Dear Zach Mettenberger, Here's Johnny Manziel's Blueprint to Shredding Bama's D

Alex SimsCorrespondent IIINovember 7, 2013

It is often said that history repeats itself. Usually that process takes decades, centuries and even millennia to come full circle.

The LSU Tigers are hoping that it will take just 364 days.

On Nov. 10 of last year, the Texas A&M Aggies went to Bryant-Denny Stadium ranked No. 15 at 7-2 overall. The Alabama Crimson Tide were 9-0, ranked No. 1 and destined for third third national title appearance in four years.

On Nov. 9 of this year, LSU will go to Bryant-Denny Stadium ranked No. 13 at 7-2 overall. The Crimson Tide are 8-0, ranked No. 1 and destined for their fourth national title appearance in five years.

The foundation for this weekend's tilt is identical to the groundwork laid for the Aggies' momentous 29-24 upset of the Tide a year ago. A&M then added to it by hanging 42 on the vaunted 'Bama defense earlier this season. Now, quarterback Zach Mettenberger and LSU just need to follow the remaining blueprint set forth by Johnny Manziel and A&M.

The Aggies benefited greatly from three turnovers by the Tide in last year's upset, but it was the play of Johnny Football that propelled them to the victory that put their program on the map and etched their quarterback's name into college football history.

Manziel again led the way for A&M this season against Alabama, posting 562 total yards and throwing five touchdowns. Despite losing 49-42, Texas A&M exposed Kirby Smart's defense better than any other team has.

While Mettenberger might not have the Heisman Trophy prospects or foot speed of Manziel, he can still take notes on the A&M quarterback's efforts against Nick Saban and Co. Here is an exclusive look at Manziel/Mettenberger's five-part blueprint for taking down the Tide.


Be Balanced

Texas A&M is known for its "air raid" offense that can post enormous passing numbers. Manziel has been using that philosophy to shred SEC defenses for nearly two full years.

But the Aggies didn't beat the Tide by just slinging the ball around the yard in Tuscaloosa. In fact, A&M ran the ball—a lot. The Aggies kept it on the ground 46 times for 165 yards while throwing just 31 times in 2012. They followed that with 32 rushing attempts for 164 yards the second time around.

Much of A&M's production came from the feet of Manziel. Mettenberger isn't that type of quarterback by any means, but he has a better stable of backs behind him than Manziel did/does.

LSU can't put the onus entirely on Mettenberger's arm. The Tigers have to run well and run often, utilizing their full complement of backs. LSU has several talented running backs: Jeremy Hill, Terrance Magee, Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue. The Tigers should also benefit from the return of fullback J.C. Copeland, as reported by Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune.

This isn't just a part of A&M's blueprint; it's also a major part of LSU's offensive identity. The Tigers have been held under 150 rushing yards just twice this year—in both of their losses to Georgia and Ole Miss.

Run, LSU, run.


Third Downs and Possession

This is a pretty general piece of advice that can be applied to just about any game. However, it was also a major part of A&M's success against Alabama.

The Aggies converted 11 third downs in 18 tries in last year's contest, which allowed them to hold the ball for more than 32 minutes, while the Tide held it for just over 27. They were 5-of-8 on third down this season, but they also allowed Alabama to control possession by 10 full minutes and win in a shootout.

Alabama might be known for its defense, but its offense is also one of the nation's best, averaging more than 40 points per game. So, keeping the ball as long as possible will bode well for LSU.

Third-down failures were a major part of the Tigers' defeat to Ole Miss earlier this season. LSU was just 5-of-11 moving the chains on third down against the Rebels, who controlled possession by nearly six minutes.

That was one of just two performances under 50 percent on third down for LSU. Those struggles resulted in just 388 yards of total offense, their second-lowest output of the season.

There's no question that LSU's strength is on the offensive side of the ball. Given that strength, Nick Saban's squad will likely be holding onto the football, trying to keep that offense off the field. The best way the Tigers can counter that is through long, sustained scoring drives.


Score Early...and Don't Turn it Over

It seemed like Texas A&M popped Alabama with a stun gun early, jumping out to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter last season. The Aggies had the (possibly overconfident) Crimson Tide bewildered right from the bell when they scored on their first three drives of the game.

This not only took the wind out of 'Bama's sails on the field, but it also stunned the Bryant-Denny crowd. No matter what Saban says about Alabama's fan loyalty, Bryant-Denny is one of the toughest venues in college football.

The 101,821-seat stadium will be overflowing and rocking, especially with rival LSU in town. If the Tigers can follow in the Aggies' footsteps and score early, they will be set up for success.

If the opposite happens, and Alabama gains the early lead, LSU can kiss its upset hopes goodbye. The Tigers can also say goodbye to an upset if Mettenberger starts completing passes to the guys in the crimson jerseys.

Interceptions proved to be crippling for Manziel in the loss to Alabama this season. The same was true for Mettenberger in his loss to Ole Miss. The two combined to throw five picks in those two defeats.

Manziel led A&M to quickly and forcefully build a 14-0 advantage against 'Bama this season, but his turnovers later on stymied that roll and allowed the Tide to answer back. If Mettenberger manages to start hot, he must stay hot.


Find Your Favorite Targets

If Johnny Manziel is great at anything, it's finding his favorite receivers in times of need.

He did it in last season's upset, hitting top target Ryan Swope 11 times for 111 yards and a touchdown. He did it again this year, finding Mike Evans seven times for 279 yards and a score.

He always seemed to know where Swope and Evans were, especially on third down.

Mettenberger is lucky enough to have two go-to guys who each bring something unique to the table. Odell Beckham is the team's leading receiver. At 6'0", 187 pounds, Beckham is one of the top speedsters in the SEC and one of the top playmakers in college football.

At 6'1", 195 pounds, Jarvis Landry brings a distinctive challenge as well. The junior is an outstanding route-runner and has great hands, which allows him to find separation and pull in receptions even against tight coverage.

Beckham has 48 receptions for 1,009 yards and eight touchdowns. Landry also has eight scores and 882 yards on 58 receptions. Together, they are the No. 1 receiving tandem in the SEC and one of the top duos in the nation.

There's nothing wrong with having a security blanket (or two) as a full-grown adult in college. It has worked for Manziel. It can work for Mettenberger too.


Make Something Happen

Mettenberger has plenty of playmakers around him, just as Manziel does.

But at some point against Alabama, No. 8 is going to have to call his own number and make a play.

Manziel came up with two of the most electric plays of the 2012 and 2013 seasons against Alabama. The first won him a Heisman Trophy. The second hasn't yet, but it'll certainly be a part of his 2013 campaign.

As previously mentioned, Mettenberger doesn't have the ability to run a lap around the Tide pass rush, but he has his own abilities. At 6'5", 235 pounds, Mettenberger has the size and strength to evade a rusher and buy enough time to find Beckham or Landry.

It'll be on his receivers to find open space and look back for their quarterback, but Mettenberger will have to make the play happen. The big Watkinsville, Ga., native isn't as athletically gifted as Manziel, but he still has gifts of his own to show off.

LSU really has nothing to lose with this game, while the Tide have everything to lose—the exact same scenario that benefited A&M last season.

Mettenberger will have to be the leader that Manziel was last year. If he can keep his team loose and confident by guiding a sustained offensive assault, LSU will have a chance.

And just maybe, the Tigers can knock the Tide off their perch as college football's No. 1 team.


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