Roughly 10 months ago, freshman Johnny Manziel was a burgeoning star in the SEC as the Texas A&M Aggies entered a much-anticipated meeting with the Alabama Crimson Tide. With an improbale victory over the Tide in their own house, the star quarterback became a Heisman-winning household name.
Known as “Johnny Football,” Manziel won’t catch Nick Saban’s team off guard again as the highly touted rematch kicks off at Kyle Field on Saturday afternoon.
In their first two tune-ups before their SEC showdown, the Aggies have pummeled lesser opponents Rice and Sam Houston State, with Manziel totaling seven touchdowns and 575 all-purpose yards, while completing 70 percent of his passes.
That kind of complete game surprised Alabama, and Manziel threw for two touchdowns in the 29-24 victory last year. While Manziel’s performance got most of the attention, the Aggies defense forced three turnovers, including two interceptions from the typically mistake-free Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron. Now a senior, McCarron had 291 pass attempts between interceptions from 2011 to 2012, the second longest streak in SEC history.
This time around, the No. 1 ranked Tide have reels of game tape on Manziel, and won’t be surprised by his fleet of foot abilities or A&M’s defensive schemes. They will also be well rested, taking a week off after their 35-10 win over Virginia Tech to open the season.
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While the scoreboard indicated an Alabama victory, the talk that followed centered around an offensive line that is still breaking in three new starters. Sophomore Ryan Kelly, junior Arie Kouandjio, junior Austin Shepard were the newest members of a frontline that let up four sacks to Tech. And the typically rush-heavy Alabama offense could only muster 96 yards.
They’ll have to do much better on both accounts, especially opening holes for running back T.J. Yeldon. Last year against A&M Yeldon had 10 attempts for 29 yards, with most snaps going to Eddie Lacy. The Tide o-line might only have to marginally improve, unless the Aggie defense can find a way to puncture the pocket better than it has to start the season. In two games they’ve totaled three sacks.
The Aggie defense and special teams will also have its hands full with Tide receiver Christion Jones. The junior returned a punt and kickoff for touchdowns, and caught two passes for 47 yards and another score versus Tech.
Starting A&M juniors Deshazor Everett and Howard Matthews, along with sophomore De’Vante Harris will be responsible for making sure Jones doesn’t get over the top for deep plays.
One new weapon for Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin is Oregon transfer running back Tra Carson, who has tallied 131 rush yards and four touchdowns. He joins Ben Malena (151 yards, and two touchdowns) as two powerful backs capable of relieving Manziel of rushing duties.
The game begins at 3:30 p.m., with television coverage provided by CBS, and with a live online stream at CBS Sports here.
Betting Odds: Alabama favored by 9 points.
Over/Under: 62 points
Prediction: Alabama 32, Texas A&M 27