Joel Anderson, ESPN 9d

Even as Alabama was pushed by A&M, outcome was never in doubt


COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The night seemingly had all the hallmarks of another brutally efficient performance by the nation’s top-ranked team.

Alabama opened the third quarter with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Jalen Hurts’ 8-yard toss to Henry Ruggs III, increasing its lead over Texas A&M to 24-3. That extended the Tide’s run to 149 points without allowing a touchdown. Kyle Field, swollen with 101,058 maroon-clad, towel-waving fans, had steadily grown quiet -- and conspicuously emptier -- over the course of the evening.

Yes, just another ho-hum beatdown of an SEC opponent.

Not quite: Texas A&M, unranked and unimpressive despite being a miracle comeback by UCLA in Week 1 from being undefeated, managed to push the Tide deep into the fourth quarter of a tougher-than-expected 27-19 Alabama win on Saturday night.

Minkah Fitzpatrick picked off a pass by Aggies true freshman quarterback Kellen Mond in the end zone, thwarting a drive that would’ve cut Alabama’s lead to a touchdown. Then the Aggies responded by blocking a punt out of the end zone, giving them two points and another possession to whittle away at the Tide’s lead.

The A&M home crowd quickly came to life, roused from its earlier quiet. Many of the Aggies excitedly skipped around on the field before the kickoff, hyped to seemingly be back in the game. Alabama finally had a game on its hands.

Threatened for the first time since its season-opening win over then-No. 2 Florida State, Alabama dismissed its overmatched challenger. A&M’s subsequent drive: sack for a 4-yard loss, incompletion, incompletion, run for a 2-yard loss, sack for a 14-yard loss, a delay-of-game penalty and then a 5-yard run on third-and-31. Punt to the Tide; game effectively over almost as quickly as it was on. Fans soon headed for the exits.

The Tide entered raucous old Kyle Field a 26.5-point favorite, fresh off a 125-3 run in their first two SEC games against Vanderbilt and Mississippi. They were the only team in the country ranked top 15 in scoring defense (first), scoring offense (eighth), rushing defense (second), rushing offense (fourth), total defense (sixth) and total offense (14th). And they hadn’t turned over the ball in 34 quarters, a streak dating back to Nov. 24, 2016 against Auburn (a streak that ended at 36 after Robert Foster’s third-quarter fumble).

And if there was any suggestion that Alabama might finally ease up on the SEC, Damien Harris disabused that notion in only 13 seconds.

After the Crimson Tide surrendered a field goal that gave Texas A&M an early 3-0 lead, Harris peeled off a 75-yard run -- the longest of his career -- on the next offensive play that put them ahead to stay.

The Crimson Tide have trailed for only 2:13 this season -- all in a season-opening victory over Florida State. Alabama then cruised to wins over a pair of overmatched Mountain West Conference opponents: Fresno State (41-10) and Colorado State (41-23).

But since turning their attention toward the SEC, the Tide has ratcheted up the intensity. In their first three conference games this season, the Tide have outscored opponents 152-22.

It’s a testament to the Tide's dominance that Mond and the Aggies gave them perhaps their stiffest test of the season.

Mond went 19-of-29 for 237 yards with a touchdown, another run for a score and an interception, an admirable effort for a true freshman against one of the nation’s very best defenses. Freshman quarterbacks are now 3-13 against Nick Saban-coached Alabama teams.

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