Alabama vs Texas A&M: Game Primer


The second week of the 2013 college football season is behind us and it was certainly a strange week on and off the field. Week two isn’t the usual week that the Tide are resting with a bye and Tide fans were watching all the games they could in trying to fill their football hunger to no avail. Meanwhile, Johnny “football” Manziel and his teammates had one more warm up game as they took the field against an over-matched Sam Houston State team before the Tide come to Kyle field looking for redemption.

The week off should by all intents and purposes give Alabama staff an extra week to prep for the Aggies and the players an extra week to rest and get mentally as well as physically healthy. Not all Tide players had a chance to get their bodies in top shape as red-shirt freshman defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson injured his knee requiring surgery be done ASAP. Dalvin has a unique skill set that allows him to come into the rotation on sub packages as a pass rusher and he’s a guy athletic enough to provide support against the sneaky quick Manziel. Tomlinson injured his knee in practice, cutting his season short and leaving the Tide without one of the most valuable and promising players against teams like Texas A&M.

Alabama defensive line coach Chris Rumph is faced with the chore of finding the guy who has worked just as hard as Dalvin and who is ready to step up and contribute in a similar way. Even though Tomlinson wasn’t listed as a starter in base defense, his presence in the game against uptempo offenses with mobile QB’s can’t be overstated. Last season’s loss to the Aggies was a lesson in having depth along the defensive front and having that depth prepared to play. The top candidates to fill the vacant spot happen to all be freshmen with young Jonathan Allen (#93) giving the Tide the speed and athleticism they require in those situations. Tim Williams (#56) is another interesting Bama D-Linemen wit athleticism few possess at his size. What these two young players lack in size and strength (due to just being youngsters) they make up for in intensity, drive and athletic ability. The slightly bigger/stronger players that could fill in include freshman Dee Liner(#52) (who has the best name ever for a D-Lineman), freshman A’Shawn Robinson (#86), RS Freshman Dakota Ball (#94) and Korren Kirven (#85). This is just as important a week and just as big a game for the up and coming stars of the D-line as it is for the older players looking to set things straight after missing out on an undefeated season in 2012 due to the Aggies and Manziel……IT’S TIME FOR PAYBACK ! ! !

In looking at the first two games the Aggies played, either they are not tipping their hand, or they have no running game to speak of this season. A&M didn’t have a hundred yard rusher in either game against inferior opposition and the clear emphasis has been to get Johnny and the passing game clicking before the Tide come calling but a solid running game is a must against Alabama. Albeit unconventional, last season most of A&M’s rushing yardage came from Manziel on the ground but if the Aggie offense is one dimensional in this game, relying yet again on Manziel to get big chunks of yardage on the ground, he will be putting himself at risk by taking some monster hits. A&M has used a couple of complimentary running backs thus far in the season and both seem to produce fairly well with neither really separating himself from the other. An average running game against this Tide defense is  certainly not the ideal situation for TAMU to be in and it should help Bama dictate how aggressive they play.

Alabama’s Defensive line play will be crucial against a mobile QB because those guys can’t just go all out rushing the QB so they have to play smart, keep him from running around and giving his receivers many chances to get open and try and get him going backwards if he insists on running. A simple concept that doesn’t come so simply on the field because Manziel isn’t scripted and there isn’t a distinct way to identify when he’s going to be scrambling around. While stopping Johnny from scrambling around isn’t the easiest task, it’s certainly not a foreign offense to this Tide defense as the bulk of this years starters were on the field last year when these two met. Aside from Jesse Williams and Damien Square the entire Tide defensive line returns to a defense that locked down Manziel for 9 points over the last 3 quarters of play in last years loss. This defense has seen Manziel and the A&M offense and they can’t be caught off guard this season. It may seem a bit unrealistic for a Saban team but I just don’t believe they took A&M as seriously as they should have and this year the opposite is happening, they won’t have focused more on a single team than this one and that bodes well for the Tide.

The Tide offense against the Aggie defense is the big unknown in this one and could really ultimately be what wins or costs the Tide a win. A&M’s defense has suffered some suspensions and they have given up a ton of rushing yards through 2 games already. The finished product for this Aggie defense hasn’t been seen quite yet and there is a little mystery there. On the flip side, Alabama’s offense is looking for something to hang it’s hat on and presents as a mystery themselves. With only one game under their belt, and an unimpressive one at that for the offense, leaves fans wondering just how good this unit can be and even wondering if they will be as good as last year despite being billed as better on paper than last years offense. Bama’s offensive line has taken some unfair criticism and will be out to prove they aren’t the weak link on a title contending team. That’s not great news for an A&M defense that yielded 240 yards rushing to Sam Houston & 306 yards rushing to Rice the week before and you can bet that the Tide O-line will be looking to make a point.

Bama’s passing game is far more effective when the run game is clicking as evidenced against VaTech in which Tide running backs didn’t look at their best. Several people involved with the program have expressed to me their excitement to see Kenyan Drake return to the Tide’s backfield although none of the media outlets seem to be talking about it (which has me questioning their sources), they almost surely will be talking when the final whistle blows Saturday. Drake may have struggled with minor team rules violations early on but those things seem to be behind him now and the beneficiary will be the Tide rushing attack. Drake is the perfect compliment to Yeldon in that he is the fastest, most explosive runner in a backfield with plenty of power but not overflowing with speed. Although Alabama has a couple of freshmen runners with superb speed (Kamara/T.Jones), they haven’t been in the system long enough to move ahead in the depth chart and Drake’s skill set will certainly benefit Yeldon and the offense as a whole.

Alabama will almost certainly try and control the tempo of the game and make A&M play their game. The Tide want to slow things down, control the clock and have sustained drives that eat up time, produce points & keep Manziel off the field. When he is on the field,  the idea is to keep him in front of the defensive line, each pass is a chance at an interception and each run he makes is a chance to make him rethink running next time.  The defensive backs will have spent the week working on staying with the receiver until the whistle, or at least until someone crosses the line of scrimmage. Discipline is another word they will be extremely familiar with by weeks end and a major area of focus in practice is awareness and execution. Proper tackling, taking the right angles, awareness and persistence were all things identified from the first A&M game by the staff as areas of needed improvement  on defense. With the Crimson Tide having so much time to prepare and having worked on specific areas they weren’t as strong last season, this match up will have a much different feel to it.

I will be back here on the tooth this Friday with added insight into what we can expect and look for in this weekend’s game from Alabama gathered from people involved with the program……….ROLL TIDE ! !