Saturday, September 14, 2013
Gameday has arrived: A&M meets Bama
By Sam Khan Jr.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 6 Texas A&M. What more is there to say that hasn't already been said?
This game has been analyzed, dissected, debated for months. It has been the most anticipated regular season game since 2011's "Game of the Century" between Alabama and LSU.
Here are a few things that I think are important to remember about the big showdown between the Aggies and Crimson Tide, which kicks off at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday:
Can Johnny Manziel and the Aggies get the best of Alabama again?
No matter what happens, there's a lot of season still left: This is not an elimination game for the SEC West or SEC title. The winner does get a significant leg up in the SEC West race by defeating one of the top teams in the division and the loser is at a disadvantage because it will have to hope the winner gets knocked off a couple of times down the road. But it's important to remember that Alabama has 10 games left after Saturday and the Aggies have nine. Even the winner is assured nothing except being 1-0 in SEC play and having a tiebreaker over the team they just defeated should they wind up with the same conference record at the end of the season.
It should be great theater: To me, the buildup has been so monumental that this is no longer a game. It's an event, a television show or a film. The main characters are Johnny Manziel, Kevin Sumlin, Nick Saban and AJ McCarron. There's one heck of a supporting cast. I'll let you all decide who the protagonists are and who the antagonists are. Chances are whatever happens will be analyzed endlessly That's part of the fun, because it creates drama. Expect the broadcast to break some ratings records and Kyle Field to be packed to the gills.
This is a huge day for A&M recruiting: No matter the result of the game, this is already a win for Texas A&M on the recruiting front. The Aggies are expecting roughly 75 recruits in attendance, many of them among the top players in the country. The fact that they've gotten some of those big names to Aggieland is already a win, because it means A&M is a serious player for those elite prospects. A win would boost their chances with some of those players, but don't kid yourselves, prospects don't put a ton of stock into one game result. A win would prove to many onlookers that A&M is here to stay when it comes to contending for SEC titles, but even with a loss, recruits will experience a gameday atmosphere and buzz unlike any seen before because of the unprecedented buildup to the game.
Now for a few keys to watch:
Alabama's running game vs. Texas A&M's defense: Both of these units come into the game with question marks. The Crimson Tide averaged just 2.5 yards per carry in their season-opening win over Virginia Tech; the Aggies have allowed an average of 273 rushing yards per contest to Rice and Sam Houston State. The Aggies get back almost their full complement of defensive starters with the exception of Floyd Raven (collarbone injury), so the defense should be improved, but it's no certainty yet since this will be their first game action together this season. Will the O-line, running back T.J. Yeldon and the Tide be better running the football?
Watch the 'Y' Last season, Texas A&M receiver Ryan Swope had a huge game against the Crimson Tide, catching 11 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown while playing the 'Y' receiver, which is the slot receiver to the right of the formation. Can the Aggies get similar production out of junior Malcome Kennedy and true freshman Ricky Seals-Jones in that role, or will the Crimson Tide keep them quiet and force Manziel to go elsewhere? We know Mike Evans will be Manziel's top target but you can't throw to him every down.
Big plays for Amari Cooper? Like Swope for A&M, Cooper had a huge day for the Crimson Tide. He caught six passes for 136 yards and a touchdown, including two catches of 50-plus yards in the fourth quarter. Can he produce a similar effort, or will the Aggies do a better job of defending the explosive sophomore? There are some concerns with the play and depth at safety currently. Look for junior cornerback Deshazor Everett -- the Aggies' best corner -- to line up against him early and often. The two were matched up several times in last year's contest.