When the schedule for the 2013 NCAA football season was released, everyone had this game circled on their calendars. Alabama at Texas A&M. A rematch of last season’s thrilling contest, that saw the upstart Aggies upset the top-ranked Crimson Tide before a stunned crowd in Tuscaloosa. That game was the coming out party for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who used that game as a springboard to the Heisman trophy. Since then, Manziel’s life as been turned upside down, with his off-field antics. Partying at all hours. Getting kicked out of the Manning quarterback school because he was “sick.” The autograph scandal in which he “unknowingly” signed autographs for a fee, which violated an NCAA rule. The trash talking and hand gestures, that Manziel used in the Aggies opener against Rice. Fun times at College Station.
Meanwhile, there is no shortage of controversy surrounding the defending National Champions. The latest out of Tuscaloosa is the case of former Tide, and current San Diego Charger offensive tackle, DJ Fluker. According to Yahoo sports, Fluker and four other SEC players received payments from an intermediary for agents and financial advisors, while still active in college football. When asked about the allegations, Alabama head coach Nick Saban delivered a terse lecture to the media, stating he would not answer questions regarding the story at this time. Despite Saban’s silence on the issue, a dark cloud hovers over Alabama and one wonders how this could affect the team and the program going forward.
With all the off-field stuff grabbing all the spotlight, let’s actually talk about what could happen on the field.
When Alabama Has The Ball:
The Tide have been famous over the years for a punishing run game that pounds their opponents into submission. While they still run the ball with authority, Saban and company will throw the ball more to create a balanced attack for the Tide. Quarterback A.J. McCarron has improved as a passer over the years, and has gained the confidence of the Alabama coaching staff. While McCarron’s numbers weren’t great in the Tide’s opening game victory over Virginia Tech, (10-23, 110 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.) Alabama won’t be shy in throwing the ball down the field, to stretch the Aggie defense.
Running back T.J. Yeldon brings speed with some added muscle to the backfield. The 6-2, 218 pound sophomore will be called upon in the second half, if Alabama has the lead, to close out the game, and wear down the Aggies. In front of Yeldon just might be the best offensive line in the country. Saban believes a strong O-Line is vital to a team’s success, and the hogs up front are a main reason why Alabama is the top ranked team in the country.
If Alabama is forced to pass more than they like to, look for Amari Cooper to be focus of the passing game. The sophomore receiver has the speed and athleticism to give secondaries fits. The Aggies will be forced to make some tough decisions with their safeties. Will they pull closer to the line of scrimmage to stop the run? Or will they sit back and go into double coverage to take away the deep pass? These are the problems Alabama forces on teams, which is why they are so difficult to beat.
When Texas A&M Has The Ball:
All eyes will be on Johnny Football, and for good reason. What Johnny Manziel did against Alabama last season was nothing short of remarkable, completing 24 out of 31 pass attempts for 253 yards and 2 touchdowns. Manizel also added 92 yards on 18 carries, which left Alabama defenders confused and confounded. Manziel seemed to read every blitz package Alabama threw at him, and made the proper reads down the field in terms of coverage. The question is, what type of adjustments the Alabama defense will make on Manziel, and can Manziel counter those adjustments with his athletic ability? Stay tuned.
A dual threat in the backfield could prove beneficial for Texas A&M. Senior Ben Malena is the speed aspect of the backfield, while sophomore Tra Carson provides the power. Neither back has reached the 100 yard mark in the Aggies first two games this season, but both are valuable cogs to the Aggies attack and will be vital to Texas A&M.
Mike Evans will be asked to test the Alabama secondary. The 6-5, 225 pound sophomore receiver will need to use his size and strength to make the key reception, especially on third down. Evans also possesses excellent speed which can stretch the defense, and open up holes in the middle of the field. Alabama will need to take away Evans with double teams, while containing Manziel in the pocket with specific blitz or stunt packages. Easier said than done.
Beware of Alabama’s special teams. They were lethal against Virginia Tech and could be a deciding factor in this game. Christion Jones returned a punt for a touchdown, while Mitchell Ludwig brought back a kickoff all the way to the house. In a close game, special teams can make a huge impact on the game, so beware of Alabama’s returners.
One advantage Texas A&M should have will be the home crowd. Kyle Field is one of the loudest stadiums in college football, and the legendary “12th Man” will shake the foundations that will make the CBS cameras bounce in terror. Alabama will need to be extra focused on offense and not let the crowd dictate their timing and precision. A quick start by Alabama will quell the mayhem and could be the impetus for an Alabama win.
This has all the makings of a classic. A growing rivalry at a fantastic venue with huge television ratings is a recipe for greatness. Add to the fact this has conference and National Championship implications will ensure this game will be the main focus on Saturday afternoon. Both teams will have to deal with distractions, but I think Alabama has motivation on their side as well as more talent on both sides of the football. Nick Saban teams rarely fall down twice to the same opponent in the same year, so look out for the Tide to come full throttle at Texas A&M. The Aggies are always tough at home and won’t go down easily. Vegas has the Tide as 7.5 point favourites, but I think the Aggies keep it close and beat the spread. Straight up, I like Alabama to win 31-27, and to stay number 1 in the rankings.
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