Texas A&M Aggies: 2013 Bama-A&M

Manziel, Aggies good but flawed

September, 14, 2013
9/14/13
11:58
PM ET
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — There was no plan for Johnny Manziel to speak to the media on Saturday.

In fact, win or lose, Texas A&M officials made it clear before the game that the Heisman Trophy winner would not be available for postgame interviews. Earlier this week, coach Kevin Sumlin noted that Manziel's family and attorneys advised him not to speak publicly this week.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel produced more than 500 yards but admitted there were a couple of throws he wished he could take back.
But Manziel wasn't going to be told no. He approached Sumlin and Texas A&M associate athletic director for media relations Alan Cannon and said he was going to speak. When Cannon mentioned the objections from Manziel's parents and lawyers, Manziel said, according to Cannon, "My team didn't quit on me, so I'm not quitting on them."

The No. 6 Aggies showed no quit in their 49-42 loss to No. 1 Alabama on Saturday at Kyle Field in one of the most highly anticipated games in school history. What they did show is that they're a good team with a lot of flaws that still need ironing out.

The message from Manziel, who played brilliantly for much of the day but had a couple of throws he'd like to have back, was that the Aggies had to keep playing -- both on Saturday and moving forward.

"My initial reaction is that I'm just proud of these guys," said Manziel, who threw for 464 yards and five touchdowns and ran for 98 yards. "I kept telling them that no matter what point in the game it was, we were never out of it. Didn't matter what [Alabama] did. I told the offense that going into it, that no matter what happened on the defensive side of the ball, no matter what happened on special teams, we felt like we could come out and score points. So I was proud initially more than anything else, proud of the way they kept fighting until the very end. I mean, we're a young team. That's impressive to me."

The Aggies (2-1) were down by as many as 21 points in the third quarter after taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Alabama roared back with 35 unanswered points and used its power running game and efficient passing attack behind AJ McCarron to eat up yardage and extend drives to score points while keeping the Aggies' offense on the sideline.

The biggest flaw seen on Saturday was on defense. The Aggies' front seven was hammered by the Alabama offensive line -- a unit that struggled in its season opener against Virginia Tech -- to the tune of 234 rushing yards and 6.3 yards per carry, led by T.J. Yeldon's 149-yard effort. McCarron was rarely pressured in the passing game and wasn't sacked a single time; only one player on the Aggies defense, Kirby Ennis, recorded a quarterback hurry. There were big plays given up in the passing game as well, as the Tide threw for 334 yards.

"We've got to get some things shored up in our front defensively," Sumlin said. "We're playing a lot of young guys in there. [Gavin] Stansbury was back and [Steven] Jenkins was back [from suspensions], so they were a little rusty. We didn't have Isaiah Golden today because of the tragedy [involving the death of a family member] earlier this week. That put a lot of pressure on Hardreck [Walker] to handle that type of stuff with Kirby. We just have to get those guys in a routine, a steady routine and a rotation and shore some things up up front."

Mike Evans, who already was considered one of the country's better receivers, made his case to be considered among the best after catching seven passes for a school-record 279 yards and a touchdown. He beat man-to-man coverage consistently, ran good routes and was an asset for Manziel when scrambling.

"I couldn't be prouder of him," Manziel said. "Last night in the hotel, me and him, we're roommates, and we were just talking about how the game was going to play out. I knew he was going to come out and play really well."

Manziel wasn't perfect. A fade pass to Ja'Quay Williams in the end zone was intercepted by Cyrus Jones in the second quarter ("We probably could have run a better route," Sumlin said). He tried to squeeze a pass in to Travis Labhart early in the third quarter but it was tipped by Alabama defensive back Jarrick Williams and intercepted by Vinnie Sunseri, who returned it 73 yards for a touchdown.

[+] EnlargeMike Evans
AP Photo/David J. PhillipMike Evans set a school record with 279 receiving yards, including this 95-yard touchdown.
"I had a couple throws that I want to have back, two in particular," Manziel said. "Coach Sumlin always says there's no regrets. Leave it all out on the field. I think that's what we all did. I know I did."

But he was, like the Aggies, still very good. He set the single-game school record for passing yards and put up the second-most total offensive yards in a game (562), second only to his own total (576) against Louisiana Tech last year.

He made what many would call an ill-advised throw in the second quarter after magically evading a sack while in the grasp of Alabama defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan, heaving a jump ball 40 yards downfield while falling backward. The ball wound up in the hands of a leaping Edward Pope for a first down that sent the crowd into a frenzy. The gain was only 12 yards; Manziel retreated back far to evade pressure.

At some point, it seems it might just be worth chalking it up to a little Manziel magic, since he has seemingly found an uncanny ability to make jaw-dropping plays of the sort each week. It's part of what captivated the college football world en route to his Heisman Trophy last year.

For those who said Manziel's eventful and sometimes tumultuous offseason would come back to haunt him when the games started this year, none of that seemed to be a factor. Though there were some mistakes made on the field, Manziel's play is hard to criticize, especially against the team that was No. 1 in the country last season in total defense. Manziel said afterward that it wasn't a factor.

But for all the flash, the bottom line was that Manziel and the Aggies fell short of their goal on Saturday. They were beaten by a better team.

The disappointment could be heard in the voices of the players afterward; they wanted Saturday's win badly. But with nine games to go in their season, they feel that what they want -- an SEC West title, SEC title and BCS title game berth -- is still within reach; it's just more difficult to obtain now that they're 0-1 in SEC play.

But if the Aggies are still serious about pursuing those goals, there's still much work to do.

"Just got to go game by game," Manziel said. "Just like last year, continue to get better, week by week, and the result was what happened in the Cotton Bowl. For us this wasn't the end of our season. This wasn't the Super Bowl. This wasn't the last game of the season.

