The Texas A&M football team will host the No. 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide at Kyle Field on Saturday in a showdown of Top Ten teams. If the Aggies are going to have any hope of knocking off the Crimson Tide for the second year in a row, they are going to need to contain Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban takes a NFL-style approach to the game in that he wants to run the ball, play defense and grind out wins. He has obviously been very successful in this approach since Saban has led Alabama to three national championships in the past four years.
One of the biggest keys to winning the game is containing Alabama's run game. If Alabama can run the ball effectively, then they can control the clock and keep the Aggie offense off the field.
Yeldon is the top back at Alabama. If the Aggies can contain him and force the Alabama offense into being one-dimensional, they stand a great chance at winning the game.
This is a look at what the Aggies need to do in order to shut down Yeldon.
Donnie Baggs is the Aggies' starter at middle linebacker. He switched from weak-side linebacker to middle linebacker in the offseason, and has struggled immensely at his new position.
Baggs had one total tackle in the Sam Houston game. The Bearkats ran the ball 42 times in the game and the Aggies' middle linebacker only had one tackle.
Texas A&M ran a 4-2-5 defense almost exclusively against SHSU and will likely move to a 4-3 scheme against Alabama. At some point the scheme does not matter though.
Baggs has simply not been playing well. If the Aggies are going to have any hope of stopping T.J. Yeldon then they are going to need a huge leap in quality of play from Baggs.
If he continues his poor play then he will be benched soon. You cannot win games in the Southeastern Conference with middle linebacker as a glaring weakness on your defense.
While the Aggie linebackers have probably featured the worst play as a unit through the first two games, the defensive ends are not too far behind. The defensive ends have struggled to set the edge against the running game during the Aggies' first two games.
Gavin Stansbury was expected to start at strong-side defensive end but was suspended for the first two games of the season. Stansbury will be back for the Alabama game and should get the start at strong-side defensive end.
Aggie defensive coordinator Mark Snyder used the 33-stack and 4-2-5 schemes almost exclusively during the first two games of the season. Against Rice he rotated multiple players in at defensive end.
Tyrone Taylor got the start on the strong-side against Sam Houston State. Taylor was playing out of position as he is a weak-side defensive end who excels at rushing the passer.
Taylor had four tackles with a tackle for loss against SHSU, but he was pushed around against the run. The return of Stansbury will allow Taylor to move back to his more natural position of weak-side or "rush" defensive end.
In both the Rice and SHSU game, the defensive ends struggled to set the edge against the running game. Rice and SHSU had success running wide against the Aggie defense. This cannot happen against Alabama, or the Aggies will have a hard time getting the Tide offense off the field.
Virginia Tech was able to limit T.J. Yeldon to 75 yards on 17 carries because the first player to hit him often brought him down. The Aggies need to be sure tacklers against the Tide.
Safety Howard Matthews leads the Aggies in tackling with 17 tackles through two games. In the 4-2-5 scheme that A&M employed against SHSU, Matthews played up close to the line of scrimmage like an extra linebacker.
He missed a lot of tackles against SHSU and was often blocked out of the play. If Matthews is going to play that close to the line of scrimmage, then he needs to be much more physical against the run.
The entire Aggie defensive needs to do a better job of tackling. Yeldon is an excellent running back and it will take a group effort from the defense to contain him.
The best way to stop Yeldon is to take the Alabama offense out of their comfort zone. If the Aggies are ahead by two touchdowns or more in the second half, Alabama coach Nick Saban and the Tide offense will be forced to put the game in the hands of quarterback A.J. McCarron.
If the Aggies offense can score enough, they will force Alabama to play catch-up which will make their offense more predictable. A shootout in this game would favor A&M and their quarterback Johnny Manziel.
If Manziel and the Aggies can take Alabama and Saban out of their comfort zone, they will abandon the run in an attempt to keep up. Yeldon will be used as a blocker in pass protection rather than a runner where he is most dangerous.