As Alabama and Texas A&M get set for Saturday's showdown, there is plenty of speculation about how Bama's defense will attack A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. After the Crimson Tide's showing against Virginia Tech, there should be more eyes on the Alabama offense.
Mark Snyder, the Aggies’ defensive coordinator, is in the film room cooking up schemes to confuse Alabama. Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and offensive line coach Mario Cristobal have worked for two weeks on fixing what went wrong against the Hokies.
Entering the A&M game, the Tide have fixed the offensive line miscommunications and confusion, improved running-back pass protection and gotten quarterback AJ McCarron ready to lead the offense.
At least, that's the hope.
The Tide can't wait for the running game to get going. The Tide can't wait for the offensive line to figure out which pass protections will work. The Tide can't wait for McCarron to catch fire. To jump-start things, it will take more than the typical, slog-it-out approach. It is going to take some creativity.
That means varying shotgun versus under center. Working in play action with straight runs, drop-back passes and throws out of the shotgun. Utilizing different personnel packages to force Texas A&M to take notice of the number of backs, tight ends and receivers. Calling different run plays, including draws, the Power-O and Zone runs to both sides. Getting receivers into different route combinations to tax defenders.
Play One: Inside Zone
To keep A&M off balance, Nussmeier should start with a zone run. Seems simple enough, except the zone should come out of an 11 personnel set, with McCarron in the shotgun. The personnel grouping is more of a passing set, and with the tight end flexed out, creating a 2x2 formation, A&M will be forced to move bodies out of the box.
This look will give the offensive line a five-on-four situation up front, one linebacker for two offensive linemen to combo block as they reach the second level, which will allow Yeldon to find daylight. The goal here is to get to second and short, get Yeldon to the second level before being touched and help the offensive line with its calls early in the game.
Play Two: WR Screen
To help the offensive line continue to settle into the game, Bama should sit in the same personnel grouping, in the shotgun, and work the quick passing game. A quick screen can help pick up the first down, and, more importantly, it slows the rush of the Aggies on the first pass of the game.
Play Three: Roll Out Pass
After a couple plays run in quick order, the next move is to settle into pushing around the smaller Texas A&M front seven. Enter 12 personnel, substituting a wide receiver from the package in favor of another tight end.
With tight ends lined up on either side of the line and both receivers to the right, McCarron sends Yeldon powering into the line for a play-action fake as he rolls out to his right side. Following the fake, Yeldon steps to the edge that has been vacated by the play-side tight end.
By moving the pocket, Alabama will give McCarron a clean line of sight and then force the hand of the defenders. The inside receiver runs a post corner that he flattens out, the outside receiver runs a curl and the tight end pops out into the flat.
McCarron can hit his open man and keep the chains moving by going downfield, or if everyone is covered, hit the tight end for the short gain. A couple quick completions will help the quarterback get comfortable. A deep completion will not only boost that confidence, but, most importantly, it will put A&M off balance as the Tide run out of pass personnel and throw out of run personnel.
Play Four: Power-O
After making the Aggies guess, Nussmeier then should get back to the nuts and bolts of the Alabama attack, the Power-O to the left. Get the linemen fired up, using 12 personnel to go out there and kick in some teeth. One tight end as the fullback, a guard pulling and a back plunging into the line with violent action to pick up yards and send a message.
Play Five: Weak-side Power-O
With the message sent, drive the message home by going with 11 personnel, letting the Aggies see their first glimpse of Altee Tenpenny, as he spells Yeldon. As the tight end sets up to the right and receivers split to both sides, with McCarron under center, the Tide opt for a weak-side Power-O.
Same play as the one called before, this time not just to the opposite side of the field, but also the opposite side of the strength. Teams set defenses to their strengths, and pushing a play to the weak side helps force a defense to protect its front and back sides.
Play Six: RB Screen
In an effort to continue to drive the run home and help the offensive line get comfortable, keep 11 personnel in the game, with McCarron in the shotgun and Yeldon back in next to him. Last time in the shotgun, the Tide ran the zone. This time the call is to run a running-back screen. McCarron fades back to his left, as the rush tries to track the quarterback.
McCarron hits the pass to Yeldon with blockers in front of him. It's a strong play that allows the linemen to be the hunters out on the edge, pushing to hit linebackers, safeties and corners.
Play Seven: Play Action to Cooper
This yields another opportunity for the Tide to move with a little tempo, getting to the line quickly as the defense has been chasing a screen following multiple run plays. Here is the spot for the play-action over the top to Amari Cooper. Let the sophomore receiver get loose as McCarron holds the safety with his eyes and shoulders before getting the ball downfield.
Play Eight: Wide Zone
Following a big shot downfield, getting back to the run game with Tenpenny makes sense, out of 11 personnel. One receiver to the left, the tight end flexed out with receivers to either side in a bunch formation to the right, as Tenpenny lines up in the backfield.
McCarron, under center, gives to Tenpenny on the zone to the right, allowing the freshman back to find his hole and then get upfield against the Aggies. The offensive line, through the blending of looks, should be able to fire off the ball and create space for Tenpenny to operate.
Play Nine: Back Shoulder Fade
Under center again, for the next play, McCarron works with Cooper on the back shoulder fade. It is a pass that is tough for most cornerbacks to defend, and the type of pass McCarron, the fifth-year senior, should hit in his sleep. This gets a solid gain and reminds the Aggies that quick passes can happen under center, as well.
Play Ten: Lead Draw
As Play 10 approaches, Nussmeier should look to again make the Aggies guess with the lead draw, lining up with 12 personnel, with a tight end to the right, a second tight end in a fullback spot and receivers to either side. McCarron drops back to pass and then hands it off to Yeldon, who follows his blockers and gets by the rush of the Aggies.
Down and distances, incompletions, even touchdowns and turnovers can force scripts to be altered in a flash. However, here, after 10 months of brooding over this game, studying the opponent and spending the last two weeks trying to adjust, expect Nussmeier to make A&M guess early.
The Alabama offense needs to get the Aggies off balance, put up a score or two and help build confidence in the offensive line and McCarron early in this game. Run out of passing personnel. Throw out of running personnel. Do things to keep Snyder's defense off balance, and that will help Alabama settle into the game early.