Alabama vs Texas A&M Preview: Offensive lines key to this game

Alabama vs Texas A&M Preview : This game features star quarterbacks, but look for the offensive lines to play a major role in who wins this game.

Game Info: September 14 at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas on CBS at 2:30 p.m. Central

In a rematch of what was arguably one of the most stunning upsets of the 2012 season the Crimson Tide will head to Texas for the first time since the 2006 Cotton Bowl to take on the Aggies of Texas A&M. Both of these programs can point to Bear Bryant as one of their legends, but recent history shows that these two teams are not mirror images and that is about all they have in common.

In their first year under head coach Kevin Sumlin the Aggies went 11-2 including a dominant Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma. The turnaround in College Station could be attributed to many things but most will say Johnny Manziel, the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy; there is no doubt Johnny Football was the catalyst for the success the Aggies achieved in 2012. And will be again in 2013. Alabama’s defensive coaches will say all the right things in the week leading up to this game, but in the back of their minds, they know they let Johnny Manziel off the hook by not pressuring him enough last year, and they will not make the same mistake this time around. So, on to the what to expect portions of our Alabama vs Texas A&M Preview.

Alabama vs Texas A&M Preview

When Texas A&M has the ball:

2013 Alabama vs Texas A&M Preview

While it can be argued that the Aggie offense begins and ends with a quarterback named Johnny Football the truth is that the Aggie engine gets its power from the big guys up front. The Aggie offensive line drove the offense and gave Johnny Manziel the time he needed to move in the pocket to find his receivers down field. If the play broke down too far the line adjusted and began to block as much as they could while Manziel scampered down field for a major gain.

However, that offensive line was anchored by a can’t miss left tackle prospect now on the roster of the Jacksonville Jaguars. In addition to Luke Joeckle the Aggies will be without a seasoned center as Patrick Lewis has moved on to the NFL as well, he is with the Tennessee Titans.

How does a team replace to NFL draft picks in one unit and remain as effective as they were in the previous season? The simple answer is most don’t and the Aggies probably aren’t the exception.

Kirby Smart and Nick Saban understand how to attack weakness in an opponent and this will be the biggest weakness in the Aggie offense early in the season. Expect the Crimson Tide defense to bring pressure early and often to get the young linemen on their heels so that they lose their leverage in the battle to control the line of scrimmage. If Texas A&M loses the line scrimmage on offense Manziel will have a tough time running an offense that needs him to use his athletic ability to create when nothing is available.

To complicate matters for Manziel when he is under pressure he is breaking in a new starting slot receiver, Malcome Kennedy. While in most offenses the slot receiver is only worth noting in short yardage situations, in Kevin Sumlin’s offense, every receiver is important and every receiver must do their job. If that does not happen then the play can break down in a hurry and against a stingy, attacking Tide defense that is never a good thing. It seems like nothing good can happen for A&M when they have the ball, but that is not true.

The first two games for the Aggies are against creampuffs this will give them the time to break in all those new players and get their timing down on offense. With Johnny Manziel leading the offense big plays are going to happen, how the Alabama defense responds will be just as important as how it is defended in the first place.

The simple fact is that under Nick Saban, Alabama has not faced a lot of adversity and when they get into tight games the players do not always respond positively either mentally or physically. Last year, it looked as if Texas A&M got Alabama on their heels and the Tide played a little too tight in the first half. If the game remains close and the A&M offense starts to get confidence from a couple of big plays it might just be the case again in College Station.

Now on to our Alabama offense portion of our Alabama vs Texas A&M Preview.

Alabama vs Texas A&M Preview

When Alabama has the ball:

This cannot be made simple enough: if Alabama protects the football and A.J. McCarron, the Aggie defense will not keep them from controlling the clock and scoring.

Texas A&M could not stop the Tide last year unless the Tide stopped themselves. Saban’s offense is based on ball control and they could not keep the ball enough last year against the Aggies to be effective.

McCarron had an unusual ratio of TD’s to INT’s (1-2) and there was also a fumble lost to the A&M defense. If you are keeping track that is 3 turnovers to Texas A&M’s zero. That is not how any team wins games, but especially not how a Saban coached team wins games.

To keep the ball in College Station the Tide will have to get the 12th Man out of the game early and keep them quiet by owning the line of scrimmage. Texas A&M is going to rely on their quarterback to move the ball, Alabama is going to pound the ball. Even in third and long situations look for Alabama to move the ball on the ground and burn clock to keep the ball out of Manziel’s hands for as long as they can. In this game and this game only a long drive that burns several minutes off the clock and doesn’t result in points will be nearly as good as a long drive that leads to points because every second Manziel doesn’t have the ball means a second that he cannot score.

A.J. McCarron must be efficient in this game, and given that he is typically extremely efficient, this will not be a difficult task. This just might even be an “easier” game for Alabama than their previous game against Virginia Tech. The crowd will definitely be more hostile than what will be in the Georgia Dome, but the defense will not be as fast and not as attacking. (Say what you will about the ACC, but Virginia Tech knows how to play tough, physical defense.)

Part of the ball control game will be short passes looking where the best result will be a completion for a few yards, and not the big gainers that McCarron and his receivers will be looking for against the inexperienced Hokie secondary to start the season. The offensive line will be in full run blocking mode as they will not need to protect for the pass for very long. Expect the Tide to kill time in a methodical effort to control the ball and wear out the A&M defense.

With Alabama’s emphasis on ball control and Texas A&M’s need to capitalize on big plays against an attacking defense we can safely assume this game will not be a rout, but instead this should be a tight game until the end when the team with the fewest amount of mistakes to be ahead when the clock reads :00.

Kyle Field is a tough place to play and the defending champs will have a target on their back. This game has all the marks of an early season upset: on the road, playing a team hungry to prove they are not a temporary success, a hostile environment, and plenty of hype.

This will not be an upset. Alabama does not lose to the same team in back-to-back seasons. The bottom line of this Alabama vs Texas A&M Preview: Saban and Co. will take care of business in College Station.

Alabama vs Texas A&M Preview Prediction: Alabama 24, Texas A&M 17

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—Special to the Capstone Report by Coach DS.