The No. 6 Texas A&M football team will take on the No. 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide at Kyle Field on Saturday. The Aggies are going to need several players to step up and have big games if they are going to beat the Tide for the second year in a row.
In 2012 the Aggies, behind a tremendous game from then freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa by a score of 29-24. Football is a team game, and the Aggies cannot expect Manziel to carry the team to a victory this year.
Several players need to have a great game on Saturday.The Aggies are going to have to find a way to win as a team.
This is a look at some of the players, other than Manziel, who need to have big games against Alabama.
Texas A&M weak-side linebacker Steven Jenkins is the Aggies' leading returning tackler on the 2013 squad. Jenkins had 78 tackles with two sacks and an interception in 2012.
He was expected to be the leader of a young defense, but was suspended for the first two games of the season for violating team rules. The Alabama game will be Jenkins' first action of the 2013 season.
The linebackers, as a unit, have been a major weakness without Jenkins on the field. They have struggled against the run and have simply not performed well.
Jenkins needs to step in immediately and be an impact player against Alabama. There is no time for him to shake off the rust of the offseason—he needs to be ready to make plays immediately.
If the Aggies are going to beat Alabama then they need to stop the run. Jenkins will be instrumental in bringing a more physical presence to the game at the linebacker position.
Gavin Stansbury sat out the first two games of the season along with Steven Jenkins. He was projected to be the starter at strong-side defensive end.
The Aggies defense has struggled immensely to set the edge against the run during the first two games of the season. Stansbury is not much of a pass-rushing threat, but he is strong at the point of attack.
Stansbury played sparingly in 2012 and only registered 11 tackles. In 2011 Stansbury played defensive end and nose guard in the Aggies' 3-4 defense. He had 15 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in 2011.
If Stansbury is not able to hold the edge, then Alabama will be able to run wide all day long. If Alabama has success running the ball, they will be able to keep the Aggies offense on the sideline.
Stansbury needs to show up in a big way for the Aggies on Saturday.
In the 2003 BCS title game, Nick Saban and the LSU Tigers were facing Oklahoma and their explosive spread offense. Saban gambled in that game that he could get pressure on Oklahoma quarterback Jason White before White could locate the open receiver.
Saban disguised his blitzes, literally leaving wide receivers uncovered as he blitzed safeties and cornerbacks in an attempt to outnumber Oklahoma's blockers. Saban's defensive game plan was a success as they held White to 13 completions on 37 attempts with two interceptions.
Do not be surprised if Saban employs a similar strategy on defense against A&M this Saturday. Although it is quarterback Johnny Manziel's job to read the defense and recognize when the blitz is coming, it is center Mike Matthews' job to make all the line calls and set the protection for Manziel.
Matthews has to be able to make the correct line calls and play a solid game at center so the Aggies can establish a run game. If Matthews has strong blocking, the Aggies will have success with inside runs that will open up different aspects of the offense.
Senior running back Ben Malena is the most complete back on the Aggie roster. He leads the team in rushing with 150 yards while averaging 7.1 yards per carry.
Malena is the best blocker on the team among the running backs. He is tremendous at picking up blitzing defenders and keeping them off Johnny Manziel.
Alabama coach Nick Saban is likely going to employ a variety of exotic blitzes in an attempt to get to Manziel. The Aggies will need Malena to be at his best when it comes to pass protection.
The best way to counter a blitz is to run a draw or a screen. Malena has very good hands and already has a touchdown reception on the season. He should be a major weapon for the Aggies against Alabama.
Junior tight end Cameron Clear has not caught a single pass in the Aggies' first two games—he hasn't even been thrown to.
The 6'6", 270-pound tight end has only been used as a blocker. He has been very effective at blocking when called upon and will be an integral part of the Aggies establishing a running game against the Tide.
Do not be surprised to see Kevin Sumlin run a lot of two-tight end formations against Alabama. It is a look that the Aggies have not used much in 2013, and it is just another way that Sumlin will try to confuse the Alabama defense.
Aggie fans should expect to see Clear incorporated into the passing game against the Crimson Tide. He is a huge target who has surprising speed for a man his size. Clear will be targeted at least three or four times on Saturday.
If he has a big day receiving and blocking, it will bode well for the Aggies offense.