How do you beat Alabama?

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
9:37
AM ET

John David Mercer/US PresswireJohnny Manziel is looking for a repeat of this scenario from last season.
Since the start of the 2008 season, Alabama is 62-7. But if you dive into the numbers, those seven losses tell a lot about what it takes to slay the mighty dragon that the Crimson Tide have become.

In its 2012 upset of Alabama, Texas A&M succeeded in five areas that are important for any team hoping to beat Nick Saban’s squad.

Clutch QB Play
It may seem like a no-brainer that the quarterback needs to play well for his team to win a big game, but it's even more important against Alabama. In the past 69 games, the Tide lead the FBS with 83 rushing yards allowed per game. In other words, running backs rarely produce against Alabama, and that puts even more pressure on the QB to make plays.

It just so happens that Alabama also has the best pass defense in the FBS during this span. There have been only six Alabama games since 2008 in which the opponent had a Total QBR above 60 (on a scale of 0 to 100), but the Tide lost five of them.

Johnny Manziel had a QBR of 82.4 last season in Tuscaloosa.

Stop the Run
Since the start of the 2008 season, the Crimson Tide are 50-0 when rushing for 150 yards or more. All seven teams that beat the Tide held them to less than 140 yards rushing, and six of the seven also held them to less than 4 yards per carry.

Last season, A&M held Alabama to 122 rushing yards and 3.94 yards per rush.

Explosive Plays
You can't expect to sustain long drives against the Alabama defense, so you need to find a way to get big chunks of yardage at a time. Since 2008, Bama opponents have scored a TD on 39 percent of drives that had a play gain 20 yards or more. Opponent drives without a 20-yard play have resulted in a TD just 4 percent of the time.

Texas A&M had five drives with an explosive play against Alabama last season and came away with a TD on four of them (80 percent).

Force turnovers
Alabama has turned the ball over the fewest times of any FBS team in the past five-plus seasons (73 in 69 games) and has a 39-0 record when winning the turnover battle. The Tide are also 25-0 during this span when not giving the ball away.

Obviously, that means every team to beat Alabama since 2008 has forced at least one turnover. Five of them forced two or more.

In 2012, Texas A&M forced three Alabama turnovers and gave away none.

Score, score, score
No matter how you do it, you must find a way to score several times to beat Alabama. As Virginia Tech found two weeks ago, you can hold the offense in check and still allow 35 points because of the strength of the Tide’s defense and special teams. Bama has scored 21 points or more in 46 of its past 47 games.

The magic number for opponent success seems to be 24. Since 2008, Alabama has allowed 24 points or more in a game nine times and has lost six of them. The only loss in which the Tide didn’t allow many points was the 9-6 overtime defeat to LSU in 2011.

Texas A&M scored 20 in the first quarter against Alabama last season and won 29-24.

Although A&M succeeded in all five areas in 2012, Bama opponents that come through in even two of these categories are usually able to keep the game close. In fact, in the past five years, teams managing to record a Total QBR of at least 50 (which is average) and also hold the Tide to less than 150 rushing yards in the same game have a 5-0 record.
• Analyzes college football and the CFB Playoff as part of ESPN's Stats & Information Group
• Analyst for both College GameDay on ESPN Radio and the ESPN College Football app

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