As Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher fielded a question Monday at his weekly news conference, a look of surprise came across his face when he was asked about Alabama’s defense appearing more “vulnerable, especially against the run” this season.
“I don’t know what film they’re watching,” Fisher retorted. “Looks pretty good to me. Guys have gotten some yards late on them, but in the games, they’ve been really controlled in the first part of those games.
“You’re looking at numbers. Look at when they’re gotten, how they’re gotten and why they’re gotten. They’ve been pretty good. … They’re a typical Alabama team. They’re big and physical up front. They have young linebackers but they’re athletic. In the secondary they’re very experienced.”
Alabama’s defense is tied for 35th in the country in yards allowed per game and ranks 51st against the run, but Fisher wasn’t harboring talk that the Tide’s defense has slipped this season ahead of Alabama’s trip Saturday to Kyle Field.
Fisher has little reason to downplay what Nick Saban’s unit is capable of doing. In two career games against his former boss, Fisher has lost both times and has been outscored 69-30.
The most recent loss for Fisher, who served as Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU from 2000-04, came last season in Tuscaloosa, 45-23. A year earlier, Saban beat Fisher-coached Florida State, 24-7, in Atlanta.
Now, Fisher has a third chance against Saban on the Aggies’ home turf in College Station, Texas.
“You’d rather play him at home than you would in a neutral or on the road, that’s for sure,” Fisher said Wednesday on the SEC coaches teleconference. “Unfortunately they’re still bringing the same really, really good players and really well-coached players too, so that makes it tough.
“it’s a challenge. That’s the things you look forward to. That’s why you came into this league. That’s why we come to A&M and you get to play in these games, your players get to play in these games and you look forward to these opportunities to create these memories and the things that go on.”
With Alabama’s win last month over Will Muschamp and South Carolina, Saban improved to 17-0 over his former assistants. Asked in July at SEC media days about being part of that lopsided history, Fisher resorted to humor.
“I’ve never heard that, never, ever heard that before,” he joked.
But what is it actually going to take for one of Saban’s former assistants to beat their old boss?
“What’s it going to take? 60 minutes of great football,” Fisher said in July. “You have to line up and play. And more importantly, you have expect to win the game. Don’t hope to win it. You got to expect to win. You got to go in the game prepared knowing that you can win it and play it, perform and execute. Don’t worry about winning the game. Before you win it, you have to play it. I think that’s the key.”
With a 3-2 record this season, including losses to Clemson and Auburn, the No. 24 Aggies have hung onto their AP top 25 ranking for at least another week after entering the season No. 12.
“Jimbo has done a great job with his teamy,” Saban said Wednesday. “They’ve had a tough schedule so far but they’ve played extremely well.”
Fisher returned the compliment Wednesday.
“They know how to win, they expect to win, they have a very veteran team,” Fisher said of Alabama. “Even though they’re young, they have a lot of veterans who know how to do it and have been doing it for a long time. So they set a great example for those young guys and it really, really helps them.
“We have our work cut out. We need to go play well. Having said all that, we go play our game and do the things we do, that’s what we can control, is how we got to play. But we’re gonna have to play well in all three phases against a great team, No. 1 team in the country. Should be a great opportunity for us and a great game.”
Here are some other thoughts from Fisher on Alabama:
On Tua Tagovailoa: “Good as anybody in college football. Accurate, beats you with his legs, feet, mind. Does all those things. … He does a great job of anticipating throws and getting the ball out of his hand. He processes the information pre-snap and post-snap very well that allows him to make quick decisions. He’s a very, very good athlete. His balance and body control, he gets his feet to where he has to get them to. He has very good hand talent to be able to throw the football. You combine those things with knowing what to do, where you’re going. He doesn’t miss very often. … It’s a great combination [with the receivers], which they have, but Tua is a very, very good player and he also creates those plays with those legs when he has to, too, and buying time in the pocket. He’s a really, really good player.”
On Alabama’s wide receivers:“[Tagovailoa] has a very dynamic group of guys who create great separation. They run great routes. When they run routes, as I say as a quarterback, I’m always watching receivers, they’re very easy to read. What I mean by that by their body language and when they stick their foot, how they flatten and you get great trust that way. You can throw balls early and know guys can go in there and know they have that acceleration to go get it on top of that, makes it very good. … Four great who play predominantly that are just all electric and very rarely do you always see four guys who can score with the ball in their hand at any time. They all can go deep, short. Their double moves are phenomenal and how they run routes, the system in which they have and how they run it, it’s just a very good disciplined group. This group knows how to run routes and how to get open and create a lot of separation.”
On defense: “I think they’ve done a really good job defensively. Even though they’ve played a couple young guys, they still have some very, very experienced guys in [Anfernee] Jennings, [Terrell] Lewis and those guys. Raekwon [Davis]. Very experienced guys up front who have great size, length, mass, use their hands. Coached well. Very disciplined in their rush lanes, in the pass game. Play the run extremely well. Leverage the football well. Allows those young ‘backers that are athletic, you see them get better and better each week. They play very, very well. Can run, cover, do the things they do. The secondary, excellent corners, nickel, both safeties do a really, really good job.”