Bama Must Keep Manziel In The Pocket
The biggest game of the college football season happens Saturday, a rematch between No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Texas A&M.
Alabama is looking to avenge a 29-24 defeat last year; the Aggies scored 20 first-quarter points.
The key for the Crimson Tide is stopping Johnny Manziel. He passed for 253 yards and ran for another 92 last year. His ability to create makes him dangerous inside and outside the pocket.
To do that, Alabama can't be concerned with getting the sack, because he'll escape out of most of those attempts. Instead, locking him in the pocket is key. Leave the middle as his only escape route, where at least two other linemen and (maybe) a linebacker will be waiting for him.
When you look at Texas A&M's two losses last year, both teams had different ways of stopping Manziel.
Florida held him to 173 yards passing and 60 rushing yards, including 4-for-14 on third downs. Even bigger, he was 0-for-8 in the second half, which tells you why the Aggies failed to score after halftime.
Against LSU, Manziel threw for 276 yards and rushed for 27. But he got those 27 yards on 17 attempts, with only four rushes going for more than five yards. The rest of the time, he was getting knocked down in the backfield. He also threw three interceptions, which played a huge role in the loss.
Florida and LSU were able to come out on top by containing Manziel. If Alabama can do the same, they'll win as well.
Alabama Offense Must Play Better
Everyone who watched the Alabama-Virginia Tech game saw the Tide struggle to score 14 points. While some credit deserves to go Virginia Tech's way, it's still no excuse for an Alabama team that returns AJ McCarron, Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon. Those three are among the best at their position in the country and need to show more.
If they perform like they did then on Saturday, Texas A&M is going to hang around all game long. And that's not what you want with the abilities of Manziel.
The offense has to get into a rhythm early and not depend on special teams to score most of the points again. Don't get me wrong, Christion Jones will pay huge dividends, but nobody is going to let him go off like he did against the Hokies. The offense is going to have to put some points on the board.
Texas A&M is vulnerable on the edge, especially considering the defense has given up 59 points this year. If there are holes against sub-par competition like Rice and Sam Houston St., those holes will be even bigger against Alabama.
Malena In Position To Benefit
With the defense watching everything that Manziel is doing, Ben Malena's ability to slip out of the backfield for quick dump-offs will be key.
His ability to run will play a role as well, but the Alabama defense is known for stopping the run. Malena can make the biggest difference in the passing game.
With the Alabama defense focused on Manziel in the backfield, Malena will get into some 1-on-1 or open-field situations where he can do some real damage.
Manziel has to be able to trust his back and not try to do it all himself. If there's a repeat of last year, it might not turn out so well for the Aggies this time around.