TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — It has become a regular thing for Alabama coach Nick Saban to stalk the sideline opposite one of his former pupils.
Beating them has certainly been routine.
Saban and the top-ranked Crimson Tide face another former acolyte Saturday when Jimbo Fisher brings his 22nd-ranked Texas A&M Aggies (2-1, 0-0 Southeastern Conference) into Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Fisher brings with him what shapes up to be the best team Alabama (3-0, 1-0) has faced so far this season. The first three have been dispatched with ease, and the Aggies are 27-point underdogs in this one.
Saban said Fisher has done a good job of infusing his new program with his own standard and system, especially with the league’s top-rated offense.
“They’re a completely different kind of team than they’ve been in the past,” Saban said. “They run the ball. Really good play-action passes but still have a lot of elements of spread and they’re a very effective passing team.”
But former Saban underlings haven’t fared well against him as head coaches. He has won all 12 such meetings, including a 24-7 opening win over Fisher’s Florida State team last season.
Only the national championship game in January against Kirby Smart and Georgia has been competitive. The average margin in the other meetings has been a whopping 29.9 points.
Smart, Fisher, South Carolina’s Will Muschamp and Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt are all now leading SEC programs.
Texas A&M has already taken one powerhouse team to the brink. The Aggies fell 28-26 to No. 3 Clemson after failing on a two-point attempt with 46 seconds left and losing a late fumble.
Now, they get a crack at a program that’s won five national titles under Saban.
“This is what you live for,” Aggies receiver Jhamon Ausbon said. “These big games big guys show up and big players show up but if you attack each play at practice like it’s a big game then you should have no problem in the game coming down with those plays.”
Here are some things to know about the Texas A&M-Alabama game:
Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa has been the SEC’s most efficient passer and one of its most dynamic playmakers despite spending much of the first three games on the sideline with big leads. Tagovailoa has passed for eight touchdowns with no interceptions while Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond has six touchdowns and also hasn’t been picked off.
Mond had a huge game against Clemson , passing for three second-half touchdowns and a career-high 430 yards. Both quarterbacks are capable runners.
“I feel like they’ll have somebody just really doing their best to contain me in the pocket,” Mond said. “We’ll have some designed quarterback runs but we’ll definitely mix up the plays.”
Texas A&M is averaging an SEC-best 596.3 total yards and ranks in the top three in both rushing and passing. Alabama’s rebuilt defense hasn’t faced such a balanced attack yet, but mostly dominated the prolific Mississippi passing game and hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown.
Alabama has won the last five meetings but the last Aggies victory came in 2012 when they upset the top-ranked Tide 29-24 behind Johnny Manziel’s big game. On the next visit to Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama won 59-0 for its largest victory over a ranked opponent.
Beyond a first-play touchdown by Mississippi in a 62-7 game , Alabama hasn’t been tested at all. The Tide has outscored opponents 170-28, meaning Tagovailoa & Co. haven’t had to play a whole game or gotten a chance to show how they handle adversity. The Aggies hope to change that.
BANKING ON JEFF
Saban was often impressed with the Aggies’ special teams play in recent years, so he hired the man largely responsible for it. Under Jeff Banks’ tutelage, Alabama leads the nation in kick return average — albeit on only three tries. Alabama has switched kickers, too, with Joseph Bulovas taking over. And freshman Jaylen Waddle has been a threat on punt returns.
AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken contributed to this report.
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