COLLEGE STATION, Texas | Sometimes, on the road in the Southeastern Conference, it doesn’t come easy. It’s not 50-0 every week, much less 59-0 or 66-3 or any of the astronomical scores Alabama had made a two-week habit of recording.
Even with all the talk of how the SEC has morphed into a Mountain West Conference clone, the fact remains there are nights when you have to go on the road, play in front of 100,000 fans against an opponent that’s ready for its shot at history — and survive.
That was what happened for Alabama on Saturday night, a classic win-and-move-on 27-19 victory against Texas A&M that landed somewhere in the middle ground between best performance and worst-case scenario.
Except for a long Damien Harris run that reversed momentum immediately following an Aggie field goal, the offense seemed to sputter for much of the first half. There wasn’t a collapse, and the only turnover didn’t come until the third quarter. But it was not crisp.
Fortunately for Alabama, Texas A&M consistently plays like a car that rolled off the assembly line before the last few bolts were tightened, wobbling at unexpected times in unpredictable directions. Too many men on the field scuttled one Aggie drive. (Alabama later returned that favor.) Fumbles by the Aggies at random intervals resulted in either turnovers or terrible field position. The Aggies’ offensive sequence at the end of the half was messy clock management and gave Alabama an opening, although UA didn’t take advantage of it.
A freshman quarterback had some role in that shakiness, although it is hard to lay it all on Kellen Mond. Facing a freshman QB seems to happen every time Alabama has faced the Aggies under Kevin Sumlin. The same thing happened in the Manziel years, too; he just made enough amazing individual plays to balance out the rough spots.
Mond made one of those plays for the first Aggie touchdown, a whirling dervish escape act that resulted in a fourth-down touchdown for Christian Kirk on a juggling catch that ended up in-bounds in the opinion of the replay booth, if not of those watching at home in Alabama. He made another one in the closing seconds. But one or two plays weren’t quite enough to defeat Alabama. Whether the 60-minute scrap will carry over enough to keep Texas A&M from its regularly scheduled post-Alabama collapse is another question — and not Alabama’s concern.
What Alabama has to do is return for a prolonged homestand — three games and an off-week — to polish things up. Nick Saban will have plenty of material. A blocked punt alone probably supplies him with enough nuclear energy to light Singapore for an entire year. Throw in the fourth-down conversions and the penalties and building a new sun isn’t out of the question.
For all that fuel, though, and for all the disappointment felt by the portion of the fan base that cannot stand a minute’s discomfort, this was not a loss. It was a win, one that the toughest man in the stadium on Saturday night, former Alabama and Aggie head coach Gene Stallings, would have embraced with open arms at one time. There was that era, after all, when every SEC game was hard-fought, or so it seemed.
The last two weeks had to have been fun for Alabama fans. The next two weeks might be the same. But the reminder Alabama isn’t going to be perfect every single time out against talented opponents came at an appropriate time, even though it’s doomed to go utterly unappreciated.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.