Deja vu anyone?
It is early October and n. 1 Alabama is a big favorite to beat a Texas A&M team that has lost preseason expectations twice. The 2021 and 2022 headlines are interchangeable as the crimson tide enters a strangely familiar scenario.
Only the back end of this time warp comes with the lecture and baggage of everything that followed Alabama’s arrival at College Station. The cross between the undervaluation of Texas A&M and a notable reversal of Aggie’s fortune was an extraordinary 41-38.
The parallels are remarkable.
Texas A&M entered both seasons with a no. 6 AP preseason standings only to lose a couple of early season games. The state of Appalachia replaced Arkansas this September, while a disheartening defeat to the state of Mississippi immediately preceded Alabama in both years.
Where Aggie’s offense entered last season’s Alabama game in 76th place in terms of yardage and 101st in terms of scoring, this version is 105th and 108th respectively this fall.
Jimbo Fisher on Monday acknowledged the similarity in the scenarios, noting how Texas A&M practiced well between last year’s 26-22 loss to the Bulldogs and the arrival of Alabama.
Nick Saban would say otherwise for the Tuscaloosa prep week a year ago, a sure fresh memory in his mind of starting the installation on Monday.
“You know, we could say it was the same situation a year ago,” Saban acknowledged in his opening statement at a Monday press conference that got steadily more heated as it went along.
Later, the question of how Alabama players handle social media pressure opened the doors for Saban to take home his biggest point relating to last year’s disappointment.
“Obviously, at times, we didn’t handle it very well because I was talking about rat poison last year when we played this game, and nobody didn’t listen,” Saban said. “The players weren’t listening, you didn’t listen to everyone. They had lost the week before. We were big favorites. It wasn’t a big deal, just show up for this game and go play the next one. “
The fact that Alabama opened as three touchdown favorites on Sunday after losing by an 18-point spread last October probably wasn’t the tone Saban wanted to set in the battle for a mental advantage.
As with most trips to the press room podium, Saban sent some subliminal messages to the players.
“Mid-season is not the time of the season to think about rest,” Saban said as part of the answer to a separate question. “You rest at the end of the season. The season is a grind. Practice is hard work. Preparation is a grind, mentally and physically, on the players. But you have to make a choice: are you going to get through all of this and continue or can you learn from the lessons when you win and when you lose? Or do you have to lose to learn the lessons? “
Interviews with the five players in the two days following Saban’s presser gave no indication that Alabama would neglect A&M again.
“I think they definitely feel somehow about it,” said running back Jahmyr Gibbs of teammates who have experienced last year’s game since he was still at Georgia Tech at the time.
Security DeMarcco Hellams confirmed this on Tuesday.
“It really left a bad taste in my mouth, the other guys on the roster,” he said. “It’s something we definitely remember from last year and it definitely helped in our preparation for those guys this year.”
Hellams had an interception at A&M last year, but the staff who will be on the pitch on Saturday is where some of the confrontations end. Much of Aggies’ offensive awakening was attributed to quarterback Zach Calzada’s 13-for-14 pass in the first half which included two touchdowns and built a 24-10 lead. He is now in Auburn as the recipient of two of those touchdown passes, Ainias Smith, is out for the year with a leg injury.
Both teams have uncertainty about the quarterback after starters Bryce Young and Max Johnson got hurt in last week’s games. Of the 28 passes Young completed last year, 23 went to Alabama players who either graduated or left for the NFL draft, so turnover is significant in both locker rooms.
That said, Saban’s challenge this week is to silence the noise that apparently impacted preparedness and contributed to Alabama’s shocking loss at College Station.
There are external factors that cannot affect how you think as an opponent in terms of respect for victory, respect for what you need to do to win and how important it is, knowing that we will get the other team’s best match because everyone can heal by beating us. “Saban said.” So that’s how I try to handle it. Anyone listen? Sometimes, sometimes not. “
Michael Casagrande is a reporter from the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande or turned on Facebook.