"Alabama lost a game last year and still went on to win a national championship. They lost to LSU the year before and still went on to win the national championship. Our season isn't over. Anything can happen. This is college football. Some of the craziest things happen every week. So you never know. All we can do is take care of ourselves, take care of what's in this locker room and continue to get better as a team."

Crimson Tide show mettle in victory

September, 14, 2013
9/14/13
10:03
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- For a league that was supposed to be all about defense, these wild offensive shootouts are suddenly becoming the norm in the SEC.

Remember the good, old days -- just two short years ago -- when Alabama and LSU played an epic No. 1 versus No. 2 showdown, including an overtime period, without anybody scoring a touchdown?

That model seems to have gone the way of the rotary telephone.

As entertaining as Alabama's 49-42 win over Texas A&M was on Saturday at Kyle Field, it raises a question that will reverberate around the college football world.

Are either one of these teams good enough defensively to win a national championship?

Maybe that's not fair to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who might not actually be Superman, but all he was missing Saturday was a cape. He torched Alabama's defense for 562 yards of total offense and five touchdown passes and was mesmerizing with his uncanny ability to turn nothing into something.

As good as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner was, his favorite receiver, Mike Evans, was just as good with seven catches for a school-record 279 yards.

So, just maybe, the Aggies are simply that dynamic offensively.

But you might want to rub your eyes before processing this next statistic: Alabama gave up 628 yards of total offense ... and still managed to win the game.

Raise your hand if you saw that coming.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said earlier in the week that this was a chance for this particular Alabama team to create its own identity.

When you win national championships at the rate the Crimson Tide have the last few seasons, the tendency is to lump them all together.

But the hallmark of this program under Saban is that it delivers when it has to, and even though the Crimson Tide gave up the kind of points and yards usually reserved for an Xbox video game, they had an answer for everything the Aggies and Manziel threw at them Saturday.

It's impossible to imagine how electric Kyle Field was after Texas A&M exploded to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, but Alabama steadied itself, never flinched and calmly reeled off 35 unanswered points to seemingly gain control.

Evans' improbable 95-yard touchdown catch gave Texas A&M hope once again, pulling the Aggies within 42-35 midway through the fourth quarter. But Alabama, which had fumbled on the goal line the previous possession, responded with a nine-play, 65-yard touchdown drive to finally seal the game.

The fact that Alabama couldn't put Texas A&M away after building a three-touchdown lead late in the third quarter will undoubtedly grate on Saban, whose Alabama defense allowed more yards Saturday than any defense in school history. You'd have to go back to Archie Manning and Ole Miss in 1969 to find an offense that shredded an Alabama defense the way Manziel and the Aggies did.

But Saban has also been around long enough to know that sometimes you have to win ugly, and while this was a different kind of ugly in the realm of Alabama football, maybe it was a sign of the times in this league.

To read more of Chris Low's story, click here.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- One of the most anticipated regular-season games in recent memory was a show of dominance by Alabama in the final three quarters, as the Crimson Tide defeated Texas A&M 49-42 before 87,596 on Saturday at Kyle Field. Let's take a look at how it went down.

It was over when: Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron connected with Jalston Fowler for a 5-yard touchdown with 2:28 remaining in the game. That score gave the Crimson Tide a lead they wouldn't relinquish. It came at the end of a methodical nine-play, 65-yard drive that ate up 5 minutes, 36 seconds.

Game ball goes to: The Alabama offensive line. Once the Crimson Tide responded to the Aggies' early 14-0 onslaught, the Tide's big guys up front got the job done. There was so much talk coming into the week about the line play in the opener against Virginia Tech, but that unit paved the way for 236 Alabama rushing yards. The line allowed the Tide to control the clock and control the pace of the game in the second half. It seemed like whenever the Aggies had a big score, the Tide answered. After falling behind 14-0, the Crimson Tide rattled off 35 unanswered points.

Stat of the game: Texas A&M finished with two turnovers to Alabama's one. Turnovers also played a big role in last season's battle, as the Crimson Tide turned it over three times in a 29-24 loss. A&M had zero turnovers that day. On Saturday in the rematch, A&M turned it over twice, including a 73-yard interception return by Vinnie Sunseri early in the third quarter that gave Alabama a three-touchdown lead. Texas A&M was able to narrow the gap late because of a fumble by T.J. Yeldon in the fourth quarter, but that was the only turnover the Tide had.

What it means for Alabama: The Crimson Tide get some redemption from last season's home loss to the Aggies but, more importantly, are 1-0 in SEC play. They answered a lot of questions about their offensive line, and McCarron looked strong. There might be some questions about the defense after it yielded 42 points and 628 offensive yards, but it's worth noting it was playing the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel, and one of the best offenses in the country. Are the Tide good enough to win a BCS title with what we saw on defense Saturday?

What it means for Texas A&M: The Aggies have a lot -- and I mean a lot -- of work to do on defense. That was a question mark coming in, especially the run defense, and it remains that way even though the Aggies finally got almost their full complement of defensive players back from suspensions. They allowed 568 total yards and 234 rushing yards. Are they good enough defensively to still contend for an SEC West title? This loss puts them behind the eight ball in that regard. The Aggies need Alabama to lose twice down the road (perhaps once if there's a three-way tie for the top of the division at the end of the season).

Game ball, Part 2: Give one to Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans. He set the school record with 279 receiving yards on seven catches. He had a 95-yard touchdown grab that got the Aggies back to within a score and gave them hope in the fourth quarter. He has the look of an NFL receiver, whenever he chooses to enter the draft (he'll be eligible after this season). He is big and physical, has great hands, is a great blocker in the running game, and can beat one-on-one coverage.

