Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Texas A&M Aggies Complete Game Preview
Well, it's finally here.
There's not much that can be said about Alabama's trip to College Station that hasn't been said already. The game has been circled ever since the Aggies stunned the Crimson Tide, 29-24, in November and was circled even more almost two months later when Alabama won its third BCS National Championship in four years.
But the time for speculation is nearing an end, and in a few short days, the most anticipated game of the college football season will kick off, and the chatter will be meaningless.
It's game time.
Time: 2:30 p.m. CT
Place: Kyle Field, College Station, Texas
Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network, Texas A&M Sports Network
Spread: Alabama by 7-9 points, according to Michael Casagrande of al.com.
Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder break down Alabama and Texas A&M.
Alabama Keys to Victory
Contain Johnny Manziel
If only it was so easy.
Manziel beat Alabama with his arm and legs last year in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide is going to have to keep him in the pocket and make him beat them with his arm.
Get the Offense Going Early
Alabama's offense was lifeless in the first quarter of last year's game, and by the time it got going, it was already too late—Manziel had done his damage.
The Crimson Tide offense will play just as big of a role in slowing down the Texas A&M as the defense will. The less Manziel is on the field, the fewer points he can put on the scoreboard.
Stick to the Process
Nick Saban's Alabama teams have traditionally played well on the road, especially in big games and hostile environments.
In the LSU game in Baton Rouge last year, the Crimson Tide faced as much adversity as it had all year. But it didn't panic and stuck to what it does best.
Alabama will face some adversity Saturday—Manziel will bust off a big run or throw a devastating pass—but Alabama can't get rattled when things go wrong.
Texas A&M Keys to Victory
Throw the Kitchen Sink at the Offensive Line
Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster gave the country a blueprint on how to disrupt the Alabama offense. The Hokies blitzed and stunted more than the Crimson Tide thought they would see, and it caught them off guard.
Alabama's retooled offensive line has only had one game together this year. Traveling to one of the most hostile atmospheres in college football isn't exactly the scenario you want to have for take two.
Let Manziel be Manziel
He's a playmaker at heart.
He beat Alabama with his whimsical—and often daring—play last year, and he'll need to do it again. All of the off-field distractions will go away, at least for three-and-a-half or so hours Saturday, and Manziel needs to do what he does best: play football.
Live in the moment
This may be the biggest game in Texas A&M's history, and the team needs to treat it like one.
The Aggies need to come out swinging and not stop until the final whistle blows. It takes a couple of gutsy performances to down Alabama, and that's impossible to do if you're playing timid.
Players to Watch for Alabama
Alabama's signal-caller threw an uncharacteristic two interceptions in last year's game. He will be a big part of making sure the offense doesn't come out flat again and will be looked up to as a leader in a hostile environment.
With all the hype around Manziel, Mosley will lead an Alabama defense tasked with at least slowing him down. It will be Mosley's job to lead the defense and keep Manziel in check.
T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper
Alabama's playmakers will need to make plays.
The Aggies' offense could turn this game into a track meet, and the Crimson Tide will need its playmakers to keep up on the scoreboard. The pair was relatively quiet against Virginia Tech, but will need to play a major role in the biggest game of the year.
Players to Watch for Texas A&M
Matthews slid over to left tackle this offseason after the departure of Luke Joeckel to the NFL draft. He has filled in admirably so far, but he will face much stiffer competition this week than Rice and Sam Houston State.
The Crimson Tide will be doing all it can to throw Manziel off his rhythm, and it's up to Matthews and the offensive line to keep it in check.
De’Vante Harris, Steven Jenkins and Gavin Stansbury
The Aggies' defense gave up more points and big plays than it would have preferred in its first two games of the year to lesser competition. But it returns a trio of defensive starters off a two-game suspension just in time to face Alabama.
The unit is sure to be stronger with the return of the three players.
Texas A&M's quarterback
Who is it again? I can't, for the life of me, remember his name.
Oh yeah, Johnny Manziel. Simply put, the guy is going to have to play like he always has and then some to beat Alabama. He is the X-factor for Texas A&M.
And it won't be that hard to watch him, as CBS will have a camera trained on his every move.
What They Are Saying
Manziel will not speak to the media this week. George Schroeder of USA Today has the details:
"I'll respect his wishes for that," Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said, adding that Manziel's decision was made after consulting with "his lawyers and his family."
Which only speaks to how odd the situation is. The buildup for No. 1 Alabama's visit to No. 6 Texas A&M is enormous, and the overarching storyline is pretty simple: Can Manziel and Texas A&M roll Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide again? But the reigning Heisman Trophy winner has clammed up on the advice of attorneys.
"They're playing with a chip on their shoulder," McCarron said. "Everybody hears everybody talking. We don't need to pay attention to it, but you're still going to hear it. I feel like they came out this past week and really improved, did a great job communicating.
"They've done a really job of progressing, so hopefully we can keep building."
Senior offensive guard Anthony Steen confirmed as much about 15 minutes after McCarron's comments.
"After Virginia Tech everybody is talking about being disappointed in us, and we’ve got a chip on our shoulder like AJ said," Steen said. "We’re ready to get out there and try to prove something."
Texas A&M students could lose tickets for the rest of the year if they sell theirs this week, says Maggie Kiely of the Bryan-College Station Eagle:
Reselling a student ticket for profit is prohibited and carries penalties ranging from revocation of the ticket and even tickets for the entire season. As of late Monday, at least two students were paying the consequences of trying to turn a profit.
Starting fast may quiet the Aggies’ rowdy crowd, better known as the 12th Man. Kyle Field is known as one of the loudest places to play in college football, but Tide quarterback AJ McCarron said it won't matter much.
“I mean it doesn’t matter where you’re playing,” McCarron said. “It’s always good to get off to a fast start. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing there or home.”
Texas A&M 35, Alabama 34
This will be one of the best games of the college football season. Both teams will be hungry and eager to prove that they are national title contenders.
For one team, they will find themselves in the driver's seat for the SEC Western Division and a spot in the SEC Championship Game, as well as the BCS National Championship Game.
The other will find itself looking for answers and facing a long week of questions.
In the end, I think Kyle Field and Johnny Manziel will be too much for Alabama to overcome. The offensive line still hasn't found the chemistry and communication needed to keep up with the Aggies offense.
But it won't be easy. The momentum will eb and flow for much of the game. One thing is for sure: College football fans are in for a treat.