Since the beginning of the 2008 season, Alabama is 62-7 and has won three national championships and two SEC titles.
Yet some of us act like beating Texas A&M is impossible. ”Can we beat them? or Can we slow them down?” we ask, like there’s some magic formula that Nick Saban and his coaching staff hasn’t – or can’t – figure out.
The reality is that we have the better team. We have the better coaches. We have a better program. And though the Aggies beat us fair and square last year, there were many oddities in last year’s game that are statistically very unlikely to happen this year. Bobbling the ball and throwing for a touchdown? Probably won’t happen. Starting the game completing 21 of 23 passes? Not likely. An interception on the goal line while en route to the game winning score? Don’t believe so. And we know for sure this year’s game doesn’t follow an emotionally draining game like last year’s last-second win over LSU.
But, there’s also this reality…Johnny Manziel is one of the most talented players in college football (if not THE most talented). And talented players like Manziel not only play at an extremely high level, but they also raise the play of others around them. Manziel also brings another special element to him that we haven’t seen since Cam Newton…he plays at such a high level that his team’s defensive play (or lack thereof) becomes a non-issue. That’s right, his offensive play is so spectacular, it really doesn’t matter whether A&M’s defense is good or bad. If they can keep from getting blown out (which hasn’t happened during Manziel’s tenure), the team has a chance to win.
So given all of this, what does ‘Bama need to do to bring a win home? Here’s what I think…
1) Stop Texas A&M’s running game. You probably thought the first comment would be “stop Manziel” or something like that. That’s important (read on), but THE most important thing for the ‘Bama defense is to make A&M one dimensional. It doesn’t matter if the Ags run the Hurry Up No Huddle. It’s still football and the D needs to stop A&M’s running game to force them into second-and-long and third-and-long.
2) Have a better pass rush than last year. Call it a mush rush or a delayed rush or whatever you want, it just has to be more effective. And by effective, I mean two things: 1) don’t allow gaps in the pocket whereby Manziel can escape; and 2) don’t let Manziel sit in the pocket forever. Our defensive backs, though pretty good, can’t cover the Aggie receivers all day.
3) Get off the field on third down. I don’t believe we’ll totally shut down the Aggie offense, but we do need to get off the field on a regular basis, something we couldn’t do during the first half of last year’s game. Stopping the running game is important and so is having a better pass rush, but at some point we have to have folks step up, make plays and get A&M off the field.
4) Don’t turn the ball over. Duh. We had three turnovers last year and all three led to destruction. If you’re trying to reverse last year’s outcome, playing better on defense isn’t the only place to look.
5) Score and score some more. In my mind, I don’t think the defense could play much worse than they did last year, but I do think it’s possible for A&M to score more. The bottom line is the offense needs to be ready to score in the high 30s. Last year’s first quarter wouldn’t have happened if the offense could have stayed on the field. This year, the gas pedal needs to be to the floor from the first snap.
Yesterday, I picked the Tide to win 35-28. I’ll stand by that, but I’d like to think we wouldn’t give up 28 points.