Johnny watch: Manziel had two interceptions, which hurt, but overall played well. He set the school record for passing yards with 464 on 28-of-39 passing. He had five touchdown tosses and 98 rushing yards. He had some throws he'd like to take back, but he played pretty well against one of the best defenses in the country.

#CampusConnection: Tide-Aggies chat

September, 14, 2013
9/14/13
2:30
PM ET
Alabama. Texas A&M. After all the hype, it’s finally here.

Our reporters – Chris Low, Edward Aschoff, Alex Scarborough and Sam Khan -- will be chatting throughout the game, so head on over to Campus Connection at 3:30 ET and watch the action along with us. Post your comments and questions and we’ll include as many of them as possible.

Bama game key for Texas A&M recruiting

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
3:30
PM ET
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Like virtually every coach in major college football, Kevin Sumlin understands the importance of recruiting.

It's the lifeblood of a program. As players graduate or move on, new ones must come in to keep success going.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Brett Davis/US PresswireTexas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said the "move to the SEC has obviously been a boost" for the Aggies in recruiting.
Since taking over at Texas A&M, Sumlin and his staff have leveraged the power of playing in the SEC to their benefit, landing a top 10 recruiting class in the 2013 cycle while being on pace to do so again for the Class of 2014.

And this weekend could be the biggest yet when it comes hosting recruits.

While the college football world has long awaited the Alabama-Texas A&M rematch, the A&M staff has spent months preparing for the recruiting aspect of this weekend.

Roughly 75 recruits are expected to be in attendance for Saturday's highly-anticipated game between the No. 1 Crimson Tide and the No. 6 Aggies.

"I think [the game has] already had an impact," Sumlin said. "We have a large number of prospects that are going to be here. The move to the SEC has obviously been a boost for us. I think it wouldn't be as big of a boost if we didn't have some sort of success in the league last year. We didn't have all the success we wanted. We were extremely competitive and won a big game last year. But all that being said, I think the ability to compete and win in this league has really helped us too, in recruiting."

And that's the key. Without the 11-2 record, the Heisman Trophy run for Johnny Manziel or all the attention coming to the program as a result of that success in the SEC, widely considered the country's best conference, this weekend might not have been as big.

While the number of recruits who will be in attendance is impressive, so are the names. Topping that list are a host of highly-regarded 2014 ESPN 300 prospects: defensive end Myles Garrett, athlete Speedy Noil, safety Jamal Adams, defensive tackle Gerald Willis III, athlete Davion Hall, safety Edwin Freeman are among those expected. All of them are top 100 recruits.

“It’s going to be great, knowing A&M is in our top three," said Noil, who is making the trip with Willis, his high school teammate. "I want to see what they offer as an offense.”

Said Willis: “It’s going to be crazy. I’m very excited.”

A host of 2015 ESPN Junior 300 prospects are also expected in attendance. Receiver Tyron Johnson, outside linebacker Malik Jefferson, defensive end Anthony Wheeler and quarterback Kyler Murray are just a sampling of the impressive juniors that will make the trip.

If there's any doubt as to how important recruiting is to the Texas A&M staff, take this as evidence: Sumlin and defensive line coach Terry Price were out on the trail Thursday night via helicopter and trekked to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to see a prospect, fewer than 48 hours before one of the biggest games in program history.

The target? Garrett, the No. 7 player in the 2014 ESPN 300.

Sumlin and offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney also made a helicopter trip to Houston to see then-uncommitted 2013 ESPN 300 receiver Ricky Seals-Jones and 2013 Texas A&M quarterback commitment Kohl Stewart on a nationally-televised game between Sealy (Texas) High and Houston St. Pius X. Seals-Jones eventually committed and signed with the Aggies; Stewart signed but chose to play professional baseball after being chosen fourth overall in the MLB draft this summer.

While the Aggies continue to strengthen their position in recruiting statewide, their longtime rival, Texas, has a lot of question marks at the moment. After a decisive loss to BYU, the Longhorns fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. While the schools don't play each other anymore, they still battle for the same recruits. A win this weekend would further strengthen Texas A&M's position in the talent-rich Lone Star State.

This weekend has become something of a perfect storm for the Aggies. The chance to make a statement on a national level is there, with the eyes of fans across the country watching, not to mention dozens of recruits at Kyle Field to experience it all.

"You don't have a stage like this for this weekend if you're not a competitive program," Sumlin said. "And I think the high school coaches in this state do a fantastic job of coaching and regionally, recognizing that. And I think student-athletes are recognizing that, too, that we've got a great situation here from a stability standpoint, from a support standpoint, from a facilities standpoint and from a league standpoint.

"You don't have to go 700-800-900 miles away anymore to get all those things. That has been a big selling point for us since we've gotten here and I think that message has been driven home every week that we play in the SEC, not just play but play in meaningful games on big stages."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- There were many pieces to the puzzle in Texas A&M's final defensive stand in its upset of the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide last November, but Aggies remember one thing best: the interception.

Deshazor Everett's interception of A.J. McCarron at the goal line with 1:36 remaining helped the Aggies secure a 29-24 upset of Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Life has changed significantly for Texas A&M football since then.

Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy. The Aggies finished the season in the top five of the postseason rankings for the first time since 1956. They came into this season with a preseason top-10 ranking, and should they win on Saturday in their rematch against Alabama, they will vault themselves into the BCS title game discussion.

[+] EnlargeDeshazor Everett
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsDeshazor Everett made the last big defensive play against Alabama last year, but not the only one.
Everett hasn't become a celebrity like Manziel as a result of the interception, but people do recognize him more often these days.

"I'm not going to say I got too much fame now, but more people know who I am," Everett said. "As the season keeps progressing, people keep recognizing me across campus and on Twitter, Instagram and things. It hasn't blown up too much, but more people know me, definitely."

