A pick-six can be devastating to the quarterback who throws it. He has to quickly shake off the mistake, which led to easy points for the other team, and keep the rest of his offensive guys from getting jumpy when they head back onto the field.
So imagine how Texas A&M felt last year, playing at home against Alabama, when the Crimson Tide picked off three passes and returned them for scores. Two overthrown passes and a defensive back who guessed correctly led to three defensive touchdowns and a relaxing 41-23 victory for Bama.
Football really is a simple game. Offenses score points. Defenses try to stop the offenses from doing so.
Then there’s football the way Alabama coach Nick Saban created it. The Crimson Tide has scored a non-offensive touchdown in nine straight games, dating back to last year’s national semifinal against Michigan State.
Sixth-ranked A&M travels to top-ranked Alabama for Saturday’s SEC showdown, and what should be frightening for the Aggies is that the Tide is even better at non-offensive scoring than it was a year ago.
Alabama sports a nation’s best 11 non-offensive touchdowns this season. Four resulted from interceptions, four came via fumble recoveries and three on punt returns. Bama has scored multiple non-offensive touchdowns in three of its four SEC games. It’s a robust layer of protection for an offense that’s led by a true freshman quarterback.
Some coaches refer to these sorts of touchdowns as off-schedule scores because you can’t plan on them. Unless you’re Saban. In the decade the coach has spent in Tuscaloosa, his teams have scored 57 of them.
Reporters always want to know a coach’s secrets. So do fellow coaches. Saban was asked earlier this week about how he can mold a defense into such a scoring force. He was cryptic, offering no clues, other than turnover drills.
“If we tell everybody what we do,” Saban said, “then what do we do when we play them?”
“This is the kind of profession that you hope you can come up with something that somebody doesn’t expect you to do so you can give your players a better chance to be successful.”
Kyle Allen, the A&M quarterback who was abused by Alabama a year ago, has transferred to Houston. Current Aggies quarterback Trevor Knight is a fifth-year senior who has a victory against the Tide that came when he was playing for Oklahoma in 2013.
Knight hasn’t protected the ball that well this season, throwing five interceptions against only nine touchdowns. The Aggies also have lost six fumbles.
Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said Alabama is able to instantly convert turnovers into touchdowns for a variety of reasons. The defensive backs, many of whom played on offense in high school, gamble and try to jump routes. The line is excellent at rushing the quarterback. The defenders tackle en masse so when a ball pops out, someone is in position to scoop it and score.
It’s been weeks, but Mississippi probably still is stinging from its game against Alabama. The Rebels built a 21-point second-quarter lead over the Tide. Then Bama pulled off a trifecta of non-offensive touchdowns. A defensive back fielded a short rugby punt and darted 85 yards for a score. A defensive lineman scooped up a fumble and headed for the end zone. Then there was a pick-six.
A&M definitely can commiserate as the Aggies hope to stop the Tide’s overwhelming streak.