As No. 24 Texas A&M’s 47-28 loss to No. 1 Alabama drew to a close Saturday, Aggie quarterback Kellen Mond stood on the field looking to the sideline for play signals with hands on hips and shoulders laboring with each breath. For the majority of the fourth quarter, he favored his right leg, despite rushing for 65 yards in the frame.
Mond left Kyle Field spent from the effort. For once this season, he said his team answered the same calling.
“I felt for one time in a while that we fought for the whole entire game,” Mond said. “That’s something that we really didn’t do prior to this. Clemson, we came off really sluggish in the first half and picked it up in the second half. Same thing with Auburn.”
But for all A&M did, it’s what the Aggies unexpectedly didn’t do in special teams that kept the upset bid in Southeastern Conference play out of reach in front of 106,749, a record crowd for the stadium’s current configuration.
Alabama returners Jaylen Waddle and Henry Ruggs III combined for 311 return yards. Waddle averaged 30.4 yards per punt return, Ruggs 31.8 per kickoff return, and their effort tipped the scales in favor of the Crimson Tide despite the Aggies’ reigning Ray Guy Award winner Braden Mann handling both punts and kickoffs.
“The field position game, they kept winning it,” A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Even when you got a stop, you would get backed up and have long fields against [their defense].”
Alabama’s average starting position was the A&M 47-yard line, while A&M (3-3, 1-2) averaged starting on its own 22.
Of its eight scoring drives, Alabama (6-0, 3-0) started just one inside its own 40. The Crimson Tide opened its initial drive of the game on its own 27, and it drove the 73 yards in 10 plays capped by Tua Tagovailoa’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Waddle.
Some of that responsibility fell on the shoulders of Mann, who averaged 49.8 yards per punt and 65 yards per kickoff but twice failed to locate his kicks properly within the called coverage, Fisher said.
“Braden, that is very rare for him,” Fisher said.
The sloppy special teams day culminated in a blocked punt by Alabama’s Ale Kaho, which bounced into the hands of teammate Tyrell Shavers on the A&M 2, and he walked into the end zone for the Crimson Tide’s final score of the game.
“That can never happen,” Fisher said of the Aggies’ missed blocking assignment on the play. “We work punt as much as anyone in America, and we have a great punter.”
A&M’s offense looked prepared from the start, mounting an eight-minute, 15-play drive to begin the game. The result was a 1-yard touchdown run by Mond, which marked the first time the Aggies have scored on their opening drive of the game this season. On the drive, junior wide receiver Quartney Davis pulled in two highlight-reel catches as a part of his team-high seven receptions for 81 yards.
Alabama countered with two touchdowns in the first quarter, both in third-and-long situations. First came Tagovailoa’s 31-yarder to Waddle with 2:41 left in the quarter, then with 0:24 left, he threw a 47-yard TD pass to DeVonta Smith for a 14-7 lead.
Tagovailoa later connected on a 16-yard TD pass to Najee Harris for a third score on third down for a 24-10 lead in the second quarter. Overall, Alabama went 8-of-13 converting third downs.
Alabama’s Heisman Trophy hopeful completed 21 of 34 passes for 293 yards and four touchdowns. The yardage is Tagovailoa’s lowest against an SEC opponent this year. A&M freshman defensive back Demani Richardson added a small blemish to Tagovailoa’s line, intercepting a pass late in the first half for the quarterback’s first interception of the season. A&M converted the turnover into Seth Small’s second field goal to close out the half down 24-13.
With the ball to start the third quarter, Alabama added points with a Joseph Bulovas 27-yard field goal then scored again on a 33-yard TD pass from Tagovailoa to Ruggs III for a 34-13 lead with 7:35 left in the period.
Mond connected twice with freshman tight end Jalen Wydermyer in the second half on 25- and 18-yard TD passes. Wydermyer caught three passes for 49 yards. Of his nine catches this season, four have been for TDs.
Mond also led the Aggies in rushing with 90 yards on 16 carries, typically taking a beating at the end of each scamper. He also fell awkwardly on his left leg at the end of a 36-yard run in the fourth quarter, and he limped for the remainder of the game.
“Obviously, more runs definitely do take a big toll on you,” Mond said.
Linebacker Buddy Johnson and Richards led the Aggies in tackles with 11 apiece, but bringing down Alabama receivers after the catch proved a challenge throughout the game.
“One of the most disappointing things was I think we had a lot of missed tackles,” Fisher said. “They did a great job of making the first guy miss and getting yards afterwards. I think we definitely got to get that cleaned up.”
Fisher said no one phase of the game cost A&M the game Saturday, but the little battles in yards always seem that much more important come SEC play.
“There’s nothing to cost us a game except our whole football team and our coaching staff, and we’re all in this together as one group,” Fisher said. “So we’ll look at and evaluate those things, but field position is a big part of what you do. Those are things that we used to do a really good job of, and they actually got the advantage in that part today.”