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Alabama Crimson Tide: How will Alabama contain Johnny Manziel this season?

Alabama enters the 2013 regular season as a two-time BCS National Champion for three reasons: determination, toughness and the ability to handle adversity.  Last season, in their journey back to the national title game, only three teams truly challenged the Crimson Tide. Alabama answered the bell against two of the teams (Mississippi and LSU), but they came up on the short end of the scoreboard against the third one (Texas A&M). By now college football fans, especially in the SEC, have become infatuated with the phenomenon known as Johnny Manziel. Manziel, also known as “Johnny Heisman” or “Johnny Football,” took the college football world by storm last season as a redshirt freshman.

Last year, Texas A&M cut its ties with the Big 12 and decided to join the SEC, in hope to achieve success with a new conference. The difference between both conferences is that the defenses are tougher and the run game is exercised more in the SEC.  In the Big 12, the vertical passing attack is used more and the defenses are not as strong. The Aggies made a sacrifice leaving the Big 12 for the SEC as far as scheduling games is concerned. Texas A&M drew a brutal SEC schedule, especially down the stretch last season. After starting off with Florida, the middle of the season looked bleak for Texas A&M. The Aggies faced the gauntlet of having to play against LSU, Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama in the middle of the season. The surprising thing about all of this was that the Aggies were successful last season. They finished with an 11-2 record, behind head coach Kevin Sumlin and quarterback Johnny Manziel.

For Johnny Manziel, there were questions concerning whether he would even play last season. Most coaches wouldn’t put the regular season in the hands of a freshman quarterback, but Manziel is not the average quarterback. In fact, he was the only QB on the team who possessed confidence far beyond his years. His teammates and coaching staff trusted and believed in him. Fans at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas knew that they had something special in Manziel, after the Aggies defeated South Carolina State (70-14), Arkansas (58-10), Ole Miss (30-27) and Louisiana Tech (59-57), but it was the trip to title town inside of Bryant-Denny Stadium that fans really began to see how special Johnny Football was.

On Sat, Nov. 10, 2013, Texas A&M was in Tuscaloosa. Their goal was to defeat the cream of the crop in the SEC on the road. In a highly conversed and battle tested game, Johnny Manziel shined on national television and showed fans that there was no fear in this redshirt freshman. Against the No.1 defense in the SEC (No.2 in the nation), Manziel put on a clinic. He was near perfect passing the football, going 24-31 for 253 yards and two touchdowns. Though his passing was impressive, it was his athletic ability that confused and dismantled Alabama. Manziel rushed for 92 yards off 18 carries and helped the Aggies shock the world by pulling off the 29-24 upset against the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. As fans, we know how the season ended for Manziel. He went on to become the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy and the third SEC QB to win the coveted award (Tim Tebow-2007, Cam Newton-2010). For the 2012 season, Manziel totaled 5,116 yards of offense and 47 touchdowns.

Last season was definitely the year for Johnny Manziel. He was in every ESPN highlight and collected numerous awards, but the question that lingers around is can he duplicate the same stats in this upcoming season? For Alabama, their goal is to prevent that from happening. Last season against Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide struggled with containing the outside and forcing Manziel to run inside. In the game, there were countless plays that defensive ends were trying to attack the inside to get to Manziel. This led to Manziel getting into the perimeter of the Alabama defense and gaining huge yardage. For the secondary, they had problems with maintain coverage on the receivers while trying to read the eyes of Manziel and where he was going with the ball.

I am not taking anything away from Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel. They challenged Alabama when it seemed like no one other than LSU would, but to some degree analysts and fans are starting to blow the game out of proportion. Yes, Alabama lost to Texas A&M, but it wasn’t a blowout victory. The same formula that rose in the 2010 Iron Bowl came to life in this game. It was the tale of two halves. Texas A&M controlled the first half (led 20-0 first quarter) and Manziel dominated the Tide defense. Alabama struggled in the first half offensively and AJ McCarron threw his first interception of the year in the first quarter. In the second half, Alabama went back to its normal style of play. The Crimson Tide controlled the second half offensively and defensively they were getting pressure on Manziel.

Though Alabama lost, it wasn’t solely on Texas A&M that beat them.  Four external factors prevented the Crimson Tide from defeating the Aggies and maintaining an undefeated season.

