COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The hype entering Saturday’s game between top-ranked Alabama and No. 15 Texas A&M revolves around the Crimson Tide’s dominant defense and the Aggies’ prolific offense.
But that only tells part of the story. It overshadows Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron and Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore.
McCarron is a Heisman Trophy candidate who hasn’t thrown an interception. Moore is second in the nation in tackles for losses and tied for second in sacks.
Alabama’s offense and Texas A&M’s defense might both be a bit underrated, but both teams know these units can’t be overlooked.
“All the way across the board, there are no weaknesses in this offense,” Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. “Each week, when you go into a game, you see a weakness here or there that you may be able to attack. They’re good across the board ... they’re a complete offense.”
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, long known for his high-powered offenses, has been impressed by McCarron’s development. The junior has thrown for 1,849 yards and 19 touchdowns this season — none bigger than the screen pass he threw to T.J. Yeldon for the touchdown that gave Alabama a 21-17 victory over LSU last weekend.
“For every quarterback, there’s that moment where you grow up,” Sumlin said. “For AJ McCarron, the way he performed coming down the field to win was one of those moments. As an offense, they continue to grow. They’ve got weapons all over the field.”
But it wasn’t only McCarron who got a boost from that big drive.
“That was just more motivation for us as an offensive unit,” Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker said. “Now we see that we can play at a high level at any point in the time in the game. That was the main thing. And I believe that win brought us a whole lot closer together.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban knows facing the Texas A&M defense will be a challenge.
“Their defense is really good — they are very aggressive, they do a lot of different things, they run a lot of pressures,” he said. “They are very, very aggressive in terms of loading the box and they are going to stop the run at just about all costs ... they have good players and have been pretty successful doing the things that they do.”
Along with the talented skill players, the Crimson Tide has an offensive line filled with players who look to be headed for an NFL career. Texas A&M defensive linemen said this week that Snyder normally puts a star by a couple of top players on a team each week. This week every lineman had that star.
Alabama left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio is aware of the play-making ability of Moore, who has blossomed into A&M’s top player this season after shedding some off the field trouble early in his career.
“I’ve heard he’s a good player,” Kouandjio said. “I’ve heard he’s a high energy, high motor player. I can’t wait to play against him.”
Most people figured that Texas A&M’s offense would be able to hold its own in the move from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference this season, but some doubted that the defense could find success in the league. The Aggies don’t mind that the offense gets the lion’s share of the publicity. In fact, senior defensive lineman Spencer Nealy thinks the offense should probably get even more credit than it does for its success.
The Aggies have fared better against the run than the pass this year and are sixth in the SEC in run defense.
“We could care less what they think about us because that’s what drives us,” Nealy said about A&M’s defense. “We’re not the defense that you look at in the SEC and you’re like: ‘I want those guys.’ We’re a bunch of scrappy guys and we’re going to go out there and play (hard). We like being underrated. Hopefully, Alabama looks at us like that and we can hit them in the mouth and prove them wrong.”