coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
On 09/09/2013 06:28 AM in NCAA Football

Alabama Crimson Tide at Texas A&M: Preview and Pick

Alabama Crimson Tide at Texas A&M: Preview and Pick

With two weeks of the college football season in the books, the biggest game of the week for week No. 3 is very obvious. Attempting to avenge a loss from a year ago, Nick Saban will bring his Alabama Crimson Tide into College Station to battle the Texas A&M Aggies and their main target is quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Alabama Crimson Tide at Texas A&M Odds

The college football betting line for this game opened up with the Crimson Tide as (-7) point favorites. That number started to grow right away as everyone piled on the Tide to win this big game. Now the line can be found as high as (-9.5) at several top rated sportsbooks, but it is interesting to note that just 52 percent of the betting public is taking Alabama at this point.

This game has been in the sights of the Crimson Tide for a very long time. Although Tide head coach Nick Saban will deny it, the one loss from a year ago still stings. It is interesting to note that Saban is 15-2 when playing in a revenge game, playing against a team that has beaten him in the previous season.

If Alabama wants to win they will need to play better on offense than they did in the opener against Virginia Tech. With three new faces on the offensive line, this offense will be tested against an Aggie defense that bottled them up last season.

Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel will be ready to carve out another aspect of his ever growing legend with a win against the Tide. A year ago he made their defense look pedestrian at best when the Aggies put up 21 points in the first quarter alone. The Tide will not only have to worry about Manziel, they will have to worry about the 12thman as A&M’s fan base will be loud and proud with ESPN Gameday in town for this game.

Both of these teams have some good college football trends backing them for this main event. The Crimson Tide are 15-6 ATS (against the spread )in their last 21 games following a win of more than 20 points, 14-6 ATS in their last 20 games in September, and 20-8 ATS in the last 28 road games.

The Aggies are 4-0 ATS in the last four games in September, 10-3 ATS in their last 13 games after accumulating more than 450 total yards in their previous game and 4-1 ATS in the last five games against a team with a winning record.

Alabama Crimson Tide at Texas A&M Pick

With plenty of time to go before game day, I will wait to release my pick on this game until we get closer to kickoff.

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
09/10/2013 04:06 PM

Here are five things you need to know about the Crimson Tide entering the game being billed as the college football “Game of the Year.”

1. WR Amari Cooper says Alabama isn’t looking for revenge on A&M
During the offseason pictures surfaced of the Alabama weight room littered with Texas A&M towels and logos with reports that last years game was constantly playing in the room. While revenge appeared to be on the mind, Cooper denied revenge being the motive come Saturday.

“It’s the only game we lost last year but I don’t think to me it’s not a revenge game because if we wanted to get revenge we’d have to play that same team last year with the same team we had last year,” Cooper said. “It’s not a revenge thing. If you get in a fight with someone you don’t revenge by getting in a fight with someone else.”

When asked if Alabama will come out as the good guys compared to A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Cooper responded confused saying he hadn’t looked into any of the offseason news about Manziel.

2. Alabama knows a fast start will help at Kyle Field
Quarterback AJ McCarron was asked about getting off to a fast start at Monday’s press availability. It will be Alabama’s second trip to Kyle Field ever and the first since 1988 with many players expecting a loud atmosphere. “It doesn’t matter where you’re playing, it’s always good to get off to a fast start,” McCarron said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s home or away.”

3. The Tide will zone in on A&M’s offense
After Manziel threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns in last years game, the Crimson Tide are looking prevent a similar situation Saturday.

“[Texas A&M] is a fantastic offensive football team,” head coach Nick Saban said Monday. “You get 600 yards a game, you average 58 points a game. They did very similar statistically last year. Over time, it’s a great concept. They have the right kind of players to execute the concept, and they do a very good job of executing their plays.

“You can say that they spread you out and run a screen. They go fast. Well, they go fast and run screens, but they execute them well. To me, it’s not the scheme. It’s not the going fast. It’s their ability to do those things and execute extremely well, in terms of what they do and their players have a lot of confidence in it and they do a really good job of it.”

4. Alabama isn’t sleeping on A&M’s defense
While the Aggie defense has taken much of the blame for any miscues in the first two weeks, Saban insisted they aren’t looking past A&M’s defense. Even if it is struggling.

“Defensively, I know some people have questions [about Texas A&M], but to me they played well defensively,” Saban said. “They are physical, they’re tough, they play hard. They have given up a few big plays early in the season, probably due to mental errors or something, I don’t know. We struggled last year in the game with them, and I think it’s going to be the same kind of things of importance on offense.”

