The first meeting between Texas A&M and Alabama as SEC members has a chance to be the best game on the Week 11 slate. The Aggies have turned a lot of heads in their new conference, jumping out to a 7-2 mark and losing close games against Florida and LSU. The Crimson Tide used a late touchdown to beat LSU last week, which kept Alabama ranked No. 1 in the BCS standings once again.
After last Saturday’s win in Baton Rouge, now comes the hard part for Alabama. The Crimson Tide have to quickly refocus for Texas A&M, which just happens to be a dangerous team capable of pulling an upset. After an emotional, hard-fought victory last week, Alabama can’t afford to have a flat performance against a motivated team. Although a loss wouldn’t completely eliminate the Crimson Tide from the national title picture, it’s never a good thing to lose in mid-November.
While Alabama is chasing a national title, this game represents an opportunity for the Aggies to make a statement. Texas A&M is a program on the rise under Kevin Sumlin and has a lot of talent returning for 2013. With Sam Houston State and Missouri the remaining regular season games on the schedule, a victory over the Crimson Tide would give Texas A&M a good shot at having its first year of double-digit wins since 1998.
These two teams have met four times, with Alabama claiming a 3-1 edge in the series. The last meeting came in 1988, with the Crimson Tide winning 30-10 in College Station.
Storylines to Watch in Alabama vs. Texas A&M
Stopping Johnny Manziel
Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel has been virtually unstoppable this season. The redshirt freshman ranks second nationally in total offense with 383.2 yards per game and has scored 14 touchdowns in conference play. Manziel hasn’t made many mistakes but tossed three picks against LSU on Oct. 20 and was contained in the second half against Florida. For Texas A&M to have any shot at an upset, Manziel has to be at his best. The redshirt freshman can’t afford to have any turnovers and should expect the Alabama defense to throw a lot of different looks at him on the line of scrimmage. The Crimson Tide rank first nationally in scoring defense and second in yards allowed. Alabama will likely use a gameplan similar to the one LSU used against Texas A&M, which kept Manziel in the pocket and limited his opportunities to make plays with his legs. As last week showed against LSU, there are opportunities for plays against the Crimson Tide secondary. Manziel is completing just a tick under 67 percent of his passes, and he needs to hit around that number for Texas A&M to win on Saturday.
Texas A&M’s receivers vs. Alabama’s secondary
One of the biggest surprises from last week’s Alabama-LSU game was the performance of the Tigers’ passing attack. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger completed 24 of 35 passes for 298 yards and one touchdown. The Aggies have a more dynamic passing attack and have a trio of receivers that will test the Alabama secondary. Mike Evans is the No. 1 target with 56 receptions for 802 yards and two touchdowns. Ryan Swope (45 receptions) and Thomas Johnson (27) are also key factors in the passing attack. There’s plenty of talent in the receiving corps for Texas A&M to challenge Alabama’s secondary. After the Crimson Tide struggled to stop LSU last week, you can bet Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart spent a little extra time getting the defensive backs ready to go this week.
Texas A&M’s rush defense vs. Alabama’s rushing attack
The Aggies have been solid against the run this season, with only one opponent (LSU) allowed to rush for over 200 yards. Considering the success the Tigers had on the ground, this is one area Alabama will look to target on Saturday. Redshirt freshman T.J. Yeldon leads the team with 725 yards, while Eddie Lacy isn’t far behind with 679 yards. Lacy is dealing with an ankle injury but is expected to play. The Crimson Tide also has one of the nation’s top offensive lines, which should challenge a Texas A&M defensive line that doesn’t have a lot of depth. Expect Alabama to challenge the Aggies’ front seven early and often, using Yeldon and Lacy to try to wear down the defensive early in the fourth quarter.
Winning on the road in the SEC against the No. 1 team in the nation is no easy task. Texas A&M has an opportunity to win this game but needs to win the turnover battle. The Aggies rank 102nd nationally in turnover margin and have generated only eight takeaways this year. Alabama is on the other end of the spectrum in turnover battle, ranking fourth nationally and picking up 23 takeaways so far. If Texas A&M can’t generate any turnovers, its odds of winning will be dramatically decreased. The Aggies don’t need four or five takeaways, but they have to pickup a couple of short-field situations for the offense.
Nick Saban will have Alabama prepared but there’s still the worry of a letdown from the huge victory at LSU. With a flat performance possible in the first quarter, Texas A&M could have a chance to jump out to an early lead. However, Alabama will eventually take control of this game in the first half. Quarterback AJ McCarron should be able to take advantage of an Aggies’ secondary that ranks 70th nationally in pass defense, while the rushing attack will wear down the front seven. Texas A&M’s spread offense will give Alabama a few problems in the first half, but the Crimson Tide eventually find the right answers on defense and pull away in the final two quarters.
Final Prediction: Alabama 31, Texas A&M 20
by Steven Lassan
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