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Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher kicked Alabama coach Nick Saban’s butt after all.
Texas A&M’s Seth Small did the literal kicking as he booted a 28-yard field goal as time expired Saturday night to give the unranked, 17.5-point underdog Aggies a thrilling, 41-38 victory over No. 1, defending national champion Alabama and Saban at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.
“We’re going to beat his ass,” Fisher said last May when asked at the Houston Touchdown Club if he would beat Alabama before Saban retires.
“In golf?” Saban said later when told of Fisher’s comments. “I’m sure there will come a day.”
It just did.
Saban was 24-0 against his former assistants who became head coaches until Saturday night. Fisher was 0-4 against Saban, whom he coached under at LSU from 2000-04 as offensive coordinator and helped Saban win his first of seven national championships in the 2003 season. Fisher lost once as Florida State’s head coach and three times as the Aggies’ head coach.
“I have great respect for Nick,” Fisher said on CBS after the game. “He’s one of the best who ever did it. We had a lot of great times. But we’ve got a heck of a program. We can be special here.”
Texas A&M (4-2, 1-2 SEC) also broke Alabama’s 100-game winning streak against unranked teams and snapped Alabama’s 19-game winning streak that started in the 2019 season. The Tide dropped to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the SEC.
The last unranked team to beat Alabama was Louisiana-Monroe, 21-14, in Saban’s first season at Alabama in 2007. The last team to beat Alabama was Auburn, 48-45, on Nov. 30, 2019.
Texas A&M tied Alabama, 38-38, with 3:00 to play when quarterback Zach Calzada threw a 25-yard touchdown pass on a fade route to wide receiver Ainias Smith, then forced a three-and-out punt from Alabama – its first of the second half – and drove to the winning score. The Aggies were aided by a questionable pass interference penalty against Alabama to set up the field goal.
“Everyone needs to remember how they feel and never forget it,” Saban said. “Hopefully, we learn a lot from this.”
Alabama went up 38-31 with 5:00 to play for its first lead since 7-3 in the first quarter as quarterback Bryce Young threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jameson Williams, and hit Williams again for the two-point conversion.
Williams lined up wide left before the touchdown, and no A&M defender was within 20 yards of him. CBS’ rules analyst Gene Steratore said illegal procedure should have been called to nullify the touchdown because all Alabama players were not set before the snap. Steratore said offensive lineman Evan Neal was not set.
Young set up the touchdown on a 32-yard completion to Williams for a first-and-goal at the 7-yard line. Young finished with 28 completions in 48 attempts for 369 yards and three touchdowns with a critical interception to Demani Richardson when he threw behind tight end Jahleel Billingsley in the end zone. Alabama had a third-and-goal at the 1-yard line early in the second quarter while trailing 17-7 before the pick.
“Obviously, this is a very disappointing loss for us,” Saban said. “I know the players are very disappointed. When I talk about having respect for winning, that’s what I mean. You want to avoid that feeling that you have when you lose. We didn’t make the plays we needed to win the game. You can second guess everything that didn’t work. The issue is we didn’t execute.”
Alabama played from behind for most of the game as the Aggies took 3-0, 10-7 and 17-7 leads in the first quarter and went up 24-10 with 2:09 to go before halftime on a 15-yard touchdown run by tailback Isaiah Spiller.
“I knew we were playing a really good team,” said Saban, who warned Bama fans of the struggling Aggies on his radio show Thursday night and spoke of a trap game. “I thought we would have a really tough game.”
The Tide appeared to wrestle momentum to its side when Ja’Corey Brooks blocked a punt, and King Mwikuta recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown, cutting the Aggies’ lead to 24-17 with 8:18 left in the third quarter.
But A&M’s Devon Achane returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown and 31-17 lead 14 seconds later.
A&M applied tremendous pressure on Young in the first half through defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s rush and blitz packages, which produced four sacks. First-year offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, the former Houston Texans head coach, solved it in the second half, but it was not enough.
“We had trouble with their pressures in the first half, especially,” Saban said. “The quarterback got sacked several times on third down. So, a lot of issues.”
Calzada, a sophomore who had been struggling after replacing injured A&M starting quarterback Haynes King, played the best game of his career, completing 21 of 31 for 285 yards and three touchdowns. After suffering a minor knee injury the previous series, he led the Aggies to the final field goal.
He threw 27- and 6-yard touchdown passes to tight end John Wydermyer and wide receiver Ainius Smith, respectively, in the first quarter for a 17-7 lead.
“It’s amazing,” Fisher said. “Zach’s leadership and consistency were key. It was a great win for our program.”