It's been a while since these two last stood toe-to-toe on the same field. 1988 to be exact, the Hurricane game as it was billed lo these many years ago. A relatively unknown soon-to-be star Derrick Thomas enhanced his Alabama legacy with one of the great defensive performances of all time that night in a 30-10 win for the Crimson Tide.
Boy, have things changed since then. And, to be honest, the magnitude and perception of this game is different even from the beginning of the season. Before the season started, Texas A&M fans would've taken an "atta boy, good game, good effort" performance from the Ags in one of the most difficult places to play in the country.
But, after watching this A&M team grow and mature, there is some good ol' fashioned "hope" going in that A&M can be more than competitive. On the other side of the ledger, the Alabama machine almost came to a grinding halt in Baton Rouge, but a five play, 73 yard drive cemented the legacies of an Alabama team that had done nearly everything but send Crimson Tide faithful into hysterics with a late game "save".
Consider that accomplished, whether Nick Saban wanted such a finish or not. Do yourself a favor, if you're a football fan, check out the Alabama reaction compilation video following RB T.J. Yeldon's 28 yard catch-and-run for the final points of Alabama's 21-17 win. You will enjoy. But, back to the business at hand, this one should be fun, so let's go.
WHEN A&M HAS THE BALL…
Texas A&M's Offensive Keys to the Game
1. Johnny Manziel must understand when to be Johnny Football and when to throw the ball away and live to see another down.
2. Keep hammering away with the run game in the first half because it will open lanes in the middle of the field on play action later. Alabama safeties will be schooled this week in the art of filling the gaps after last week's game.
3. Misdirection has to be quick, draws have to develop early - play execution has to match the speed of the Alabama D.
4. First downs are GOLD, puts A&M in no huddle and keeps Alabama personnel on the field for long stretches of time - the pressure it puts on defenses, especially in the first half, exacts a toll on those defenders.
5. Don't forget about WR Ryan Swope - vs. base defense, get him matched up on LB in the slot and then play catch and run.
Texas A&M Offensive Players to Watch
1. QB #2 Johnny Manziel - no question he's the straw stirring this drink, leads Ags in rushing, passing and Scooby Doo costumes.
2. WR #13 Mike Evans - he's the one X Factor for A&M due to his 6'6" size, CB can't match up, but hammy is an issue.
3. C #61 Patrick Lewis - has herculean task of blocking NT Jesse Williams, if he can handle him 1-on-1, the O has a chance.
4. RB #1 Ben Malena - runs with a ferocity that works well against a physical defense like Alabama's.
Alabama's Defensive Keys to the Game
1. Slow and steady wins the race - the rush on Manziel has to be enveloping, making sure that Bama's rushers aren't flying upfield on speed rush, leaving seams in the defense that Johnny Football will exploit.
2. Show conservative look pre snap, be aggressive post snap - disguise off coverage and then jump short routes after the snap to force Manziel into mistakes.
3. NT Jesse Williams must occupy blockers to keep guards/centers off of linebackers that must focus on run game.
4. LBs must trust cross key reads - run game has to be contained within the tackle box - Malena, Christine Michael and Manziel can't have downhill running lanes on into the secondary.
5. Win 2nd down - the only time the Aggies slow the tempo a bit is on 3rd and long. Plus, Alabama can dominate on 3rd and long to get off the field, keeping the Ags from getting into NASCAR, up tempo no huddle after made 1st down.
Alabama's Defensive Players to Watch
1. DE #42 Adrian Hubbard - had 2.5 sacks against LSU and will be a menace for Jake Matthews or Luke Joeckel if A&M gets into certain 3rd down passing situations.
2. LB #32 C.J. Mosley - given spread looks A&M will throw at Alabama, Mosley should be on field for majority of time.
3. CB #28 Demarcus Milliner - all around cornerback who has had an All-American season for the Tide.
4. S #37 Robert Lester - how will DC Kirby Smart utilize him in stopping Manziel? Big question. Either way, he's a huge chess piece to deploy against an offense as diverse as the Aggies' O.
WHEN ALABAMA HAS THE BALL…
Alabama's Offensive Keys to the Game
1. The OL MUST pick recognize and then effectively block the twists and stunts that A&M threw at MSU to destroy that offensive unit.
2. Wear the Aggies down. It will happen. Florida did it. LSU did it, sort of. When the Aggies are on the verge, keep hammering away with Lacy, Yeldon and the power run game.
3. Attack the corners with Amari Cooper deep early in the game - just missed against LSU but must take that shot again to back off the Aggies' safeties.
4. Account for Damontre Moore with a man or man and a half on every pass play. Do not let #94 get loose in the backfield.
5. Go no huddle at select points in the game. Yes, it defies common wisdom against a team with an up tempo offense like A&M. But, in both 2 minute situations last week, QB A.J. McCarron and the offense flourished.
Alabama's Offensive Players to Watch
1. C #75 Barrett Jones - key to controlling the middle of the A&M defensive front and getting movement for 'Bama RB.
2. WR #9 Amari Cooper - was a non-entity in the LSU game due to injury, must be factor down the field against A&M CB.
3. LT #71 Cyrus Kouandijo - he and RT DJ Fluker are faced with stopping All-SEC candidate Damontre Moore 1-on-1.
4. RB #42 Eddie Lacy - as much as I love T.J. Yeldon, Lacy is a mother-you-know-what to tackle but his ankle could hinder his explosiveness and burst in this match up.
A&M's Defensive Keys to the Game
1. Tackle. Gang tackle. Bring all 11 to the ball.
2. Bend but don't break is more than okay. Can't get greedy, you can "win" by giving up 3s instead of 7s.
3. Move up front, do not sit still, twist, stunt, run games, whatever it takes to get a lineman or linebacker loose against Alabama's offensive line.
4. More of Moore. How many different areas can Damontre Moore exploit against the OL? Find them all.
5. Alabama's a great screen team so even in all-out 6/7 man "kitchen sink" blitzes, a LB or S MUST account for the RB at all times.
Texas A&M Defensive Players to Watch
1. DE #94 Damontre Moore - having a superb season and if he declares for 2013 Draft, he'll be a highly sought after edge rusher.
2. LB #45 Steven Jenkins - stopping Alabama's run game will mean LBs must excel against Alabama's stout OL/TE.
3. DT#99 Spencer Nealy - not a superstar by any means, but when he's on the field, he's tough to block effectively, relentless.
4. CB #22 Dustin Harris/#1 De'Vante Harris/#29 Deshazor Everett - if Cooper is healthy, Alabama will attack these CB when Ags play man coverage.
I would've had a section on special teams, but not completely sure that either team has a true advantage in that aspect of the game. However, neither can get destroyed by an ineffective kicking game, that's for sure, but I don't think either team has that advantage.
One of the most interesting aspects of last week's win at LSU for Alabama was how exhausted the Crimson Tide defense was spending nearly the entire second half on the field. The offense bogged down badly and the defense took one LSU haymaker after another. But, it survived.
A&M has much more firepower offensively, but I think last week was the time "to get" Alabama. A&M has struggled in the second half of games against Florida and LSU and that could continue this weekend. Alabama won't wear down in the second half this week as the run game will sink its talons into the A&M front seven and take over midway through the third quarter. A couple of Manziel mistakes will cement a hard fought and physical win for the second straight week for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama - 28 vs. Texas A&M - 17