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Jumbo Package: Alabama, Texas A&M set to battle for SEC West lead

Your latest Crimson Tide news and notes.

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Alabama Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Monday, everyone. As expected, Alabama rose a bit in the rankings after winning on the road.

The Crimson Tide dominated Mississippi State, 40-17, for a late-night road win in Starkville. The defense managed three interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. Jalen Milroe set another carer-best with 10-of-12 completions, 164 passing yards and 69 rushing yards with two touchdowns.

Afterward, voters decided to put UA (4-1, 2-0 SEC) 10th overall in the coaches poll, up from No. 11 a week ago. In the AP, Alabama similarly rose one spot to No. 11.

The improvements come following the Tide’s lowest ranking in both in eight years.

The opening month of the 2023 college football season has reached its end with Week 5 now in the books. No. 12 Alabama’s 40-17 win at Mississippi State in the nightcap continued a Saturday trend in which most AP Top 25 teams in action were victorious. However, two of the three games that pitted ranked opponents against delivered with thrilling finishes.

While the Crimson Tide moved to 2-0 in a wide-open SEC West race, No. 13 LSU suffered its first conference loss and second defeat overall in a 55-49 barn burner at No. 20 Ole Miss. Alabama’s two division foes combined for more than 1,300 total yards of offense as the Rebels squeezed out the victory on a late touchdown.

As you all saw, the running game and defense carried the day in Starkville.

Jalen Milroe played well at quarterback for the most part, opening the scoring for the Tide with a 53-yard run where he outran the entire Mississippi State defense. He had help too, Alabama ran the ball well for the most part and Milroe’s receivers made plays when they needed to.

But as good as things could get, it wasn’t consistent enough. That’s been a major point of emphasis for head coach Nick Saban this season, and it was clear why on Saturday.

A missed block here, a poor play call there, Milroe holding the ball just a moment too long and touchdowns turned into field goals. This is a team with room for improvement.

The Crimson Tide didn’t even attempt a pass in the first quarter. By halftime, quarterback Jalen Milroe only thrown only five passes. Alabama didn’t need much of a passing game, though. Not with how well the running game was working.

Milroe kicked things off with a 53-yard touchdown run as the offensive line walled off the defense and he sped by defenders in the secondary. By the end of the first half, Alabama was averaging 7.4 yards per rush, not counting yardage lost via sacks. The strong running game served as the catalyst for the early lead.

There were flashes of this effectiveness late in a win over South Florida, and again in the second half of a win over Ole Miss. But this was more of a start-to-finish downhill roll on an MSU defense that didn’t have the brakes to stop it. And it was the first time Alabama’s offensive line had been seen pushing anyone around with bully-like authority in a first half since its opener against Middle Tennessee State.

Lo and behold, Milroe’s pass protection was strong as well. He was sacked twice on the Crimson Tide’s opening drive, the first of which was on Milroe for holding onto the ball too long. Thereafter, he got to enjoy more clean pockets to work with than his line has provided in any other game this season. The result was an efficient passing night, if not a prolific one.

The offensive line has taken quite a bit of heat early in the season, but some road grading was definitely happening.

Saban went into “take the air out of the ball” mode after taking a 31-10 lead into the half, and the rushing efficiency took a dip. The first half was quite strong, as McClellan and Williams managed 85 yards on 16 carries, or 5.3 per attempt and 6.3 with Milroe added in. There should be some concern that the two lead backs were only able to muster an additional 22 yards on 9 second half carries when Alabama was trying to bleed the clock, but they didn’t turn the ball over and the defense wasn’t going to let the Bulldogs get near the 30 point mark. Justice Haynes showed some serious vision when he got in the game late, and Saban has had some great things to say about him lately. He may well see more action going forward.

Moving on, this next challenge will be much tougher.

Alabama still is trying to find itself with 1st-year quarterback Jalen Milroe, and LSU has a significant problem on defense. Ole Miss still can’t get defensive stops to supplement a dangerous offense.

That leaves us with Texas A&M, which despite the loss of starting quarterback Conner Weigman (ankle), is set up with an experienced backup quarterback (more on that later) and roster full of impact, former blue-chip recruits.

After years of Fisher’s guaranteed contract — and Texas A&M’s ability to possibly move on from it and Fisher — dominating the narrative, the Aggies face the most consequential game of his 6 seasons.

They’re playing at home in front of a wild environment, set up to take down Alabama and become the team to beat in the West Division.

Texas A&M has a much more talented roster than Mississippi State, and while they won’t have those annoying bells, that crowd is going to be raucous. Needless to say, the team can’t afford to commit some of the same mistakes early in the ballgame that we saw on Saturday. The Aggies are tough on both lines of scrimmage, so this will be a fine test for the Tide. If they are able to win consistently up front in this one, the sky is the limit for this team. Hope for the best.

King Henry has had an uneven start to the season, but he was back in form this weekend.

Tennessee running back Derrick Henry passed Pro Football Hall of Famer Earl Campbell on the franchise rushing list on Sunday as the Tennessee Titans defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 27-3.

Henry ran for 122 yards and one touchdown on 22 carries, caught an 11-yard pass and threw a TD pass as the Titans rebounded from a 27-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns last week to trounce the Bengals by the same score.

Last, this is why we don’t storm the field.

The player has no idea what’s going on there. For all he knows, he’s being assaulted from behind, and this drunk idiot is very lucky not to be in the hospital right now. Of course the Ole Miss account blames the player.

I don’t know what else can be done to curb this field storming business, but if it continues someone is going to get hurt.

That’s about it for today. Have a great week.

Roll Tide.