Few fans would have ever expected Alabama's home game against Texas A&M to be the biggest game of the season, but midway through the year, that's exactly what it has become.
Win this game, and the Crimson Tide stays very much in the hunt for the SEC West title. Lose it, and the chances become become virtually nil. Ole Miss has shown no indication that it has three SEC losses in it this season, which is what a two-loss Alabama team would need to reach the SEC title game.
Getting past the Aggies, even at home, could prove to be a monumental task. Although Texas A&M has hit a skid with two consecutive losses, its hurry-up, no-huddle offense could prove to be a dangerous matchup for what has been an inconsistent pass defense for Alabama this year. Add to that, Alabama has hit an offensive skid of its own, scoring only three offensive touchdowns over its last two games. Alabama will have to play its best overall game of the season to win. Here are few things Crimson Cover is hearing from sources inside the program:
1) One of the major factors in the struggles of the kickoff team has been the absence of Dee Hart, who transferred to Colorado State. We are told Hart was considered the team's best kickoff coverage performer by the coaching staff and he's not been replaced with any effectiveness.
2) The interior of the offensive line is a major concern, perhaps the biggest concern on the team. Even with Ryan Kelly (above), the play of the trio was average. Without Kelly, who is still out with an injury, it has been downright poor. Minus Kelly, tackles Cam Robinson and Austin Shepherd are the best two performers on the offensive line by far. And offensive tackles can't generate an inside rushing attack by themselves. Unfortunately for Alabama, an inside rushing attack is where Texas A&M's porous defense might be most vulnerable. As such, the Crimson Tide might find itself unable to expose the Aggies' primary defensive weakness.
3) Alabama cornerback Eddie Jackson returned to the lineup last week, but didn't look like himself at all against Arkansas and didn't play with his usual explosiveness. With Texas A&M employing 4- and 5-receiver sets on a regular basis, Jackson's full health will be critically important.
4) On the bright side for the Alabama defense, sources indicate linebacker Reggie Ragland is one of the team's most improved defenders this season and is quickly coming into his own as an impact player. Arkansas was Ragland's kind of game -- a smash-mouth, line-of-scrimmage affair. Texas A&M will throw 50-plus times, which will be more of a challenge for the budding star, but Ragland is developing nicely as an all-around player.
5) No word on whether Christion Jones will be replaced in his return duties, but after last week's struggles, it is a distinct possibility. It simply hasn't been Jones' year -- as a return man or a receiver -- and the Crimson Tide can ill-afford more drops or special teams miscues.
Photo credit: al.com