While the interception is the most memorable aspect of that final four-minute sequence, Everett pointed out that there were many other factors at work that led to that opportunity.

On the first play of that Alabama drive, McCarron found an open Kenny Bell for a 54-yard completion. But defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. chased Bell down from behind and tackled him at the Texas A&M 6-yard line.

Sean Porter and Kirby Ennis stopped a scrambling McCarron for no gain on first-and-goal. Ennis tackled Eddie Lacy for just a yard on the next play. And on third down, cornerback Dustin Harris might have made the second biggest play in that series, when McCarron scrambled from pressure and found open field, darting for the goal line. Harris collided with McCarron at the 2 to set up the fourth-and-goal play.

"They made a few plays, but I knew when we got down around the goal line that it was going to be about how bad our defense wanted it," Everett said. "As you see, everybody stepped up and made plays, got pressure on the quarterback and Dustin Harris stopped him [near] the goal line. A lot of people don't realize that. Toney Hurd made the saving tackle before Bell got into the end zone."

The interception didn't happen by chance. Everett and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder attributed it to weeks and weeks of practice.

The play that Alabama ran, flooding three receivers to the right flat, is a frequently used play for two-point conversions by teams across the country, according to Snyder. So the Aggies worked on defending it weekly. In this case, it was Amari Cooper and Bell who flooded the right side. Christion Jones, who lined up next to Cooper on the right side of the formation, appeared to run a short hitch route, not toward the right sideline like Cooper and Bell.

From the play design, it appeared that Cooper was supposed to pick Everett, which would leave Bell open. But Everett recognized the play, avoided the pick from Cooper and stepped in front of Bell.

"It was a two-point play that we've been working on every week up until that week," Everett said. "Coach [Snyder] was constantly making us run it and practice it in practice because, he said, everyone runs the play for a two-point play. Fortunately enough, they ran it as their fourth-down play and not a two-point play, and I just recognized it and jumped the route pretty much, and that's how it went."

Snyder was proud to see the Aggies' practice made for a perfect play in a crucial situation.

"We practice that every week," Snyder said. "It was great. Like I said after that game, it was one of the finest coaching moments I've had, because you see something that you actually work on come to fruition, and in a game like that, it was pretty special."

Everett wanted to run it back for a score to leave no doubt in the result but lost his balance after intercepting the pass, which was intended for Bell on a quick out route.

"I felt like everything went in slow motion after I caught it," he said. "I was trying to stay on my feet [laughs]. It was a lot of excitement. I just wish I would have returned it, so I wouldn't have to worry about the offense getting in punt formation [later] or being pushed back so far on the goal line. But, it was a good play. I felt good, definitely."

And having a player like Everett back for the rematch is huge for the Aggies.

"He brings a wealth of experience," Snyder said. "He's been on the big stage, he's played against the team we're getting ready to play against and performed pretty well, not great, but pretty well. And it's great to have him back because this corps of receivers will be the best we see all year. They're really good, and they're really fast."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The word hasn't been used very often around Aggieland since Texas A&M joined the SEC but when the Aggies met with the media on Tuesday, it was spoken a few times.

Atlanta.

It's the home of the Georgia Dome, site of the SEC championship game. It has frequently been the defacto play-in game to the BCS National Championship throughout the last decade. If you win in Atlanta, chances are you're playing for the crystal football.

While players stuck to their talking points of this week being "just another game" or this week being "like any other week," the fact that the Aggies discussed their initial season goal indicates that they understand what's at stake Saturday.

Win and get an edge in the SEC West race.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin, Johnny Manziel
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesIf Kevin Sumlin and Johnny Manziel want to make it to Atlanta for the SEC championship game, they can take a big step forward with a win over No. 1 Alabama.
If the sixth-ranked Aggies truly are to be considered a national title contender, then their chance to prove it is at 2:30 p.m. CT Saturday at Kyle Field against No. 1 Alabama. Last season, the Aggies went 11-2 without much expectation from outsiders. This year, with a preseason top-10 ranking, a Heisman Trophy winner in tow and a level of coverage not seen, perhaps ever, of its program, there is an expectation for success externally.

Internally, there always has been since head coach Kevin Sumlin arrived. Despite what others said, he made it clear to his players last season that they had the talent to win every game on their schedule. The win over Alabama verified that, but the Aggies had slipups against Florida and LSU earlier in the year.

Before training camp began, senior running back Ben Malena approached Sumlin about taking an expanded leadership role in order to help the team get to a "championship level." So how's the progress on that front so far?

"I think we're doing a very good job of taking strides to getting to Atlanta," Malena said. "Correcting some mistakes that we made from Week 1 to Week 2 was very good and we're going to need to correct some more stuff, especially going into this game, because they [the Crimson Tide] will be ready coming into Kyle Field."

Quarterback Johnny Manziel is key for sure, but if the team expects to get to Atlanta, it must be more than just Manziel carrying the load. Offensively, that doesn't appear to be an issue thus far. With four capable running backs (Malena, Tra Carson, Brandon Williams, Trey Williams), a veteran offensive line that excelled in the first two games and perhaps one of the nation's best receivers in Mike Evans, there are plenty of weapons for the Aggies to go to.

Defense is where the question marks are now, though the Aggies have a chance to answer some of those question marks on Saturday. They haven't yet had their full complement of defensive players because of injuries and suspensions, but will have virtually their entire first-team unit intact on Saturday. Though Alabama struggled offensively, and particularly on its offensive line, in its season-opening win against Virginia Tech, the Aggies are still expecting a strong effort from the Crimson Tide running game and offense.

"Coach [Nick] Saban is going to do what Coach Saban does," A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. "They've won a lot of games doing it. Why change? There's not a dramatic dropoff between last year's team and this year's team. Their left tackle is still really good, their right guard is still really good. They got their feet wet for the first game and now they've had two weeks to kind of prepare and get those things fixed and we're expecting to get their best."

