Alabama vs. Texas A&M Preview
Texas A&M LB Adrian Hubbard
Week 3 Fearless Prediction & Preview - Alabama vs. Texas A&M
Alabama (1-0) at Texas A&M (2-0) Sept. 14, 3:30 CBS
Why You Should Give A Hoot: Something legendary is going to happen.
Alabama's sensibilities are offended. Nick Saban and his staff would never, ever, ever admit to looking past an opponent, especially one as strong as Virginia Tech, but from all indications, when it came to offseason focus, all roads lead to College Station on September 14th. This is the game that speaks to the coaching staff's skills, because this is when the best defense in college football, with all the time in the world to prepare, should be able to rise up and stop one guy and one offense. If Alabama really is as good and as strong as it's supposed to be from top to bottom, inside and out, Saban to waterboy, with an entire offseason to get ready and two more weeks off after the opener to gear up, one Mr. Manziel has to be ready for the fury and ferocity of the entire weight of everything that is Alabama football.
But there's a flip side to that.
What happens if Johnny Manziel is fantastic? Considering just how jacked up Alabama will be, and considering what this coaching staff can do to make elite offensive players look silly, even if Manziel is merely adequate, all the offseason stuff no longer matters if he leads his team to a win. If he pulls it off, all of a sudden it's his Heisman for the taking – again – and he'll be the starting quarterback of the No. 1 ranked Texas A&M Aggies. More importantly, the narrative of the 2013 college football season would take an abrupt left turn.
There's obviously a whole lot of college football yet to be played. Both programs have to deal with LSU and the rest of the brutal SEC West, and both teams will have their share of struggles and landmines to overcome, but this is the tone-setter. This is when Alabama flexes its muscle and shows the world that it doesn't matter what anyone else is doing, the season belongs to the two-time defending national champion. Or, this is the arrival of Texas A&M as a real, live national superpower. It's easy to forget now, but the Aggies lost the opener to Florida and were 5-2 by late October – they were never in the BCS championship chase.
This is just the just the sixth meeting between the two schools that Bear Bryant helped mold into college football powerhouses. Alabama won the first showdown in the 1942 Cotton Bowl and owns a 3-2 advantage.
Why Alabama Might Win: The Texas A&M defense has yet to show up. The focus hasn't exactly been tight in the first two games against Rice and Sam Houston State, and several key parts to the puzzle were missing for a chunk of the opener due to suspension, but now everyone is back in full. Will everything be jelled right away against a Tide offense that spent the last two weeks hearing about how inept it was against Virginia Tech? Sam Houston State was able to come up with big play after big play on the ground, with Timothy Flanders rushing for 170 yards and two scores on 19 carries, while Brian Bell and the passing game came up with enough home runs to get by. The Aggie defensive front seven is full of athletes, and it should be able to fly around the ball, but Alabama's offensive line is about to get very, very physical after struggling to establish itself against the Hokies.
Why Texas A&M Might Win: Was the Virginia Tech game an indication that Alabama's offense isn't going to be up to championship snuff, or was it simply a case of the Tide going up against one of the ACC's best defenses? Either way, the results weren't a positive. The Tech secondary covered Amari Cooper like a blanket, holding him to four catches for 38 yards, while QB AJ McCarron struggled against a good pass rush. As long as the Aggies are aggressive and active in the backfield, they should be able to counteract Bama's power with just enough big plays to get by. It'll be all about third downs; win the down, and, possibly, win the game. The speed is there to hang with the Tide athleticism, but there might have to be lots of bending without breaking.
Who To Watch Out For: Okay, Johnny, your table is ready. Manziel won the Heisman because of his brilliant statistical season, but the Alabama game was the signature moment, completing 24-of-31 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 92 rushing yards on 18 carries. More than that, he showed a flair for the dramatic, bringing together his schoolyard style with cool and toughness under pressure. This year, he has to be ready and prepared for things to not go all that well. He's not quite used to knowing what life is like when things don't go his way on the field, but it's no coincidence that the two worst rushing games last year came in the team's two losses to Florida and LSU. Alabama isn't going to let him run wild and will contain him from the outside, which means he has to get the ball out of his hands quickly and effectively. Get ready for Johnny Manziel, pocket passer, but at times, the two-yard pass play might be the right move. He can't get caught trying to make the spectacular, and he can't press. Against Alabama, being humble is a necessity at times, and that's not exactly his strong suit.
- Don't dismiss the idea that Alabama's 206 yards of total offense against Virginia Tech – while not excusable in any way – were partly due to the lack of necessity. The Tide took the early lead and the defense had things well in hand. There was one big gaffe on the big touchdown run allowed to Trey Edmunds, but 77 of the Hokies' 212 yards of offense came on that one play. Of course Alabama was trying to be better, but it's not like it had to press or take any chances. Even with the problem, T.J. Yeldon still averaged a not-that-bad 4.4 yards per carry.
- While Mr. Clowney will certainly be a part of the mix, there's a chance two of the top three picks in the 2014 NFL Draft will be on display at left tackle. Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews haven't been dominant forces so far early on - Matthews was beaten for a sack – but with all the star power on the field, these are the two rocks who'll be under the most scrutiny from the scouts.
- Since a 17-10 loss to Auburn in 2007, Alabama is 24-2 in regular season games away from home. The two losses came in 2010 to South Carolina and LSU.
What Will Happen: You do not make Nick Saban angry. Call this his own personal battle to show the world that, yeah, Texas A&M and this offense can be stopped, and it's his defense that's going to do it. The Alabama offense won't exactly be a work of art, but it'll be brutally effective when it has to be in a statement game for the Tide program. Manziel will be fine, and he'll have a few big moments, but he's about to be in for a rough, rough afternoon.
Prediction: Alabama 31 … Texas A&M 17
Line: Alabama -7.5 o/u: 62
Must See Rating: (5 Boardwalk Empire – 1 Teen Beach Movie) ... 5
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