TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Jimbo Fisher extended his hand. Nick Saban shook it.
The two coaches exchanged a few words that, from a distance, seemed pleasant enough. Fisher smiled at his former boss, then patted him on the arm.
The pregame meetup, while brief, felt familiar. It’s the customary midfield greeting that occurs between coaches before games around the country.
This handshake was notable because of what happened five months ago, when the two coaches exchanged verbal salvos that included Saban alleging, without proof, that A&M bought its entire roster, and Fisher responding with a scorched-earth rebuttal that included him dubbing the greatest coach of all time a narcissistic false god.
Since those barbs, the two coaches have said the matter is water under the bridge, and it’s business as usual.
This, too, is business as usual: Saban’s Crimson Tide is No. 1, and Fisher’s Aggies were overhyped.
Alabama retained its undefeated record Saturday in a blemish-filled, sloppy 24-20 victory.
The Aggies crossed midfield just twice in nine first-half possessions – and both of those occasions were thanks to Jalen Milroe’s fumbles inside Alabama territory. Business as usual for Fisher’s offensively challenged team. It’s been a while since Fisher was considered a quarterback guru.
But this, too, is becoming business as usual: Alabama won ugly.
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Sure, I could applaud the Aggies for covering a whopper of a point spread, but Alabama’s gaffes had a hand in this tight margin. The Crimson Tide had four turnovers.
A fifth-year coach earning $9 million doesn’t qualify for kudos for a four-point loss, but credit the Aggies’ defense for turning this into another white-knuckle Alabama victory. Fisher nearly beat Saban for the second straight season.
A&M was 2 yards from the end zone when Haynes King threw an incompletion on the game’s final play.
Alabama was that close to losing to an opponent that started 14 players who are freshmen or sophomores and lost earlier this season to Appalachian State.
A&M losing despite forcing four turnovers speaks to its continued offensive limitations.
Enough about the Aggies, though. We’ve established they were unworthy of their No. 6 preseason rank.
Alabama may encounter real trouble if reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young is not back in the lineup soon. He was in uniform but forced to watch after spraining his shoulder last week against Arkansas. Young did not throw any passes during pregame warmups
Milroe is an incredible runner, but he doesn’t look comfortable settling into the pocket and flicking passes. In fact, Milroe looks like a tailback in disguise.
While Alabama entering the Third Saturday in October ranked No. 1 is old hat, the Tide winning ugly is its new normal.
In a trend that continued from last season, Alabama is winning not with suffocating dominance but by having just enough talent and just enough key plays in the right moments.
Fact remains, though, Alabama needs Young back in the lineup. Quickly, too, with a road game next week against No. 8 Tennessee. Saban has never lost to Tennessee at Alabama, but the Volunteers, who demolished LSU 40-13 on Saturday, are no longer a joke.
And Milroe’s strength – his legs – does not position Alabama to take advantage of UT’s vulnerability: its pass coverage.
This tight outcome wasn’t all due to Milroe, either. Alabama missed two field goals. It had two unsportsmanlike fouls. Frankly, since Young departed in the second quarter against Arkansas, Alabama has not looked the part of No. 1.
Will Anderson Jr. is fantastic. This is established. He pressured King into a fourth-down incompletion in the fourth quarter, a pivotal stop with Alabama leading by a touchdown. Anderson had help, too, in keeping King under steady duress.
We’ve also established that Jahmyr Gibbs was a critical addition. For the second straight week, the Georgia Tech transfer stepped up while Young was relegated to spectator status.
The Tide avoided disaster despite stumbling around for four quarters.
Alabama was fortunate Fisher’s Aggies were the opponent Saturday and not Tennessee.