Nick Saban will learn a lot about his Alabama squad following this weekend's showdown against No. 6 Texas A&M.
Alabama’s much anticipated showdown with Texas A&M this weekend is sure to reveal answers to a lot of the questions surrounding both teams.
For starters, we will learn which one of these teams becomes the front-runner to win the SEC West and stays in the thick of the national title race.
Nick Saban’s club has had an extra week to prepare for one of its biggest challenges this season.
Considering the atmosphere in College Station should produce one of the most electric environments of the 2013-14 season, the Tide have to be prepared to play at their best on Saturday.
What will we learn about the Tide this weekend?
In the 35-10 season-opening win over Virginia Tech, Alabama was held to its lowest offensive output since its first meeting against LSU in 2011.
All-American candidates AJ McCarron, T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper all had subpar games. Wideout Christion Jones saved the day with his heroics on special teams, so which player will step up and give the Tide’s offense a much needed jolt of energy?
The good news is that Texas A&M’s defense has struggled early, allowing an average of nearly 450 yards in each of its first two games.
With the Aggies surrendering nearly six yards per carry on the ground, Yeldon, particularly, should be salivating at the thought of facing Mark Snyder’s troops.
Additionally, Cooper had a strong game against Texas A&M last season (six catches, 136 yards and a touchdown), and McCarron has thrived in big games throughout his career.
The Tide will learn whether the offense resembles last season's prolific unit, or whether they have regressed on that side of the ball.
Texas A&M star quarterback Johnny Manziel had a breakout game against the Tide a year ago. Although he made his share of big plays with his legs, the Aggies' offense repeatedly took advantage of Alabama’s secondary when it lined up in sets featuring four and five receivers.
One of Saban’s primary concerns in the offseason has been developing depth at corner. Senior corners Deion Belue and John Fulton were both solid against the Hokies, but the Aggies' deep and talented receiver unit presents a much stiffer challenge.
Even touted safeties Vinnie Sunseri and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix struggled in last season’s meeting. If Alabama hopes to leave College Station 2-0, the secondary will have to prove that it can hold up against one of the nation’s most potent passing attacks.
Kevin Sumlin’s offense gave the Tide fits a year ago, especially early when the Aggies raced to a three-touchdown lead by the end of the first quarter.
Although Kirby Smart’s troops adjusted and played better as the game went along, Alabama’s defense was clearly shell-shocked trying to keep up with the Aggies' fast tempo.
Even simple things such as substituting personnel become a major issue when facing clubs who push the pace on offense.
Saban mentioned tinkering with his schemes in the offseason. Specifically, he stated his desire to get more athletic at the defensive end position in an effort to combat spread offenses, according to Alex Scarborough of ESPN.
However, as Andrew Gribble of AL.com notes, with the recent injury to defensive end Dalvin Tomlinson, Alabama could be without a contributor who could give the Tide a versatile presence up front in this game.
By the time they leave Kyle Field, Saban and his troops will have a better understanding of whether they have solved the conundrum posed by offenses such as Texas A&M’s.
The biggest early season storyline for Alabama surrounds a unit that has normally been dominant throughout Saban’s tenure—the offensive line.
To put it bluntly, Mario Cristobal’s troops got whupped in the trenches against Virginia Tech.
In order for the Tide’s offense to get untracked against the Aggies, it all starts up front.
However, the Aggies' defensive line is dealing with its own struggles.
Texas A&M has given up an average of 273 yards rushing through its first two games. Rice and Sam Houston State aren’t exactly powerhouses, either.
If Alabama is unable to control the trenches against Texas A&M, it will signal that the Tide’s issues up front are something that could hinder their offense throughout the 2013-14 season.
Considering that only three FBS opponents with winning records in 2012 remain on the Tide’s schedule following the tilt with the Aggies, this game is one of the most significant hurdles in their quest to run the table.
The Tide’s most pressing issues will either be confirmed as weaknesses or quelled with a strong effort against a quality opponent.
Regardless of the outcome, expect Saban and his staff to get a better idea of how to fix those issues moving forward.