TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Standing tall in a crowded little media room tucked away deep inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, Ryan Swope could barely find the right words when asked about the statement Texas A&M made Saturday before Sean Porter spoke for him.
“We can play with anybody,” the senior linebacker nonchalantly said with his eyes still looking at the ground as he slowly slid his gloves off.
Porter didn’t even have to utter those five words because everyone in the room knew it. And everyone in the country knows it.
A team that was thought to be outmanned and overmatched with its move from the Big 12 to the SEC made all of the doubters look very silly with its 29-24 win over No. 1 Alabama. And this wasn’t a letdown loss for the Tide following an emotional win over LSU last week. The 15th-ranked Aggies dominated Alabama for four quarters.
The Tide were supposed to wear down A&M, but the players in the crimson tops were the ones huffing, puffing and panting deep into the fourth quarter, as the Aggies' up-tempo offense left Alabama's defense dazed, confused and susceptible to a handful of big plays.
Alabama was supposed to protect the ball after it entered the game plus-15 in turnover margin, while the Aggies were minus-7. Instead, A&M won the turnover battle 3-0.
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron's streak of 292 passes without an interception ended in the first quarter and his team’s national championship hopes all but ended when his second pick went to sophomore cornerback Deshazor Everett with 1:36 left in the fourth.
We thought the Aggies would get pushed around and would be lucky to limp their way into a bowl game. Now, they’ve pushed the No. 1 team out of the limelight and are two wins away from possible BCS consideration.
“It goes to show that we can compete with anyone in this league,” said Swope, who finished with a game-high 11 catches for 111 yards and a touchdown.
“We practice with confidence and you have to be a confident football team to do those kinds of things. You can tell guys played with heart tonight. It was unbelievable.”
What might be more unbelievable is how this team did it without having to rely completely on Johnny Manziel.
Sure, this team has excelled on both sides of the ball in recent weeks, but Johnny Football has been the center of every conversation.
On Saturday, he was just one part of A&M’s win.
“Not to take away from Johnny, but for us to come to Alabama and win, that is a complete team effort,” coach Kevin Sumlin said.
Manziel’s 253 passing yards, 92 rushing yards and two total touchdowns certainly helped, but his supporting actors were outstanding.
His receivers made a handful of tough plays, most of which came with players outmuscling Alabama defenders for the ball or to get extra yardage, like Mike Evans scratching and clawing toward the first-down marker in the first half.
And look at the defense. No one outside of College Station was quite sure if this unit was capable of containing Alabama’s running game or flustering McCarron, but it did both.
Alabama ran just 14 times in the second half and totaled just 122 rushing yards.
Of course, the play of the night was by the often overlooked Everett, who snatched away McCarron’s telegraphed fourth-down pass to the end zone after Kenny Bell had set up the Tide with first-and-goal at the 6-yard line with his 54-yard catch.
Texas A&M also didn’t succumb to the second-half failures that have routinely plagued this program. After squandering most of a 20-point first-quarter lead -- thanks to a 17-0 Alabama run -- this team held strong and didn’t panic after a two-quarter lull.
Manziel, who might have thrown his name right back into the Heisman picture while simultaneously pushing McCarron out, dazzled with his arm and legs in the first half, but picked his spots in the second. After racking up 200 total yards of offense and a touchdown in the first half, he was held to just 145 yards in the final two quarters.
Alabama contained him more efficiently, but he stayed calm and delivered some clutch fourth-quarter throws. Manziel made two beauties on the Aggies’ two-play, 66-yard drive in which he hit Swope for 42 yards down the right sideline before putting A&M up for good with a perfectly thrown flag pass to Malcome Kennedy for a 24-yard score.
“We did a lot of things that a lot of people said we couldn’t do,” defensive end Damontre Moore said. “Now, to prove them wrong does a lot for the program.”
It shows the SEC that the new kid on the block isn’t going to be a pushover. The Aggies were supposed to hit their stride with more time under Sumlin. They've hit that stride now, and teams are lucky A&M only just started playing so well.
The SEC chants that rained down from the Aggies’ student section with 8:37 remaining in the fourth quarter probably never sounded so right.
“We’re glad to be here and prove that we belong here and we’re not some other team that people made us out to be,” Moore said. “We proved that today.”