TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Will Anderson kept coming, kept bursting through the Texas A&M backfield, kept pounding quarterback Haynes King. The Alabama linebacker was credited with a whopping eight quarterback hurries, by far the highest single-game total of his All-American career. “He was taking a few hits,” Anderson said with a laugh.
Yet King kept getting up—albeit more and more slowly. He kept bouncing, he kept standing against the most feared pass rusher in college football, knowing the body shots were coming. That was the entirety of Saturday night’s final do-or-die drive—Anderson pounces, King slings, the Aggies edge closer and closer to the end zone—until we come down to one last snap in a stadium dripping with unexpected tension .
The Aggies were just two yards away from stealing it from No. 1 Alabama, a chance to win a game they had never led. They needed one throw, one catch, and they would walk out of Bryant-Denny Stadium with a second straight stunning upset of the Crimson Tide.
They didn’t get it.
A botched final play released on social media by armchair quarterbacks — including the most famous of all A&M quarterbacks, Johnny Manziel — was more the product of bad execution than bad calling. Receiver Evan Stewart, who had a great game (eight catches for 106 yards), lacked depth on what coach Jimbo Fisher called the “pillar route.” King then threw the pass back down the field. The result was a wide punt, near the goal line, that was defended by Terrion Arnold – a redemptive moment after a pass interference flag gave the Aggies the ball at the 2-yard line. It ended with an incompletion and a 24-20 Alabama blowout.
King “fought his tail off,” Fisher said. But, in retrospect, the quarterback who started the season as a starter, then got benched, then returned to the lineup after an injury to Max Johnson probably doesn’t have the exact same accuracy for that throw. Being asked to put it in a small window on the short side of the court was a low-percentage play. Fisher said King made “a perfect read” on the play given Alabama’s coverage, opting to run off the long side of the field.
“We just didn’t execute it in what we needed to do,” the coach said. “But the decision was exactly where we were taking it.”
It was a painful loss in a painful season for the Aggies (3–3), but it may have been their best performance yet. It didn’t look like the team that lost at home to Appalachian State or was beaten by Mississippi State. A season that saw Texas A&M start inside the top five may well dissolve into another 8–4 campaign, but the Aggies at least showed some fight and determination.
For Alabama, it was the completion of a swinging Texas Two-Step, beating the Texas Longhorns by one point in September and the Aggies by four on Saturday night. It was enough to keep the Tide undefeated (6-0), but also a thunderous reminder of how much they need Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young back next week when they visit undefeated Tennessee.
“Everybody can play better,” coach Nick Saban said. “Everyone has to play better”
Alabama committed four turnovers — the most in a game since 2015, an eerily similar contest against Mississippi that ended in a loss instead of a close escape. Backup quarterback Jalen Milroe, who made some nice running plays, only passed for 111 yards, committed three of four fumbles and got a bad sack that led to one of the game’s two missed field goals. It was a miserable effort in Alabama.
It was also pretty awkward that Young was trying to get into the game himself. Before the game, Saban said Young wanted to play and wanted to play late. He went under the stands at one point to throw some warm-up throws, but Saban stuck with Milroy. It was a calculated gamble to try to get through this game without Young, saving him for the Volunteers. He paid for it by the smallest margin.
The Tide continued to give Texas A&M opportunities to steal a win, and King held on for a loss to lead his team into position. The opportunity was gone in an instant, a play that everyone hated to screw up and kept Alabama undefeated. Just barely.
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