In 2012, Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel didn’t thwart Alabama’s quest for a national title, but the Heisman Trophy winner cast a giant shadow over a team that seemed destined to once again railroad the country.
The 20-year-old made a name for himself by upsetting Nick Saban’s top-ranked squad 29-24 with 345 yards from scrimmage and two touchdown passes at Bryant Stadium, and now it’s the Crimson Tide’s turn to take Manziel down on his home field.
Saturday's rematch at Kyle Field is a showdown featuring two squads vying for position in the ever-crowded SEC and the national rankings, and both No. 1 Alabama and Manziel look just as formidable as last year.
The No. 6-ranked Aggies have used their tune-ups against Rice and Sam Houston State to rack up a combined 117 points, with Manziel accounting for six passing touchdowns and another on the ground.
A pair of sophomores has made Manziel and head coach Kevin Sumlin’s offense even more potent this year. Running back Tra Carson has alleviated some of the risks Manziel takes outside of the pocket, by totaling 131 yards and four rushing touchdowns on 23 attempts, and 6-foot-5 receiver Mike Evans has 13 catches for 239 yards and two scores.
What could be troublesome for the Aggies is the 59 points they’ve given up in their two victories. Though its only been two games, A&M has also allowed 546 yards on the ground. The Aggies three top tacklers are junior defensive backs Howard Matthews and Clay Honeycutt, and freshman linebacker Darian Claiborne, who's been thrown into the fire immediately. All three will have to correct their mistakes, against a stiff test in Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon.
His talent is evident, considering last year Yeldon totaled 1,108 yards and 12 scores, at 6.3 yards per carry. But what could slow Yeldon down is the youth along Alabama’s offensive line. As a group it gave up four sacks for a loss of 23 yards. Juniors Cyrus Kouandjio, Arie Kouandjio, Austin Shepherd, and senior Anthony Steen will have to find a way to bring along sophomore center Ryan Kelly.
The Tide were also outgained 212-206 by Tech, with the only difference on the scoreboard really coming from receiver Christion Jones. The junior added a 94-yard kickoff return in the second quarter, and a 72-yard punt return for a score to his two catches for 47 yards and a touchdown.
Saban will also need better play from his Heisman-candidate quarterback. Known most for his accuracy and solid decision-making, A.J. McCarron went 10-for-23 for 110 yards, a touchdown and an interception against Tech. Last season, McCarron didn’t throw his first interception until the ninth game of the season, and threw a total of two against the Aggies.
The game begins at 3:30 p.m. ET and will be broadcast by CBS.
Betting Odds: Crimson Tide are favored by 8 points.
Prediction: Alabama 38, Texas A&M 30