TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — One of the more popular Mark Twain quips has been misquoted for years.
Twain didn’t exactly say, "The report of my death was an exaggeration." But the phrase sure came to mind in Tuscaloosa, Ala. on Saturday.
After a 23-17 loss to Ole Miss two weeks ago, and a Houdini-like escape from Arkansas with a one-point victory last week, the state of Alabama’s football program was in question.
Even though Nick Saban has brought three national titles to Alabama since his arrival in 2007, and has an 84-16 record (now 85-16 with this 59-0 destruction of A&M), the Crimson Tide’s grave had already been dug. The media, its fan base and even some of its opponents were standing around the hole with shovels of dirt, preparing to cover Alabama’s coffin as it was laid to rest.
Alabama is vulnerable. The Crimson Tide no longer seem untouchable, unbeatable … bulletproof.
This Saban-led group was 5-1 heading into play on Saturday, and seemed miles away from top dog at No. 7 in the polls. As far as anyone outside the program was concerned, it was time to erase Tuscaloosa off the map of college football powers. The defense was soft, the offense broken.
But the Crimson Tide aren’t ready to be buried just yet. A nice 59-point shellacking sure shows that.
The 21st-ranked Texas A&M Aggies brought an offense into Bryant-Denny Stadium that was supposed to pace a track-meet kind of scoring event. In reality, the Aggies never got out of the starting block.
Alabama’s defense was swarming, and was continually in Texas A&M’s backfield. The Crimson Tide notched two first-half sacks and five tackles for loss (six sacks and nine TFL’s total). The Aggies never made it past their own 46-yard line in the first two quarters.
As good as the Alabama defense was at containing the sixth-ranked scoring offense in the country, its offense was even better.
Saban challenged the offensive line this week. He sat the unit down and had a motivational meeting.
"Look guys, you guys are starting to feel pressure and you’re being criticized," Saban recollected from their conversation. "You’re not being the Sergeant at Arms that we need you to be in terms of how you control the line of scrimmage, and how you dominate the line of scrimmage.
"Really, our guys aren’t going to make plays unless you do that. I believe in you, and I trust in you."
The Crimson Tide scored on all seven of their first-half drives; a field goal to start things off, and then six consecutive touchdown drives. The early stats looked more like a coach’s wish list instead of an actual SEC contest.
Alabama led 45-0 at halftime. And that might have been one of the more tame statistical matchups.
Texas A&M ran 23 plays in the first half. Alabama had 22 first downs. The Aggies’ 51 total yards in the first half paled in comparison to the 449 the Crimson Tide posted (Alabama finished with 602, A&M 172).
Alabama treated Texas A&M like it was a directional school in for a homecoming game. The Aggies were swimming in a shark tank with no steel cage for protection. And it’s possible those dark days that were descending on Tuscaloosa have been diverted.
Saturday’s debacle was nothing like the previous two meetings between these two foes.
Texas A&M planted its flag firmly on the SEC map in 2012, its first season in the conference. A 29-24 victory over the then-No. 1 Crimson Tide was an instant invitation for fireworks to come in this newly-formed divisional rivalry.
Last year, a sixth-ranked Aggies team hung with Alabama, who was again ranked No. 1 in the country. A&M scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to give the fans exactly what was expected in Tuscaloosa today. Johnny Manziel threw for 464 yards and ran for 98 more. A.J. McCarron had 334 passing yards as scoring was the norm, for both teams.
Alabama was the only team scoring in the 2014 version of this rivalry. And that’s a statement as much as the Crimson Tide’s awakening from the near dead.
Texas A&M is no longer in Alabama’s league. And with apologies to a very good Ole Miss team that beat the Crimson Tide two weeks ago, no one else in the SEC, or the country for that matter, is either.
If Alabama plays as good as it did on Saturday on offense, and as aggressive and attacking as it did on defense for the rest of the season, there’s nobody that can beat it.