Why Alabama football hasn't tested Texas A&M with its running attack in the Jimbo Fisher era

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

Alabama quarterbacks have enjoyed success against Texas A&M in the Jimbo Fisher era. In the last two meetings with the Aggies, Tua Tagovailoa completed 75.4% of his passes (39-51) for 680 yards, averaging 13.3 yards per attempt, with eight touchdowns to one interception.

One factor in the success: an abundance of opportunity.

Alabama’s transition to the modern age of offense has come with fewer runs and more passes, but its recent games against Texas A&M stand out even in that trend. Alabama ran on 45.8% of its snaps against Texas A&M in 2018 and 47.6% in 2019; the run percentage in 2018 was the second-lowest of the season, fourth-lowest in 2019. Having lost two wide receivers and a quarterback to the first round of the NFL Draft, UA would make an intriguing move if it stuck to that trend in Saturday’s game against the Aggies.

“They’re talented and they make a lot of plays,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “It’s going to be a real challenge for us to minimize those negative plays and I think we need to be able to run the football against these guys. I think you always do if you’re going to have the kind of balance you need to be successful on offense.”

It is true that UA has had a chance to inflate its running numbers in other games by calling mostly runs late in blowouts, in an effort to run out the clock. While UA has not fully dominated the Aggies in the Fisher era, winning games by 19 and 28 points, UA has still run out the clock on the Aggies, increasing run numbers higher than they would be otherwise.

Alabama running back Najee Harris (22) breaks through the Texas A&M line during the second half of Alabama's 47-28 victory at Kyle Field Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019 in College Station, Texas. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

In the 2018 game, Alabama ran six times while up by 23 points in the final eight minutes of the game. In 2019, UA ran three times while up 19 with fewer than nine minutes to go and six times in the final four minutes.

The lack of running against the Aggies could be as simple as avoiding the strength of the defense. The 2018 Aggie defense was 8th in the nation in yards per carry allowed. Its 2019 defense regressed to 57th, but limited explosive runs well, ranking fourth in the SEC in runs of 20 yards or more allowed.

Texas A&M seems off to a strong start in that regard, stopping eight of Vanderbilt’s 36 runs (22%) for a loss in its season opener. The result helped Texas A&M hold Vanderbilt to 2.76 yards per carry, and could present another run defense that Alabama would rather avoid.

SEC Week 2:Texas A&M at Alabama highlights SEC Week 2 matchups

“The whole Texas A&M (defensive line), defense in general, has a really good defense,” UA running back Najee Harris said. “They really do a good job of stopping the run. Their safeties play a huge part in the run game, too.”

The Aggies are certain to be talented at run-stopping positions this year and in years to come. Texas A&M’s 2020 recruiting class including a top 50 prospect at defensive end (Donnell Harris) and top 100 prospects at defensive tackle (McKinnley Jackson) and linebacker (Antonio Doyle); 2019 signee DeMarvin Leal has already produced 7 1/2 tackles for a loss in the first 13 games of his career.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson