Earlier this year, Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher made a playful declaration.
He was asked at the Houston Touchdown Club what would be the key, other than Nick Saban retiring, to finally beating Alabama. In reply, Fisher jokingly assured that his Aggies would beat the Crimson Tide with Saban still at the helm.
Reporters told Saban about Fisher’s comment the next day and asked him what he thought.
“In golf?” Saban said sarcastically, appearing unconvinced that Fisher could pull off such a feat.
Five months later the two coaches met in College Station, Texas. Fisher’s unranked Aggies were coming off two straight losses. Saban’s Crimson Tide sat undefeated atop the national rankings. And in front of thousands of fans at Kyle Stadium on Saturday night, Fisher’s off-season words came to fruition. Texas A&M stunned Alabama, 41-38, on a walk-off field goal, handing the Crimson Tide their first loss since November 2019 and sealing the Aggies’ biggest win of the Fisher era.
It was the Aggies’ first win over Alabama since Johnny Manziel, who was on the Texas A&M sideline on Saturday, led the team past the Crimson Tide in 2012. And it was the first time that one of Saban’s former assistants (Fisher was Louisiana State’s offensive coordinator under Saban in the early 2000s) bested him.
The Aggies did it with their backup quarterback, Zach Calzada, who took over the role after starter Haynes King went down in Week 2 against Colorado.
Calzada completed 21 of 31 passes for 285 yards, tossing three touchdowns with one interception.
Late in the fourth quarter, Alabama stormed from behind to take a 38-31 lead after Young found wide receiver Jameson Williams uncovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Young hit Williams on the ensuing 2-point conversion for the lead.
Calzada responded by guiding the Aggies easily down the field, and he capped the drive with a 25-yard dime to receiver Ainias Smith for the tying touchdown.
After that, the Aggies defense, which appeared exhausted in the fourth after being on the field for most of the second half, got its biggest stop of the season and forced Alabama to punt.
Calzada had been hit in his left knee as he released the ball on the tying touchdown, but came back in the game on Texas A&M’s next possession after briefly going into the medical tent, and he moved the Aggies into field goal position.
“He didn’t know that play was a touchdown,” Fisher said of Calzada after the game. “He smiled and went back in. He was fine. And that’s what it is. That’s what football is. You get up off the canvas. You’ve got to go play. You get the heck knocked out of you. You’ve got to go play the next play. People don’t care.”
With a second left in the game, Seth Small’s kick sneaked in through the left upright, snapping Alabama’s 19-game winning streak.
Texas A&M pressured and blitzed Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, a Heisman Trophy favorite, early and often. The Aggies’ defense sacked Young three times in the first half and intercepted him early in the second quarter.
Texas A&M used that and a first-quarter fumble by running back Brian Robinson to take a 24-10 to the half.
Early in the third quarter, it appeared, for just a few minutes, that Alabama might be on its way to storming back for a win.
After stalling a Texas A&M drive at its own 18, Alabama’s Ja’Corey Brooks blocked Nik Constantinou’s punt attempt, and linebacker King Mwikuta recovered that ball in the end zone for the touchdown, cutting the Aggies lead to one score.
The Crimson Tide had little time to celebrate, though. On the kickoff, Texas A&M’s Devon Achane ran the kick back for a 96-yard touchdown. The Aggies’ lead swelled back to 14.
Then, on Alabama’s next possession, Young found Williams for a 29-yard score to bring Alabama back within a touchdown. The sophomore quarterback finished the game with 369 yards, three touchdowns, an interception and the first loss of his young career.
Alabama now awaits the next Associated Press Top 25 college football poll to see how far it will fall, giving fans new fodder for arguments leading into the first College Football Playoff rankings later this season.
And Texas A&M will surely find itself back in the media poll, where it was before losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State.
“We can be special if we allow ourselves,” Fisher said on the CBS broadcast after the game, his voice cracking and Texas A&M fans raging behind him.