Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies take on Mississippi State on Saturday in Week 11 action, and there are some interesting matchups to watch out for while the game is taking place.
The last time these two teams played, Manziel and the Aggies defense led the team to a decisive 38-13 victory over the then-No. 15 Bulldogs.
Manziel was 30-of-36 for 311 yards in the air and racked up 129 yards on 21 carries on the ground. He scored two rushing touchdowns. The defense was equally as superb, holding the Bulldogs to no points in the first half and two short touchdowns in the second half when the game was already out of reach.
Whether or not Saturday's matchup brings more of the same remains to be seen, but rest assured knowing that the Bulldogs should have a much more detailed approach to attempt to contain Manziel.
How the Bulldogs Try to Contain Manziel
The problem with defending Manziel is that it's nearly impossible to contain both aspects of his game.
If you play your safeties deep, Manziel is obviously more than capable of burning the slower defenders on the line and running for big-time yards.
If you pack the box with safeties, then Manziel will simply launch one over the top of the defense to one of his receivers. Opposing defensive coordinators have struggled with keeping Manziel in check for this reason, but there is a way that the Bulldogs can at least slow him down.
Creative blitz packages that force him to move around in the pocket and force throws downfield can lead to interceptions and good field position for the opposition. Getting him to force a bad throw isn't easy, but tight coverage and smart blitz schemes will add up to at least a few bad passes.
All the defense needs to do is keep the Aggies off the board enough to allow their offense to keep up. Completely shutting down the Aggies is nearly impossible, so it'll be up to quarterback Dak Prescott and Co. to put points up in bunches.
How A&M's Defense Will Contain Dak Prescott
Prescott is also a quarterback that is difficult to contain, as he has the mobility to burn defenses on the ground. Fortunately for the Aggies, Prescott is not nearly as polished as a passer. He has six interceptions compared to just five touchdown passes on the year.
Prescott is the team's leading ball-carrier, racking up 568 yards and 10 touchdowns on 95 carries. He is both explosive and powerful as a running quarterback, and that should worry the inconsistent A&M defense.
Their defense ranks 80th in the nation, allowing just under 30 points per contest. They have been burned by Rice, Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Auburn, though they have posted back-to-back decent performances against Vanderbilt and UTEP.
Forcing Prescott to be a pocket passer is the key to slowing him down. If he gets active in the run game, then the Aggies will be chasing him all over the field. Making him force throws downfield as a pocket passer is the key to forcing him into mistakes.
To do so, the Aggies will have to send a consistent pass rush on every play while leaving the linebackers in zone coverage within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Leaving spies behind the defensive line would, theoretically, prevent him from ripping off big runs.
How the Bulldogs Cover Mike Evans
Aggies wide receiver Mike Evans cannot be stopped—by anyone.
He has 52 catches for 1,147 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season, and the 6'5" target needs to be double-covered at all times. Throw in the fact that extra defenders need to be thrown Manziel's way, and there could be a shortage of defensive players for the Bulldogs.
Head coach Dan Mullen recognizes this (via David Brandt of The Miami Herald):
You say we'll put two guys on Manziel and two guys on Evans, but then there are seven on the other nine and we're two short. That could be a problem. You look at all the talent they have and that makes them a good offense. What you have to do is you have to execute at a very, very high level.
With that being the case, covering Evans (or attempting to, anyway) will be exceptionally difficult. With safeties likely roaming to monitor Manziel, it'll be up to the biggest—not necessarily most talented—defensive backs to keep up with Evans.
He has the size of a tight end but the speed and hands of a wide receiver, so throwing the tallest cornerbacks into coverage against him might be the best idea for Mullen.
Taveze Calhoun (6'1") and Justin Cox (6'3") should be tasked with the job of containing arguably the best receiver in college football.