Texas A&M vs. Alabama preview

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The Matchup:  #15 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2) at #1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0)

When:  Saturday, November 10th

Where:  Tuscaloosa, AL

Game Time:  3:30 PM ET

TV:  CBS

Recent History:  Alabama is 3-1 against Texas A&M, with the last meeting coming in 1988 in a 30-10 Crimson Tide victory.  This game also marks the Aggies’ first time playing away in three straight games since 1977.

Storyline(s):  The most electric offensive player in the SEC in Johnny Manziel will take his chances against the #2 overall defense in the country and the game’s best schemer against dual-threat quarterbacks in Nick Saban.  Alabama should take care of business, but let’s see if the emotional victory over LSU plays any part in a letdown.  If Manziel can lead an upset, he can punch a ticket to New York for the Heisman ceremony.

What you need to know about Texas A&M:  You could make the argument that the Aggies are the best two-loss team in the country.  South Carolina, LSU and Texas A&M go head-to-head for that vote and all three have pretty good reason why they’re the top two-loss team.  Nonetheless, I’m okay with saying the Aggies have the most explosive offense in the SEC, and Georgia is right behind them.  But what Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury are doing on offense makes defenses just look silly.

The Aggies are wracking up 559 total yards and scoring 44.7 points per game in this defensive-minded league.  However, against the two best defenses – Florida and LSU – Manziel and the offense were limited, scoring only 17 and 19 points respectively.  The running game has been coming on strong for the Aggies in the last few weeks.  With Ben Malena and Christine Michael finally getting going, this offense is even more dangerous than before.  Malena has rushed for 637 yards and six touchdowns, while Michael has rushed for 321 and eight touchdowns.  Mike Evans and Ryan Swope are the two primary receivers for Manziel, and Evans is going to be a great one.

Defensively, this group is underrated.  The Aggies are eighth in total defense in the SEC and 47th nationally, with arguably the most underrated player in the conference in DE Damontre Moore.  Moore leads the SEC in 19.0 tackles for loss and also leads in sacks with 11.5.  With as much pub as Jadeveon Clowney gets, Moore has been, pound-for-pound, a more disruptive player than the freak in Columbia.

The Aggies are 5-0 on the road just this season under Sumlin.

What you need to know about Alabama:  The chasm between Alabama and everyone else closed this week by LSU outplaying the machine for 57 minutes, but they just couldn’t finish the game.  But that’s what good teams do: they make plays when they have to and win football games any way possible.  Alabama did just that.

The Tide are the second highest scoring offense in the SEC, averaging 38.4 points per game, and are fifth in total offense.  Led by Heisman candidate AJ McCarron, this offense is anchored by that nasty future NFL offensive line, two horses in the backfield and emerging playmakers at wide receiver.  Last week was the first time the offense had been tested all year with future NFL-caliber players on LSU’s defense.  But they punched back when it mattered the most.  This is a veteran-laid offense that knows what it takes to win.

Defensively, the Tide are statistically a top three defense in every category.  They are holding offenses to under 10 points per game and 228.9 yards per game of total offense.  The pass defense did allow LSU QB Zach Mettenberger to throw for nearly 300 yards and one touchdown, and that was the first time all year they had been tested in that regard.  They will no doubt be tested this week against Manziel, who not only leads the SEC in rushing but is second in passing yards with 2,527 yards, only behind Tennessee’s Tyler Bray, who has thrown for 2,812 yards.

Alabama did have an average margin of victory this season of 32.5 points per game, but narrowly escaped LSU by four last weekend.

What do the numbers tell us?

Category Texas A&M Alabama
Scoring Offense 44.7 ppg 38.4 ppg
Total Offense 559.6 ypg 424.7 ypg
Rush Offense 251.3 ypg 209 ypg
Pass Offense 308.2 ypg 215.7 ypg
Scoring Defense 21 ppg 9.1 ppg
Total Defense 377.1 ypg 228.9 ypg
Rush Defense 132.1 ypg 66.3 ypg
Pass Defense 245 ypg 162.6 ypg
Turnover Margin -7 +15
INTs 7 14
Sacks By 27 23
Sacks Against 17 18

What Gives?  To beat Alabama, Texas A&M is going to have to play a turnover-free game, while forcing Alabama into multiple turnovers.  Bama doesn’t turn it over very much, and LSU got two free gifts last week but only got points on one of them.  The Aggies’ defense has only forced eight total turnovers all year.  That’s tied with Vanderbilt for last in the conference.

The recipe to beat the Tide is to run the football.  Can the Aggies generate enough run game with Manziel, Malena and Michael to keep Alabama on their toes?  Manziel is going to have to be efficient in the passing game.  Mettenberger had success last week, but he was in a zone at home.  Can Manziel turn in explosive plays in the air when it matters the most?  He certainly has the receivers and offensive line protection to do it.

Alabama is the ultimate balanced offense, and the Aggies are going to have to shut down the running game.  However, the Aggies’ pass defense just isn’t that good on the back end, ranked 12th in the SEC.  That’s the weakness I expect Doug Nussmeier and Alabama to attack using McCarron and receivers Amari Cooper and Kenny Bell.

Above all, I think the biggest question for Alabama entering this game isn’t how they will limit or try and shut down Johnny Manziel, but it will be more about how they handle such an emotional victory on the road at LSU last week.  Florida couldn’t do it against Georgia and South Carolina couldn’t do it against LSU.  Can Alabama be that team that can overcome everything?

Photo Credit: Marvin Gentry-US PRESSWIRE

REFERENCES

COMMENTS

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  • Hey jon, the turnover margin is flip flopped on the stat table at the bottom of the column. Bama is +15 and A&M is -7. Other than that, great preview.

  • I’m real excited to see Manziel take on Alabama’s defense. Should be a great one to watch.

  • Hey Jon, LSU didn’t outplay Bama for 57 minutes…maybe 27. The score at halftime was 14-3. Just sayin’…

  • Most of the articles about the ad nauseum “Johnny Football” need to take a close look at the losses and the close victories. A & M has had a few. Against strong defenses, they have not faired very well and against strong offenses that defense does not fair well at all. Look at Ole Miss and La Tech both of those were flag football games which came down to a few key plays/turnovers.

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