Friday, November 9, 2012
Game preview: Texas A&M-Alabama
By Alex Scarborough
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's back to reality for the No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday afternoon. Last weekend's thrilling win over LSU now behind them, it's on to the task of facing No. 15 Texas A&M with a shot at clinching the SEC West crown.
"It's going to be key to our success," UA quarterback AJ McCarron said of the potential to wrap up a date in the conference title game. "You always want to be at the top of your own conference and finish out strong in the bowl game. Like I said, it's going to be a tough game this week. It's definitely not going to be a pushover. We're going to have to come out ready to play and jump on them early."
McCarron stressed the importance of getting over last weekend's game, a win he said will rank among his most memorable only if it leads to something more. After all, a loss against Texas A&M would extinguish Alabama's title chances, so what did the win in Baton Rouge mean then?
"If we finish out like we're supposed to, probably one of the greatest wins I've been a part of in my life," McCarron said. "The win only means so much if you finish out strong. If we don't finish out strong, it really doesn't factor in, really. Just another win."
With Johnny Manziel and the Aggies coming to town for the 2:30 p.m. CT kickoff, all focus is on the task at hand. Fans can chew on the LSU win all they want, but that's behind the players for now.
UA coach Nick Saban said he's been pleased with his team's effort and attention to detail this week, something they'll need come game time.
"This is a very challenging game for us," he said. "I think the focus is, for us, that we're able to keep executing the things with the kind of discipline and focus we need, the kind of effort, the kind of toughness so that we can continue to improve. … They do a good job of executing, having the discipline, playing a 60 minute game. I'm sure it's going to take that."
Alabama players to watch 1. LB Adrian Hubbard: The task of containing Johnny Manziel will fall to Alabama's outside linebackers, Xzavier Dickson and Hubbard. Hubbard, with his length and speed at Sam, will have to hold the edge and pressure Manziel without allowing him a running lane to break free, something he did well against Michigan and Denard Robinson. Hubbard leads the team in tackles for loss, though a job well done against Texas A&M might mean an empty stat sheet.
2. S Vinnie Sunseri: Texas A&M likes to get the ball to its playmakers quickly in space and allow them to make defenders miss. Those short passes will mean plenty of opportunities for Sunseri at the inside cornerback, or star position, where he can play near the line of scrimmage and rack up the tackles. His ability to keep one eye on the pass and the other on Manziel's feet will be key in slowing the Aggies offensive attack.
Kevin Norwood (right) came up big in the clutch against LSU and will be key again against Texas A&M.
3. WR Kevin Norwood: Norwood came out of nowhere during Alabama's game-winning drive in Death Valley, catching two key passes to move the Tide down field and in position for the score. With Amari Cooper nursing a bum ankle, the onus for a playmaker at receiver falls to Norwood, who looks to have gotten past some of the injury problems that hampered him in recent weeks.
Texas A&M players to watch 1. QB Johnny Manziel: Manziel is enemy No. 1 for the Crimson Tide defense. His ability to make plays with his arm and his legs is unlike anything Alabama has faced this season. He's an offense unto himself, ranking second in the country in total yards per game. As Manziel goes, so go the Aggies.
2. DL Damontre Moore: Many wouldn't have guessed that Moore would lead the SEC in sacks, but through nine games, he's there at the top over South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and Georgia's Jarvis Jones. If he can cause a few negative plays early in drives, it would do a lot to disrupt an Alabama offense looking to recover from a shaky outing at LSU.
3. RB Ben Malena: And here we all thought Christine Michael would be the man at running back for the Aggies. However, it's Malena leading the charge. He's a threat in the running and passing game out of the backfield and is adept at pass protection and contributes on special teams. Manziel will be the focal point on offense, but if Malena can get involved and diversify the Aggies attack, Alabama could be in for a headache on defense.
Key matchup UA LB C.J. Mosley vs. Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel: Mosley was neutralized by LSU sticking with a two-receiver look for most of the game last weekend, but Texas A&M won't play that way on Saturday. When the Aggies go three- and four-wide, it will be Mosley roaming the middle of the field on defense. His task of covering the slot receiver and keeping an eye on Manziel is arguably the biggest of the afternoon.