5. Alabama will not only key in on Manziel but also the A&M receivers and their ability to improvise
Alabama found themselves searching for answers against Manziel last season and will now look to focus on his scrambling ability and staying with the receivers as they scramble with him. While Saban knows Manziel is bound to make plays, he says they can be prevented by playing correctly on defense.

“[Manziel] is going to make some plays. He’s a really, really, good player and I think he’s a really good passer. Athletically he extends a lot of plays but he extends a lot of plays fast. It’s not like he’s just a runner. He’s very instinctive on when he should and shouldn’t. He does a good job of keeping his eyes down the field so when he scrambles he can find people that are open and his receivers do a really good job of doing what I call playing ‘scramble roles’ in terms of how they adjust their routes.

“The guy’s going to make plays now, he’s a good player. What you have to do is not allow him to make plays because of what you did incorrectly on defense.”

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
09/11/2013 03:17 PM

They wandered around the Georgia Dome field with bug-eyed, what-just-happened looks on their faces, as if trying to comprehend all that had transpired in the previous three and a half hours against Virginia Tech on Aug. 31. The five starting offensive linemen for Alabama -- junior left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, junior left guard Arie Kouandjio (Cyrus's older brother), sophomore center Ryan Kelly, senior right guard Anthony Steen and junior right tackle Austin Shepherd -- had struggled against the Hokies, and now they wanted to head to the locker room following the Crimson Tide's 35-10 victory.

Then an Alabama official told Steen that the team had to stick around for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game trophy presentation. "Man, let's just get out of here," Steen said to no one in particular.

Steen and company definitely weren't in the mood to celebrate after their performance against Virginia Tech. The Tide gained only 206 total yards against the Hokies, including just 96 rushing yards on 38 carries (an average of 2.5 yards per rush) a season after 'Bama averaged 226.5 yards per game on the ground, 12th nationally. Now the offensive line is top-ranked Alabama's biggest question mark as it prepares to play No. 6 Texas A&M on Saturday in College Station. For the past 10 days, the Crimson Tide's offensive front has been dissected countless times on sports talk radio shows in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. In the Yellowhammer State, the topic seems to be freighted with same level of import as matters of national security.

In his press conference on Monday, Alabama coach Nick Saban emphasized the need for better communication among the rebuilt line, which features three new starters in 2013 (Arie Kouandjio, Kelly and Shepard). "We need to have faith, trust and confidence in what we're doing, but we need to communicate it and have trust in that, too -- and each other, so that we can all play with confidence," Saban said. "And I think that's going to take some time to develop, but I also think we're capable of doing it much better than we did."

The leader of the line is Cyrus Kouandjio, the 6-foot-6, 310-pounder who appeared to improve with every snap in 2012. By last season's end, many pro scouts believed he was a future top-10 NFL draft pick. But Kouandjio looked a step slow against the Hokies. He was flagged for two holding calls and was repeatedly beaten around the edge by Virginia Tech defensive end J.R. Collins. "It was a bit sloppy," Kouandjio said after the game, noting that the Hokies' defense had confused 'Bama's offensive line with pre-snap shifting and gap-hitting blitzes. "We have a lot of things to work on."

Kelly, the center, admitted that he missed some calls against Virginia Tech, and that the line was out of position at times. The question becomes: Will the line play better against the Aggies on Saturday?

A&M's defense has looked shaky in its opening games against Rice and Sam Houston State, two teams that will never be confused with Alabama and its roster of former four- and five-star recruits. The Aggies have given up an average of 273 yards on the ground and 899 total yards. Still, A&M coach Kevin Sumlin hasn't sounded particularly concerned about his group this week.

Why? The Aggies were without three defensive starters serving suspensions for the first two games (linebacker Steven Jenkins, defensive end Gavin Stansbury and cornerback De'Vante Harris). As a result, Sumlin said, the defense has been "vanilla." Against Alabama in Week 3, A&M plans to unveil multiple new formations and blitz packages. The manner in which the Tide line responds to these changes will undoubtedly be one of the keys to the game.

Though quarterback AJ McCarron was sacked four times against Virginia Tech -- Alabama quarterbacks were sacked only 23 times all of last season -- McCarron was adamant after the game that better, more dominating days lay ahead for the offensive line. "It's only the first game and I have 100 percent confidence in all of those guys," McCarron said. "The great thing is we'll all learn from this game. We'll be fine. We'll be fine."

