The postgame news conference sounded almost as though the sixth-ranked Texas A&M Aggies had walked away with a win over top-ranked Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Or at least not with a 19-point loss on their résumé after Alabama pulled away for a 33-14 victory to ruin the Aggies’ perfect season.
“My message in there was, ‘Hey, listen, that’s a good football team we just played,’ ” coach Kevin Sumlin said. “We still have everything out in front of us.”
Added quarterback Trevor Knight: “All of our hopes, dreams are still right in front of us.”
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The Aggies understandably feel that way because they hurt themselves more than anything against the Crimson Tide. But the reality is, their playoff dreams likely sustained a knockout blow.
Yes, Alabama lost to Mississippi 43-37 last season and still went on to the playoffs and a national championship. And Knight reminded reporters of the 2014 Ohio State team that had an early-season loss to Virginia Tech (35-21) and went on to win the national championship. He also mentioned the team he played on last season, Oklahoma, which had a bad loss to Texas (24-17) early and still made the playoffs.
None of those losses, though, had a final deficit margin of three possessions.
“There’s a lot of football left to play,” Knight said. “If you want to look ahead and somehow we end up winning the rest of our games and end up 11-1 and our only loss is to the No. 1 team in the country? … That’s what we’re going for.”
Even that won’t assure the Aggies of a coveted playoff spot. They need help and will have plenty of competition for a spot coming down the stretch.
But what else are they going to say with five games left?
Yes, the final score doesn’t paint an accurate picture for the Aggies, but they’ll only have themselves to blame in the end.
They were the team that saw one of its better defensive players, Donovan Wilson, ejected for targeting in the first half.
They were the team that took a 14-13 lead early in the second half and promptly gave up a 77-yard TD drive to the Crimson Tide. The Aggies did the Crimson Tide a favor on that drive, too, keeping it alive with a roughing-the-passer penalty by linebacker Shaan Washington.
“We’ve got to stay focused and try not to get those dumb penalties,” Aggies safety Justin Evans said.
Added Alabama coach Nick Saban: “We got a break on the roughing-the-passer call, but we took advantage of it.”
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The Aggies can’t say the same thing about anything on their day. They had an interception in the first half wiped away when Knight threw his own pick on the next play.
A&M had two offensive drives to regain the lead after Alabama had gone up 20-14. The Aggies went three-and-out on the first, but then drove into Crimson Tide territory on the next.
But things took a sudden turn for the worse when Knight was sacked for a 14-yard loss on second down.
On the next play, Knight and Keith Ford had a failed handoff exchange that resulted in a Crimson Tide touchdown on a scoop-and-score by projected first-round pick Jonathan Allen. It marked the 12th non-offensive TD by the Crimson Tide this season, and the 10th consecutive game in which they’ve had a non-offensive TD.
“The fumble return really changed the complexion of the game,” Sumlin said.
Winning went out the window for A&M at that point, but a more respectable loss would have gone a long way in keeping their playoff dreams within realistic reach.
The offense, however, went three-and-out after the scoop-and-score and the defense seemingly forgot how to tackle on the ensuing possession as Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts scrambled 37 yards to the end zone.
“He’s a great rusher,” Evans said of Hurts. “He got out a few times and he hurt us.”
The 101,821 on hand went wild on Hurts’ score. And to think that Hurts, a true freshman from Channelview, gave strong consideration to A&M and had a lengthy conversation with Sumlin afterward.
That TD run solidified Alabama’s quest for its fifth championship in the last eight years. The Tide have won 20 straight games since that loss to Mississippi in September 2015. A&M, meanwhile, saw its perfect season come crashing down.
The only thing A&M may take away is that it showed Alabama is beatable. Another championship is far from guaranteed for the Crimson Tide. The regular-season finale against Auburn looks treacherous as the Tigers are on fire since falling to the Aggies last month.
Alabama should have built a significantly bigger lead than the 13-7 margin it took into halftime, owning A&M in just about every category from total yards (303-150) to first downs (17-8) to time of possession (18:43-11:17).
But the Aggies managed to stay within striking distance and even enjoyed a second-half lead momentarily. They just couldn’t get out of their own way.
It’ll likely open up the door for another team to take its shot at Alabama in the playoffs. The Aggies had theirs Saturday, even though it might not have felt like it afterward.
“Anything can happen in this league,” Sumlin said. “What’s gotten us this far — it’s about us. It’s not an arrogant thing, just go about our business and worry about us. Not worry about what people say about us, all of that will take care of itself.
“What we’ve got to do is learn from what happened tonight in a big-time game and not let those things happen again.”
BAMA—FG Griffith 32, 11:57
BAMA—FG Griffith 28, 4:43
BAMA—Howard 5 pass from Hurts (Griffith kick), 12:59
TXAM—J.Reynolds 9 pass from Knight (LaCamera kick), :38
TXAM—Kirk 25 pass from Knight (LaCamera kick), 12:54
BAMA—Ridley 4 pass from Hurts (Griffith kick), 6:33
BAMA—Allen 30 fumble return (pass failed), :21
BAMA—Hurts 37 run (Griffith kick), 12:27
Time of Possession
RUSHING—Texas A&M, Ford 15-62, Knight 13-24, Tr.Williams 9-23, Bussey 1-5. Alabama, D.Harris 18-125, Hurts 21-92, Jacobs 10-36, Scarbrough 8-34, A.Stewart 0-0.
PASSING—Texas A&M, Knight 14-31-1-164. Alabama, Hurts 15-25-2-165.
RECEIVING—Texas A&M, Kirk 9-58, J.Reynolds 2-27, Tabuyo 1-33, Seals-Jones 1-25, Ford 1-21. Alabama, Howard 8-70, Ridley 4-27, A.Stewart 2-57, Jacobs 1-11.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—Alabama, Griffith 29.