When No. 1 Alabama takes on No. 6 Texas A&M in College Station this weekend, the CBS Sports “Johnny Cam” won’t be the only thing keeping a constant eye on elusive Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel. For those who haven’t heard, CBS Sports will have a camera isolated on Manziel’s every move Saturday, but so too will Crimson Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley be stalking the wily QB.
Spying Manziel is probably the toughest job in college football, other than maybe being head coach at Alabama. But it’s an opportunity for the senior linebacker to have a signature performance to add to his already impressive resume at Alabama.
Earlier in the week, Alabama coach Nick Saban indicated Mosley was Alabama’s most qualified candidate for the “spy” position, but he didn’t definitively say he would be used in that capacity. Still, Mosley is embracing the role he expects to play in Week 3.
“In the SEC, you don’t spy too many quarterbacks,” Mosley told reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “It’s a honor to spy a Heisman Trophy winner, so I have to do my job and the defense as well. We just have to execute.”
The job description for a quarterback spy is as simple as it gets – keep an eye on the quarterback at all times and don’t let him escape the pocket and make plays. However, executing that definition against a quarterback who is as talented and athletic as Manziel is another story, altogether.
There is a lot on the line for both teams Saturday, as the winner will gain a huge advantage in the SEC West race. But Alabama has something to prove after what happened in Bryant-Denny Stadium last season.
In last year’s A&M 29-24 win in Tuscaloosa, Manziel passed for 253 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 92, confounding the Tide defense with his ability to keep plays alive as the Aggies scored the game’s first 20 points.
Though Mosley’s role as the spy is an important one, he can’t keep A&M out of the end zone alone. Stopping Manziel and the Aggies’ high-octane offense will require great performances by all 11 Crimson Tide defenders – a point Saban is also stressing.
“I think that when we play against a player like this, all 11 players on defense are really, really important because if one guy doesn’t do his job then they’re going to take advantage of it – whether it’s a rusher getting out of his lane, a guy not covering with the right discipline, technique or leverage, eye control, whatever you might call it,” Saban said to reporters.
So, the question: Can Mosley, or anyone else on Bama’s defense, effectively limit Manziel’s production? Saban’s not so sure.
“C.J. Mosley is a good player that’s really important to our defense all the time,” he said. “I’m not sure that we have a player on our team who can spy this guy, but if there was anybody, he’s probably as good as any.”
The 6-foot-2, 232-pound anchor of the Crimson Tide defense is already off to a solid start this year, recording seven tackles in Week 1. He is the quiet leader of this unit, letting his play speaks for itself. Last season, Mosley became the first Alabama linebacker since Rolando McClain to record more than 100 tackles. He won All-American honors and was second on the team in sacks and tackles for loss, but that’s not what’s most impressive. Amazingly, Mosley wreaked that much havoc while playing a part-time role behind starting mike linebacker Nico Johnson. There’s no question he was the best backup in the country in 2012. This year, he might be the best linebacker in all of college football.
But will it be enough to keep Manziel in check?
No team has really been able to slow Manziel in the 15 college games he’s played in so far, but for Alabama to grab a victory at Kyle Field Saturday, it will probably need to do just that. With Mosley as the on-field leader of that all-important mission and the game-planning prowess of Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart, don’t be surprised if the Crimson Tide find a way to frustrate Johnny Football.