Some have said the Aggies entered the season with a target on their backs, whether it's because of their upstart inaugural season in the SEC or the exploits of Manziel, which have drawn plenty of headlines. In a way, the Aggies almost feel like underdogs though, because of how many around the nation feel that Saban and Co. will successfully redeem themselves with a win on Saturday.

"From last year, us beating them, people didn't expect that," Aggies receiver Malcome Kennedy said. "People probably don't expect it this year. But as I said, we just go week-to-week on a weekly basis and we just try to be 1-0 at the end of the week and that's how we're approaching this game."

No matter what happens, it's important to note that there's a lot of season left after this game. The Aggies have nine more contests, including road trips to Ole Miss and LSU, while Alabama has 10 more games. Despite the buildup, the SEC won't be won or lost on Saturday, though the result could play a critical role in deciding who gets the West division title at the end of the season.

In trying to get the team to a championship level, Sumlin has tried to keep his team focused on the game and not the noise around it while keeping their routine the same. Much like Saban's "The Process" axiom, Sumlin tries to keep his team consistent and avoid allowing them to "ride the wave."

"I'd probably be lying to you if I told you no, [that things haven't changed since last year]," Sumlin said. "In this room, it probably hasn't changed very much just because of our approach day-to-day with the players and our coaches.

“When we leave here, I take out my phone and all you guys are talking about what we're supposed to be and how big this game is and everything else, that's when the problems come,” Sumlin said with a smile.

"I think we're pretty visible right now and because of that, that's what you want as a coach. You come into situations and as things start to progress, you want to be in meaningful games,” he said. “You want your team to have a chance to play in meaningful games -- not just now, but in November."

Or December, in Atlanta.

Video: Conference Call: Week 3

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
1:30
PM ET


In this week's SEC Conference Call, Chris Low explains how the most important player on Saturday might be T.J. Yeldon if Alabama can control the clock and keep Johnny Manziel off the field.

Kickoff Live: Week 3

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
11:00
AM ET
Editor's note: To watch the show on your smartphone, click here.

All eyes will be on College Station Week 3, as No. 1 Alabama seeks revenge against No. 6 Texas A&M. Join us at 2 p.m. ET as Chantel Jennings moderates a discussion between Texas A&M reporter Sam Khan, Alabama reporter Alex Scarborough and SEC reporter Chris Low.

Alabama gets another chance to keep pace

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
9:30
AM ET
One of the most closely watched referendums on where college football is headed will play out Saturday at Kyle Field.

It’s just part of what makes the Alabama-Texas A&M matchup so compelling.

Sure, it’s a game that will go a long way toward shaping both the SEC and national championship races, and it’s easily the most anticipated rematch of the season after Johnny Manziel and the Aggies went into Tuscaloosa in November and handed the Crimson Tide their only loss last season.

[+] EnlargeJohn Fulton
Mike Zarrilli/Getty ImagesCan the Alabama defense slow down the Texas A&M attack?
But there’s no escaping the old school versus new age element to this contest, a contradiction in styles and philosophies that has made for quite the debate in college football.

Alabama wants to bully you with its pro-style offense, power-packed running game and a suffocating defensive scheme that has all the complexities of an NFL defense.

Texas A&M wants to run you ragged by spreading it out on offense and running plays at a pace that would make Usain Bolt envious, thus making your defense look like it’s running in quick sand in the fourth quarter.

A year ago, Texas A&M ran 77 plays in its 29-24 win over Alabama and jumped out to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter before the Crimson Tide knew what hit them.

The Aggies scored just one more touchdown the rest of the way, but that was enough to pull off the upset of the year.

Not only did that win propel Texas A&M to a top-10 finish in the final polls in its first season in the SEC, but it set the stage for some lively banter this offseason.

In short, how fast is too fast when it comes to running these no-huddle, warp-speed offenses?

Arkansas' Bret Bielema suggested this summer that running so many more plays on offense and not being able to substitute as frequently increases the likelihood of injuries. Alabama's Nick Saban, who's cut from the same defensive cloth as Bielema, also questioned whether offenses should be allowed to play so fast.

“I just think there’s got to be some sense of fairness in terms of asking, ‘Is this what we want football to be?” Saban said last season.

The coaches on the other side of the fence scoff at the notion that faster-paced offenses put players at higher risk for injuries.

They also have a message for those coaches who don’t like the idea of having to defend a two-minute-drill offense for all 60 minutes.

“I think that’s where college football is going, and you’re only going to see it become more popular over the next few years,” said Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, whose offenses are renowned for their blistering pace.

Others aren’t quite as sure.

“The physicality of the game wears people down,” Florida’s Will Muschamp said. “Look at who’s been really successful and won it three of the last four years. Everybody’s in these spread systems and tossing the ball around, and that’s all great. But if you’ve got the athleticism and the pass-rushers up front to defend that, week in and week out, it’s hard to win like that.”

South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier added: “If they want to rapid fire, then you’ve just got to get your defense ready to rapid fire with them. That’s part of football. The way you stop it is for your offense to stay out there and make a whole bunch of third downs. That’s probably as important as anything.”

The predictable buildup to Saturday’s game has centered around Saban, Kirby Smart and that Alabama "D" being ready for Texas A&M’s offense the second time around and being better equipped to deal with Manziel, who rolled up 345 yards of total offense a year ago against the Tide.

The flip side to that is that Manziel is also a year wiser and has an even better grasp of the offense.

And another thing: The Aggies have made their own tweaks.

“Maybe we have a few guys on our staff who can coach, too,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said.

