No. 11 Alabama takes first place in SEC West with 26-20 win over Texas A&M

Don’t count out Alabama just yet.

While the No. 11 Crimson Tide have not been as dominant as has been the norm during the Nick Saban era, they remain very much in the thick of both the SEC and College Football Playoff races following a 26-20 road win over Texas A&M on Saturday.

Alabama, which improved to 5-1 overall and took sole possession of first place in the SEC West with the win, actually trailed the Aggies 17-10 at halftime before turning in an impressive second-half effort from both the defense and quarterback Jalen Milroe.

With his team down by seven points, Milroe threw an ill-advised interception on Alabama’s first series of the second half. It looked like a play that could handcuff the Tide as A&M was in position to take a two-score lead.

But the Alabama defense picked up its quarterback. Two plays later, Alabama freshman Caleb Downs returned the favor by stepping in front of a pass from Texas A&M’s Max Johnson, giving the ball back to the Alabama offense.

From there, Milroe went back to work and made the Aggies pay for not adding to their lead.

To this point in the season, Alabama has been primarily a run-based team on offense. But with the A&M front bottling up the Tide’s running backs, Milroe had the best passing performance of the season as he threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns with Jermaine Burton and Isaiah Bond emerging as his main targets.

Bond had seven catches for 96 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown in the first half. But it was Burton who most hurt the Aggies.

In his second season with the Tide after a transfer from Georgia, Burton put together the best game of his career as he caught nine passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns. His first score came on the heels of the Downs interception on a beautiful throw by Milroe on a third-and-14 play.

Later in the third quarter, after Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher curiously decided to punt on fourth-and-1 from the Alabama 45, the Milroe-to-Burton connection gave Alabama a lead it would never relinquish.

Burton first broke loose for a 46-yard gain on the drive before Milroe found him for a 19-yard score three plays later. It was another third-down play in the red zone, too, and it gave Alabama a 24-17 lead.

Alabama’s defense took care of business the rest of the way with some questionable decision-making from Fisher assisting the effort.

The Aggies reached Alabama territory on their next two drives, but Fisher sent his punter out on a fourth-and-6 from the 45 and then tried for a field goal on fourth-and-5 from the Alabama 24. The field goal was blocked, keeping Alabama’s lead at 24-17.

And then on Texas A&M’s next drive, the Alabama pass rush forced a Johnson intentional grounding penalty from his own end zone for a safety to make it 26-17.

Later in the fourth, the Aggies made it interesting by driving to the Alabama 2-yard line, but Fisher decided to settle for a 20-yard field goal after three straight goal line plays failed. Texas A&M would never see the ball again as Alabama ran out the clock to seal the victory.

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