McCarron, Tide OL Answer Questions Against Texas A&M
By Brett Beaird
No. 1 Alabama entered Saturday's game winners of back-to-back BCS championships and 18 of its last 19 games. Still, the one loss came against Texas A&M and Heisman winner Johnny Manziel last year.
Bama's offense struggled against Virginia Tech in the season opener, and with a bye Sept. 7, there were plenty of questions about this Crimson Tide team. They answered loudly in a 49-42 win.
How much can the Alabama offensive live improve from the Virginia Tech game?
Quite a bit, and the numbers only tell some of the story. Thirty-one first downs, 234 rushing yards, 334 passing yards and 568 yards of total offense are impressive. The offensive line provided tremendous protection for Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, not allowing a sack as McCarron picked apart a suspect Texas A&M secondary. When Alabama interior linemen (especially center Ryan Kelly and guard Arie Kouandjio) pulled on running plays to the left, the Texas A&M front seven had no answer. Alabama is 52-0 since 2008 when it runs for 150 yards or more in a game. Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier called an exceptional game. He called only four running plays in the first quarter, allowing McCarron to get established in the passing game and keeping the Aggies from putting eight in the box, opening up the running lanes in the second half.
Can McCarron bounce back from a sub-par game against the Hokies?
McCarron completed 20-of-29 passes for 334 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Again the numbers don’t tell the complete story. McCarron regularly audibled at the line of scrimmage from a running play to a pass play when the Aggies brought their corners close for run support. He audibled to the opposite side of run blitzes at least five times, resulting in five key first downs. He also hit 10 receivers, many in stride, keeping the Aggies from double- teaming anyone. Of the nine incompletions, four were dropped (three surprisingly by All-SEC receiver Amari Cooper, who is undergoing a sophomore slump through two games).
Can the Tide defense contain Johnny Football?
Yes and no. Manziel made four throws in the game that no other quarterback on this planet could have made. For example, late in the second quarter, Tide defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan nearly sacked Manziel but he still managed to throw a “Hail Mary” for a completion to the Tide 21-yard line. Manziel was lucky to complete the pass, which could've been intercepted, but there may not be another college quarterback that could've even made the throw. Manziel hit 10 receivers as well (even though three receivers only had one receiving yard), proving he can throw any pass at any position on the field. Manziel was spectacular, throwing for a career-best 464 yards and five touchdowns. He also gained at least five first downs scrambling for 98 yards. Texas A&M's 42 points are the most Alabama has ever allowed in a win.
The two interceptions were huge. Alabama is 42-0 since 2008 when it has fewer turnovers than its opponent (12-5 when it doesn’t force more turnovers). Tide cornerback Cyrus Jones intercepted a rare Manziel overthrow on a fade in the corner of the end zone, turning the momentum. Instead of trailing 21-14, the Tide took a 21-14 lead of its own four plays later. The second interception, a pass intended for Aggies wide receiver Malcome Kennedy, was deflected by cornerback Jarrick Williams, caught by safety Vinnie Sunseri and returned for a 73-yard touchdown to put Alabama ahead 35-14.
Is All-SEC wide receiver Mike Evans a matchup problem for the shorter Alabama corners?
YES! Evans broke the all-time receiving record against Alabama with seven catches for an incredible 279 yards (39.9 ypc) and one touchdown, a 95-yard catch (second-longest in Texas A&M history). Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has struggled to defend Manziel. Does Smart pressure Manziel and risk him running for a big gain or stay back in coverage and hope the safety can provide assistance to the cornerbacks? Many times neither strategy worked.
What will this win do for Alabama’s confidence?
Alabama won the game because they had a 35- to 25-minute advantage in time of possession, keeping Manziel on the sideline and turning the two turnovers into 14 points. Alabama won the turnover battle and the offensive line improved drastically. This was a character win. Alabama got behind 14-0 to one of the best offenses and the best offensive player in the nation in a hostile environment. They then scored 35 consecutive points by being imaginative on offense and opportunistic on defense. This win will give Alabama confidence if they trail again later in the season. Alabama coach Nick Saban will chew on his team for committing 12 penalties for 104 yards and giving up more than 600 yards of offense, but even Saban will enjoy this win for 24 hours. Yes, the game lived up to the hype.