Nick Saban found himself on the defensive after a lackluster performance by Alabama.
He could have more explaining to do if he’s unable to bring the Crimson Tide’s suddenly moribund offense back to life.
The No. 7 Crimson Tide will look to send No. 21 Texas A&M to its first three-game losing streak in nearly three years Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama (5-1, 2-1 SEC) won its first four games by a combined 168-56 margin before falling 23-17 at then-No. 11 Ole Miss on Oct. 4. The Crimson Tide narrowly escaped a second straight defeat last Saturday, winning 14-13 on the road against an Arkansas team that lost its 15th straight in conference play.
They went ahead on a six-yard touchdown pass from Blake Sims to DeAndrew White with 12:36 remaining, avoiding another second-half letdown after being outscored 20-3 in the second half by the Rebels.
With his team drawing some criticism, Saban responded with some pointed comments during his Monday press conference.
“Everybody’s got such a high expectation for what our team should be,” Saban said. “It really sorta, if you want to know the truth about it, (ticks) me off when I take to people that have this expectation like they’re disappointed that we only won the game, 14-13, and in the way we played.”
Alabama left plenty to be dissatisfied with in victory, however.
The Tide’s 227 yards of offense was the fifth-lowest total in Saban’s 100 games at the school. They’ve averaged 311.5 in the last two games after posting 594.3 in the first four contests, and have scored 17 or fewer points in back-to-back weeks for the first time since Saban’s first season of 2007.
Amari Cooper, who entered the Arkansas game second in the FBS with 149.2 receiving yards per contest, was held to two catches for 22 yards.
Alabama also committed four fumbles on special teams last week, losing two.
Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2) is trying to avoid its first three-game losing streak since Oct. 29-Nov. 12, 2011, after 48-31 and 35-20 defeats to then-No. 12 Mississippi State and No. 3 Ole Miss, respectively.
“Back-to-back losses are obviously something no one is happy about,” linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni said. “I feel like we’re better than that.”
A suddenly stagnant offense has also been the problem for the Aggies, who have averaged 25.5 points in the past two games after scoring 51.2 per game in the first five. They converted 12 of 35 third downs in the last two after going 34 for 63 during the 5-0 start.
Kenny Hill led the nation with a 175.9 rating after the first five games, throwing 17 TDs and two interceptions. He’s been intercepted five times in the last two contests, with one getting brought back for a touchdown by Mississippi. Hill also lost a fumble that was returned for a score.
“We can’t win like that,” Hill said. “That’s on me.”
Texas A&M still ranks fourth in offense with 564.9 yards per game.
This will be the second test for Alabama against a top-10 offense after a 33-23 season-opening victory over West Virginia in which they limited the Mountaineers to 393 yards – 159.2 fewer than their current average. The Tide are holding opponents to 277.2 yards per game to rank third nationally.
“We’re going to certainly have to be at our best to do a good job of trying to get them stopped, and also to control the ball on offense so they don’t have it all the time,” Saban said. “Those things are really critical in a game like this.”
Alabama leads the all-time series 4-2, though the visiting team has won both matchups since Texas A&M joined the SEC. The Aggies beat the then-top ranked Tide 29-24 in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 10, 2012.
T.J. Yeldon ran 25 times for 149 yards and a TD in Alabama’s 49-42 victory last Sept. 14. Cooper caught two passes for 34 yards.