Game of the year: round two. That’s what you’re getting from the Alabama Crimson Tide–Texas A&M Aggies game as Sept. 14 approaches. An early collision course for the SEC Championship crown, as well as the crystal ball on if Alabama can win it all once again.
Presently, there’s a lot of hoopla about Johnny Manziel’s eligibility, and just the whole offseason in general for him. It doesn’t matter if Johnny Football is eligible for this game or not, in my opinion, Alabama will pull out all the stops once again in a big game and it won’t be as close as the experts think.
It seems like whenever anybody drops a point on this game, it always goes something like this: “when Nick Saban gets time to prepare for you as an opponent, he will present defensive adjustments that your wildest dream wouldn’t have foreseen.” Saban should get his fair share of respect, but the fact of the matter is simple. A.J. McCarron just doesn’t lose big games; Alabama with him in the saddle have lost only twice, home losses to LSU and A&M both by a margin of less than a touchdown. After the end of the game against A&M a year ago, McCarron won’t spoil this high-stake affair — the revenge factor is just too great.
This kid is 2-0 in SEC Championship and National Championship games as a starter. McCarron wants it more than anybody. McCarron’s throws against A&M were magnified this offseason. He left a lot of throws out on the field, being intercepted twice after 292 passes without an interception just isn’t in his DNA. Starting in 2013, McCarron will turn up the level as a quarterback. He has the best receiving corps in the country, led by sophomore Amari Cooper, not to mention a 1,000-yard running back in T.J. Yeldon. McCarron will certainly break in freshman tight end O.J. Howard like leather at A&M. Alabama will definitely jump out first in this game. Alabama outscored their opponents 358-91 last season in the first quarter alone.
Alabama’s defense will put tremendous pressure on Manziel getting the ball out early, no more and no less. Manziel was a hot quarterback at the time of the Alabama game in 2012 on a veteran-laden group, but nothing will surprise them this time. No doubt, Manziel will click early, but it will take all he has to match scoring with Alabama because of his less-frightening defense. Three of the Aggies most productive players, linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart and multi-tooled defensive end Damontre Moore, are now pros, making A&M’s front seven extremely thin.
Bama will stop any threat of a running game, that’s what they do. This will make Manziel thread the needle during obvious passing downs. Alabama will be far more discipline with the best linebackers known to man. In the middle, the Tide will use C.J. Mosley, who had a team-high 107 tackles, and Adrian Hubbard on the outside. Hubbard and Mosley have combined for 42 starts, and will be alongside fellow linebacker Trey DePriest for the game.
And yes, back to the original point. Alabama has two weeks to prepare on not just defense, but on offense as well. Alabama will be way too balanced on offense for Mark Snyder‘s liking. This year’s Alabama offense, unlike the past two seasons, will truly run through McCarron. The running game will open up better than it ever has because Alabama still returns a mammoth O-Line. Arie Kouandjio, Austin Shepherd and center Ryan Kelly are more than capable of holding ground against a vulnerable defense with no pass rush.
Alabama made a monumental miscalculation in the 2012 game. Alabama was on A&M’s doorstep until hitting the plain with four plays, they ran the ball only once with the best o-line in the country. Saban and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will not mismanage again the strength of the team this go around. The game plan will be centered on Cooper, who caught six passes for a buck and change in the last meeting.
Alabama will be No. 1, there’s a reason for that. Last season was the second time that Texas A&M has beaten a No. 1 squad in its school’s history. Some still find it beginners luck; maybe, but maybe not. We will find out in the third week of the season.