Happy Friday, everyone. You may have heard that the betting line on the game has been all over the place, even flipping to Texas A&M -1 at one point last night. The reason is apparently a rumored hamstring injury to Jalen Milroe. Austin Hannon reports that it’s all a big hoax.
#Alabama QB Jalen Milroe's rumored hamstring injury is a "hoax," sources tell @BamaCentral.— Austin Hannon (@austinhannon_) October 5, 2023
Milroe hasn't been limited during practice at all this week and is completely fine for the Crimson Tide's matchup against Texas A&M. pic.twitter.com/nD7WB3l76A
On the radio show last night, Saban was asked about it. Here’s what he said.
Nick Saban asked by @spann on "Hey Coach" show about social media rumors about Jalen Milroe injury. Saban said he's not on social media and doesn't see it, but did not directly address Milroe.— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) October 6, 2023
Just another layer of intrigue, I guess. In any case, here are your previews.
The last two editions of this matchup have gone down to the final play, and this year could be no different. It’s a must-win for both teams. In order for Alabama to win a few things that haven’t happened yet this year need to happen, mainly the offensive line playing up to its standard. Improvements at left tackle are an encouraging sign, guard Tyler Booker’s playing a third consecutive game after missing South Florida due to back spasms and a return to the norm by McLuaghlin could create the perfect storm that fans have been expecting. Pace the run game, get Milroe comfortable, hit a few big plays and continue to play sound defense.
A few big kicks by Reichard make the difference and Alabama leaves College Station with a narrow victory.
Alabama 23, Texas A&M 20
Turnovers. Texas A&M isn’t getting them, Alabama isn’t giving them away, and even one might be a problem. The Tide will be +2 in turnover margin.
There’s a chip on the team’s shoulder again with the way Milroe has stepped up, the environment will benefit both sides in what might just turn out to be the game for the SEC West.
It’s going to be a close nip-and-tuck fight, but Bama will get the one big offensive play in the second half - along with a key takeaway - A&M won’t.
Alabama 23, Texas A&M 20
Hummer (Texas A&M +2.5) — Could Alabama lose to two teams from Texas in the same season? I think it happens. The problem for the Crimson Tide is their offensive line. Alabama is allowing sacks at a 15.6% rate, which is the second worst in the FBS. Texas A&M, meanwhile, leads the FBS in sack rate. Its defensive line is finally playing up to his talent, which is elite. Usually, I think the Tide could overcome that deficit in other areas. But Texas A&M is, frankly, just as talented and might have the better QB even with Max Johnson. This is close but give me the Aggies at home. … Texas A&M 24, Alabama 21.
Crawford (Alabama -2.5) — Vegas says these teams are dead even. And this will be a frightening environment for Alabama, going to Kyle Field in the afternoon with more than 100,000 fans rooting for a mistake. That ball’s in Jalen Milroe’s court. Can he handle the pressure? Will the Crimson Tide defense help him out? I’m not sure of the answers to these questions, but since I picked Alabama to finish 10-2 this season, Saturday feels like the second loss given the setting. That said, I’m not able to side with the Crimson Tide often as a favorite of less than a field goal. ... Alabama 27, Texas A&M 23.
Texas A&M lost starting quarterback Conner Weigman for the rest of the season after injuring his leg against Auburn two weeks ago. Max Johnson, the former LSU transfer, played well in leading the Aggies to a win against Arkansas last week, but Alabama is different. The Crimson Tide are coming off arguably their best performance of the season last week at Mississippi State. While Bama still does not look like BAMA yet, it’s hard to trust Texas A&M in games like this. Pick: Alabama (-2.5)
The one most important edge Alabama might have is the turnover margin. It ranks 14th nationally at plus-0.8 per game and is coming off a 3 takeaway effort on the road. A&M, for all its power and force up front, is just 114th in the country in taking it away from the other team.
Turnovers can completely change games and better teams can lose because of one bad moment caused by a giveaway. A&M will wreak some havoc at the line and throw Alabama’s protection out of sorts, but the Crimson Tide has the bodies to get to Max Johnson, who had 3 turnovers last week including a pick-six, and force him into a mistake. And the skill threats to make the Aggies pay for it.
College Football HQ picks...
Alabama wins 30-27
Alabama 20, Texas A&M 17: If Alabama can’t protect Jalen Milroe, and he turns the ball over multiple times, this could turn ugly for the Crimson Tide. So long as Milroe plays winning football and has time to throw, Alabama wins a close game on the road.
Numbers and football don’t always coexist. But the numbers are alarming for the Crimson Tide. Alabama opened as a 3.5-point favorite. That number is down to one. CFBGraphs dug into the numbers and determined that the Aggies are actually likely to win the game, with the analytics pointing to an approximate 25-21 score — in favor of Texas A&M.
With the betting line so close, and everyone picking it to be such a close game, it’s safe to say that nobody really has much confidence in what the game will look like. Milroe and Alabama’s offensive line have looked better recently, but this Texas A&M front is awfully good. On the other side, Max Johnson has shown some flashes, but this Alabama defense just made Jaxson Dart and Will Rogers look awful in back to back weeks.
Alabama came into this season as a national title favorite in large part because of their 90% blue chip ratio, which is the highest in the nation. Is this the week that they take that next step and live up to those lofty marks?
I’m going to toss out a homer pick of Alabama 24-17, but this one could legitimately go either way. Vote and give us your thoughts in the comments.
What will be the result of Alabama at Texas A&M?
Jimbo’s fishing for answers after Tide wins by 8+
Another classic, Bama survives by 1-7
Alabama takes its earliest second loss since 2007
Saban spoke about Milroe on the Pat McAfee show yesterday, and said nothing about any potential injury.
“I think we’ve had to make some subtle changes to feature things that he can do, which I think he has responded to very well and I think our entire offense has responded to well,” said Saban.
“I do think he’s getting more comfortable and confident in the passing game. Anticipating things, getting the ball out of his hand a little quicker,” Saban noted. “And, of course, his ability and his athleticism to create plays is really a tremendous asset and puts a lot of pressure on the defense.”
Since Milroe returned to the lineup, he has completed 27 of his 33 attempts for a completion rate of 82.2%. That’s just over a 20% difference from what he put up during their opener over MTSU and loss to Texas.
Last, Alex Scarbrough wrote about Alabama’s defensive resurgence despite losing Will Anderson, and Dallas Turner gets a good bit of credit.
Does this all mean the return of vintage Nick Saban defenses? It’s probably too soon to tell. We’ll learn more Saturday when the Tide travel to Texas A&M (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS) for the first time since they gave up 41 points in a loss there two years ago. But while we wait, it may be time to ask an important question: How, after losing arguably the best defensive player in college football in Will Anderson, did the defense get better?
Credit cornerbacks Malachi Moore and Terrion Arnold for stepping up. The same goes for linebackers Deontae Lawson and Chris Braswell. But the place to start is the man who on paper was tasked with replacing Anderson.
That’s about it for today. Have a great weekend.