Alabama has waited 10 months to get a rematch with Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M after he the Aggies went into Tuscaloosa and left Bryant-Denny Stadium as victors. Nick Saban has had the benefit of a bye week to prepare even more for this game, being dubbed by many as the game of the year.
When Texas A&M has the ball:
Clearly, it all starts with the Heisman winner, and Manziel is coming off a 403-yard passing effort and showing zero signs of a sophomore slump. He has running backs Ben Malena and Tra Carson to lighten the rushing load, and hasn’t had to tuck and run as often as he did a year ago as a result. The duo has combined for 300 yards and six touchdowns on 45 carries compared to 55 on 13 for Manziel.
Wide receiver Mike Evans is one of the best in the conference and leads the team by a mile in receiving categories, but is the only proven commodity out wide.
Alabama limited Logan Thomas to only five completions on 26 attempts in the Tide’s opening win over Virginia Tech, and only converted three of 17 third-down attempts. A&M will try to run on Alabama after they gave up 153 on the ground, and Malena and Carson will be crucial to the fate of the Aggies.
C.J. Mosley, Adrian Hubbard and the Alabama defense will be gearing up to stop Manziel after he made several circus-like plays en route to 345 total yards of offense in the meeting a year ago. I think Saban and Kirby Smart will have a game plan designed to keep Manziel in the pocket and force him to beat them through the air.
When Alabama has the ball:
Alabama will employ a ground attack designed to control the time of possession and keep Manziel off the field for as long as possible. This means T.J. Yeldon will be a busy back and should have at least 20 carries. Altee Tenpenny, Dee Hart and even Derrick Henry should get a little more involved in the game than they did in the opener, when they combined for 12 carries and 36 yards.
A.J. McCarron and Amari Cooper will then find take advantage of A&M stacking the box with an eighth defender, and exploit the defense for big plays through the air. Christion Jones is another weapon for A&M to scheme against after scoring via pass, punt and kick in his breakout game.
The Aggies have issues on defense after surrendering 31 points to Rice and 28 to Sam Houston State. Their prolific offense will be able to outscore most opponents without Alabama or LSU on their chest, and will be their downfall this season. The Aggies benefited from two McCarron interceptions — he only threw three all season — to squeak past Alabama, and I don’t see that happening again this year.
Texas A&M was the hunter last season, taking the conference by storm as Manziel had a historic season, but I worry how they’ll handle the bullseye on their chest. Kevin Sumlin got the better of Saban last year and jumped out to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter before Alabama had a chance to collect themselves.
The 12th man at Kyle Field will be yelling as loud as ever, but I don’t envision a scenario where Saban loses two times in a row to this coach and team, especially since he had an extra week to devise his master game plan.