4 REASONS FOR ALABAMA LOSING TO TEXAS A&M

1.      Emotional win against LSU drained Alabama

a.       Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La usually seats 92,400 fans. Against Alabama, the stadium reached a record-high in attendance, amassing 93,374 people. Tiger Stadium is already a hostile environment to play in, but when you add the increase of fans and playing against LSU at night into the mix, it becomes even more difficult for the opposing team.

b.      LSU QB Zach Mettenberger saved his best passing performance for Alabama. Against other SEC teams, he tossed four interceptions combined, his QB rating was 91.1 and his completion percentage was 46.4 percent before the Alabama Game.

c.       Against the Tide, Mettenberger put on a show. He was 24-35 passing (68.6 percent of passes completed) for 298 yards and a touchdown. His QB rating for that game was 149.5

d.      Though Alabama won, this was AJ McCarron’s worst game statistically. His completion percentage was 51.9 percent and QB rating was 115.4

e.       Nick Saban out coached Les Miles in the game. Miles gambled a little too much with the onside kick and going for it late in the fourth quarter. LSU also left Alabama with 1:34 remaining in regulation. This is too much time to leave Nick Saban and the Tide.

f.       AJ McCarron became a man on the last drive, completing four of five passes including the screen pass to Yeldon that scored the game-winning touchdown.

g.      After the 21-17 win against LSU, Alabama entered the A&M Game with a bit of an emotional hangover.

 

2.      Turnovers

a.       The Crimson Tide turned the ball over three times in the game.

b.      Two of the turnovers were self-inflicted, while the third one was just unfortunate.

c.       AJ McCarron was on a streak of having zero interceptions (291straight passes) until the A&M Game in which he threw two.

d.      TJ Yeldon’s fumble in the middle of the fourth quarter was very costly. Alabama was starting to gain momentum running ball and was breaking down the Aggies defense upfront before the mishap.

 

3.      Underthrown Passes and Minor Mistakes

a.       Though last season, McCarron improved his vertical passing attack by developing his deep ball throws, he missed on one in this game.

b.      In the fourth quarter against Texas A&M, WR Amari Cooper completely burned the defensive back on a play and was wide open. McCarron put the ball there, but there was not enough air on it. Amari Cooper had to turn, locate the ball and then catch it. This caused him to break his speed down some, which allowed the DB time to catch up and make the tackle. If McCarron places the ball correctly on Cooper in stride, Cooper scores on the play.

c.       On another McCarron pass in the fourth quarter, he connects on a deep post route to Kenny Bell. Bell could have scored on the play, but his teammate, Amari Cooper was in the way. If Cooper was not in the way on this play, Bell scores.

d.      On the final drive of the game, Nick Saban chose to run instead of pass the pass in the red-zone. When you have a 350+ pound defensive lineman in Jesse Williams, plug him in at fullback and run the football. Alabama chose to pass the ball and McCarron’s pass was intercepted by the Aggies.

 

4.      Penalties

a.       Alabama 6—Texas A&M 4

b.      Penalty Yards: Alabama 56—Texas A&M 26

c.       Penalties and turnovers will kill you every time. This is what happened to Alabama against the Aggies. They would battle in the game to narrow the deficit only to shoot themselves in the foot with unnecessary penalties.

d.      The most crushing one occurred with 0:40 remaining in the game. Alabama had forced a three-and-out on A&M’s offense, but an encroachment penalty cost the Tide not only five yards, but a chance to get the ball back and have a shot of keeping the perfect season alive.

 

Two things will be different between this season and last season: the schedule and the atmosphere. Last season, Alabama had to wait until the tenth game of the year to host the Aggies, but in the upcoming season Alabama will face Texas A&M in the second game of the season on the road in Kyle Field (College Station) home of the 12th Man. The Crimson Tide will be out for vengeance this time, but they must be sound defensively and come out well offensively if they want to take the crowd out of the game early. With Johnny Manziel eyeing a second Heisman Trophy and AJ McCarron eyeing his fourth BCS title (three as the starting QB), the rematch between Alabama and Texas A&M on Sat, Sept. 14 will be another highly publicized game. For the Crimson Tide to win, they must contain and disrupt the tempo of Manziel. Every defensive player for Alabama has to be sound and excel in their assignment if Alabama wants to leave College Station with a victory. The one thing the Crimson Tide cannot do is play around with Virginia Tech. They must take care of business handily in the first game and avoid being emotionally drained. A close game against the Hookies could potentially bring déjà vu and that is the one thing that coach Saban and the Tide want to avoid. The one question that will be on everyone’s mind is can Alabama defeat Texas A&M or will the Aggies control the Tide again?

 

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