Early on in the game a year ago, it was Manziel’s mobility that gave the Crimson Tide fits, but it was his ability to complete key passes from the pocket that sealed the win for the Aggies. His 24-yard touchdown pass to Malcome Kennedy on the corner route in the fourth quarter was perfectly thrown.

Manziel converted 9 of 13 third-down chances in last season’s game, the highest conversion percentage for a quarterback against Alabama in the past 10 years. He also completed all six of his passes outside the pocket and scrambled for an additional 94 yards when forced out of the pocket.

So simply saying you’re going to make Manziel a pocket quarterback is a lot easier said than done, which Alabama learned the hard way last season.

What else did the Tide learn?

They know the Aggies would like to turn Saturday’s game into a track meet.

The faster, the better.

“We’re going to go as fast as we possibly can,” Sumlin said. “The object is not to trick people. The object is to play the game at a pace you’re comfortable with and maybe the other team’s not comfortable with. There’s a reason they call it offense and defense.

“Defense should not dictate the game. Offense should dictate the pace of the game when they have the ball. They have the ability to slow it down or speed it up. As long as it’s within the rules of the game and the players are set, all 11 players on offense are set and ready to go, then the defense should have to match.”

Game on.

Plenty to prove for Aggies' defense

September, 12, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas — When Texas A&M went into Tuscaloosa, Ala., and upset No. 1 Alabama last November, the Aggies' offense, and specifically quarterback Johnny Manziel, were lauded for their efforts in taking down the Crimson Tide.

Often overlooked was the play of Texas A&M's defense, which was integral in the Aggies' ability to jump out to the 20-0 lead that paved the way for the eventual 29-24 victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

While nobody would confuse the Aggies' defensive efforts with that of the 1985 Chicago Bears that November day, A&M was opportunistic and effective.

On the first three drives of the game, the Aggies held the Crimson Tide to two three-and-outs and a turnover. The offense capitalized by scoring after each of those defensive stops to take the commanding three-score lead.

Turnovers were key for the Aggies throughout the game. They came up with three, the most the Crimson Tide committed since a 2011 season opener vs. Kent State, when Alabama committed five. Quarterback AJ McCarron hadn't thrown an interception in 2012 going into the game and threw two against the Aggies.

In several ways, the Aggies' ability to come up with stops and turnovers at key times was representative of what the unit accomplished as whole last season under defensive coordinator Mark Snyder. The defense came into the 2012 season with questions about depth and competitiveness in a line-of-scrimmage league like the SEC.

Those questions were answered resoundingly as the Aggies ranked highly in several key categories in 2012. They had the nation's 26th-best scoring defense (21.8 points per game) and one of the best third-down defenses, allowing conversions just 32.4 percent of the time (16th nationally, fourth in the SEC).

They were No. 1 in the SEC and No. 5 in the country on third-and-5 or fewer yards (44.6 percent conversion rate).

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M's Deshazor Everett
AP Photo/Dave MartinDeshazor Everett, whose interception against Alabama last year clinched the victory, expects the Aggies defense to keep getting better.
This season, with six key defensive players serving suspensions for part or all of the season opener against Rice and four more serving penalties for all or part of the second game against Sam Houston State, the numbers have taken a dip. On third down, the Aggies are tied for 73rd in the country, allowing a 39.4 percent conversion rate. On 3rd-and-5 or fewer yards, the Aggies are in the middle of the pack (59th, 52.9 percent conversion rate).

The Aggies are averaging 6.16 yards allowed per play, up from 5.22 last year.

Having almost the full complement of defensive players, including the return of starting linebacker Steven Jenkins, starting cornerback De'Vante Harris and starting defensive end Gavin Stansbury, should help the Aggies' defensive efforts.

"It'll be interesting once the game gets started," Snyder said. "They've got to knock a little bit of rust off. We've got a couple days here of practice first to get some of the rust knocked off. It was really good [Monday] to have our first unit out there together. It was very, very pleasing to see."

Starting safety Floyd Raven Sr. (collarbone) will miss the game because of his injury, and starting defensive end Julien Obioha's status is up in the air also. Cornerback Deshazor Everett said the country hasn't seen the Aggies' "real defense" yet.

"We can only progress, so I'm not going to say they've seen the real defense," Everett said. "But we have to get better, and we'll keep getting better, and this week of practice is crucial. But as a whole defense, we'll keep progressing and getting better."

Though the Aggies were able to intercept McCarron in the last meeting, Snyder said he expects the quarterback to be poised and confident coming into Saturday's game.

"He is a leader," Snyder said. "He runs their offense. He knows where his checkdowns are and obviously he is a great leader for them, because they have won a lot of football games. He drives that engine. He's the guy that's driving the car. And you can see his poise and patience, and it's hard to get him rattled. And if you do get him rattled a little bit, he has the ability to go over and sit down and get unrattled and come back out and play in his game. That's what I see in him."

The players know the national perception is that it's easy to move the ball on the Aggies, and because of the evidence presented by Rice (306 rushing yards) and Sam Houston State (240), it's hard to argue that, extenuating circumstances notwithstanding. But the players know the way to change what people think is by improving their play, starting Saturday.

"Yes. I think everyone looks at it that way," Everett said. "You can look at what a defense does well and what a defense doesn't do well, and you go off of that basically and see where you want to attack and what their weaknesses are. That's what we're trying to improve on, what our weaknesses are."

Planning for success: Texas A&M

September, 12, 2013
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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.

Former A&M trainer reflects on Bryant

September, 11, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Many of the memories are fuzzy now for Billy Pickard. Time can do that to a person.

Today marks what would have been legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant's 100th birthday. Pickard, who was once a student trainer under Bryant when he was at Texas A&M, will turn 80 next month. While some of the memories of his time with Bryant -- including the well-documented, grueling 10-day training camp trip to Junction, Texas -- are vivid, Pickard is careful not to embellish or say things that he's not absolutely sure happened or that he witnessed.

