Think back to early May, as Jimbo Fisher went on one an epic rant after Alabama head coach Nick Saban accused the Aggies head coach of "buying players" after the program signed the No.1 recruiting class in the country during the 2022 recruiting cycle. In the aftermath, every media member in the country had October 8th circled on their calendars as the potential "game of the year" as both head coaches looked to take their personal frustrations out on the gridiron.
Well, as we're now only a couple of days away from the game, Texas A&M sits at 3-2 on the season, coming off of their embarrassing 42-24 loss to Mississippi State last Saturday, while Alabama is right where they're supposed to be, ranked No.1 in the land, and 5-0 on the season after defeating the Arkansas Razorbacks 49-26.
As the media has seemingly given the contest backseat treatment due to Texas A&M's failure to yet again live up to preseason expectations so far this season, that doesn't mean that the matchup has lost its importance, especially for an Aggie squad that is looking for any type of positive spark to help them get back on track with seven games left in the season.
To further prepare you for the showdown with Alabama this weekend, here are 5 things that Aggie fans should pay attention to ahead of 7:00 PM Saturday night.
Haynes King or Conner Weigman? Jimbo Fisher has a choice to make
Oct 1, 2022; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Max Johnson (14) gets up after a play against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the second quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
Texas A&M's Starting quarterback Max Johnson suffered an injury to his throwing hand in the second half of last Saturday's game against Mississippi State, making him doubtful against the Crimson Tide on Saturday night. On Monday, Jimbo Fisher reiterated that Johnson is "day to day" while stating that former starter Haynes King and true freshman Conner Weigman will "compete" for the starting gig if Johnson in fact cannot play.
The team knows what they have in King, who in relief of Johnson on Saturday rushed for 1 touchdown, but proceeded to throw two interceptions, 1 returned for a score. As Conner Weigman has yet to make an appearance this season, the young signal caller is dripping with talent, and may just be the spark the offense needs against the Tide, and the offense moving foward.
Alabama Quarterback Bryce Young/ Jalen Milroe vs. Texas A&M's pass defense
Jan 10, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young (9) drops back to throw against the Georgia Bulldogs during the third quarter of the 2022 CFP college football national championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Due to the unknown regarding Alabama quarterback Bryce Young's status for Saturday's game (AC Joint Sprain), talented sophomore Jalen Milroe will take his place if called upon. Whoever ends up playing will be going against an Aggie secondary that allowed 329 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air from Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers, by far their worst outing yet this season.
Yes, it was against Mike Leach's air raid offense known for embarrassing most competent secondaries, but due to their lack of execution on turnover opportunities and general communication issues in coverage, defensive back leaders Demani Richardson, Antonio Johnson, and Jaylon Jones need to step up in a big way if they stand any chance against Alabama, while looking back at the success they had after beating the Tide last season, and frustrating quarterback Bryce Young for most of the night.
Aggies Defensive Coordinator D.J Durkin will be under the microscope on Saturday night
Oct 1, 2022; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs running back Dillon Johnson (23) is stopped short of the goal line by Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman Shemar Turner (5) during the second quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
Texas A&M's defense has been, for the most part, good enough throughout the season to keep the team in every game, but began to show a number of holes after the loss to Mississippi State. First-year defensive coordinator D.J Durkin is following in the footsteps of former coordinator Mike Elko, who left the program to take his first head coaching job at Duke University, garnering immense respect for the defense's performance against the Tide last season, sacking Bryce Young four times during the game.
Coming into the game ranked as the 58th defense in the country, Durkin would be better off going with a 4 man front for most of the game while utilizing the litany of young pass rushers against an Alabama offensive line that has shown some issues with consistenty so far this season.
Texas A&M's wide receivers will once again need to elevate their play in a big way
Sep 24, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Texas A&M Aggies wide receiver Moose Muhammad III (7) tries but cannot catch a pass during the second half against the Arkansas Razorbacks at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Throughout the season, no matter who the quarterback has been, the Aggies have struggled in the passing game minus their season-opener against Sam Houston State. The confusing part? Texas A&M is littered with talent at the wide receiver position, and that statement still rings true after Ainias Smith's season-ending injury.
Last Saturday against Mississippi State, sophomore wideout Moose Muhammad II stepped up in a big way while replacing Ainias Smith in the slot, recording 6 receptions for 119 yards and 1 touchdown, leading the offense in all three categories for the game. True Freshman talents Evan Stewart and Chris Marshall have had their moments, but will be asked to do even more this Saturday night against an Alabama defense ranked in the top 10 in almost every defensive category. The question isn't "if" the wide receiver will catch fire this season, it's simply a question of when.
Texas A&M's offensive line vs. outside linebacker Will Anderson
Sep 17, 2022; College Station, Texas, USA; Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Max Johnson (14) and offensive lineman Bryce Foster (61) and Miami Hurricanes defensive lineman Mitchell Agude (45) in action during the game between the Texas A&M Aggies and the Miami Hurricanes at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
If you've been reading anything we've put out in the last couple of weeks, heck, ever since the start of the season, Texas A&M's offensive line has been under some scrutiny as of late due to sub-par play, and a perceived lack of understanding in the trenches.
This week, Texas A&M's O-line will face the best defensive player in college football, and one of the most feared pass rushers in the last 10 years in outside linebacker Will Anderson, who has already accumulated 5 sacks in five games so far.
Last season, then true freshman right tackle Reuben Fatheree essentially neutralized Anderson for most of the game in the Aggie's win against the Tide, but as the right side of the line led by center Bryce Foster, right guard Layden Robinson, and right tackle Reuben Fatheree has failed to live up to their personal expectations so far this year, it's time to have their most inspired performance yet, and it's going to take a group effort from the entire O-line as the Tide are sure to line up Anderson all across the defensive line.
Story originally appeared on Aggies Wire