The No. 15 Texas A&M Football team will play the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday in Tuscaloosa. The nationally televised game will give the Aggies' freshman phenom quarterback Johnny Manziel a chance to impress the Heisman voters on a huge stage.
Manziel creates a quandary for defensive coordinators in that he is a threat on the ground and through the air.
The Crimson Tide have the No. 2 defense in the nation and their task will be to find a way to shut down Manziel and the Aggie offense. This is a look at all the different ways that Manziel can frustrate Alabama.
There is nothing more frustrating to a defense then putting the opposition into a 3rd-and-long situation, then getting pressure on their quarterback only to see him scramble around and extend the play until a receiver gets open for a completion.
This is exactly what Manziel has done to defenses in every game this season. He is elusive, and will run around behind the line of scrimmage until he finds someone open to throw the ball to.
Even great secondaries like Alabama cannot cover wide receivers for six and seven seconds. It is easy for a defense to lose focus after they do everything they are coached to do, and Manziel finds a way to extend the play and get a first down.
Manziel is currently the leading rusher in the Southeastern Conference with 922 yards through seven games. He is like having an extra running back on the field.
Manziel has everything that a great running back has. He is elusive, breaks tackles, and has great vision and elite speed. Manziel has consistently used his sub-4.4 speed to outrun the angles from SEC defensive backs this season.
On his 37 yard touchdown run against Mississippi State, Manziel showed off vision and speed when he cut inside an Aggie wide receiver who should have blocked the Bulldog safety. Manziel read the position of the receiver and so cut inside.
The receiver missed the block, but Manziel simply outran the safety anyways.
Alabama runs a 3-4 defense. They will likely run a lot of nickel schemes against A&M with an extra defensive back on the field to help cover all of the Aggies wide receivers.
If they go to their nickel, they could have three down linemen and only two linebackers in the box. That means that they would have five defenders to go up against the Aggies' five offensive linemen. With no one to account for Manziel it could mean a long day for Alabama.
Nick Saban likes to run his Alabama team like a pro team. He likes to substitute liberally depending on the down and distance.
Saban will switch out his defensive linemen in order to keep them fresh, and have them each play 20-30 snaps per game. With Manziel running the Aggies offense, he may not be able to do this.
Manziel and the Aggies run the offense at such a fast pace that opponents are not able to substitute on defense. It will be interesting to see how frustrated Saban becomes when he cannot substitute his players for specific downs and distances because Manziel is running the offense so quickly.
As the season has progressed, Manziel has gotten better and better at running the offense and spreading the ball around to his teammates.
Manziel still clearly favors the Aggies' leading receiver Mike Evans, but he has done a much better job of going to his second and third options in the last few games.
Alabama has one of the best secondaries in the nation, but even elite secondaries have problems covering multiple quality receivers.
Even if the Tide cover Evans and Ryan Swope, that still leave Thomas Johnson, Kenric McNeal and Malcome Kennedy roaming around the secondary.
It is almost impossible to cover all of those playmakers on every play. If Manziel can find the time to distribute the ball, it could be a long day for the Alabama defense.
Manziel has proven over and over again that as long as he is on the field, the Aggies are never out of the game. He has the "it" factor that coaches always talk about.
Manziel showed his teammates against Louisiana Tech and Ole Miss that he is capable of making plays late in the game to put a team away.
His teammates and coaches expect him to be able to do the impossible and often he delivers. Alabama is used to teams acquiescing to their dominance. It will be interesting to see how they react if the Aggies keep coming after them.