In two games, Alabama has shown the entire arsenal of a mature superpower. Against a defensive team with an expert coordinator in the opener, the Tide used special teams to score and their defense to kill the game off. On the road against Texas A&M, all the Tide's preparation and talent could not stop Johnny Manziel, so the offense went on a scoring binge to take command of the game.
Could the Bama teams of the early Saban era have won a game in which the defense didn't perform well? Probably not. From 2008-10 (I am excluding the transition year of 2007, as it bears little resemblance to what would come after it), Bama allowed more than 24 points five times and lost four of those games. Now, after unsurpassed recruiting over an extended period of time and a refined offensive approach, Bama can win any which way it wants. When Manziel and Mike Evans proved unstoppable (or in the SEC Championship game last year, when Aaron Murray and Todd Gurley were gashing the Tide), Alabama can win shootouts.
Whether the opponent chooses guerrilla warfare in the jungle or tank battles in the desert, the Alabama High Command has the answers.
Texas A&M was able to beat Alabama in 2012, but the return engagement showed the strides that the Aggies will have to make under Kevin Sumlin to get to the point where they can approach the Tide on equal footing. A&M was able to move the ball on Alabama because of the combination of a sharp offensive scheme, a wide receiver whom the Tide struggled to cover, and the talents of a singular sensation at quarterback.
However, the Aggies were helpless to stop the varied Alabama attack. When Bama wanted to run, they handed the ball to one of three running backs, each of whom averaged six yards per carry. When Bama wanted to throw, AJ McCarron was able to pass from perfect pockets, and he completed passes to five running backs, three running backs, and two tight ends. The Tide's offensive dominance was such that after the Aggies scored to close to within 42-35 in the fourth quarter, my first thought was "they should go for an onside kick here," and that impulse proved to be correct.
One of Steve Spurrier's maxims (and what SEC topic can't be answered by the Ol' Ball Coach?) is that you can scheme your way to success on offense, but you have to recruit your way to success on defense. This was evident on Saturday. The A&M defense was, by far, the weakest unit on the field. The Aggies start only two seniors on defense and have 11 freshmen on their depth chart. Additionally, only three of A&M's non-JUCO defensive starters were among the top 25 recruits at their positions (according to the 247Composite). By contrast, Alabama started no underclassmen on defense and only two players who weren't ranked in the top 25 at their positions. That's the difference between a mature superpower and a program that is off to a promising start under a new coach, but that has a ways to go before it can deploy talent everywhere on the field.
The good news for the Aggies is that Sumlin's first full recruiting class brought in five freshmen defensive players who were 247Composite four-stars or better, with several more highly ranked three-stars. Those players were mostly too green to stop Alabama's onslaught on Saturday, but freshmen generally get better with experience (unless they are being coached by Lane Kiffin). If the Aggies keep recruiting at the pace they established last year, then in a few years' time, they'll be able to stand toe-to-toe with Alabama without neutrals like me thinking that their only hope for a key stop is an onside kick.
And the events in Austin on Saturday night might have made A&M's progression on the Alabama curve more likely. The Mack Brown era is fully in its death throes, which should cede recruiting primacy in Texas to the Aggies until the Horns have a coach who can sell the new direction that Sumlin has been able to peddle. Oklahoma's strange recruiting decline in recent years clears the field even more.
And because I can never heed Basil Fawlty's advice, I'm going to relate the Bama-A&M game to World War II, specifically June 22, 1941. To make the rest of the SEC happy (and in honor of Uncle Jack), we'll make Alabama the Germans. To give Rick Perry a coronary, we'll make Texas A&M the Soviets. When the Germans attacked the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht was a finely tuned fighting machine that had benefited from years of upgrades and attention and had then honed its skills in Poland, Norway, the Low Countries, and France.
The Red Army, on the other hand, was supplied by more agricultural economy, its upper leadership had been ravaged by Stalin's purges, and its most recent experience was getting taught a lesson by tiny Finland. Stalin belatedly realized that perhaps his alliance with the Nazis -- a party based in no small part on implacable opposition to Communism and racial hatred of Slavic people -- wasn't a long-term solution and was building up the Red Army, but the Soviets remained well behind the curve when the German spearheads poured across the border, aimed at Kiev, Leningrad, and Moscow.
The point is that two fighting forces met one another when one was farther ahead on the development curve than the other. The less-developed force was defeated initially, but eventually caught up in every respect, aided by the fact that it had greater resources available to it. That's the story that Texas A&M fans have to tell themselves after Saturday.
In the long run, a program that is both well-coached and also occupies a preeminent recruiting position in Texas will be able to compete with anyone, even the current Alabama juggernaut. The key point is that the Aggies have to have three more years like the one they just had in order to find themselves where Alabama currently sits on the development curve.