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Did Aggies’ Defensive Coordinator Mike Elko Deliver The Roadmap For Beating Bama?

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If Blockbuster stores were still everywhere and they stocked videos of Texas A&M’s upset of No. 1 Alabama last week, you might not be able to get one.

At least not around the SEC. Look for attempted sequels throughout the rest of this season, beginning when the No. 5 Crimson Tide (5-1, 2-1 SEC) plays at Mississippi State (3-2, 1-1 SEC) at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Among the most paused portions of the Aggies’ 41-38 win will likely be Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s quarterback pressure packages. The Aggies sacked Alabama’s Bryce Young a season-high four times, all in the first half when A&M took a 24-10 lead, and had five hurries throughout the game from virtually every angle of the defense.

“We had trouble with their pressures in the first half, especially,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “The quarterback got sacked several times on third down. So, a lot of issues.”

Defensive end Tyree Johnson had two of those sacks. Safety Leon O’Neal had one, and defensive end Michael Clemons had the other one, as well as three hurries.

“They came at us with new blitz stunts that we didn’t prepare greatly for,” Alabama tailback Brian Robinson Jr. said this week. “We made the protection calls that we thought would work for us against those looks, and we did what we had to do to try to pick them up. It didn’t work out for us the first couple of times. But we made a nice adjustment in the second half.”

It was too late. And Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher became the first former Saban assistant to beat him, pushing that record up to 1-24.

The pressure showed in Young’s performance. He threw just his third interception of the season, and he threw it on third and goal from the Texas A&M 1-yard line with the Tide down 17-7 early in the second quarter. Young entered the game completing 72 percent of his passes. He completed just 58 percent at A&M.

“We didn’t know exactly when they were going to come or when they were going to draw them up,” said Robinson, whose 147 yards on 24 carries went for naught.

Alabama may get similar rush packages from Mississippi State defensive coordinator Zach Arnett, but Saban is more concerned with what his team does first.

“You know, the opponent is basically faceless in terms of the way you should look at your performance,” he said Wednesday on the SEC teleconference. “It’s not about the other guy. It’s how you want to play and how good you want to be.”

Alabama had won 19 straight since its previous loss — 48-45 at Auburn in 2019. Robinson remembers it.

“All the little things matter, and they matter the most in big-time situations,” he said. “If you don’t buy into the little things it takes to be a winner, it’ll come back and bite us at a bad time. He (Saban) is always on us about staying on the little things. When one thing goes wrong, he makes sure you know why.”

Saban, who won his seventh national title last season, has recovered from regular season losses five times to win national championships, beginning with a 19-7 loss to Florida in 2003 as LSU’s coach before finishing 13-1. At Alabama, he lost 9-6 in overtime to LSU in 2011 before finishing 12-1, lost 29-24 to Texas A&M in 2012 before finishing 13-1, lost 43-37 to Ole Miss in 2015 before finishing 14-1 and lost 26-14 at Auburn in 2017 before finishing 13-1.

“It’s like I told them yesterday, ‘You’ve got to respond from the edge of the cliff. So you don’t have a lot of room for error. You can still accomplish all the goals you have as a team, but we’re going to have to play better more consistently if we’re going to be able to do that,'” Saban said.

Alabama has had only three regular seasons with more than one loss under Saban. The Tide had six losses in 2007, Saban’s first year, three in 2010 and two in 2019.

“We’ve also taken a loss and not won a championship,” he said with a laugh. “So, it all depends on how you respond.”

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

Guilbeau has been on the LSU beat since 1998 with multiple outlets in Louisiana, prior to that he had covered both Auburn and Alabama. He won first place for his game feature on LSU's upset at Florida last season from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He was also named Beat Writer of Year, by Louisiana Sports Writers Association in July; placed in three Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) categories – Beat Writer, Explanatory, Game Coverage – last spring. Guilbeau was also the FWAA first-place winner for columns in 2017 and was also the top overall winner in 2016 FWAA placing first for his game story, second in columns, and receiving honorable mention for features.

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