Pickard, who began his association with Texas A&M as a freshman in 1952 and has been working there ever since, mostly at Kyle Field and under a number of different titles over the years, still remembers details about that trip to Junction, a town that at the time was dusty, hot and in the middle of a West Texas drought.

"The first day ... we gave [the players] a glass of orange juice, five salt tablets and a multivitamin," Pickard said. "It wasn't 15 minutes before the orange juice and the multivitamins were back on the ground. That was the end of that."

One of Pickard's duties was to look after Bryant's son.

"All I did was try to work for him and take care of things," Pickard said. "One of my jobs at Junction was to take care of Paul Jr. I was just about getting ready to take my nap and Coach Bryant hollered at me. He goes, 'Take him to town and get him an ice cream.' Paul Jr. was 12 years old when we were in Junction."

Pickard recalls dealing with players who struggled to deal with the heat and even suffered heat stroke as Bryant tested their wills. A large number of players who made the trip to Junction quit, and Bryant left camp with about 35 players to start the 1954 season with.

"We were practicing about 30 minutes and [Jack] Pardee went down," Pickard recalls. "It got hot and I'm working on him and I saw Coach Bryant come up -- he always wore long pants -- and I looked up and Coach Bryant said, 'What's the deal?' I said, 'Coach, he's getting a little hot.' He said, 'I'm getting hot looking at him.'"

Pardee was one of the survivors of that camp -- a group that was dubbed "The Junction Boys" -- and eventually became an All-American who was part of the turnaround from a 1-9 year in 1954 to an undefeated 9-0-1 season in 1956.

Of course, in 1958 Bryant went on to Alabama, where he won six national championships and 13 SEC championships. Pickard, who officially retired in 2009 but still volunteers and shows up almost daily each morning to work at and care for Kyle Field, remembers Bryant fondly.

"He and I had a great relationship," Pickard said. "He was great to me."

Sumlin aiming for the top at A&M

September, 11, 2013
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Aggieland has long been a special place for Kevin Sumlin and his family.

After his first stop at Texas A&M, as a young assistant rising through the coaching ranks, it was too early to know if fate ever would lead him back to the place where he made a little bit of history in 2002. The world of college football coaches can be fickle. Timing is everything. Choices made don't always work out, opportunities afforded don't last forever and can disappear as quickly as they present themselves.

Though he headed north to Oklahoma after the 2002 season, it set forth a chain of events that eventually would lead the Sumlins back the home of the maroon and white. There was unfinished business.

These days, Kevin Sumlin is in the process of trying to finish what he started.

The hype and anticipation surrounding this week's matchup has been predictable. You have the sport's No. 1 team and reigning national champion, Alabama, and the sport's most recognizable player, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, sharing the same field at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

It features two of the game's most respected coaches as well: Sumlin and Alabama's Nick Saban. The dichotomy between the two is compelling. Saban already has plenty of hardware in the form of four BCS national championships. He's the valedictorian of active college football coaches.

[+] EnlargeKevin Sumlin
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsKevin Sumlin made history as an A&M assistant in 2002. Now he's trying for more as head coach.
Sumlin doesn't have that hardware yet, but he's quickly rising. In just his sixth year as a head coach, he made significant impacts at both programs he led. At Houston, he guided the Cougars to a 35-17 record in four seasons, a Top 10 ranking at one point and a single-season school record for wins in 2011. He filled stadiums and brought exposure and prestige to a program not accustomed to it.

In his short time as Texas A&M's head coach, he has helped make the Aggies nationally relevant. Last season the Aggies shattered outsider expectations, going 11-2 in their inaugural SEC season. Manziel won the Heisman Trophy, and the Aggies finished with their highest postseason ranking (No. 5) since 1956.

And now he is just days away from perhaps the biggest game of his coaching career.

Don't expect Sumlin to say it. His demeanor is even-keeled, staying steady rather than "riding the wave," as he often puts it. Several players and coaches said he is treating this week just like any other, the swarm of national media coverage notwithstanding.

"[His demeanor is] exactly the same," junior receiver Malcome Kennedy said. "He has a strong sense of urgency every week. It goes down the chain of command to the staff, and it trickles down to us. He just wants us to stay calm and treat it like a normal game, and that's what we'll do."

Keeping everyone else steady can be difficult when dealing with some of the challenges Sumlin and the Aggies have faced this year. Texas A&M football was a regular in national headlines this offseason, whether it was for positive or negative reasons. Manziel's eventful offseason received unprecedented coverage and significant scrutiny. The school had to endure an NCAA investigation into an autograph controversy involving the quarterback. The team, less than a week before the start of training camp, had to cope with the death of a teammate, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Polo Manukainiu.

Never mind the extraordinary expectations placed upon them because of their end-of-season ranking last year and the returning players on the roster like Manziel, tackle Jake Matthews and receiver Mike Evans.

Whether it was trying to pull the team together through an emotional time or answer endless questions from the media, Sumlin has handled it with a certain poise and confidence that seems to permeate through the Bright Football Complex.

"Kevin Sumlin is a great leader when it comes to steering this team to be on the right path to making sure we don't take anything for granted," senior running back Ben Malena said. "[He makes] sure we don't count the number of days; we make the days count."

Though hope sprung eternal when he arrived as A&M's head coach in December 2011, there was plenty of uncertainty. The Aggies were coming off a season of unfulfilled expectations, a 7-6 record in their final Big 12 campaign. The SEC, widely considered college football's premier conference, wouldn't be kind to them, people said.

