The match-up the entire college world has been waiting for; Alabama’s defense versus Texas A&M’s offense. Did Nick Saban design a defense that slows down “Johnny Football”? Make no mistake, whoever wins on this side of the ball will win the game. An examination of the A&M personnel gives an inkling of who has the advantage.
The Texas A&M Aggie offense starts and ends with Johnny Manziel. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner has a certain amount of uncoachable improvisational skill that is unmatched in college football. A defense can be perfectly called and executed, and Manziel can still turn it into a big play. There are ways to contain him, specifically through a use of a spy, and playing more containment football.
Manziel is surrounded by athleticism at the skill positions. Mike Evans is the leading receiver for A&M. He stands 6-foot-5 and creates match-up nightmares with his height. Evans is joined by another 6-foot-5 receiver in true freshman Ricky Seals-Jones. The amount of size on the perimeter creates problems for the Bama defense. While Nick Saban does prefer large corners, he doesn’t have a corner that big on the roster. To be fair, Richard Sherman of Seahawks is one of the biggest corners in the country and he is only 6-foot-3.
Running back is another strong spot for the Aggie offense. It can be argued (I won’t waste your time here) that the Aggie backfield is stronger from top to bottom than the Crimson Tide backfield. Ben Malena, a 5-foot-9 senior from Cedar Hill, Texas, leads the running backs. While Malena runs hard, and is scary in space, he does not have the size to consistently compete inside. A&M turns to true sophomore Tra Carson for the “tough” yards. Carson is a load at 6-foot and 230 pounds. Down on the goal line, he’s the Aggies’ guy. There will be multiple running backs that see action. Just for illustrative purposes – the Aggie depth chart lists a starter (Malena) and three backups with an “or” between them.
If there was a question coming into the year, it was whether the A&M offensive line would have trouble adapting to life after Luke Joeckel, last year’s Outland Trophy winner and 2nd overall pick in the NFL Draft. A&M shifted Jake Matthews from RT to LT to take Joeckel’s place and Matthews has excelled. Matthews would have been a first round pick last year had he come out.
There were two other changes along the line: right guard Cedric Ogbuehi shifted out to right tackle, and a new center, Mike Matthews, was installed. Ogbuehi has had a fairly smooth transition even though it is rare for an offensive guard to move outside. Mike Matthews has also performed well thus far. The real key will be whether Matthews is able to recognize Alabama’s defense and call the proper blocking schemes to his fellow linemen. Also, can Cedric Ogbuehi deal with a far more athletic Adrian Hubbard or Xzavier Dickson? He has not faced anyone on the edge with their level of skill.
One final thing, new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital hasn’t been tested as a playcaller for A&M. Former offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, now head coach at Texas Tech, has shown acumen in leading the Red Raiders to a 3-0 record including a win over preseason Big 12 favorite TCU. Will there be a drop off in crunch time? That remains to be seen.