Tuscaloosa, AL (Sports Network) - The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide head
down the homestretch with a three-game homestand to close out the regular
season, starting with this weekend's clash with the 15th-ranked Texas A&M
Aggies in Tuscaloosa.
Nick Saban's squad had run over the competition on the docket until last
weekend, when the defending national champions had to come from behind to
preserve their perfect season with a 21-17 victory over then fifth-ranked LSU.
The victory moved Alabama to 9-0 on the season and 6-0 in league play. A win
in this game would secure the SEC West for the Crimson Tide.
Kevin Sumlin's first season in College Station has been highly successful, as
the Aggies are 7-2 overall. The team's first foray into the SEC has been
equally satisfying at 4-2, two full games behind the Tide. Texas A&M was in
Starkville last weekend, where the Aggies posted an impressive 38-13 romp over
This marks just the fifth meeting between these two teams and first since
1988. Alabama holds a 3-1 series advantage, although this game represents
A&M's first-ever trip to Tuscaloosa.
The Aggies have excelled on the offensive side of the football this season,
ranking fourth nationally in scoring (44.7 ppg), fifth in total offense (559.6
ypg), while placing 19th in passing (308.2 ypg) and 10th in rushing (251.3
ypg). In all, the team has scored 49 offensive touchdowns (32 rushing, 17
passing). Texas A&M is on pace to break the SEC record for total offense per
game set by Florida in 1995 (534.4 ypg).
Redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel has been outstanding in his first
season under center and could mean more to his team than any player in the
country. Manziel has completed 66.6 percent of his passes, for 2,527 yards and
16 TDs, but means almost as much to his team for his rushing exploits, closing
in on 1,000 yards (922), with 15 more scores.
Other offensive players of note include Mike Evans (56 receptions, 802 yards,
two TDs) and Ryan Swope (45 receptions, 641 yards, five TDs) and tailback Ben
Malena (637 yards, 6.6 ypc, six TDs).
The offense as a whole has evolved and Sumlin is pleased with that.
"We are certainly a different team than we were week one. Ten weeks later we
better be, especially with a young quarterback. We certainly have more offense
at our disposal now than we had against Florida. It's just growth, number one.
Number two, it is the comfort level and Johnny being able to handle it. Just
because you put up a play, you better have some answers for it. Defenses in
this league are pretty complex. It's not necessarily what you think you can
handle as a coach but what your players can handle. In year one, ten weeks in,
I think we've progressed pretty well."
While Texas A&M has allowed its offense to lead the way, the defense has
showed flashes of strong play.
Rush end Damontre Moore has been a one-man wrecking crew, leading A&M in
tackles (69), while ranking among the nation's best in TFLs (19.0) and sacks
(11.5). Middle linebacker Jonathan Stewart is second on the team in tackles
The A&M offense has received plenty of attention, but Saban knows that the
Aggies are a complete team.
"Their defense is really good - they are very aggressive, they do a lot of
different things, they run a lot of pressures. They are very, very aggressive
in terms of loading the box and they are going to stop the run at just about
all costs. They are just very, very aggressive. They have good players and
have been pretty successful doing the things that they do."
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron showed his ability to be clutch when needed,
leading a pair of scoring drives in two-minute drills at the ends of both
halves, resulting in two touchdowns and a come-from-behind victory in Baton
McCarron has orchestrated an offensive attack that averages an impressive
424.7 yards per game, with great balance. The Crimson Tide are putting up over
200 yards per game both on the ground (209.0) and through the air (215.7).
A cool and collected signal-caller, McCarron has completed 66.7 percent of his
throws, for 1,849 yards, with 19 TDs and no interceptions. Amari Cooper (32
receptions, 472 yards, five TDs) has been the primary target in the passing
game, but everything is set up by the run.
Tailbacks T.J. Yeldon (725 yards, 7.0 ypc, seven TDs) and Eddie Lacey (679
yards, 5.7 ypc, eight TDs) have been an effective tandem on the ground.
The nation's best defense resides in Tuscaloosa, with Alabama ranking first in
scoring defense (9.1 ppg) and second in both rush defense (66.3 ypg) and total
defense (228.9 ypg).
The squad is paced by an impressive linebacking corps, headlined by C.J.
Mosley (team-high 69 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and one fumble
recovery). Fellow linebackers Trey DePriest (44 tackles) and Nico Johnson (40
tackles, two INTs, two fumble recoveries) have made their share of plays as
The Sports Network