Alabama football, the new normal, wins lousy. But Tennessee is next

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Jimbo Fisher extended his hand. Nick Saban shook it.

The two coaches exchanged a few words which, from a distance, seemed quite pleasant. Fisher smiled at his former boss, then patted his arm.

The pre-match encounter, though brief, felt familiar. It’s the usual midfield greeting between coaches before games across the country.

This handshake was notable because of what happened five months ago, when the two coaches exchanged verbal salvos that included Saban alleging, without evidence, that A&M bought his entire roster before the rebuttal of Fisher’s scorched earth that included him dubbing the greatest coach of all time a narcissistic fake god.

From those barbs, both coaches said it was water under the bridge and business as usual.

That, too, is business as usual: Saban’s Crimson Tide is No. 1 and Fisher’s Aggies has been hyped.

Alabama retained its undefeated record on Saturday in a sloppy 24-20 win.

The Aggies (3-3, 1-2 SEC) only crossed midfield twice in nine possessions in the first half – and both of those chances were due to fumbles from Jalen Milroe inside the territory of Alabama. Business as usual for Fisher’s offensively challenged team. It had been a while since Fisher was considered a quarterback guru.

But that too becomes business as usual: Alabama won lousy.

Sure, I could applaud the Aggies for covering a big point spread, but Alabama’s gaffes played a part in that tight margin. The Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0) had four turnovers.

A fifth-year coach earning $9 million doesn’t qualify for kudos for a four-point loss, but credits the Aggies’ defense for turning that into another Alabama victory. Fisher came close to beating Saban for the second straight season.

A&M were 2 yards from the end zone when Haynes King kicked an incomplete on the last play of the game.

Alabama was poised to lose to an opponent who started 14 players who are freshmen or sophomores and lost earlier this season to Appalachian State.

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A&M losing despite four forced turnovers is a testament to their continued offensive limitations.

Enough about the Aggies, though. We’ve established that they aren’t worthy of their No. 6 pre-season rank.

Alabama could be in real trouble if defending Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young isn’t back in the lineup soon. He was in uniform but forced to watch after spraining his shoulder last week against Arkansas. Young did not throw a pass in pre-match warm-ups

Milroe is an incredible runner, but he doesn’t seem comfortable getting into the pocket and throwing passes. In fact, Milroe looks like a traffic jam in disguise.

While Alabama entering the third Saturday of October ranked No. 1 is old hat, Tide’s ugly winner is its new normal.

In a trend that has continued since last season, Alabama wins not with stifling dominance, but by having just enough talent and just enough key plays in the right moments.

The fact remains, however, Alabama needs Young in the lineup. Quickly too, with a game on the road next week against No. 8 Tennessee. Saban has never lost to Tennessee in Alabama, but the Vols, who demolished LSU 40-13 on Saturday, are no joke anymore.

And Milroe’s strength — his legs — doesn’t position Alabama to take advantage of UT’s vulnerability: their pass coverage.

This close result was not entirely due to Milroe either. Alabama missed two field goals. There were two unsportsmanlike fouls. Frankly, since Young’s departure in the second quarter against Arkansas, Alabama hasn’t looked at the No. 1 role.

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Will Anderson Jr. is fantastic. This is established. He pushed King to an incomplete fourth down in the fourth quarter, a game-breaking save with Alabama leading by a touchdown. Anderson also had help keeping King under constant restraint.

We also established Jahmyr Gibbs as a key addition. For the second week in a row, the Georgia Tech transfer running back stepped up while Young was relegated to spectator status.

The Tide avoided disaster despite stumbling for four quarters.

Alabama was lucky the Fisher’s Aggies were the opponent on Saturday and not Tennessee.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.

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