- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The most anticipated game of Texas A&M's young season is just two days away as the reigning BCS champion and No. 1 team in the country, Alabama, comes to Kyle Field.
The No. 6 Aggies (2-0), who upset Alabama last season, hope to repeat that feat, this time in front of their home crowd. Here are a few keys for the Aggies:
1. Stop the run: Texas A&M's depleted defense struggled to stop Rice and Sam Houston State from running the ball effectively in the first two games of the season, allowing an average of 273 yards per game. That puts them near the bottom nationally, ranking 115th in the country. Alabama has bigger offensive linemen, better running backs and more overall talent than the Aggies' first two opponents, so the task of shutting down the Crimson Tide on the ground is a tall one. However, there are a few things to keep in mind: Alabama's offensive line struggled in its season-opening win over Virginia Tech. The Crimson Tide are more of a traditional power-running team, while Rice (read-option) and Sam Houston State (traditional option) forced the Aggies to play more assignment football. And Texas A&M has yet to have its full complement of defensive players available due to suspensions. On Saturday, the Aggies will have most of their starters available, with injuries being the only hindering factor.
2. Take care of the football: Last season when the Aggies went into Bryant-Denny Stadium and upset the Crimson Tide, they won the turnover battle, big time. Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron threw two interceptions and the Aggies stripped the ball away from running back T.J. Yeldon. Meanwhile, the Aggies had no turnovers. The final one they forced, an interception by Deshazor Everett, essentially clinched the win.
3. Control tempo: Alabama coach Nick Saban stressed earlier this week that the pace of Texas A&M's offense is not as much of an issue, but rather how well the Aggies execute. Well, one of the primary factors that makes the Aggies offense successful is that they execute at a high level and they do it in a hurry. When the Aggies were able to push the tempo to a high level in the first quarter of last year's match, they jumped out to a 20-0 lead. But don't forget the defense, which stopped the Crimson Tide on its first three drives to help the Aggies jump out to that lead.
4. Win special teams: One thing that stood out about Alabama's season-opening win over Virginia Tech was the play of its special teams. Alabama receiver/return specialist Christion Jones finished with 209 combined return yards and two touchdowns: a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown. So the Aggies' coverage teams must be in top form to keep Jones in check. Also, the Aggies' kicking game must improve. Placekicker Taylor Bertolet missed a 31-yard field goal and punter/holder Drew Kaser bobbled a snap on a point-after-touchdown kick. Bertolet missed a field goal and extra point in last year's Alabama game. Leaving points on the board can't happen if the Aggies expect to repeat victory.
5. Beware Amari Cooper: In last year's meeting, Cooper exploded for six catches, 136 yards and a touchdown. That included receptions of 50 yards and a 54-yard touchdown, both of which came in the fourth quarter while the Tide were attempting their comeback. At 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds, Cooper is an explosive talent with the ability to make big plays. Aggies cornerback Deshazor Everett matched up with Cooper a lot last season, expect more of the same on Saturday.
6. Let Johnny be Johnny: The Aggies have a lot of talent on offense -- three returning offensive linemen, led by tackles Jake Matthews and Cedric Ogbuehi; four talented running backs: Ben Malena, Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams; and Mike Evans is big, physical weapon in the passing game. But Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy for a reason, and his performance against Alabama was the primary reason last year. If he can repeat that type of performance or even improve on it, the Aggies will be in great shape.
4dSam Khan Jr.
6dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough