No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Texas A&M have a thing for drama and both teams put on performances that managed to live up to the mammoth-sized hype surrounding the "rematch of the century."
The Crimson Tide came back, took control and held on to defeat the Aggies 49-42 in Kyle Field, needing every second to secure the victory.
"It’s a great win," Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "It’s a great way to start some momentum. We came in trying to build an identity for ourselves."
The game went from a potential snoozefest to an intense battle that kept everyone on edge hoping their team would make one more play than the opponent. Alabama did in the Southeastern Conference opener for both squads.
"We improved as a team," Tide coach Nick Saban said. "Obviously, we haven’t put it all together yet. When you lose 30 percent of your team, you have to develop chemistry on your team and I think that’s starting to happen with this team. This was a great win for our players today."
First, second and third impressions of this game were deceiving.
Texas A&M (2-1) again delivered early shots to Alabama’s defensive psyche. The Aggies scored twice in the first quarter and all signs pointed to a repeat of last season’s 29-24 upset of the Tide.
Only this time, Alabama (2-0) didn’t wait until it was too late to respond. The Tide became the aggressor, scoring 35 unanswered points on its way to racking up 568 yards of total offense (334 passing, 234 rushing).
Alabama’s offense sustained long drives to give its defense critical rest.
"We need to have long drives, especially with that type offense that they have, big plays every other play almost with those guys," Tide quarterback AJ McCarron said. "You’ve got to eat up some clock and pound the ball on them."
The Tide delivered body blow after body blow and seemingly wore the Aggies’ defense down while keeping the Aggie on the sideline.
"I’m so proud of our players for the resiliency they showed out there after getting behind 14-0 in the game," Saban said. "Just slowly and methodically coming back in the game and building the lead."
But A&M doesn’t do anything slow or methodical. The Aggies kept the tempo high offensively en route to accumulating 628 yards of total offense (464 passing, 164 rushing).
Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel was his usual videogame-like self. The Tide’s defensive scheme was built around forcing Manziel to become a one-dimensional pocket passer. He didn’t oblige and gained 562 yards of offense -- including 98 rushing yards -- and threw five touchdowns.
His main target was redshirt sophomore wide receiver Mike Evans, who torched the Tide’s secondary for a school-record 279 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions. He did the majority of his damage in the first quarter with 135 yards on four catches. But his shining moment came in the fourth quarter on a perfectly placed pass from Manziel that Evans took 95 yards for a touchdown to bring the Aggies back within striking distance at 42-35.
"We were trying to rush five guys and push him (Manziel) in the pocket to keep him from beating us and 13 (Evans) had his way with our corners pretty much all day," Saban said.
Saban believes a few moments define a season. One of those moments came on Alabama’s decisive touchdown drive. The Aggies were heavily playing the run and quarterback AJ McCarron took the offense into his own hands. McCarron made the play call that lead to the 5-yard touchdown pass to Jalston Fowler on a play action fake.
That pushed the lead to 49-35, before A&M's late touchdown to cut the final margin to seven.
McCarron had a career day with 334 yards and four touchdowns, completing 20 of 29 throws.
"The whole game, pretty much, even run (plays), coach allowed me to check in and out of plays literally the whole game," McCarron said. "He would just give me a run call and then I know I have certain checks out of it, a certain way to run, and I think he just kind of left it in my hands to get us in the right play."