headlines as we push toward the final month of the season.

Each highly ranked team that loses -- hello, Baylor, Notre Dame and Oklahoma -- makes it seem like more of a possibility, but we’re not yet ready to project that half of the playoff teams will come from the SEC.

We’ll stick with top-ranked Mississippi State as the SEC's playoff pick for now, but Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn and Georgia remain in the middle of the discussion as well. Those teams still have several key games ahead that will determine the top half of the SEC’s postseason pecking order.

Meanwhile, the bottom half of the pecking order should also become a source of late-season drama. After their losses on Saturday, we’re dropping Arkansas (3-4) and Florida (3-3) from this week’s bowl projections and adding Tennessee (3-4), although none of those teams is a sure bet at this point. Kentucky (5-2) gets to stay in, but the Wildcats are coming off a 41-3 loss at LSU and will face a challenging second half of the schedule where earning another victory (and achieving bowl eligibility) might be tough.

At any rate, there is assuredly plenty of movement ahead in these projections, but here is where we are entering the ninth week of the regular season:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl): Mississippi State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Ole Miss
Cotton Bowl: Alabama
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Georgia
Citrus Bowl: Auburn
TaxSlayer Bowl: LSU
Outback Bowl: Missouri
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Texas A&M
Belk Bowl: South Carolina
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Tennessee
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Kentucky

SEC reaches poll milestone

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
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The Southeastern Conference has reached a new milestone in The Associated Press college football poll, becoming the first league to place four teams in the top five -- all from the western division.

Mississippi State stayed No. 1 after a weekend off. The Atlantic Coast Conference's Florida State held its ground at No. 2 after beating then-No. 5 Notre Dame 31-27.

Ole Miss remains No. 3. Alabama jumped three spots to No. 4 after a 59-0 victory against Texas A&M. Auburn moved up a spot to No. 5 during a bye week, taking advantage of losses by previously unbeaten Notre Dame and Baylor.

The Irish dropped two spots to seventh. Baylor fell to No. 12 after losing 41-27 at West Virginia.

Thirty times since 2001 a conference has placed three teams in the top five of the AP Top 25. The SEC had done it 16 times since 2009.

The Seminoles (7-0, 4-0 ACC) control their own destiny, however, as no currently ranked teams remain on the schedule.

They are one of only three top-five teams that are still undefeated, and both No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 3 Ole Miss have at least two more games against ranked teams.


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SEC Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
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Well, that wasn't a very competitive weekend, was it? Not a single close game, highlighted by the weekend's marquee Alabama-Texas A&M matchup turning into a 59-0 rout for the Crimson Tide. Ole Miss shook off a slow start to run past Tennessee, Georgia kept rolling without Todd Gurley and Missouri put Will Muschamp on the hottest of hot seats. How did it all affect this week's Power Rankings? Let's find out.

Edward Aschoff, Jeff Barlis, David Ching, Sam Khan Jr., Chris Low, Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough contributed to these rankings.

Is the honeymoon over for Kevin Sumlin? 

October, 19, 2014
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The day after his Texas A&M team blistered South Carolina in Week 1, Kevin Sumlin was downright giddy. Each time he remembered an anecdote about the win and its aftermath, he grew more excited.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
AP Photo/Butch DillKevin Sumlin's season has been in a freefall since the win at South Carolina.
The victory left Sumlin hopeful about the near future -- and the extended forecast in College Station. There was a certainty in place. Sumlin told me he felt as if he had a program that was still climbing the SEC ladder, with or without Johnny Manziel.

Things have changed, and quickly.

Saturday evening, a dejected, subdued Sumlin fielded questions after a 59-0 loss at Alabama.

One line stuck out to me as if it were said in bold print:

“It’s hard to say where we are right now,” Sumlin told reporters after the game.

Here’s where: The Aggies are 5-3 after a 5-0 start. They have a week off and then host Louisiana-Monroe. But after that, the slate ahead is no picnic: at Auburn, and then home games against Missouri and LSU. A 6-6 finish isn't out of the realm of possibility.

The Aggies trailed Alabama 45-0 at halftime, outgained by 400 yards. A Sumlin-coached team had never been held to single digits, let alone shut out.

“There’s no excuse for that regardless of how young they are,” a coach texted me Saturday night.

The honeymoon is over, clearly.

Since beating Bama in Tuscaloosa in 2012 -- in what some thought might be a changing of the guard -- Texas A&M is 0-6 against ranked SEC West opponents. That’s where the Aggies are. But is it where they'll stay?

