When quarterback Jalen Hurts connected with freshman receiver Henry Ruggs III for an 8-yard touchdown four minutes into the second half Saturday night, Alabama had a 24-3 lead at Texas A&M, and another Crimson Tide runaway was in the works.
Except that it wasn't.
Alabama suffered its first turnover of the season, had a punt blocked through the back of its end zone and lost containment of Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond before clinging to a 27-19 triumph. It marked the Tide's closest call against a Southeastern Conference foe since their 48-43 outlasting of Ole Miss in Oxford in September 2016.
"It was a tough game in a tough atmosphere, and we knew coming in that this was probably the best team we've played and that they would play us tough in the front seven, which they did," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Saturday night in a news conference. "I guess my biggest disappointment is that we were ahead 24-3 in this game and we didn't finish it. That's not how good teams play.facebook
"There are a lot of things to learn from this. You've got to give A&M's team a lot of credit. This is a different A&M team. They learned something after losing to UCLA."
Saban addressed the media for less than eight minutes, saving a rant for near the end and directing it to the reporters. Alabama's mild escape came on the heels of SEC blowouts of Vanderbilt, 59-0, and Ole Miss, 66-3, which had represented the Tide's most dominant start in league play.
"I'm trying to get our players to listen to me instead of listening to you guys," Saban said. "All that stuff you write about how good we are and all that stuff they hear on ESPN, it's like poison. It's like taking poison. Like rat poison.
"We're not going to beat everybody 66-3."
While Alabama improved to 6-0 and maintained its top ranking Sunday in both major polls, Texas A&M dropped to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in SEC play in Kevin Sumlin's sixth year in College Station. Sumlin and Auburn's Gus Malzahn are the only active SEC coaches to triumph over Saban's Tide, with Sumlin having won in 2012 and Malzahn in 2013.
Saturday marked Texas A&M's fifth consecutive loss to Alabama, whether it was close or not.
"There are no moral victories in this league," Sumlin said in his news conference. "When you play that hard and when you play that long, nobody is happy."
Alabama entered Saturday having averaged more than 315 rushing yards and nearly 510 total yards a game, but the Tide tallied 355 total yards, including 232 on the ground, against the Aggies. The Tide rushed 44 times for a healthy 5.3-yard average, but the early Damien Harris 75-yard touchdown run and a dazzling 38-yard scramble by Hurts accounted for almost half of Alabama's rushing total.
Remove those two plays, and Alabama rushed 42 times for 119 yards (2.8).
"They play eight-man fronts all the time and make it hard for you to run the ball," Saban said. "They tried to take Jalen away by bringing somebody at him all the time. We had opportunities to make plays in the passing game, and we didn't do it."
Alabama's first turnover since the first half of last November's win over Auburn occurred midway through the third quarter, when senior receiver Robert Foster fumbled after a short catch. The Aggies took over at the Tide 36 and scored eight plays later, pulling within 24-10 on a 2-yard pass from Mond to Christian Kirk on fourth-and-goal.
The Tide had run 638 plays and gone 37 quarters since their last such miscue.
Next in line
Alabama will return to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night to host Arkansas. The game will be televised by ESPN at 7:15 EDT.
The Razorbacks are coming off a 48-22 loss at South Carolina, with senior quarterback Austin Allen missing the fourth quarter with a right shoulder injury. Cole Kelley, a 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman, replaced Allen.
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said afterward that it was too early to tell whether Allen could practice this week or play against the Tide.
In his injury report after the game, Saban said receiver Calvin Ridley suffered a thigh bruise and Tony Brown a sprained knee against the Aggies. ... Alabama extended its winning streak against unranked teams to 70 games. ... Junior defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs racked up 10 tackles, with his previous college career best having been four against Colorado State last month. ... Hurts has thrown 191 passes without being intercepted. ... Alabama has outscored foes by a combined count of 83-9 in the first quarter this season.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.