The latest “Game of the Century” is upon us.
Alabama and its back-to-back national titles travels to College Station, Texas to face the only team that defeated the Crimson Tide last season, Texas A&M. Aggies quarterback, defending Heisman Trophy winner and mostly-exonerated autograph signer Johnny Manziel, is back and looks to improve his record against Alabama to 2-0.
Here are the two most important matchups for the game:
Alabama's offensive line vs. A&M defensive front: This game has the potential to be a punch-for-punch offensive shootout. Alabama will have to put points on the board to compete with Manziel and its offense had better be improved from the Virginia Tech game.
This starts with the offensive line opening holes for the running backs and giving AJ McCarron time to go through his progressions and deliver sharp passes. Alabama has had two weeks - and all summer - to prepare for Texas A&M and should be ready.
While Alabama’s offensive line struggled against Virginia Tech, Texas A&M’s defense isn’t as skilled as the Hokies. Many of A&M’s defensive players are getting back from suspension – the Aggies played 10 freshmen on defense against Rice - and are playing their first downs this season. Alabama hasn’t had the tape available to properly scout the defense, but the offensive line can’t be much worse than it was in Atlanta.
Johnny Manziel vs. Everybody Else: The most elusive, instinctive quarterback in college football matches up with Nick Saban’s defense for the second time. Manziel perplexed Alabama during the first half last season and built an insurmountable lead, defeating the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa.
But Saban does the whole revenge thing pretty well. He’s 15-2 in rematches against teams that beat him the year before, or “revenge games.”
The key for Alabama will be pressuring Manziel in the pocket, making him uncomfortable and forcing him to throw. But if he breaks free of the contain tactics and gets some running room, the Crimson Tide may have a problem. Another problem with the contain plan is that Manziel has improved his passing and can actually beat teams with his arm this season.
The A&M offense is missing the super-suave Kliff Kingsbury at offensive coordinator and go-to wide receiver Ryan Swope, but has an improved running game. True freshman Ricky Seals-Jones, if healthy, could be a deep threat for Manziel. Alabama should rush, rush and rush some more, while staying disciplined enough to make tackles and keep its eyes on the quarterback.
But if Saban can’t figure out Manziel, who can?