Instead, the Aggies turned the tables, experiencing immediate success and beating No. 1 Alabama in the process. The 29-24 victory in Tuscaloosa, Ala., last November was a seminal moment in A&M history for many reasons. It essentially became the fuel that led to Manziel's victory in the Heisman Trophy voting. Recruiting, which already was going well, kicked up yet another notch. The national conversation began to include the Aggies more prominently and more often, and suddenly, what once was predicted by many to be a torturous existence in the SEC became a bright future with thoughts of possible championships down the road.

That's what Saturday is about. There will be no trophies handed out or no finality for either team's ability to contend for an SEC West title, an SEC title or even a spot in the BCS title game, because there still will be at least nine games left for the Aggies and at least 10 left for the Crimson Tide.

But the winner will be in position to control its own destiny on the road to Atlanta for the SEC title game and, perhaps, to Pasadena, Calif., for the BCS title game. And these are the types of games and stakes for which Sumlin returned to Aggieland.

"I think everybody wants the same endgame," Sumlin said. "Everybody wants to be successful. Everybody wants our program, not just football, but our athletic programs across the board in the SEC to be successful. I think we're pretty visible right now, and because of that, that's what you want as a coach. You come into situations, and as things start to progress, you want to be in meaningful games. You want your team to have a chance to play in meaningful games -- not just now, but in November."

In 2002, just four games into the season, Sumlin was promoted from receivers coach to offensive coordinator when then-head coach R.C. Slocum decided shake up a struggling offense.

Then 38, Sumlin led the Aggies to averages of 33 points and 419 yards per game the rest of the year and helped orchestrate a memorable upset of No. 1 Oklahoma behind the arm of true freshman quarterback Reggie McNeal. Bob Stoops scooped Sumlin up the next season to join Oklahoma's staff, and after five seasons there, Sumlin accepted his first head coaching job at Houston in 2008.

Almost 10 years to the date of that upset of Oklahoma, Sumlin again oversaw an historic Aggie upset of a No. 1, team when Texas A&M stunned the Crimson Tide last year. This Saturday, Sumlin and the Aggies have a chance to do it again in what has been the most anticipated game of the young college football season.

Sumlin, now 49, keeps the same steady approach and laser focus on the task at hand, qualities that have been a constant throughout his career.

"I think just keeping it the same [helps]," defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. "We have a game this week; we're going to prepare exactly like we prepare every week and kind of leave the zoo outside the lines when we get on the field. I think he's done a fantastic job with that."

Fans hope he can lead A&M to yet another takedown of a No. 1 team and set the stage for a truly historic season.

"Like I said beforehand, I think it's great for our university," Sumlin said. "The excitement level and particularly for this weekend and this year has been great. Managing that, I don't know that that's something that I have to manage. I don't know that you can manage it at this level of football. ... And as a coach, I spend my time managing the football team. I don't have a lot of time to manage what's going on outside of it."
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- AJ McCarron was visibly upset. Alabama's senior quarterback knew the question was coming, and when it did, he had to take a second to compose himself before answering. He'd listened for more than a week about how his offensive line struggled in the season opener, and frankly he was tired of hearing it.

"It kind of ticks me off that everyone blames them," he told reporters on Monday, putting his hands out in stopping motion. "Put the blame on me for not helping us out.

"Like I told them, quit worrying about what everyone else thinks, what the media is saying. I don't pay attention to it and neither should they."

That's easier said than done, though. McCarron may not want to hear it, but his offensive line did play poorly against Virginia Tech. Accepting the blame is admirable, but it doesn't change the fact that Alabama gave up four sacks and 12 tackles for loss.

The running game, which finished No. 4 in the country in percentage of rushes for zero or negative yards last season, had 42.1 percent of its attempts stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage by the Hokies, a number that ranks dead last in the FBS today. And as a result, the passing game suffered, too. McCarron threw for a paltry 110 yards, one touchdown and one interception, his worst offensive output since becoming the starter in 2011.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Paul Abell/USA TODAY SportsAJ McCarron had a rough opener against Virginia Tech but the Alabama QB defended the play of his offensive line.
"They're playing with a chip on their shoulder," McCarron said. "Everybody hears everybody talking. We don't need to pay attention to it, but you're still going to hear it. I feel like they came out this past week and really improved, did a great job communicating, letting everybody else on the field know what we have. They've done a really job of progressing, so hopefully we can keep building."

Said veteran guard Anthony Steen: "After Virginia Tech everybody is talking about being disappointed in us, and we’ve got a chip on our shoulder like AJ said and we’re ready to get out there and try to prove something."

To be fair, Virginia Tech's defense played much better than anyone expected. Bud Foster's front seven was disruptive, getting into the backfield and finishing plays. As McCarron explained, "Everybody's acting like Virginia Tech's not a good team just 'cause they're not ranked. They had an unbelievable defense."

"I just think that when they got out there in the real game, playing against a good front seven, they probably didn't communicate and play together and trust together like we needed to," UA coach Nick Saban said last week. "And technically there were some things that we could do better for them. I think a combination of those things, there's a lot of things a lot of people have the opportunity to learn and grow from."

Texas A&M's front seven doesn't have quite the same reputation as Virginia Tech's -- last Saturday the Aggies gave up 28 points and 240 yards rushing to lowly Sam Houston State -- but it's still an SEC defense. When Alabama travels to College Station, Texas, on Saturday, the offensive line must improve to have a chance of winning.

With a bye week to prepare, Steen believes the line is in better shape than it was to start the season. The extra practice gave the line a chance to gel and work on returning to fundamentals. After all, chemistry takes time. With three new starters and a new position coach, growing pains might have been expected.

"It's been good for us to focus on our little things, our footwork and our chemistry with each other," he said. "Overall, I think we got better last week."

Against the Aggies, Steen expects more physical play. And he expects his line to be ready for the challenge.

"We have something to prove, I'm not going to say we don't," he said. " … If we have a good game up front, we will overall as a team. It all starts up front."

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