Alabama is still the SEC's alpha dog (until further notice)

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Here's a little research project for everyone: Head deep into the stacks, dust off those record books and check which team won the Southeastern Conference way back ... in 2014.

"People do forget," Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson said.

To be fair, Alabama has endured several rough chapters since it raised the SEC championship trophy 315 days ago in Atlanta. There was a humbling loss to Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal. There was an uninspiring quarterback competition that seemingly wouldn't end and slipped into the season. There was a Week 3 loss to Ole Miss, a game Alabama dominated in the stat sheet except for two categories: turnover margin (minus-5) and final score (43-37).

Mixed together, these setbacks contributed to a massive outbreak of long-term memory loss, followed by verbal diarrhea.

"If we lose one game, everybody says, 'There must be something wrong with you. The dynasty's over,'" Robinson said. "No. We just lost one game."

There's nothing wrong with Alabama. The Crimson Tide aren't a perfect team -- far from it, coach Nick Saban is quick to say -- but they're still a team to be respected, if not feared, around the SEC.

They are still the defending SEC champions.

If an Oct. 3 win at Georgia showed Alabama isn't going anywhere -- and might never be an underdog again -- Saturday's 41-23 triumph against No. 9 Texas A&M at Kyle Field showed the Tide once again could be going places. Alabama received record performances from its defense, which recorded three pick-sixes for the first time in team history, and from running back Derrick Henry, who set a career-high rushing total in the first quarter with 153 yards and finished with 236 yards and two scores on 32 carries.

There were mistakes, as there tend to be in raucous road environments against talented opponents. Alabama mucked around on special teams, allowing a punt return touchdown and having a punt blocked. There were pressure points, like the loss of center Ryan Kelly to a head injury, which shrank Henry's between-the-tackles running room. And Alabama clawed through it.

"We've got a lot of things we can do better, but you've got to hand it to this team, man," Saban said. "This is the second team ranked in the top 10 we've beaten on the road in some really tough places to play.

"You've got to respect the competitive character of this team."

Henry's bulldozing brilliance Saturday is worth noting, but he did that in Week 1 as well. Alabama's growth in potential problem areas, such as quarterback and the secondary, seem more significant in the bigger picture.

The best thing about Coker's stat line Saturday (19-of-25 passing, 138 yards) -- like his stat line at Georgia (11-of-16 passing, 190 yards) -- was what it lacked (interceptions). He didn't hurt his team and even showed a little Jakey Football in Johnny's House, niftily scrambling 16 yards in the fourth quarter to set up first-and-goal, and ending the run by lowering his throwing shoulder to deliver a blow.

"I don't believe in sliding," Coker said.

Alabama will keep winning if its secondary keeps changing momentum. The back end had taken heat, justifiably, for allowing big plays. Alabama entered Saturday having allowed opponents to complete 41.2 percent of throws 20 yards or longer, the 10th-highest percentage among Power 5 defenses.

Texas A&M made its chunk plays, like always, recording four passes of longer than 20 yards. But Alabama dulled the damage with interceptions, two each by Minkah Fitzpatrick and Eddie Jackson. Fitzpatrick had scoring returns of 55 and 33 yards, while Jackson had a 93-yard score and set a team single-game record with 119 return yards.

Aggies quarterbacks had just three interceptions in 169 pass attempts entering the game.

"Alabama had a lot to do with the way we played," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said.

Saban said Texas A&M ran several pass patterns Alabama hadn't seen, and the secondary had to overcome several breakdowns in the second quarter.

"First quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter, we did a really, really good job and we had our second wind," Saban said. "Those guys have been playing pretty well back there for about three weeks in a row."

Maybe Alabama just needed its second wind after Ole Miss. Unless Auburn or Mississippi State becomes markedly better in the next month, the Tide's toughest trips are behind them. The SEC West -- and most likely the SEC championship -- likely will come down to Alabama's Nov. 7 home showdown with LSU.

Coker evoked his inner Bee Gees afterward, classifying Alabama's impressive stretch simply as, "Staying alive."

Robinson thinks a stronger message was sent across the league.

"Don't doubt Bama."