The calm after college football’s storm

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The worst defensive performance in the history of Alabama football, at least according to the stat sheet, was no reason for Nick Saban to panic.

Scoring 42 points and putting up 628 yards against the No. 1 team in the country — and losing — was not the way Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin expected the most-hyped game of the young college football season to play out.

“Nobody probably saw that coming,” he said.

Now that it’s over, both teams can get back to the seemingly mundane business of playing out the rest of their schedules and trying to win a championship or two.

For Saban and his Crimson Tide players, there almost seemed to be a sense of relief that it was over and they had survived another go-round with uncanny Johnny Manziel and the Aggies’ prolific offense.

“We did not play as well on defense against some very good players,” Saban said. “When you don’t fundamentally do things the way you’re supposed to you usually pay the price. We were trying to rush five guys and keep Manziel in the pocket and (Aggies receiver Mike Evans) had his way with us.”

Did he ever.

Manziel drew the headlines with a career-high 464 yards passing and 562 total yards, the second-best performance in Southeastern Conference history. Evans was almost as impressive. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound sophomore caught seven passes for a school-record 279 yards.

Alabama tried to pay more attention to the middle of the field to keep Manziel from scrambling and making big plays. But that left them vulnerable on the outside to Evans. Making matters worse, the Tide played the second half without cornerback Deion Belue, who was out with a toe injury on his right foot.

As strange as it might seem for Alabama’s defense to ever admit being not good enough to stop an opponent, that seemed to be the case when it came to the Aggies.

“It was a lot of work chasing around Manziel,” linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “We expected Manziel to move around the pocket to make plays, and he did what he did.”

Saban can take comfort in knowing that Alabama is done with Manziel — maybe forever as he could jump to the NFL next season — and there is no offense even close to the Aggies’ left on the Tide’s schedule. Alabama gave up 628 yards, the most it’s ever allowed. Saban can use it as a teaching moment, knowing that while his defense was shredded it was not necessarily exposed.

The Aggies’ defensive issues are more problematic. The defense had struggled against Rice and Sam Houston State, but the hope was that the return of some key players from suspension — including senior linebacker Steven Jenkins — would help against Alabama.

It didn’t. AJ McCarron passed for 334 yards and T.J. Yeldon ran for 149 as the Tide had its way on offense.

“We’ve got to get some things shored up in our front defensively,” Sumlin said. “We’ll be fine schematically. We’ve got to get our guys playing a little bit better.”

Much like Saban, Sumlin could take solace in knowing it will get no tougher for his team than it did Saturday. And he can be encouraged that his team didn’t fold when the Tide rolled out to a 35-14 third-quarter lead.

“We just played a really good football team. There’s a reason they’re the No. 1 team. I was proud of the effort,” Sumlin said. “We didn’t always do everything right. Nobody can say that this team quit.”

Round 1 of ‘Bama vs. A&M went to the Aggies in Tuscaloosa last year. Manziel went on to win the Heisman Trophy but Alabama still won the SEC and national championships.

With fall only a few days away, there is still plenty left to be decided.

“Last year we were the team dancing around on their field and having a good time. They probably felt like we feel right now,” Sumlin said. “You’ve got no greater example of how to handle one game than the team in the other locker room. They went on to have an extremely successful season.

“Our goals are still out in front of us.”

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