Last season, the Crimson Tide's line featured three All-Americas: center Barrett Jones, tackle D.J. Fluker, and guard Chance Warmack. That talented group was the engine that powered Alabama to its third national title in four years. To stay atop the summit of the sport -- and to win the most anticipated game of the 2013 college football season -- the Tide's young front wall will need to grow up. Fast.

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
09/12/2013 01:45 PM

The dividing line in college football, the one thing that most sharply separates the sport's top teams these days, is the speedometer. In recent years, the list of teams that forms the sport's upper class has been neatly cleaved in two. On one side are teams such as Alabama and Stanford, which use pro-style offenses featuring stationary quarterbacks who like to take their time snapping the ball. On the other are programs such as Oregon and Texas A&M, which play a frenetic, up-tempo style and encourage their quarterbacks to juke and deke around the field like they just stole something. These clashing philosophies are now so entrenched, right down to the sniping coaches, that they've become the Hatfields and McCoys of college football.

All this means that Saturday's showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Texas A&M isn't just about whether quarterback Johnny Manziel and the Aggies can upset coach Nick Saban's two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide for a second straight year. It is also shaping up as a royal rumble for the sport's ideological future.
The scheme that's driving this ongoing debate is the hurry-up offense, a style that dozens of college teams have adopted in an effort to level the playing field. These teams rush to the line of scrimmage without huddling and run plays in rapid succession, often with a speedy quarterback and wide receivers stretched across the field, dragging defenses behind them huffing and puffing.

They have pushed the pace of offenses to the extreme: Eleven teams last season played faster than the fastest team in 2007 (Tulsa), including current top-10 teams Clemson, Texas A&M and Oregon, the program that set the standard for succeeding with speed. After coaching Oregon to four straight BCS bowls, Chip Kelly jumped this year to the NFL, where his Philadelphia Eagles stunned the Washington Redskins on Monday night with an offensive display the league had rarely seen.

Meanwhile, some of college football's traditional powers have stuck with the more conventional form of the game, which looks lumbering by comparison. That group includes Alabama and Saban, who has won four of college football's last eight national championships, including the 2003 title when he was at Louisiana State.

The evidence is building, though, that the upstarts' hurry-up offense is the best and maybe only way to beat Alabama: Teams can try to beat the Tide at their own game—with inferior recruits—or they can pull the Tide so far out of their comfort zone that Alabama can't keep up.

Last season, Texas A&M managed to run 77 plays in its 29-24 win over Alabama—one every 25.3 seconds they had the ball. That was more than five seconds faster per play than the rest of Alabama's opponents.

Even some strategically primitive teams have noticed. Georgia, whose power game was derided by an opponent last season as "old-man football," changed its stripes against Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game. The Bulldogs shaved 4.5 seconds off each play against the Tide, going from a season average of 25.8 seconds per play to 21.3 seconds against Alabama. The result: Georgia was five yards from scoring the winning touchdown and playing for the national championship when time expired.

Out west, a long way from the Division-I national championship, is Bob Stitt, an influential practitioner of fast football at Colorado School of Mines. It was Stitt's "fly-sweep" play that West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen employed in the 2012 Orange Bowl to score 70 points against Clemson. This style, Stitt said, can "close the gap on teams that just flat-out are more athletic than you—more powerful, bigger and stronger." In college football this year, those teams are Alabama and Stanford, the top foils to Oregon's championship hopes.

In the Aggies' win last season over Alabama, which effectively won the Heisman Trophy for Manziel, Texas A&M actually wanted to played faster, said Kliff Kingsbury, the current Texas Tech coach who was then the Aggies' offensive coordinator. In fact, that game was the Aggies' slowest all year: Their pace was 17% off what they otherwise averaged.

Kingsbury said the hurry-up strategy is particularly effective against the physical monsters that Saban has stockpiled on defense. "I know I wouldn't want to line up with two tight ends and two running backs and let the clock get down to three seconds each time and try to run it up in there," Kingsbury said. "I think you've got to give yourself at least a chance against all the great athletes on defense they have—try to get them in space and try to play fast."

Besides speeding up the game, the fastest offenses avoid making substitutions, which also deprives the defense of the chance to make them. When the Aggies did substitute against Alabama, the Tide slowed the pace by shuttling in players as late as possible. Alabama also did its best to slow the Aggies' pace by forcing them into the most third downs they faced in any SEC game all season. Texas A&M tends to take more time on third down than it does when it's moving the chains.

But the Aggies were still able to make the game a chaotic mess that left the Tide's defense gasping for air, particularly in the first quarter, when Manziel staked his team to a shocking 20-0 lead. In the quarter, Manziel completed just one pass of more than 10 yards, and even that was the result of a fake-option ploy. Texas A&M thrived otherwise with a combination of short routes, quick snaps and Manziel scrambles, with the shifty quarterback scampering for 74 yards on his first three drives.

