Planning for success: Alabama

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
8:00
AM ET
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- To get you ready for the game, here are some things to look for when No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Texas A&M dispense with the hype and finally go head to head in College Station, Texas, on Saturday:

The Crimson Tide will win if ...

All Alabama needs to do to have success in Round 2 against Texas A&M is look at last year's game. Yes, the game the Tide famously lost. That game, no matter how brutal the final outcome, is the key to winning this time around. The defense played within itself after Texas A&M's early run and did a great job of limiting Johnny Manziel until a late touchdown pass to Malcom Kennedy ended a three quarter streak of keeping the Aggies out of the end zone. Replicating that containment defense and limiting turnovers on offense are the two simple keys to victory. You'll be wise to remember that AJ McCarron's streak of 291 consecutive pass attempts without an interception ended against Texas A&M that day with not one, but two picks, the last of which sealed the Tide's fate 6 yards away from a miraculous come from behind victory.

The Aggies will win if ...

If Alabama's offensive line looks like it did against Virginia Tech and McCarron can't get the passing game off the ground, the Tide could be in big trouble. Before you even get to the riddle that is Manziel, that must first be addressed. Negative plays and turnovers will kill Alabama's chances as touchdowns will be at a premium against Manziel and the potent Texas A&M offense. Containing Manziel won't be easy, though. Getting into a shootout is not what the UA staff wants. If Manziel is allowed to run free, buy time with his feet and complete long gains downfield, the Aggies will have every shot of beating Alabama for a second straight season.

Texas A&M players to watch

QB Johnny Manziel: It's all led to this. We've heard again and again how there's a plan to stop Manziel and how last year's lessons were learned. Now it gets to be put into action. If Manziel is allowed to break contain and buy time in the passing game, Alabama's defense will suffer yet again. Getting pressure on him without giving up big chunks of yards is the key.

WR Mike Evans: If there's one player outside of Manziel on the Aggies offense that scare you, it should be Evans, who is a load on the outside at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds. Either Deion Belue or John Fulton will wind up covering Evans, and both are mismatches physically. The talented sophomore was a freshman All-SEC selection a year ago after setting school records with 82 receptions and 1,105 yards.

Aggies front seven: Texas A&M's defense has not been what you'd expect from a team in the SEC. Giving up 28 points and 390 total yards of offense to Sam Houston State is indicative of issues up front, even if your offense scores 65 points. Alabama's offensive line had troubles in the season opener against Virginia Tech, but it should put up more of a fight than the Bearcats of the Southland Conference.

Alabama players to watch

LB C.J. Mosley: So much of stopping Manziel comes down to Alabama's All-American linebacker, who has the unenviable task of shadowing the speedy Texas A&M quarterback. But Mosley has wheels himself. As a prospect, he ran a 4.47 40-yard dash. He can tackle, too. But unlike last season, he must play more aggressive on Manziel and not let him dictate and orchestrate the action.

S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: He's the safety valve, if and not when the play breaks down. Last season Alabama's secondary had trouble keeping up with Texas A&M's receivers as Manziel bought 8 and 9 seconds in the pocket. This time the secondary, and Clinton-Dix, should be better prepared. They won't stop everything, but Clinton-Dix needs to help eliminate the big gains over the top of the defense.

Alabama O-line: As the line goes, so goes the offense. Alabama's passing game and running game failed against Virginia Tech in the season opener, thanks to a porous effort up front. Players say the communication and chemistry have improved with a bye week to work out the kinks, and against Texas A&M they'll get to prove it. If they can open holes and get the run game going, Alabama's offense should be in good shape. As we saw last season, so much of the passing game depends on the play action.

Key stats

2,179: Though their games are different, the difference in total yards is staggering between McCarron and Manziel, who set an SEC record with 5,116 total yards a season ago. McCarron was no slouch at 2,937 total yards himself, but he's nowhere near the playmaker as Johnny Football.

80: That was the percentage of passes Manziel completed that traveled 20 yards or more down the field during last year's game against Alabama. The Tide's other 13 opponents combined to complete fewer than 25 percent of their passes of that distance, throwing 10 interceptions, to boot.

10.9: Alabama's defense hasn't dropped off any in recent years. No amount of NFL draft picks or schematic changes have effected that. Alabama has allowed an FBS-low 10.9 points per game since the start of last season. During that period, UA has allowed the fewest plays of 10 yards or more (122) and forced the ninth most three-and-out drives in the FBS (85).

Alex Scarborough | email

Alabama/SEC reporter

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