Life on the edge is exhausting.
Alabama’s pursuit of that adrenaline high found a new extreme Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Boiling a 60-minute game down to a 3-second, winner-take-all defensive stop at the 2-yard line was a new twist in a white-knuckle 2022 season.
This started with needing the Crimson Tide’s first game-winning field goal since 2005 at Texas to the mood swings at Arkansas.
With Bryce Young sidelined Saturday, Alabama tested its intestinal lining with the 24-20 thrill ride win over the Aggies. Four turnovers and two missed field goals were the perfect recipe to allow a 24-point underdog a shot to steal one on the road.
Anyway, per tradition, my notes from the Sunday DVR rewatch of the previous night’s game.
— It was increasingly clear as the week progressed that Bryce Young was unlikely to play. Watching him go through warmups without throwing a single pass confirmed it. This was to be Jalen Milroe’s night and it certainly would run the full spectrum of Saturday night emotions.
— The first quarter was an absolute rock fight. A few first downs here and there but nothing sustained by either team as the Aggies gained 68 yards to Alabama’s 63.
— It was interesting to hear the CBS broadcast reference the lack of QB hurries Alabama recorded last week at Arkansas and how coaches used that as a motivator entering Saturday. It’s a fairly ambiguous stat that’s very much a judgment call for whoever is on the stat crew. Well, let’s say that number wasn’t three Saturday, it was a multiple of three that made a real difference at the end.
— You definitely saw more read-option looks with Milroe in the game with one to open the offensive night and again on the third snap when Jahmyr Gibbs went 25 yards up the middle. Alabama had 11 rushing plays of 10-plus yards with a long of 37 by Gibbs.
— The sack-adjusted run-pass ratio included 73% rushing plays for Alabama. The 111 Tide passing yards were the fewest since the 2017 opener when it had 96. The opponent that day? Jimbo Fisher’s Florida State Seminoles in a game Alabama won, 24-7.
— Milroe was sacked four times — twice on fumbles — but any negative plays early in a series felt like drive killers. The fact Alabama was 5-for-14 on third downs needing an average of 8.4 yards a conversion wasn’t great math with the rhythm of the game. A second-down sack doomed Alabama’s first drive while a two-yard loss from Jase McClellan on the second possession took the Tide off schedule.
— Back to the pass rush, Will Anderson made his presence felt on the second drive. His stat line was interesting with two tackles and no sacks but the number 8 was under the QB rush column. It’s not an official stat that appears on the NCAA site, but an eight-hurry night is the definition of affecting the quarterback without a sack.
— Alabama’s pass rush was predictably dominant on third downs. All three recorded sacks came in that moment as A&M was 5-of-17 on third downs. (Alabama has the No. 2 third-down defense in the nation).
— The Tide dusted off the three-outside LB formation a few times with Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell teaming up with Anderson on third downs. At least once, Alabama had a single down lineman, Jamil Burroughs, with his hand in the dirt as Anderson and Braswell flanked his left side while Turner came off the right edge for the sack. Turner had two and Braswell one. “I’m super proud of Dallas and Braswell,” Anderson said. “Them stepping up big time like this, creating pressure, creating havoc on the quarterback, that’s something they did an excellent job at.”
— There was a first-quarter snap when Anderson chased Haynes King from the pocket before 348-pound defensive lineman Jaheim Oatis escorted him to the sideline. Flashes like that show why coaches are so high on the long-term potential of this athletic and large freshman who worked into the regular rotation already.
— Texas A&M threw it 47 times compared to 19 for Alabama. The Tide had 288 rushing yards compared to 70 for A&M. Just playing different games.
— The time of possession was as close to even as I can remember seeing. A&M had it 30:04 to Alabama’s 29:56.
— Both punters did a fine job with A&M’s Nik Constantinou averaging 41.6 yards on seven attempts. Most importantly, he didn’t give Kool-Aid McKinstry any room for a return. He attempted just one and was thrown for a two-yard loss after being one of the nation’s most dangerous return men in recent weeks. Alabama’s James Burnip had four punts for an average of 41.8 yards with two downed inside the 20.
— Things really got spicy in the second quarter after a scoreless opening 15 minutes. Milroe’s 33-yard scramble put Alabama in the red zone as the hot and cold roller coaster began. A third-and-eight touchdown pass to Cameron Latu made it 7-0 as the pace cranked up. Alabama converted just five third downs but two went for touchdowns on Milroe passes.
— The three fumbles — two from Milroe — were the less-ideal moments from his first start. A&M took advantage of Milroe and McClellan failing to protect the ball in traffic to punch the three fumbles free.
— The Aggies scored 17 of its 20 points on possessions that followed the fumbles and they went for shot plays on the first snap of each possession after recovering a giveaway.
- 13-yard pass to the Alabama 17. Drive ends in TD.
- 43-yard pass to the Alabama 6. Drive ends in TD.
- 36-yard pass to the Alabama 36. Drive ends in FG
— There was a point when this started to get the slow-motion car wreck feel. Alabama felt like it was in control but the scoreboard didn’t reflect it as the hosts never got ahead by more than 10. The missed opportunities, careless turnovers and two surprising missed field goals left the door open for Texas A&M straight up to the final. snap.