With a year of Manziel at the controls, the Aggies are operating even faster than they did last year. They took 19.6 seconds between plays in their season opener against Rice. On Saturday against Sam Houston State, the first game Manziel started, that pace dipped below the 18-second mark in the first half.

How to tame the Aggies' offense is a question that has lingered in Tuscaloosa and bedeviled Saban and Kirby Smart, Saban's highly regarded defensive coordinator, who have had 10 months and an idle week to prepare for Manziel this year.

Both sides have dug into their philosophies. Saban has questioned the safety of fast-paced offenses, which hurry 300-pound men through more plays in a high-impact game than ever before. "Should we allow football to be a continuous game?" Saban said in July. "Is that the way the game was designed to play?"

Coach Gus Malzahn of Auburn, the Alabama rival who runs a similar offense to Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin's, scoffed at that notion and said his style marks the next evolution of the game.

They may have the answer as soon as this weekend. Another Aggies upset—Alabama is a 7½-point favorite—would have consequences beyond determining the team with the inside track to represent the SEC in the national championship game. It also could decide whether a style of offense once dismissed as a gimmick will become college football's ruling scheme.

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
09/13/2013 04:20 PM

Much has been made of Johnny Manziel’s ability to make plays for the Texas A&M football team. He’s a mobile quarterback who can run the ball, but most importantly extend plays while receivers get open.

Alabama defensive players estimate that he keeps plays going up to eight to 10 seconds when needed. In football time, that’s an eternity to cover a receiver. Alabama’s secondary must do that again Saturday afternoon when the top-ranked Crimson Tide faces No. 6 Texas A&M on the road. “He’s a great athlete, he’s a great quarterback,” safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “He makes plays, makes things happen for his team.”

However, for him to make the “SportsCenter“ highlights, the receivers must make the plays on their end. The forgotten playmakers for the Aggies are the receivers who allowed the passing offense to be ranked sixth in the country with 392 yards a game.

“They’ve got good receivers, now,” coach Nick Saban said. “They’re very productive in what they do. It’s a little bit limiting, the way they spread you out, as to how you effectively can cover their receivers.”

Sophomore Mike Evans, at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, is Texas A&M’s top receiver with 13 receptions for 239 yards and two touchdowns. Four other receivers have at least five catches in the first two games. “They’re great receivers,” Clinton-Dix said. “(Evans) is very big, he can catch well and all of them are very quick. They can get open. If you take your eyes off them, they’ll flash like that and be somewhere else, you won’t know where they’re at.”

Alabama wasn’t ready for Manziel to find time to allow the receivers to get open last year when the Aggies knocked off No. 1 Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium. “I think their receivers are every bit as good as they were a year ago,” Saban said. “He’s going to throw the ball and execute the offense relative to what you give them on offense. They’ve been very effective at doing that and they’ve been very capable and, I think, very deep at that position.”
Saban, who frequently works with the defensive backs, stressed to his players to not give up on a play when it breaks down.

The key to defending Texas A&M is to keep covering the receiver while Manziel runs around. Whatever they do, just don’t chase him. Leave that for the linebackers. “It’s not your problem to deal with,” safety Vinnie Sunseri said “Your problem is how to look at your man and do the certain things that coaches are telling you to do. It’s all eye discipline like coach Saban says. You’ve got to look at your receiver and make sure that you cover him. Because if you don’t do that, then that’s where the problem starts.”

Alabama plans to give the Aggies negative plays and put them in long third downs. Then the next step is not allowing third-down conversions. “We have to get off-the-field on third down, we emphasize that a lot on the defensive side of the ball,” Clinton-Dix said. “Getting off the field is very important to us.”

Alabama was tough against the pass in its season opener against Virginia Tech. The Hokies completed only 5 of 26 passes for 59 yards. One pass was intercepted by Sunseri and returned for a touchdown.

Virginia Tech was a good warmup, but quarterback Logan Thomas didn’t have the Manziel knack for finding open receivers and buying time. “If your assignment is to stay on the quarterback, that’s what you should do,” Clinton-Dix said. “If your assignment is to guard a receiver, that’s what you should do. If everybody is accountable and holds each other to their job, we’ll be fine.”

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
09/14/2013 09:02 AM

In the biggest game of the week there is only one way to go and that is with the Crimson Tide. They have waited all year for this game and Johnny Football can't do it alone.