What we learned in the SEC: Week 8

October, 18, 2014
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It wasn’t as exciting a Saturday as we hoped for, in terms of competitiveness. Every SEC game was decided by double digits. Still, there is plenty to glean from Week 8. Here are the things we learned from the weekend’s action:

[+] EnlargeNick Chubb
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsNick Chubb helped keep Georgia rolling with 202 rushing yards on Saturday.
Georgia is a great team, with or without its biggest star: Even without running back Todd Gurley, this is your SEC East Division favorite. Some, including me, thought the Bulldogs could be stepping into a minefield in going on the road to face an Arkansas team that seemed to be knocking on the door of an SEC win. Well, No. 10 Georgia (6-1) is carrying the flag proudly for the SEC East after they cruised to a 45-32 win, a victory that included 38 first-half points. Running back Nick Chubb (30 carries, 202 yards, two touchdowns) was fantastic, quarterback Hutson Mason was sharp, and the defense came up with four turnovers. There’s no doubt this is one of the best one-loss teams in the country.

Alabama silenced its critics, for now: Nick Saban was a little irritated earlier this week by his fan base’s outsized expectations, which had many disappointed the Crimson Tide “only” beat Arkansas 14-13 (a week after Alabama lost to Ole Miss). Well, there’s nothing to criticize this week. Alabama played about as close to a perfect game as a team can. The Crimson Tide (6-1) had 602 offensive yards, converted 60 percent of their third downs, held Texas A&M to a meager 172 yards, had zero penalties and won the time of possession battle (36:31 to 23:29). Hard to be upset with 59-0. Although two undefeated teams are ahead of Bama in the standings, you never know what might happen. The No. 7 Crimson Tide’s playoff hopes are alive and well at the moment.

Texas A&M has serious soul-searching to do: It’s one thing to lose and quite another to be destroyed the way the Aggies were Saturday by the Crimson Tide. Kevin Sumlin used the words “embarrassing” and “unacceptable” in his postgame news conference, and those are pretty accurate. Alabama controlled the game in every phase while shutting out a Sumlin team for the first time in his seven-year coaching career. The Aggies (5-3) don’t have a game next week, and it’s a good time for them to reevaluate everything about their team, from top to bottom, to figure out why they’ve been dominated by three SEC West foes in the past three weeks.

Kentucky might be on the rise, but there’s still a long way to go: The Wildcats have been one of the surprise teams in the SEC this year, with their 5-1 start and talk of making a bowl game. The progress the program continues to make is admirable, and coach Mark Stoops should be commended for the job done so far, but after a 41-3 loss to LSU, it's clear there still is a lot of progress to be made. LSU handled its business and showed it’s in a different class than the Wildcats (5-2), at least this weekend. This should serve as a good learning experience for a young Kentucky team that still has a bright long-term future.

It’s not getting better in Gainesville anytime soon: There has been a lot of discussion about Will Muschamp’s job, and that isn’t going to die down after Florida’s performance against Missouri. The Gators were hammered 42-13 in their own backyard. What makes it even worse is the Tigers didn’t do it with offense -- Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk threw for only 20 yards and no touchdowns, and Missouri finished with a minuscule 119 offensive yards. The Tigers did their damage with a kickoff return and punt return for touchdowns (both courtesy of Marcus Murphy), as well as an interception return (Darvin Ruise) and fumble return (Markus Golden) for touchdowns. That’s ugly for Florida, who is 3-3 (2-3 in the SEC) with Georgia coming up in two weeks. It looks like it will only get worse before it gets better for the Gators.

Ole Miss’ offense doesn’t have to be great -- just good enough: The No. 3 Rebels (7-0) took some time to get started offensively, as they went scoreless in the first quarter against Tennessee and were down 3-0 in the second quarter. No worries when you “Landshark D.” The 27-yard Aaron Medley field goal was the only points the Vols would get, quarterback Bo Wallace started making some plays, and Ole Miss cruised to a 34-3 victory. The offensive numbers weren’t great (383 total yards for the Rebels), but more importantly, they committed zero turnovers and won time of possession. With the type of defense Ole Miss has (it held Tennessee to zero yards rushing and 3-of-16 on third-down conversion attempts), that’s a recipe for success.
The first two times Alabama and Texas A&M met as SEC members, they provided us with some entertaining games. Sadly, the same can’t be said for today as Alabama routed the Aggies 59-0 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. The game was over early on, but here is the gist of it all:

How the game was won: Alabama showed up, Texas A&M didn’t. That’s the bottom line. The Crimson Tide dominated in all three phases of the game, and it was over before halftime. They embarrassed the Aggies to the tune of 45-0 in the first two quarters. Alabama had 449 yards at halftime, Texas A&M had 51. The Crimson Tide were 7-of-9 on third downs in the first half, the Aggies were 0-for-6. I could go on, but you get the picture. The second half was academic.

