- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here's what we learned from No. 1 Alabama's thrilling win over No. 6 Texas A&M on Saturday afternoon in College Station, Texas.
Alabama is still the class of the SEC: It wasn't all pretty, and we'll get into some of that below, but the overall picture for Alabama has to be a rosy one. The Crimson Tide overcame a furious start from Texas A&M to not only win the game but dominate it for the better part of three quarters. The offensive line returned to form, AJ McCarron had his own Heisman Trophy-like performance, and the defense did just enough to stagger Johnny Manziel and the Aggies offense. The good news for Alabama is it won't face an offense like Texas A&M's again this season. The secondary will have time to improve, and the front seven can create an identity. The biggest takeaway is the fact that Alabama got away from College Station with a win. Now the only major hurdle between Nick Saban and an unprecedented third straight trip to the national championship game is a dull nonconference schedule, a tiptoe around the SEC East elite and a showdown with annual rival LSU.
The secondary has its issues, but Vinnie Sunseri can make plays: When I wrote "It wasn't all pretty," you didn't have to read ahead to figure out what I was referring to. Alabama's secondary was exposed by Texas A&M. Mike Evans abused every defensive back who tried to cover him -- Deion Belue, John Fulton and Cyrus Jones to name a few -- and he wasn't the only one hitting up the secondary for big plays. Manziel bought time with his feet and got the ball downfield time and time again. Take away his two turnovers and the outcome might have been wildly different. But take heart, Alabama fans, Sunseri was there to play hero. The often-embattled safety continued to make big plays, this time nabbing a tipped pass and returning it all the way to the end zone for a score -- his second pick-six of the season. What looked like a weak spot is suddenly a point of strength as Sunseri and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix form a formidable back end of the secondary. Now if only the cornerbacks can get sorted out.
The offensive line is much, much better than we thought: McCarron said it best when he told ESPN's Tom Rinaldi after the game, "The O-line did an unbelievable job. I don't think I touched the grass all day." In fact, he didn't get his jersey dirty at Kyle Field. Two weeks after looking downright shaky against Virginia Tech, giving up 12 tackles for loss and four sacks, Alabama's offensive line responded in a big way. Ryan Kelly, Austin Shepherd and Arie Kouandjio didn't look like first-time starters against Texas A&M, as they helped hold the Aggies to just one tackle for loss and no sacks. Alabama rolled up the Aggies for 234 yards on the ground, opening up the passing game as a result. McCarron, the beneficiary of a sturdy pocket, threw for 334 yards and four touchdowns. Maybe the line was playing possum in Week 1 or maybe it really did take some time to fix the communication issues and establish the necessary chemistry. Whatever it was, it worked and new offensive line coach Mario Cristobal should get a tip of the cap for what his unit was able to do on Saturday.