Your turn, Jaylen Waddle.
How do you stop the deafening roar of a record crowd at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field? Give the ball to playmakers in space.
The smallest of Alabama’s four NFL-bound receivers, Waddle got the call Saturday. He took one short Tua Tagovailoa pass 31 yards for a touchdown and returned one punt 43 yards and another 42. In an otherwise imperfect performance, the top-ranked Tide utilized Waddle and its vast array of explosive options to provide cushion en route to a 47-28 victory against 21st-ranked Texas A&M.
How imperfect was it? Tagovailoa threw his first interception of the season, giving Texas A&M hope at the half while snapping his streak of 185 throws without a pick.
And the defense? Still a work in progress.
Kellen Mond led the Aggies methodically down the field on the opening possession, covering 75 yards in 15 plays, before the Tide regrouped. After Waddle answered on the ensuing drive, the squeeze was on.
Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) runs in for a touchdown against Texas A&M. (Photo: Erich Schlegel, USA TODAY Sports)
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Keep in mind, this isn’t a pedestrian opponent. Still, Tagovailoa’s late-first half interception only delayed the inevitable. While the Aggies are solid defensively, it may take a super-human effort to slow this tsunami of offense.
Consider that A&M’s most dependable tackler was its punter, Braden Mann, who made a couple of touchdown-saving stops on returns. But, for some reason, the Aggies never tried him at safety.
They needed him, as Tagovailoa took turns showing off his receiving corps.
Waddle finished with 176 all-purpose yards. DeVonta Smith picked up where he left two record-setting weeks ago, making A&M play for a blitz by housing a quick slant for a 47-yard score.
Henry Ruggs III made his biggest contributions returning kickoffs. And Jerry Jeudy, the most lethal of Alabama’s fearsome four added 50 yards on receptions — a good day during any other era.
There’s plenty for Nick Saban to focus on during the weeks ahead. The running game is improving, but it’s not one to take a game over yet — at least against a quality defense.
And we’ve mentioned the defense. The tackling is improving, as is the pass rush, with Terrell Lewis re-emerging after two seasons lost to injury. But Mond had his moments, as did Ryan Hilinski and John Rhys Plumlee before him.
Halfway through the regular season, Saban’s biggest fear has to be entitlement. Alabama has yet to be challenged.
The test will come. Maybe from an elite defense. Maybe from a powerhouse offense. Or, in the playoffs, maybe from a complete team (here’s looking at you, Ohio State).
But, for now, it’s as if this Alabama offense is playing against air.
Doug Segrest, a former SEC beat reporter, is a freelance columnist for the Montgomery Advertiser.
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