Tuscaloosa, AL (SportsNetwork.com) - The seventh-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide return home for the first time in nearly a month, when they play host to the 21st-ranked Texas A&M Aggies in an SEC West showdown at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday.
Nick Saban's squad is 5-1 on the year and 2-1 in the SEC, but hasn't played a game on its home field since a 42-21 victory over Florida on Sept. 20. The Crimson Tide suffered its only loss of the season on Oct. 4 at Ole Miss (23-17), but was able to get back in the win column, although not easily with last week's 14-13 road win at Arkansas.
Kevin Sumlin's Aggies opened the 2014 campaign with five straight wins, but played SEC upstarts Mississippi State and Ole Miss in the last two weeks, losing to the Bulldogs, 48-31, before bowing to the Rebels last week in College Station, 35-20.
Alabama holds a 4-2 edge in this series, including a 49-42 shootout victory in College Station last year.
Despite no longer having Johnny Manziel making plays for the A&M offense, the Aggies have continued to put up big numbers on that side of the football, ranking sixth in the country in scoring (43.9 ppg) and fourth in total offense (564.9 ypg).
A lot of that comes from sophomore signal caller Kenny Hill. The Heisman hopeful has picked up right where Manziel left off, completing 66.8 percent of his passes, for 2,511 yards and 23 TDs. He is throwing for almost 360 yards per game and his 159.26 passer rating is good for 13th in the nation.
A deep receiving pool has certainly aided, headlined by Ricky Seals-Jones (37 rec, 377 yds, 3 TDs) and Josh Reynolds (29 rec, 476 yds, 8 TDs).
The Texas A&M ground game lacks a workhorse, but both Trey Williams (6.1 ypc, 5 TDs) and Tra Carson (5.1 ypc, 4 TDs) are more than serviceable.
Saban knows the kind of problems A&M's offense can cause.
"This team is a real challenge," said Saban. "Their offense is one of the best passing offenses in the country. They're certainly coached very well in the passing game. They still can run the football, but they make a lot of big plays in the passing game. We're going to certainly have to be at our best to do a good job of trying to get them stopped."
The defensive numbers for A&M has been adequate, but with such a potent offensive attack, adequate has been just fine for the most part. The team is yielding just 22.6 ppg this year, while giving up just under 400 yards of offense per game.
Senior cornerback Deshazor Everett doesn't mind mixing it up, leading the Aggies in total tackles with 47 stops on the season. Freshman end Myles Garrett (30 tackles) has made an immediate impact with his play upfield, leading A&M in both TFL (9.5) and sacks (7.5).
Although it didn't show last weekend in sloppy conditions in Fayetteville, Alabama's offense is explosive. The Crimson Tide are generating an even 500 yards of offense per game, good for 18th nationally. Balance has been the key, with 211.3 yards coming on the ground and 288.7 through the air.
Senior quarterback Blake Sims has been a revelation under center, in replacing AJ McCarron. Sims has completed 67.8 percent of his passes, for 1,480 yards with 10 TDs and his 169.34 passer rating ranks seventh nationally.
Coach Sumlin has noticed the different approach under center this year for Alabama.
"They're a different team offensively. Their quarterback is completing at almost 70 percent. Blake Sims gives them an added dimension they haven't had in the fact he can move around. AJ (McCarron) will probably be upset I said that (laughing). I'm not saying (Blake) is a scrambler for yardage all the time, but what he has been able to do is avoid taking sacks. He moves around back there and creates plays with his movement."
It certainly helps to have the nation's top wideout to throw to in junior Amari Cooper. The 6-1 playmaker has already hauled in 54 balls this season, going for 768 yards, with five TDs. His 128.0 yards per game ranks third nationally.
Tailbacks T.J. Yeldon (4.9 ypc, 75.3 ypg) and Derrick Henry (5.0 ypc, 63.7 ypg) handle the majority of the carries on the ground.
The Alabama defense is once again one of the top units in the entire country, ranking third nationally against the run (68.8 ypg) and in total defense (277.2 ypg). Where Alabama has struggled is in creating turnovers, with just eight through six games.
Junior safety Landon Collins is Alabama's next star in the secondary. The 6-0 veteran leads the team in tackles (46) and interceptions (2). Senior end Xzavier Dickson (20 tackles) leads the Crimson Tide in both TFL (7.5) and sacks (5.0).