An analysis of three key plays in Alabama's 29-25 loss Saturday to Texas A&M:
Johnny Football's first foray
The score: No score, 12:12 remaining in the first quarter
The situation: Second-and-7 from the Alabama 43-yard line
Why it worked: In what became a trend in the first half, Alabama couldn't keep containment on Johnny Manziel.
The breakdown: Texas A&M lined up with four receivers and Manziel and Ben Malena at tailback in the shotgun formation. Alabama countered in dime with C.J. Mosley at linebacker and two natural down linemen with Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson morphing into a third and fourth at outside linebacker playing with their hand on the ground. John Fulton, Deion Belue and Dee Milliner played cornerback. Vinnie Sunseri played near the line of scrimmage at star and Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix and Robert Lester played back at safety.
Alabama only rushed four on the play, something it did often as Texas A&M built its 20-point lead. Mosley spied the quarterback and the rest of the defense dropped back in coverage after the snap, reading pass. But it wasn't a pass play. The receivers ran fly routes to move the defenders off the line, Malena pretended to go out on a pass route but paused near the line of scrimmage, waiting on Manziel to execute what amounted to a quarterback draw. Mosley, spying Manziel, shaded to his left as the pass rush bit upfield. Manziel took off up the middle and Malena was there to put a hand on a defender and give his quarterback a crease. Manziel did the rest, shooting up the gut for a 28-yard gain, setting up Texas A&M's first touchdown of the game.
What it means: Alabama's defense wasn't prepared for Texas A&M's running game all day. They couldn't read the play and get into the right formation before the snap time after time. Credit Aggies offensive coordinator Kliff Kinsgbury for keeping Alabama off balance, but not with the missed tackles that followed. It was the same issue that plagued the Tide in Baton Rouge. Mosley was a step behind Manziel because he tried to guess which way he would go rather than staying over the top of him in the middle of the field. When Manziel broke contain, the defense couldn't close and Belue got stiff-armed on a tackle attempt, freeing up even more yards.
A haymaker landed
The score: Texas A&M leading 20-0 with 10:05 remaining in the first half
The situation: First-and-goal from the Texas A&M 2-yard line.
Why it worked: Alabama stuck to its guns, running the ball behind its offensive line.
The breakdown: Alabama went three wide but stopped being cute with it, bringing Christion Jones over from the slot to line up as a tight end alongside D.J. Fluker at right tackle. T.J. Yeldon lined up at tailback behind AJ McCarron and Alabama prepared to run the ball off left tackle. Texas A&M countered by bringing nine men in the box, but their size wasn't enough.
Right guard Anthony Steen pulled to the left at the snap and Yeldon followed, barreling into the end zone behind Steen, tight end Michael Williams, guard Chance Warmack and left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio.
There was little the Aggies could do to stop the score. Warmack and Kounajio were a yard into the end zone before Yeldon got there, the push from the offensive line too much to hold back.
What it means: It was Alabama's answer: A 13-play, 75-yard drive that took up 5:37. The defense needed a breather and got it, and the offense needed a return to form. Alabama went power offense, rushing the ball eight times, with one of five passes amounting to a long handoff. When Alabama wanted to run the ball, there was nothing Texas A&M could do. It was that way during the first half and suddenly disappeared in the second as Alabama abandoned a consistent running game. It was the first time all season Alabama had more pass attempts than rushes. All Texas A&M could do was smile after the game, knowing they got away with one.
The drive halted
The score: Alabama trailing Texas A&M 29-24 with 1:40 left in the game
The situation: Fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line
Why it didn't work: There was no receiver to be found, but McCarron had just one read to make -- and it was the wrong one.
The breakdown: Alabama went shotgun from 2 yards out, lining up in a bunch formation with Williams standing from the tight end position and Kenny Bell to his left. Christion Jones played inside receiver on the right with Amari Cooper on his outside. Lacy lined up at tailback alongside McCarron. Texas A&M countered by bringing four down linemen and a linebacker on the blitz.
Bell motioned to the right side and the ball was snapped. McCarron rolled out to his right and at that point had one place to go with the football. Jones pushed his defender upfield, Cooper went to the corner of the end zone and Bell to the flat, the No. 1 read for McCarron. Defensive back Deshazor Everett didn't bite on the route combination and stayed with the underneath pass, stepping in front of the attempt to Bell and intercepting the ball, essentially ending the game.
What it means: Alabama went with a play with limited options. Not running the ball from 2 yards out was a debatable decision, but throwing in the flat seemed unlikely. It wasn't even the far side of the field to give the receiver more space. What it comes back to is Alabama's decision to have the ball at first-and-goal from the 6-yard line and run the ball just once. Alabama had succeeded all season by running behind its offensive line. On Saturday night, Nick Saban and Doug Nussmeier decided to go another direction, despite a game in which McCarron was inconsistent at best. If Alabama hopes to win the SEC championship and get back into the title hunt, one has to think a return to the power running game is in order.