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Thursday, November 8, 2012
Five storylines: Alabama-Texas A&M

By Alex Scarborough

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- No. 1 Alabama returns home Saturday afternoon to Bryant-Denny Stadium to face No. 15 Texas A&M. The Tide (9-0, 6-0 SEC) lead in their series with the Aggies 3-1, the last game a 33-10 win by UA in 1988 in College Station, Texas.

Here are five storylines for the game ...

1. Deflate Johnny Football: Johnny Manziel is the key to Texas A&M's high-powered offense. Whether it's his arm or his legs, the Aggies go with him. His ability to prolong plays with his feet and get the ball into the hands of his playmakers are key to his team's success. The freshman is No. 2 in the country in total offense, accounting for 383 yards per game.

2. Avoid the hangover: It's hard to put a game like last Saturday's to bed. The Tide can't let their 4-point win over LSU linger. Dwell on surviving an upset and you're bound to lose the next battle. Texas A&M is the perfect trap game for Alabama -- the third straight game against a ranked opponent.

3. Shore up the defense: It was impenetrable before, Alabama's defense. That was before LSU got hold of it. The anemic Tigers' offense was able to move the ball effectively against the Tide, something no team had done to that point. But much of Alabama's pains on defense were self-inflicted: poor tackling, missed assignments, errors in execution. If it looked bad watching LSU turn 1-yard gains into first downs, watch out for what Texas A&M can do with the football in space. The same mistakes that plagued the Tide in Baton Rouge could hurt more in Tuscaloosa against Manziel and the potent Aggies offense.

4. Protect the quarterback: If there was one consistent positive to take away from the LSU win, it was the play of the offensive line. Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and Co. kept AJ McCarron upright against arguably the best defensive line in the country, allowing just one sack and two tackles for loss. With that obstacle in the rear view, it's on to Texas A&M and Damontre Moore, who leads the SEC in sacks (11.5). The Aggies are tied for second in the conference in sacks, with 27 overall. Expect defensive coordinator Mark Snyder to dial up the blitzes early to try and get negative plays on first and second down, creating tough third-down opportunities for Alabama.

5. Seize the West: It's simple for Alabama. Beat Texas A&M and win the SEC West crown, go to Atlanta for a shot to win the conference title and keep the national championship hopes alive. With Western Carolina (1-9) and Auburn (2-7) remaining on the schedule, the Aggies are the only real test left. A slip-up at home would cost Alabama everything. A win would secure a chance to have it all once again.