— Milroe held onto the ball too long on the first strip-sack — nearly four seconds on my stopwatch — as the blindside hit came as he tried to step up in the pocket.
— A&M got the matchup they wanted on its first touchdown of the game as receiver Moose Muhammad found the soft spot in the zone with middle linebacker Deontae Lawson the nearest defender to make it 7-7. That play, however, planted a seed for Saban that would grow fruit on the final snap.
— Perhaps Milroe’s best throw of the night followed Gibbs’ longest run of the night, a 37-yarder. Giving a read-option look, Milroe kept it and found Jermaine Burton across the middle on a slant for a 35-yard touchdown. The Georgia transfer found a soft spot in the A&M defense and Milroe didn’t move off his first read to nail the receiver in stride.
— There was a sense Alabama could be in a position to go on a run from there, especially after Turner’s third down sack on the next drive forced a three-and-out. King had no running back and a five-man blitz that gave the passer no shot.
— The Tide was back to midfield when the fumble/Aggie TD cycle began again. While Saban will certainly coach the ball-security drills this week but that’s kind of the price that comes with having a slippery runner at quarterback. He can make big plays when nobody’s open downfield but plays like that are a side effect.
— The tight-end throw back for Texas A&M’s second TD was a perfectly designed play that Alabama defensive lineman Byron Young nearly broke up. The press box was right in front of the play and our angle was perfect to see what Young saw and he came closer to swatting it from the sky than the broadcast gave credit.
— The late-half interception of Terrion Arnold got lost in the shuffle but was important. He was in coverage for the big play to set up the previous touchdown but after Milroe’s arm-punt INT, but he put the Tide in position to score before halftime. Braswell’s big blindside hit on King was the catalyst for the takeaway.
— The 50-yard field goal from Reichard with 12 seconds on the clock didn’t come without preceding drama. Receiver Jermaine Burton was hit with one of those unsportsmanlike conduct flags that drives Saban nuts. His shot to the facemask of the Aggie defender pushed Reichard out of range before Milroe’s 8-yard scramble made it possible again. The 50-yard kick was two shy of tying his career long as he confidently drilled it through the south end zone uprights.
— The Gibbs long run/Milroe touchdown pass combination struck again right after halftime. Just like with the second quick scoring drive, Gibbs ran 28 yards into Aggie territory before Milroe found Ja’Corey Brooks three plays later on third-and-seven to make it 24-14. Let Gibbs make a cut and see any slice of daylight and it’s an instant first down or more.
— The 29-yard touchdown to Brooks came out of a bunch formation where Brooks streaked across the formation right to left. Tight end Cameron Latu’s crossing route created just enough traffic to spring Brooks on the other side. Running back Jase McClellan delivered the only downfield block he needed to find the painted grass. Up 24-14, the momentum was back…but we know the mood swings were again on the horizon.
— An Aggie 3-and-out on the following drive and Alabama marching back inside the Aggie 40 was about as comfortable as the Bryant-Denny Stadium crowd would get.
— The McClellan fumble at the Aggie 38 paired with the missed field goals from 47 and 35 yards reminded me of a certain game of missed opportunities from the past. It honestly was taking on characteristics of the infamous 2013 Iron Bowl that ended in the Kick 6. Alabama had countless chances to make a single play that would’ve put Auburn away but a half dozen forks in the road went the wrong way.
— Texas A&M missed a golden opportunity for an easy touchdown on a busted coverage following McClellan’s fumble. Muhammad was wide open down the middle midway through the third quarter but the pass was off line. He had to jump and couldn’t land it for a 36-yard play that should have been seven. The Aggies settled for a field goal so the misfires went both ways.
— For as hot and cold as the Alabama offense was, it had only one true three-and-out (third drive of the game). The fumbles and interception led to a few short drives but when a punter only gets four attempts on a 24-point night, a fair amount of shenanigans joined the equation.
— The missed 47-yard field goal was complicated by the preceding snap. Starting at the 17 on third down, a 12-yard sack of Milroe changed the math from a 35-yard try to the higher end of the spectrum.
— Oddly enough, 35 yards was the exact distance of the kick Reichard missed in the fourth quarter.
— Texas A&M’s fourth-down play call early in the fourth quarter wasn’t smart. Rolling King directly into Anderson’s blitz path seems ill-advised.
— Later, the Bryant-Denny Stadium noise led to two false start flags when the Aggies were lined up on fourth-and-8 from the Alabama 17 and fourth-and-13 from the 17. Fisher couldn’t risk a fourth- and-18 so they kicked the 46-yard field goal with 3:32 left that ultimately provided the final score.
— Saban later credited the crowd for the role it played in those false-start flags.
— The 12-man flag on Texas A&M with 12:10 left on a fourth-and-four punt was both perfectly ironic and brutally painful for the Aggies. As unforced of an error as they come.
— If you want a full analysis of the final three seconds, I had you covered hours ago. Here it is.
— Thank you for getting to the end. You’re a trooper. I need some sleep. This Tennessee week is gonna get wild.
Michael Casagrande is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande or on Facebook.