Written by Max Meyer
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Three Things: Alabama vs Texas A&M
1. Can Johnny Football Exploit Alabama’s Defense?
In Alabama’s close win against LSU last week, the Crimson Tide defense allowed 435 yards. That yardage total was the highest Alabama has given up under Nick Saban since his first year coaching the team in 2007.
Manziel, the Texas A&M freshman quarterback sensation, is averaging almost 383 total yards per game, second best in the nation. His 31 touchdowns is the top mark in the country. He is the biggest reason why the Aggies’ offense is arguably the best in the SEC, and the Aggies have scored an impressive 45 points per game.
While Johnny Football has captured the college football world by storm, expect him to have a lackluster game against Alabama. The Tide still has the second ranked defense in college, and they’ve played extremely well against dual-threat quarterbacks. They have held two mobile quarterbacks in Michigan’s Denard Robinson and Mississippi State’s Tyler Russell to just 20 rushing yards combined, and forced more interceptions (three) than allowed touchdowns (two).
AccuScore projects Manziel to have 350 combined rushing and passing yards, but around only one touchdown. The only way the Aggies can beat Alabama is if they win a shootout so they will need Manziel to lead the offense to several scores.
2. Can Alabama protect its quarterback?
A.J. McCarron has had a prolific season for the Crimson Tide having thrown 19 touchdowns without an interception. While he does have a strong offensive line in front of him, they are better at run blocking than at protecting the passer. Alabama has allowed 18 sacks this season, and will be facing one of their toughest challenges this weekend.
Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore is an exceptional defensive end who knows how to get to the quarterback. His 11.5 sacks lead the SEC and tied for the national lead. McCarron has excelled at making smart decisions and throwing accurate passes. However, if Moore can disrupt McCarron’s offensive flow, the Aggies can make this game interesting.
AccuScore projects 1.9 sacks for the Texas A&M defense, but they will need a higher sack total to make an impact in the game. Expect the Aggies to throw several blitzes at McCarron to see if they can make him uncomfortable under the pressure.
3. Who wins the turnover battle?
The key to this game will be whatever team can generate the most turnovers. Alabama is fourth in the nation in turnover margin, and they are tied for seventh in the nation with just eight giveaways. One of the reasons why the Alabama-LSU game was very close last weekend was because the Crimson Tide uncharacteristically lost two fumbles. However, it could have been a lot worse as LSU only got points off of one of the fumbles.
Texas A&M on the other hand, has a turnover differential of -7. Manziel will need to be explosive against Alabama, but he will also need to be secure with the football. The biggest problem in terms of turnovers for the Aggies though is that their defense does not force many of them. Texas A&M is tied for last in the SEC with only eight takeaways all year.
AccuScore simulations actually project Alabama and Texas A&M to have similar turnover totals, but I think Alabama has an advantage in that department. Their superior defensive talent will find a way to force a couple mistakes in this game.
Alabama is favored by 14 points in this game. AccuScore projects Alabama to win 82.3 percent of the time, while covering the spread at a 55.6 percent rate. While Texas A&M played extremely competitive games against both LSU and Florida, Alabama is simply the superior team. I don’t see Manziel being able to run wild against Alabama’s defense, and that will slow down Texas A&M’s offense considerably. After last week’s close call, Alabama will go back to looking like the dominant force it has been for most of the season.
#1 Alabama 38, #15 Texas A&M 21