|September 14, 2013||Breakdown of Alabama-Texas A&M|
|September 13, 2013||Preview of C.J. Mosley interview with Scott Van Pelt|
|September 13, 2013||Five questions with a Texas A&M beat writer|
|September 11, 2013||Report: Former Alabama lineman D.J. Fluker accused of accepting money from agent while with Tide|
|September 11, 2013||Alabama coach Nick Saban continues praise of Texas A&M's offense|
|September 10, 2013||Tide puts emphasis on starting fast against Texas A&M|
|September 09, 2013||All four freshmen running backs work with scout team|
|September 09, 2013||Nick Saban's news conference during Texas A&M week|
|September 09, 2013||Dalvin Tomlinson will miss remainder of season|
|September 08, 2013||CBS to use 'Johnny Cam' to follow Manziel during Alabama-Texas A&M game|
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Rarely does a game ever live up to the hype, but No. 1 Alabama (1-0) at No. 6 Texas A&M (2-0) has the chance to do that and more.
All the chatter will soon cease, but here are some things the Tide must do in order to get a victory in College Station with a score prediction.
1. Out the gate: Alabama can’t afford to get down early. The Crimson Tide must come out and make a play or two early to take the rowdy crowd out of the game.
2. Eye discipline: Alabama’s defense spent much of the week talking about eye discipline when defending reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. In short, the Tide’s defenders can’t get caught peeking in the backfield at Manziel when in coverage or receivers will burn them for a big play.
3. Second level: Alabama’s offensive line struggled against Virginia Tech. The unit never established a solid running game and quarterback AJ McCarron had little time in the pocket. The key for the Tide’s offense will be can the line get to the second level when run blocking. If they can, look for T.J. Yeldon and others to have a big performance. If not, Alabama is in for a long day.
4. Get off the field: In last year’s game, Manziel gained nine first downs on 13 third-down dropbacks. That can’t happen again. The best way to stop Manziel is to keep him on the sideline. While the offense will need to sustain long drives, the defense needs to force some three-and-outs.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel vs. Alabama’s linebacker C.J. Mosley:
On Wednesday, Mosley said he’ll be the main “spy” against Manziel. It wouldn’t be surprising if Alabama uses a similar game plan to its 2009 defense against Florida in the SEC Championship Game. Rolando McClain spent a lot of time spying Tim Tebow, and while Manziel is a different player, Mosley is capable of running Manziel down in the open field. It’s easier said than done, but Mosley and the Crimson Tide’s defensive line will have to keep Manziel in the pocket to make him one dimensional.
College football fans couldn’t ask for a better matchup. Texas A&M wants to prove last year wasn’t a fluke and that they are serious national championship contenders. Alabama is seeking revenge against the one team that beat them while chasing an unprecedented three-peat. Johnny Manziel will make it interesting and he’ll put up points, but it’s hard to believe Nick Saban and Kirby Smart won’t figure out a way to make a few key stops to give the Tide the edge. ... Alabama 31, Texas A&M 28.
TUSCALOOSA -- In order to breakdown Alabama’s opponents, each week we’re reaching out to beat writers who cover the opposing teams. Sam Khan Jr. covers Texas A&M and SEC football for ESPN.com.
Q: The Aggies defense gave up 59 points to Rice and Sam Houston State. Cause for concern against Alabama?
A: Yes and no. Yes because it's never good to give up as much on the ground as the Aggies have (they allowed Rice 306 rushing yards and Sam Houston State ran for 240), but no because the Aggies didn't have their full complement of defensive players. Three starters served two game suspensions: linebacker Steven Jenkins, defensive end Gavin Stansbury and cornerback De'Vante Harris. In the first game against Rice, they were also missing three other key defensive for all or part of the game and a total of four were missing for part or all of the Sam Houston State battle for various reasons. With the exception of Floyd Raven, their starting free safety who injured a collarbone last week, virtually everyone should be available for the Aggies' defense, meaning the first team will take the field together for the first time all season. That will help immensely against Alabama? Does it mean that they'll shut down the Crimson Tide rushing attack? Not necessarily. But now the defense won't be almost completely full of first-year players and there's no substitute for experience.
