COLLEGE STATION, Texas — For the first time this season, even Alabama's offense occasionally appeared out of sync, including a second-quarter miscommunication between its Heisman Trophy contending quarterback-receiver combination.
But outside of a couple of red-zone missteps, including that third-down incompletion between Tua Tagovailoa and Jerry Jeudy that led to Joseph Bulovas' 35-yard field goal, the top-ranked Crimson Tide controlled all three phases Saturday, allowing the nation's top-ranked team to roll 47-28 over No. 24 Texas A&M.
“We certainly shot ourselves in the foot three times in a row in the red zone, where we threw an interception and kicked two field goals in a critical time in the game where we really could’ve sort of broken the game open early on,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Saturday. “Defensively, we played decent but at times gave them plays that we shouldn’t have, let the quarterback scramble around too much in the game, and didn’t really finish the game with class in terms of being able to take the air out of it.”
Tagovailoa completed 21 of 34 passes for 293 yards and four touchdowns — the fifth time he's done that in six games this season — but also threw his first interception of the year, while the Crimson Tide’s beleaguered defense once again struggled to contain a mobile quarterback as the Aggies’ Kellen Mond racked up 354 total yards and three touchdowns Saturday.
Even Alabama’s special teams, which racked up 259 return yards and registered a touchdown on a blocked punt in the fourth quarter, had its issues Saturday with a blocked extra point try and a favorable bounce after Bulovas’ 35-yard field goal hit the right goalpost before deflecting through the uprights.
“I felt like we did a lot of good things in the game today, but we obviously have things we need to work on,” Saban said. “I was really proud of how our team competed in the game, (A&M) took the ball down the field and scored the first drive of the game and the players didn’t reel, the players didn’t get frustrated. They just made the adjustments that we needed to make and played better through the rest of the (first) half.”
It was Saban’s 83rd career top-25 win, moving him past legendary Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden for second all-time, and continued his perfect run with the 18th-consecutive victory over teams coached by his former assistants.
Here are three takeaways from Alabama’s sixth win this season:
1. Tagovailoa is good, not perfect.
Tagovailoa is human once again.
After what amounts to 21 quarters and 185 straight passes without any costly mistakes, the Alabama junior gunslinger's interception-free streak ended in the second quarter Saturday when Texas A&M freshman safety Demani Richardson picked off his 186th pass in the end zone.
On third-and-nine from the Crimson Tide 13-yard line, Tagovailoa appeared to stare down favorite target Jeudy on a crossing pattern, allowing Richardson to step in front of a potential touchdown and bring it 16 yards out of the end zone with two minutes left before halftime. The interception, coupled with a costly personal foul on third down later in the ensuing series, allowed the Aggies to cut Alabama's lead to 24-13 with a 32-yard field goal by Seth Small just before halftime.
Despite the interception, it was still another record-breaking day for Tagovailoa, who eclipsed AJ McCarron for the most career passing scores in program history with 81 after tossing four touchdowns Saturday.
Tagovailoa’s 293 passing yards against Texas A&M also gave him 6,613 for his career, which moved him past Brodie Croyle for third all-time in program history.
"It means he's had a great career to this point, and we certainly appreciate his competitive spirit, his leadership, how he practices, his ability to help us score points on offense," Saban said. "It means a lot from all those standpoints, but it also doesn't mean much when it comes to what are you going to do in the future."
2. Alabama special teams step up.
Henry Ruggs III cracked a smile at the suggestion that Saturday's game against Texas A&M meant a lot to second-year special teams coordinator Jeff Banks, who held the same position with the Aggies between 2013-17.
"I wouldn't say he emphasized it, but he really wanted special teams to really take over the game," Ruggs said. "And honestly, we did take over the game, but I feel like we left a lot out there. I'd say, for myself as a returner, we left a lot out there."
Ruggs and Jaylen Waddle each recorded career days with 131 and 128 kick and punt return yards, respectively, and combined for 340 all-purpose yards Saturday. But both saw lengthy returns halted by Texas A&M punter and kickoff specialist Braden Mann, who finished with two special teams tackles but contributed to several more.
"For me to get tackled by the kicker, that's unacceptable," Ruggs said.
That aside, it was a banner day for the Crimson Tide special teams, even the inconsistent kicking game.
With freshman Will Reichard (hip flexor) once again unavailable Saturday, sophomore Joseph Bulovas handled all kicking duties Saturday and mostly held his own.
Bulovas’ first field goal try bounced off the right upright but went in for the first two made field goals, traveling 35 and 27 yards, but a blocked extra point in the fourth quarter couldn’t have made Saban happy.
Alabama also had another punt block by sophomore linebacker Ale Kaho that sophomore receiver Tyrell Shavers recovered for a touchdown, giving the Tide a 47-20 lead over A&M with 11:30 to play.
Sophomore punter Skyler DeLong continued to struggle, averaging just 29.5 yards on two punt tries Saturday.
3. Tide defensive lapses prove costly.
Texas A&M’s offense starting things off with a 15-play, 75-yard drive that ate up more than eight minutes off the game clock before Mond punched it in for a 1-yard touchdown to take an early 7-0 lead on the No. 1 team in the country.
The Aggies continued to chip away with two more long touchdown drives, including a pair of seven-play series for 82 and 75 yards in the second half that were capped by 25- and 18-yard touchdown passes from Mond to tight end Jalen Wydermyer.
“We were better today, until the end, I think we got a little bit tired, we got out of our rush lanes a little bit,” Saban said. “This guy’s a good athlete and he took off running a couple of times for a couple of big plays, which we have to do a better job with that.”
Despite a season-high five sacks by Alabama's defense Saturday, including two from outside linebacker Terrell Lewis, Mond still accounted for 354 of Texas A&M's 389 yards of total offense, including 264 yards on 24-of-42 passing and two touchdowns.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser sports reporter Alex Byington at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @_AlexByington.