Here’s everything you need to know about No. 21 Texas A&M vs. No. 7 Alabama.

When: Today
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Game Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: CBS
Current Line: Alabama (-14)

Game Buzz: Two years ago, a win in Tuscaloosa jumpstarted what became a Heisman season for Johnny Manziel. Last year, Alabama won an entertaining shootout in one of the most hyped games of the college football season. This year’s contest appeared headed for something similar, but then Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2) lost back-to-back games and Alabama (5-1, 2-1) nearly did the same. It’s still a meaningful, juicy matchup, but the buzz isn’t there.

SATURDAY DOWN SOUTH PREVIEWS

NO. 21 TEXAS A&M AGGIES

Players to watch:

  • WR Malcome Kennedy
  • WR/KR Speedy Noil
  • LT Cedric Ogbuehi
  • DE Myles Garrett
  • DT Alonzo Williams
  • CB Deshazor Everett

Keys for Texas A&M:

  • Score points early. Texas A&M’s entire team is designed to get a lead and then apply pressure both on offense and defense. The team has failed to score much early in three consecutive games and nearly lost all three. It can’t afford to trail Alabama and attempt to make a late-game comeback. It worked against Arkansas, but not on the road against the Tide.
  • Limit first-down runs. The A&M defense is going to give up yards and points. It’s just a fact. But the Aggies need to make Blake Sims beat them with his arm. That means selling out to stop the run on early downs and forcing Alabama into second- and third-and-long. If A&M gives up passes in the process, so be it. This team needs to trade some big gainers for some disruptive plays.
  • Figure out its offensive line. The starting left tackle, center and right tackle supposedly are legitimate NFL prospects, though the latter is more for 2016 than 2015. Still, opposing defensive lines have manhandled what was supposed to be one of the best groups in the SEC and the nation. A very productive running game has stalled, putting even more pressure on a young Kenny Hill. Even though he hasn’t gotten sacked all that much, he’s been disrupted as well. To beat Alabama, the offensive line must play better.

Glaring weakness to watch: Tackling. Led by S Amari Watts, the linebackers and secondary have missed a season’s worth of tackles in the last three games. CB Deshazor Everett seems like the only back-end player willing to stick his nose into the chest of opposing ball-carriers.

Most interesting part of this game: Figuring out where Texas A&M fits in the SEC West this season. Alabama lost to Ole Miss. Texas A&M lost to Ole Miss. The Aggies barely beat Arkansas. The Tide barely beat Arkansas. Are the Aggies truly a Top 25 team, fifth-best in the West or maybe even better? Or is this a flawed group destined to finish the year with at least four losses and a meaningless bowl game?

Team buzz: Or lack thereof. Texas A&M probably was the most buzz-worthy program in the country after a 5-0 start and a rise to No. 6 in the Associated Press Top 25, but getting manhandled by both Mississippi schools has gotten rid of some of this program’s swag, especially as Baylor continues to roll and Texas starts to turn away from rock bottom. Kevin Sumlin has things headed in a good direction, but maybe not as good as many thought.

NO. 7 ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE

Players to watch:

  • QB Blake Sims
  • RB T.J. Yeldon
  • RB Derrick Henry
  • WR Amari Cooper
  • LT Cam Robinson
  • LB Xzavier Dickson
  • LB Reggie Ragland
  • CB Tony Brown
  • S Landon Collins

Keys for Alabama:

  • Get the running game going. Alabama likely won’t have center Ryan Kelly back in the lineup, but it may not matter against Texas A&M. The Aggies are giving up 175 yards per game on the ground and they simply don’t tackle well. T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, two of Alabama’s healthy running backs, have both been underwhelming this season, partially due to the inconsistency of the offensive line. The team put up just 66 yards on the ground against Alabama with a 2 yards-per-carry average, which will have them itching to prove something.
  • Generate pressure on Kenny Hill. After flying through the early part of the season, Texas A&M has run into some offensive issues against SEC opposition. The key has been teams getting into the backfield and disrupting quarterback Kenny Hill’s rhythm. Mississippi State and Ole Miss both were consistently in the backfield. Alabama’s pass rush has improved greatly from last season, led by resurgent linebacker Xzavier Dickson’s 5 sacks. If they can make Hill uncomfortable, the Tide’s surprisingly low number of forced turnovers will rise significantly.
  • Spread the ball around. Last week’s game against Arkansas proved that Alabama can’t just throw and throw to Amari Cooper and expect things to go swimmingly. The star receiver was targeted plenty, but Blake Sims was only able to hit him twice. The Tide do have some other talented receiving options, from DeAndrew White to O.J. Howard, and it’ll be up to Sims to utilize them to take some of the attention off of Cooper.

Glaring weakness to watch: Special teams play. Everyone assumed Alabama would tighten things up in this phase of the game after their debacle against Ole Miss, but the unit was just as bad against Arkansas. They did block an extra point, providing the difference in the final score, but also gave away two fumbles and put the ball on the ground twice more. The Aggies should be doing everything they can to make Alabama’s punt and kick returners as uncomfortable as possible.

Most interesting part of this game: Which Blake Sims will show up? Despite an efficient start to the season, a few shaky efforts have Alabama critics questioning whether Sims should be the starter. If Sims comes out with accurate throws and solid decision making, instead of forcing balls into double coverage, that will hush those naysayers.

Team buzz: In his own words, Nick Saban is pissed off. His Crimson Tide team has been undisciplined and inconsistent, yet still only have one loss and maintain a top-10 ranking. With criticism coming from all angles, from former players to national pundits, Alabama will be looking to tighten up and prove that they are still a team to be reckoned with.