The Alabama Crimson Tide are set for their final test of the regular season as Texas A&M comes to Tuscaloosa for a Saturday afternoon SEC tilt. A win would clinch the SEC West for the Crimson Tide and punch their ticket to the Georgia Dome for an SEC Championship Game date with Georgia, as long as the Bulldogs handle their business against Auburn this weekend.
All the talk this week has been about the Texas A&M offense, but the Aggie defense has quietly been decent this year.
The Aggies rank 31st in rushing defense, giving up an average of 132 yards per game. They are giving up 245 yards per game passing, which ranks 70th in the country. They are 46th in total defense, and 27th in scoring defense giving up 21 points per game.
Texas A&M’s front seven is led by potential first round pick Damontre Moore, who is a combo end/linebacker. Moore has 69 tackles, 19 TFLs, and 11.5 sacks this season, and has given the Aggies defense the dynamic it has been lacking in the pass rush since Von Miller left College Station. Moore’s 19 tackles for loss ranks second in the nation behind Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, and he is tied for second in the country in sacks.
Alabama tackles Cyrus Kouandjio and D.J. Fluker were downright dominant last week against LSU’s Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. LSU’s bookends were completely shut down last week, but there haven’t been many guys in the country more successful rushing the passer than Damontre Moore.
Moore is the only star on the Texas A&M defense, but they have other solid players along their defensive front led by senior linebacker Sean Porter. Fellow senior Jonathan Stewart and junior Steven Jenkins join Porter for an impressive linebacker corps.
While their front seven has been solid, the secondary has really struggled this year and we should see AJ McCarron look to take advantage of the Aggies’ struggles on the back end.
Starting corners Dustin Harris and Deshazor Everrett have struggled mightily and get burned on occasions. The secondary as a whole has only forced 7 interceptions in 2012, and as you know Alabama QB AJ McCarron hasn’t thrown an interception yet this season.
Starting safeties Howard Matthews and Steven Terrell haven’t fared much better. Matthews has been solid in run support, but has consistently struggled in coverage, and he should be a guy the Crimson Tide look to isolate one-on-one with a receiver and take advantage of. Terrell, while better in coverage than his counterpart, lacks the necessary size at just 193 pounds to be a particularly effective starting safety in the SEC.
The Aggies have been respectable in pass efficiency defense, ranking 38th in the country, but they have consistently given up yards this year. Louisiana Tech’s Colby Cameron threw for 450 yards against this secondary.
They also allowed Tyler Wilson and Bo Wallace to eclipse 300 passing yards against them.
If AJ McCarron can settle into the game and hit some throws, Alabama should find success through the air against Texas A&M. It will all come down to the offensive line play and whether or not Kouandjio and Fluker can consistently keep Damontre Moore and others from pressuring McCarron. If they give AJ time, he should be able to pick apart this secondary.
While Texas A&M has had success against the run, when Alabama’s offensive line is on, it’s hard to see any defense being able to consistently stop the Tide ground game. Look for Alabama to look to grind it out on the ground quite a bit against Texas A&M in hopes of eating up game clock and keeping Johnny Manziel on the sidelines for as long as possible.
Ball control will likely be the name of the game for the Crimson Tide’s offense as they look to keep Texas A&M’s offense off the field. The best way to stop Manziel is to keep him on the sideline.
Alabama’s offense should find success tomorrow afternoon against the Texas A&M defense, and it will likely take a strong performance from the offense for the Tide to walk out of Bryant-Denny Stadium with their undefeated record intact. Texas A&M’s offense will challenge the Tide defense, and this isn’t a game where Alabama can completely rely on their defense to win the game.
They will have to score some points to get this win, and I’m confident in McCarron and the rest of the offense’s ability to light up the scoreboard against the Aggies.
Follow John on Twitter.