Alabama vs. Texas A&M: Key Players to Watch in Epic Showdown

Mike MoraitisAnalyst ISeptember 12, 2013

COLLEGE STATION, TX - SEPTEMBER 07:  Johnny Manziel #2 of the Texas A&M Aggies calls out a play in the third quarter against the Sam Houston State Bearkats at Kyle Field on September 7, 2013 in College Station, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Alabama Crimson Tide will travel to College Station looking for revenge when they meet the Texas A&M Aggies on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 3:30 p.m. ET.

The last time these two teams met was during the 2012 season when Johnny Manziel and the Aggies upset the No. 1 team in the nation, the Crimson Tide. It instantly propelled Manziel to superstar status as one of the best quarterbacks in the college game.

But now there's no more flying under the radar this season. Everyone—including Alabama—knows darn well who Manziel is and what he can do, so there will be no underestimating or being surprised by the star QB in 2013.

Let's take a look at some of the key players on each side of this matchup and what they must do to help their team win.


Texas A&M

Johnny Manziel, QB

As if he even needed to be mentioned.

Manziel was the biggest reason the Aggies were able to upset the Crimson Tide last season. In that game, Manziel torched Alabama for 253 yards and two scores through the air, while also compiling another 92 yards on the ground.

Perhaps the biggest key in that game was the quick start the Aggies enjoyed. Texas A&M jumped out to a 20-0 lead and while that likely won't happen again, it's still of vital importance that Manziel get the Aggies off on the right foot and not fall behind early.

Johnny Football need not change anything he does this season against 'Bama. He must continue to beat the Crimson Tide through the air with his arm and remain a dual-threat signal-caller by escaping collapsing pockets and making big plays with his legs.

Once the Aggies become predictable on offense, this game is over. It's Manziel who has the ability to keep the Crimson Tide defense off balance and he must pull out all of his tricks to beat Saban's squad once again.


Aggies Rush Defense

Stopping T.J. Yeldon should be a top priority for the Aggies defense. In order to do so, it will take a valiant effort from Texas A&M's defense as a whole.

On the edges, the Aggies defensive ends must hold their ground in order to stop Yeldon from busting runs to the outside. Should Yeldon be successful in getting around their defensive line, that's where the Aggies will need their linebackers to pick up the slack.

Middle linebacker Donnie Baggs is someone who comes to mind for the Aggies as a defender who has struggled this season. Yeldon can run the ball up the middle and Baggs is Texas A&M's best defense against it, so he'll need to step up.

Yeldon will also see plenty of one-on-one matchups with the Aggies defenders in the second level and beyond, so effective tackling is a must if Texas A&M hopes to keep 'Bama's running back at bay.



AJ McCarron

While Yeldon may be the most important player for the Crimson Tide offense in this game, he won't get nearly as far as he'd like without McCarron establishing the passing attack first.

After a Week 1 performance that saw McCarron complete less than 50 percent of his passes for 110 yards and a touchdown and pick apiece, there is some concern that McCarron could have a letdown season for 'Bama.

The Crimson Tide signal-caller should find some room to work with in this game. Texas A&M will likely be guarding against the run since that is Alabama's biggest strength, but in order to erase that approach and keep the Aggies honest, McCarron must throw the ball downfield to help spread Saban's defense out.

McCarron had a solid game against the Aggies last year, but the two picks he threw cannot happen this time around. He must take care of the ball and not allow the Aggies extra possessions to put points on the board.


Crimson Tide's Secondary

With all the ways Manziel can beat 'Bama, it's important that the Crimson Tide take at least one aspect of his skills away, and they can do that in the secondary.

If Manziel can't find any open targets downfield, he'll be forced to shorten his throws or take the ball himself. That will negate at least one threat the Crimson Tide must worry about and the defensive unit's linebackers and defensive line can focus on containing Manziel on the ground.

A turnover or two wouldn't hurt, either. 'Bama didn't force a single turnover in last year's game, so an interception that sets up a short field or kills an Aggies drive would go a long way in hurting Manziel's confidence.