Game ball goes to: Nick Saban. After a loss two weeks ago to Ole Miss and a not-so-pretty win over Arkansas that caused some heartache among the Crimson Tide faithful (and caused Saban to go postal to fans’ reactions to a one-point win), he had his team ready to go from the jump. Alabama pummeled the Aggies in every way possible and will likely silence the critics for the time being. Saban also became the first coach to shut out a Kevin Sumlin-coached team in his seven-year head-coaching career.

What it means: Alabama fans can calm down. The Crimson Tide only have one loss, and there are still many games left before season’s end. They still have everything left to play for. For the Aggies, this is the wake-up call of all wake-up calls. After three straight losses, and this one in embarrassing fashion, Texas A&M must re-evaluate everything heading into its off week. A season that once looked promising is now looking disastrous.

Playoff implication: The Crimson Tide’s playoff hopes are still alive. They only have one loss, and who knows what will happen with the two Mississippi teams with more than a month left in the season? A&M, on the other hand, was already out of it before Saturday.

What's next: Alabama gets a rivalry game as it travels to Knoxville to take on Tennessee next week. Texas A&M is off, and it’s clear the Aggies need all the time they can get to regroup.
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Blake Sims passed for 268 yards and three touchdowns, and he also scored on a 43-yard run while leading No. 7 Alabama to 35 second-quarter points and a 59-0 pummeling of No. 21 Texas A&M on Saturday.

The Crimson Tide (6-1, 3-1 SEC) shut down the nation's No. 4 offense and dominated a game that had produced two straight thrillers.

Led by Sims, T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper, Alabama outgained the Aggies 602-172. Texas A&M (5-3, 2-3) has lost its past three games, all to teams now ranked in the top 10.

Alabama set a school record for points in a quarter and matched the second-most scored in a half while racing to a 45-0 lead.

Yeldon had 114 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, all in the first half. Cooper gained 140 yards on eight catches with two touchdowns.


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Alabama-Texas A&M primer

October, 17, 2014
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Since Texas A&M joined the SEC, the Aggies and Alabama have had memorable battles. There was Johnny Manziel’s coming-out party in 2012 when the Aggies upset the Crimson Tide, Alabama traveled to College Station last year to get redemption, outlasting Texas A&M in a shootout. The third annual meeting between these SEC West foes takes place Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. This time, both teams could use some positive momentum in the form of a win. Alabama (5-1, 2-1 SEC) beat Arkansas 14-13 last week but has plenty of concerns stemming from the win and the Tide lost to Ole Miss the week prior. Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2), meanwhile, took beatings at the hands of Mississippi State and Ole Miss in back-to-back weeks. What should we expect Saturday? Alex Scarborough and Sam Khan Jr. break it down:

Alabama's key to victory: If Alabama's offensive line can't move the ball effectively then all bets are off. We've seen the past two weeks what Lane Kiffin's offense looks like when the running game can't get going, especially this past weekend when the Tide mustered just 66 yards rushing against Arkansas. But Texas A&M's defensive front is among the most porous in the SEC. If Alabama can reestablish the run then everything else falls into place: It takes the pressure off Blake Sims in the passing game and helps the defense by keeping Kenny Hill and Co. off the field.

Texas A&M’s key to victory: The Aggies need to get off to a quick start. They seem to be at their best when they get into an offensive rhythm early. Remember 2012? The Aggies jumped out to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter against Alabama. That’s probably asking too much this time around, but considering how much the offense has struggled the last two weeks, it behooves the Aggies to get points on the board early, otherwise it could facilitate a “here we go again” feeling and result in the Aggies trying to play catch-up, which they haven’t done a good job of in recent weeks.

Alabama’s X-factor: I'm still not sold on Alabama's secondary, especially in a game where the opponent can throw the ball effectively to four or five receivers on any down. The Tide just doesn't have enough quality depth at cornerback this year. That's why the play of Alabama's defensive line will be huge against Texas A&M. The Aggie o-line hasn't been great in recent weeks, so A'Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen and Co. have a chance to get after the quarterback. If they do that, it will be a boost to the secondary and potentially create a few turnovers that gets the defense off the field.

Texas A&M’s X-factor: There are several items to choose from here from offensive line play, which was not good last week, to secondary play or the defensive play as a whole. The bottom line is for the Aggies to have a chance, they need to be able to force some turnovers and make timely stops in crucial situations, like third downs or in the red zone. I don’t think anybody expects them to shut down Alabama’s running game or contain Amari Cooper, but if they can be good in those three areas defensively, they’ll have a fighting chance.

