Week 3 was weird wire to wire, but not without warning. There was spectacle in College Station. There was fantasy in Tempe. The signs were there: Kicking off play with a Thursday-night contest in reliable bat country like Lubbock is just asking for it. Of course the highlight of TCU–Texas Tech was Tech's mascot scampering around the sideline trying to catch a wild fox that had wandered into the stadium. It's only natural that Saturday night wound down with a substantial officiating controversy in Wisconsin–Arizona State. And just like the almanac said, a firefight broke out in the midday showpiece game between the Crimson Tide and the Aggies, with noted gunslinger AJ McCarron flinging touchdown passes about. The almanac's words are written in what looks like blood, and its covers feel suspiciously scaly to the touch. Don’t worry about that now.
Ain't No Ceiling, Only Blue
• No. 1 Alabama 49, no. 6 Texas A&M 42. If you're not feeling sort of smugly blessed, a little overfull from rich visuals, and needing an emotional belt-loosening, here's a courteous suggestion: Go rewatch Tide-Aggies. You cannot have consumed deeply enough from this cornucopia, a profusion of football happenings crafted to satisfy the vast majority of palates. CBS microphones captured Nick Saban telling Kevin Sumlin during their postgame handshake "You took 10 years off my life." Despite suspicions that time as we experience it has no meaning to Saban, such a sacrifice must be ardently cherished given how grumpy he can get about having to take time off from recruiting to do things like coach in the national title game.
In the clash between Johnny Fuckin' Football's mad magic and Alabama's rules of order, natural law reasserted itself, but not before the Tide got good and eroded. Johnny Manziel set a school record for passing yards (464), and did so against a Saban defense. Manziel’s 562 yards of total offense trails only his 2012 bombardment of Louisiana Tech for most offensive production by a single player in a single game in SEC history. Manziel's favored target, sophomore receiver Mike Evans, set a school record of his own with a 279-yard outing. A&M's 628 yards of offense are the most allowed in Tide history.
Legends were made last night, in the same way they always are. At game’s end, with a third title in four years secured, a coach already cast in bronze was doused in Gatorade. A quarterback with the perfectly smeared eye black and the perfectly telegenic girl kissed a hunk of crystal. Everything about Alabama’s 42-14 win seemed the pristine image of college football lore — except, of course, that its best player spent all night with his gut spilling out of his shirt.
Last year, Alabama’s defense earned much of the credit for Nick Saban’s second title run. Six Tide defenders went in April’s draft — four in the first two rounds. It was touted as one of the best college defenses ever, and in Bama’s 21-0 rolling of LSU in the national championship game, AJ McCarron and friends hitched along for the ride. Against the Irish, the point total may have doubled, but the players of the game still didn't earn a single one of Bama’s 529 total yards. They won this one up front, and they wasted no time in showing how.
From the first drive, it was clear that the Alabama line was set to take it to Notre Dame all night. Irish star Louis Nix had an admirable showing against All-American Barrett Jones in the middle of the field, but to either side, the night belonged to the champs.
I have an admission to make: Several times this season I've tried to watch Alabama play an entire game, and each time I've failed. Sure, I’ve watched quarters of football here and there — the bludgeoning of Michigan, the decimation of Arkansas, and the tidy strangulations of Mississippi State and Tennessee. But watching this team methodically squeeze the life out of opponents is similar to what I imagine it’s like to play against it — occasionally awe-inspiring, but somewhat exhausting. That was again the case until the waning moments of Saturday’s comeback victory against LSU.
For much of the night, Alabama had been outplayed. LSU's offense, which looked flat-out dysfunctional for much of the year, absolutely took it to Alabama's vaunted defense. The Tiger passing attack, in particular, went from awful in previous games — against Florida, South Carolina, and Texas A&M Zach Mettenberger had completion percentages of 44, 48, and 37.9 — to something resembling the Montana–to–Jerry Rice 49ers, hooking up on 25 of 36 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown. The Tigers defense played a stout game as well. Before going 4-for-5 on the final drive, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was 1-of-7 for seven yards in the second half.
The Tide’s trademark slow suffocation was being used against them. But down just three late in the fourth quarter, there was still enough time for one of those awe-inspiring moments. Games like that can't be reduced to just one play, but if it was going to be, oh what a play it was. AJ McCarron's screen-pass flip to T.J. Yeldon — who took it the remaining 28 yards to the end zone for the game-winning score — already has its place in football history, known simply as "AJ to T.J."