Alabama’s emotional win in Death Valley is in the past and now it’s time to look forward to a sneaky successful Texas A&M team that’s headed to Bryant-Denny Stadium this weekend.
Quarterback A.J. McCarron—who led the two-minute drill of his life against LSU—said, very nonchalantly, that that win and that 28-yard screen pass to T.J. Yeldon for the game-winning touchdown means nothing if the Crimson Tide doesn’t keep winning.
“If we finish out like we’re supposed to, that’s probably one of the greatest wins I’ve been apart of in my life,” he said. “Wins only mean so much if you finish out strong. If we don’t finish out strong, it really doesn’t factor in. Just another win.”
In their first year in the big, bad SEC, the Aggies are rolling. With just two losses on the season—to Top 10 teams Florida and LSU by just three and five points, respectively—this team, led by true freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, has one of the conference’s most lethal offenses.
“They’re the best offensive team in our league,” said Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
The tricky thing about Manziel, who Saban said reminds him of Doug Flutie, is that he passes on run plays and runs on pass plays, which confuse defenses. And once he escapes the pocket, he’s hard to catch.
“It’s going to be a tough game this week,” McCarorn said. “It’s definitely not going to be a pushover. We’re going to have to come out ready to play and jump on them early.”
Matchup: No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC) vs. No. 15 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2), 2:30 p.m., CBS
On the line: Like it is every week for Alabama, everything is on the line. A loss means goodbye perfect season, so long national championship and trip to Miami in January. If the Crimson Tide loses their first game of the year, they’d still have a chance to clinch the SEC West and a spot in the conference championship game with a win over Auburn, but a loss will infuriate this team.
For Texas A&M, a win over the No. 1 team in the land would make them the most impressive story of the year, hands down. The Aggies’ first year in the nation’s top conference and they beat Alabama on the road? That would be a huge coup for the program, likely propel them into the Top 10 (last time Aggies finished a season ranked in the Top 10 was 1994) and would have to mean Kevin Sumlin would be up there as a Coach of the Year candidate.
When Alabama has the ball… Last week against LSU, McCarron was off his game with the exception of the two two-minute drills he executed to perfection. The Aggies secondary ranks 12th of 14 teams in the SEC, so this could be a good game for McCarron to get his groove back. If Kevin Norwood is still reeling from those stellar catches last week against LSU and if Amari Cooper is healthy enough to play, Alabama could route the Aggies through the air.
A&M defensive end Damontre Moore, who chased down a Mississippi State receiver last week, leads the SEC with 11 ½ sacks, so Alabama’s offensive line will have another challenge protecting McCarron this week.
Texas A&M can stop the run, however, so Eddie Lacy (if healthy) and T.J. Yeldon will need to get going early in order to deflate the Aggies confidence.
When Texas A&M has the ball… Johnny Football is the pride and joy of this offense and leads the SEC in total offense, averaging 383.2 yards per game (280.8 passing, 102.4 rushing). But he’s not a one-man show. Senior Ryan Swope is a record-setting wide receiver and is hard to tackle. A&M’s rushing attack—led by Manziel, Christine Michael and Ben Malena—is No. 1 in the conference and has racked up a total of 1,880 yards (251.3 ypg) this season.
But their offensive success starts with the five guys up front. Offensive tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews will both be first-round draft picks in April.
Prediction: This will be the Aggies 10th game of the season without a bye (their season-opener against Louisiana Tech was rescheduled due to Hurricane Isaac), but they haven't shown signs of letting up yet. They're also 5-0 on the road.
This team kept things close against Florida and LSU, only losing by a combined eight points, but the SEC veterans eventually wore A&M out in the second half.
And that should be the case in Bryant-Denny Stadium this weekend. If Alabama’s defense can contain Manziel—a key matchup will be the likes of C.J. Mosley, Adrian Hubbard and any other linebacker that gets his chance in a one-on-one in an open-field tackling situation with Manziel—the Tide will be in good shape. Not to mention if history means anything, the Aggies are 1-10 against the nation's No. 1 team.
It’s the SEC’s best offense vs. the SEC’s best defense, so we’ve got an interesting matchup in store.
Alabama 31, Texas A&M 14
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