This week Alabama welcomes Texas A&M to Tuscaloosa for the first time as a member of the SEC. A Crimson Tide win clinches the SEC West and a trip to Atlanta to most likely face off against the Georgia Bulldogs. The Aggies are ranked 15th in the country and are determined not to be an also ran in the conference. Here I present three causes for concern and three causes for confidence.
Causes for Concern
The Letdown Factor. Last week’s game against LSU was nothing short of amazing. AJ McCarron cemented his legacy in Alabama football lore with a gutty, heroic performance that saved his team at the moment the needed him most. It would be impossible to replicate the emotions and energy of such a game, so the Tide must be vigilant about bringing their best effort against A&M. Having the game played in Tuscaloosa should help, where the home crowd should partially mitigate the effects of any hangover. The defense especially will need to forget about Death Valley and concentrate on the task at hand.
Wear & Tear. The SEC schedule is an absolute meat grinder, and when the calendar turns to November, the weekly battles take their toll on a team. Alabama has not had very good luck with injuries this season, losing Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart and DeAndrew White for the season. In the past few weeks we have also seen AJ McCarron and Amari Cooper dinged up a bit as well. A few poorly-timed injuries to key players can derail a dream season in a heartbeat. Helping combat this is Alabama’s strength and conditioning program, which is arguably the best in the nation. Alabama has also played a great many young players this season, which should help keep some gas in the players’ tanks for the stretch run.
The Dynamic Dual-Threat Quarterback. Freshman quarterback Johny Manziel has been running coach Kevin Sumlin’s high octane offense extremely well this season, using both his arm and his legs to light up scoreboards. Quarterbacks such as Manziel present a unique set of problems and can be at their most dangerous when the defense actually does its job and breaks down a play. Dual-threat quarterbacks can improvise and create on the fly, turning a busted play into a big gain in the blink of an eye. The Tide must have a plan for Manziel, and utilize their philosophy of “affecting the quarterback” to keep him off balance and uncomfortable.
Causes for Confidence
Reps. Alabama has been here before. Since 2008, the Tide has played in a steady stream of big games, being victorious more often than not. In that time period Alabama has also faced off against dual-threat quarterbacks such as Tim Tebow (twice), Cam Newton and Denard Robinson, providing invaluable experience in how to defend a quarterback who can both run and throw. Johnny Manziel has been on a hot streak lately, but the Tide has seen his type of quarterback before and Manziel is still just a freshman. Earlier in the season the Tide absolutely shut down MIchigan’s Robinson, a senior with dozens of games under his belt. One of Alabama’s great strengths is the discipline that they play with so there should not be many breakdowns for Manziel to exploit.
Home Sweet Home. Coming from the Big 12, it is unlikely that Texas A&M has seen many environments like Bryant-Denny Stadium. Yes, there were games against Oklahoma and Texas, but the SEC is a different animal. A rocking stadium full of over 102,000 fans, coupled with Alabama’s M.O. of making teams quit in the fourth quarter due to physical exhaustion can be devastating for opponents. Due to a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico during week one, Texas A&M has not had a bye week this season. Against a physically punishing team like Alabama, nine straight weeks of collisions might be compounded for the worn-out Aggies.
Offensive Mismatch. Alabama has displayed an efficient, effective, and at times explosive offense this season. In contrast, Texas A&M’s defense has been quite mediocre. The Tide theoretically should be able to impose their will on the Aggies and sustain long scoring drives that wear down the defense, and keep their offense on the sidelines. The benefit of having a balanced offense such as Alabama’s is that if one facet is having an off day, the other can pick up the slack. If McCarron and the receivers are not in synch for some reason, the offensive line along with Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon can carry the load in the running game. Other teams that run a one-trick pony type of offense are more susceptible to beating themselves on an off day, whereas the Tide forces the opponent to beat them.
If Alabama shows up focused and hungry, then in all likelihood they should dispatch the Aggies and move on to the bigger fish that need frying.