Texas A&M Aggies vs. SMU Mustangs: Complete Game Preview
Texas A&M has been forced into recovery mode following last week's gut-wrenching 49-42 loss to top-ranked Alabama. Southern Methodist provides the perfect rebound game for the talented Top 10 squad.
While the Mustangs are no pushover, the Aggies enter the matchup as heavy favorites due to sophomore starting quarterback Johnny Manziel and their high-octane offensive attack.
For SMU, offensive guru head coach June Jones and offensive coordinator Hal Mumme will seek to cause the A&M defense many of the same problems it faced against Alabama, when it gave up 568 total yards.
To keep an eye on the nonconference battle, look over the information listed below.
Time: 7:00 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 21
Place: Kyle Field, College Station, Texas
Radio: Aggie Sports Network
Spread: Vegas Insider has Texas A&M as a 26.5-point favorite.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.
Texas A&M's Keys to Victory
Balance the Offensive Attack
Under Kevin Sumlin, A&M's transfer into the air raid system has been flawless, with quarterback Johnny Manziel consistently showing off his passing abilities against opponents. However, the Aggies' stable of fine-tuned running backs provides a secondary attack that is just as potent.
Finding the balance between each will provide a challenge, but once reached, the Aggies offense will prove both unpredictable and—mostly—unstoppable.
Pressure on Garrett Gilbert
When facing Alabama, the A&M defensive line had a difficult time reaching quarterback AJ McCarron, never sacking and rarely hitting the senior signal-caller.
While Gilbert is no McCarron, SMU's high-flying offense will be able to rip through the Aggie secondary without consistent pressure on the pocket.
An opportunistic defense is a solid defense, and the Aggies' lackluster ability to create turnovers against top-rated opponents thus far has been well-documented.
Ball-hawking and jumping routes more often should help the A&M defense create more opportunities for Manziel and the offense to see the field.
SMU's Keys to Victory
While this has been key for every one of A&M's opponents so far, the task is easier said than done. Shutting down the sophomore quarterback even challenged Alabama's Nick Saban and Kirby Smart, two of the game's more brilliant defensive minds.
With the 20-year-old's development in the pocket, Manziel can wreck defenses with both his arm and legs—even more than last season.
Torture the Secondary
Garrett Gilbert has one of the deadlier arms in college football and solid protection plus sticky hands should allow the transfer to pick apart most any secondary in the country.
With both Mumme and Jones' minds working on finding the flaws in the Aggie defense, expect multiple big-play attempts for the Mustangs through the air.
When it comes down to brass tacks, SMU needs to start better than A&M for the Mustangs to have a shot at the upset.
Special teams play will be critical—especially in the return game—for the SMU defense to find quick stops and the offense to score quickly.
Texas A&M Players to Watch
Johnny Manziel, QB
Again, an obvious choice, but with the sophomore quarterback's productivity over the past three weeks, Johnny Manziel is becoming more and more difficult to ignore.
Despite the loss to the Crimson Tide, Manziel's "legend" seems to have grown, as the A&M offense put up more yards on Alabama than anyone has ever done before.
The 20-year-old has a history of responding well to adversity and his performance against SMU should provide an interesting storyline going forward.
Mike Evans, WR
After breaking the Texas A&M school record for receiving yards in a game against Alabama (279), Evans has surged into the national spotlight alongside fellow sophomore Manziel.
After securing two consecutive 100-yard receiving games this season, Evans will be looking for a third against the Mustangs.
Brandon Williams, RB
Due to A&M's stable of running backs, Brandon Williams has yet to grab any significant playing time, but his few rushes have been impressive and his breakout game should be just around the corner.
With his speed and agility, it might be sooner than most think.
SMU Players to Watch
Garrett Gilbert, QB
The former Texas standout's transfer to SMU created some ripples, but Gilbert has fit in well with the gun-slinging offense in Dallas.
With good protection and solid space to create running room, Gilbert becomes extremely dangerous in the pocket and will look to haunt the A&M defense both through the air and on the ground.
Darius Joseph and Jeremy Johnson, WR
Combining for 459 yards and one touchdown on 42 receptions, the Mustangs' two leading wideouts have the potential to get under the skin of A&M starting cornerbacks De'Vante Harris and Deshazor Everett.
The Aggie secondary received many breaks against McCarron and Alabama, as dropped balls plagued the Tide early.
If SMU can get rolling from the start, the passing game could remain a threat throughout the game.
Stephon Sanders, LB
Containing Manziel will be key to getting a few stops for the A&M offense and Sanders will play an important role in keeping the young quarterback in the pocket.
Last season, Manziel's scrambling ability killed the Mustangs. While he can certainly do the same with his arm, making him one-dimensional will be important to getting any stops.
What They Are Saying
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin spoke heavily on the Mustangs' offensive and defensive abilities during the Aggies' weekly Tuesday press conference.
"I think right now they lead the country in completions per game. They have two receivers who are in the top three in the country in receptions per game. We’re going to have to defend the whole field. They’ve got a veteran quarterback who was highly recruited out of high school. He's still very talented. He's getting better," he said.
"They'll have some new wrinkles and some new stuff. It’ll be another challenge for our defense because it’s different than what we saw last week. We're going to have to defend the whole field—vertically and sideline to sideline—because they are going to stretch us out to make us play in space."
As for the A&M defense, senior nickelback Toney Hurd Jr. said the Aggie defense needs to become more independent of A&M's potent offensive attack.
"Our offense is one of the best offenses in the country. But as a defensive player, you can’t depend on the offense. As a defense, we should go out there and try to pitch shutouts," Hurd Jr. said.
"I feel slowly but surely we’re getting better and we’re getting closer to our goal, but it will take time. Like I said earlier, that was our first time actually playing all together as far as a unit and we played against the No. 1 team in the country. Looking at our defense, I feel that we have a lot of guys that are hungry and will be getting better in the coming games."
Senior running back Ben Malena said the SMU defense looks to attack gaps and holes, hoping to cause inadvertent turnovers.
“They play ball very well. One thing they do is have all 11 guys run to the ball. They force turnovers, they have really good linebacker play and they come downhill,” he said.
Following last week's grueling loss, the Aggies will be looking for a rebound victory by a large margin—SMU fits the bill. The Mustangs will be entering Kyle Field under hostile conditions and against a team currently ranked No. 10 in the country.
A&M boasts one of the most potent offensive weapons in the game in Johnny Football and will seek to utilize him consistently.
Against a team that needed a late touchdown for a one-point victory over Montana State, Texas A&M shouldn't have much to worry about.
Texas A&M 63, SMU 21