Q: In what ways has Johnny Manziel improved as a quarterback and how will he attack this year's Alabama defense?
A: There are three key areas where I see improvement in Manziel: 1) His decision-making during the play. A few times last season when he scrambled and tried to make a play, he would sometimes throw the ball up across the field or across his body in hopes of making something out of nothing. Against Sam Houston State, the only time I saw him do that was when the Bearkats jumped offside and he knew he had a free play. Otherwise, he looks like he got better at throwing the ball away. 2) He is making more of an effort to stay in the pocket. Don't get me wrong -- he still likes to run and will still scramble regularly, but you can tell he's making an effort to go through his progressions on passing plays and find an open receiver. And his grasp of the offense is better too. 3) He looks to me like he's more accurate than he was a year ago. A few of the passes he made against man-to-man coverage last week were really impressive, including a deep sideline pass to Mike Evans and a 20-yard fade pass to the back-corner of the end zone for a touchdown to Ja'Quay Williams. The fade pass wasn't a strong suit for Manziel but he sure lofted a pretty one last week. As for how he'll attack the Tide defense, it sounds cliché but I think he'll take what they give him. If he finds room to scramble, he will, but if not, he'll be more than happy to stay in the pocket and sling it.
Q: Who is Texas A&M's most important player not named Johnny Manziel and why?
A: I think there are a few guys who fit this description but I'll go with senior running back Ben Malena. He has improved significantly over the course of his career and he helps set the tone for the offense with his running ability. He can run between the tackles or on the edge and the Aggies run the ball more than people think. He plays on multiple phases of special teams, including the kickoff return team and the punt coverage team. And the fact that he does that leads into what I think is the most important quality about Malena and that's the leadership that he provides. By being a true team player and not being too good to play multiple phases of the game even though he's a starter, he sets an example for other guys on the roster to follow.
Q: Give Alabama fans an offensive and defensive player that could surprise the Crimson Tide.
A: On offense I'll go with running back Tra Carson. He transferred from Oregon and sat out last season per transfer rules, so the last two games were his first as an Aggie, but he quickly showed that he's an asset to the loaded backfield the Aggies have. He can move the pile with his 235-pound frame but also has good speed for his size. He'll be key in short-yardage and goal-line situations when the Aggies face them, and he already leads the team with four rushing touchdowns. On defense, I'll pick defensive tackle Alonzo Williams. Last season when these two teams met, senior defensive tackle Spencer Nealy played a key role in the win, matching up against center Barrett Jones and becoming disruptive in the backfield. Nealy (6-5, 277) wasn't a typical SEC defensive tackle size-wise, but he was quick and persistent and was a consistent factor. Williams is of similar size (6-4, 280) and progressed well toward the end of his true freshman season and earned himself a starting job this year. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Aggies try to use Williams in a fashion similar that they used Nealy. And the benefit that both have is that 6-4, 310 defensive tackle Kirby Ennis will line up next to them in four-down-linemen sets.
Q: Who wins, why and what's the score?
A: I'll pick Alabama 31-27. Even though A&M has most of their key defensive players back, I'm not certain that they're going to be effective stopping the run. I know Alabama had offensive line issues in the first game against Virginia Tech and if the Tide struggle in that area again, then to me, that completely changes the look of the game and the Aggies have the upper hand. But I'll bet they got some of those fixed and if the Tide are successful on the ground, that will open up room for play action passes downfield and allow the Tide to control the pace and tempo of the game. I don't think Texas A&M will struggle to move the ball much, I think they'll have a similar effort offensively to what they did a year ago. It's hard to stop an offense that good, especially when a quarterback like Manziel is back there. But the question marks Texas A&M has, between the run defense, the depth and play of the safeties and perhaps even placekicking make me think that the Tide have the slight advantage here, even though they're on the road.