What a win will mean for Alabama: Well for starters it keeps the Crimson Tide’s playoff hopes alive. Considering some of the discussion that followed the “ugly” win at Arkansas, you might be fooled into thinking Alabama is out of it. On the contrary. There are still plenty of big games left, including showdowns with Mississippi State and of course, the Iron Bowl against Auburn. A win might get some folks to step back from the ledge after one loss and one not-so-pretty win a week ago.

What a win will mean for Texas A&M: It would generate some much-needed positive momentum. The Aggies don’t want to take a three-game losing streak into their off week so a win on Saturday would help restore some confidence, especially for the Aggies young players. It also could serve as a springboard for a solid finish to the season, which includes two off weeks, one nonconference opponent and three SEC foes (two at home).
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Almost two years ago, Texas A&M walked into Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium with boundless confidence and impetus to make a statement.

The Aggies possessed college football’s best player at the time and a 7-2 start to their debut SEC season but still lacked the signature win that would validate their first-season success in college football’s biggest, baddest league.

After 60 intense minutes, the statement was made. The Aggies beat then-No. 1 Alabama 29-24 and officially announced their SEC arrival in Tuscaloosa.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Dave MartinThe Aggies hope for a repeat performance of their 2012 matchup with Alabama, when Johnny Manziel & Co. beat the No. 1 team in the country.
“It just proved a point,” said senior receiver Malcome Kennedy, who caught the Aggies’ final touchdown that day. “It gave us so much confidence as a team and as a unit. We knew what we set out to do could be accomplished.”

Saturday, for the first time since that seminal victory, the Aggies return to the scene of the crime. Both teams are vastly different and neither enters with the type of momentum they’d like to have: the Aggies have lost two straight; Alabama squeaked out a 14-13 win at Arkansas after a loss to Ole Miss the week prior.

For Texas A&M, the game is pivotal for reasons much different than 2012. By starting 25-8 in their first two-and-a-half seasons as SEC members, the Aggies no longer need validation. They’ve produced a Heisman Trophy winner and proved they can hold their own in the league, though they’re still trying to move up the ladder to prove they can win at the highest level of this league, or more specifically, the SEC West.

The Aggies (5-2, 2-2 SEC) need this win to help a young team regain full confidence, as two convincing losses to Mississippi State and Ole Miss has provided a wake-up call to this group in the post-Johnny Manziel era.

"I think this is very big and important,” sophomore linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni said. “These last couple weeks have been disappointing for us and the fans. We're trying to get back on track and prove to people that we're a really good team and these last couple weeks don't define who we are.”

Kennedy, considered the vocal leader of the Aggies’ offense, missed each of the losses with a separated shoulder but is expected back Saturday. Prior to Monday’s practice, the veteran could sense some uncertainty among his teammates and decided to speak up to the team to help restore any shaken confidence.

“Just trying to stay positive,” Kennedy said. “I just told them there will be a lot of outside voices trying to tell you how things go, but nobody knows how this team works best but us. We have to fix the problems we have, look at each other, look at ourselves and figure out what we have to do.”

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin isn’t concerned about his team losing confidence based on its recent performances.

"Coming into this thing, nobody said this was going to be easy,” Sumlin said. “This is a difficult league and there's no doubt, that based on the last two weeks against the type of opponents that we're playing, that we've got to coach better and we've got to play better. That's our expectation within the building, to win games. Confidence is something you don't gather overnight and I don't think you lose it overnight. It's something you build and that's who you are. I don't see that waning.”

The team has a handful of veterans that saw significant time and have positive memories of 2012. Kennedy caught the Aggies’ final touchdown, senior cornerback Deshazor Everett intercepted A.J. McCarron near the goal line to deny Alabama’s final scoring chance. Senior safety Howard Matthews, junior cornerback De'Vante Harris and junior defensive end Julien Obioha are also among those who were a part of that program-changing night.

Offensively, tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, guard Jarvis Harrison and running back Trey Williams join Kennedy as players with experience in T-Town.

It’s likely impossible for a victory this time around to have the kind of impact the 2012 one did. That one changed the national perception of Texas A&M's program, was a catalyst in Manziel’s Heisman Trophy campaign and the Aggies reaped the benefits in recruiting as well. A win would be critical to this season though, to keep the Aggies from going on a three-game losing streak, restoring confidence in young players like sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill and perhaps serving as a springboard for a strong finish. The Aggies have an open date coming up followed by a nonconference game and three SEC contests in the final month.

Kennedy feels the veterans will draw on the images from their last time there. If they can recapture some of the magic from that blissful November night, it would be big for the current Aggies.

"Going to Alabama, having those positive memories from two years ago, I think the guys will walk into a more welcoming environment,” Kennedy said. “I know there will be a lot of Aggies there. It'll be noisy, loud. I think that's when we play best, when it's loud and noisy.”

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