Alabama bracesfor Aggies speed
By JOHN ZENOR
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | September 13,2013
AP FILE PHOTO
In this Nov. 10, 2012, photo, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel looks for a receiver against Alabama.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nick Saban knows it’s become irrelevant whether frenetic, no-huddle offenses are what he wants college football to be.
In the case of No. 6 Texas A&M, they’re also awfully hard to slow down.
That is the challenge Saturday for the top-ranked Crimson Tide at the Aggies’ Kyle Field. Preparing for this kind of uptempo offense was a focal point for the Tide during the offseason.
Alabama (1-0, 0-0 SEC) was helpless against it in the first quarter of last season’s loss to Texas A&M (2-0, 0-0) before catching on and nearly rallying from a 20-0 deficit. The no-huddle offenses have become a staple of the college game — whether Saban likes it or not.
Southeastern Conference opponents Mississippi, Kentucky and Auburn also run variations.
“There’s obviously some things you can’t do, and you have to realize that you can’t do these things,” Saban said. “I think we’ve all adapted to it more and more because we play against these teams more. When you play against it once or twice a year, I think it’s a tough adaptation for the players. But we played against it eight or nine times last year. We’ll probably play against it at least that much this year, so it’s becoming more the norm rather than the exception.
“I think that players should be able to adapt to it more readily. I know that we’ve tried to prepare our players for it more and more because you always say, `OK, what did we see? How much did we see it? How does our practice reflect that?”’
Saban caused a stir last October when he wondered aloud: “Is this what we want football to be?”
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, who runs his own variation of the no-huddle, offered very different takes at SEC media days about whether fast-paced offenses present an injury hazard to defensive players who can’t get relief from subs. Malzahn said he initially thought that theory was a joke and Bielema countered that he’s no comedian.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin isn’t about to downshift.
“We’re going to go as fast as we possibly can,” Sumlin said. “I haven’t seen anything to support the player safety argument. Anything that’s within in the rules, that’s the way football is. That’s any sport. Whether it’s baseball and you’re stealing bases or whether it’s basketball and you’re a fast break, full-court press team, that’s within the rules.
“Just because you don’t want to play that style doesn’t mean that that’s not the way the game should be played.”
It’s hard to argue with the results. Sumlin’s offenses have ranked in the top three nationally in total yards four of the past five years at Texas A&M and Houston.
Through two games against weaker competition, the Aggies have amassed 117 points and 1,200 yards.
Alabama allowed just 153 points in 14 games last season.
Texas A&M wide receiver Malcome Kennedy said coaches have stressed tempo even more for this game.
“The offense is going to move very fast,” said Kennedy, who scored what proved to be the decisive touchdown last season. “Coach has already said that we’re focusing on tempo this week. Us being able to run and pass, and we know it got on their nerves last year. So we want to be like that this year and hopefully it will turn out well.”
Texas A&M’s success on third downs kept the offense sprinting along last season, and Alabama’s defense on its heels. The Aggies had three first downs and two touchdowns on its five third-down plays in the first quarter of that 29-24 win. They converted on 11 of 18 tries.
Saban said the Aggies’ offensive prowess isn’t just about speed.
“To me, it’s not the scheme,” he said. “It’s not the going fast, it’s their ability to do those things and execute extremely well in terms of what they do. And their players have a lot of confidence in it and they do a really good job of it.”
No. 1 Alabama (1-0) at No. 6 Texas A&M (2-0), 2:40 p.m. (CBS)
Line: Alabama by 7 ½.
Series record: Alabama 3-2.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
This is the first game of the season with true national championship implications. Alabama is looking forward to the rematch after the Aggies handed the Crimson Tide its only loss in last year’s national championship season. The Aggies are out to prove that last year’s game, which helped Johnny Manziel become the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, wasn’t a fluke.
Manziel and A&M’s up-tempo offense vs. the Alabama defense. Alabama coach Nick Saban has complained about up-tempo offenses like the one Texas A&M uses. That doesn’t matter to A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, who laughed and said: “we’re going to go as fast as we possibly can,” when asked about it. Manziel threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 92 more to help A&M to the 29-24 victory in Tuscaloosa last year, and will likely need a similar performance Saturday.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Alabama: WR/KR/PR Christion Jones. Jones earned SEC special teams player of the week honors in Week 1 after a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 94-yard kickoff return for another score in Alabama’s opener. He also had 47 yards receiving with a third score to finish with 256 all-purpose yards.
Texas A&M: CB Deshazor Everett. Saturday will be Everett’s first full game after he sat out the first half of Texas A&M’s opener serving a suspension for violating team rules before drawing his targeting penalty and another suspension in the second half against Rice. He intercepted Alabama’s A.J. McCarron near the end zone in the fourth quarter to help secure win by the Aggies last season.
FACTS & FIGURES
Saturday is Alabama’s second trip to College Station and the first since 1988. ... Alabama has a 15-game winning streak away from Tuscaloosa, which is the longest active streak in the FBS. They haven’t lost away from home since Nov. 6, 2010 at LSU. ... The Aggies have won eight straight games. ... Alabama is 41-0 since 2008 when it has fewer turnovers than its opponent. ... The Crimson Tide defense has held teams to less than 300 yards of offense in 53 of Saban’s 82 games. ... The Aggies are fifth in the country in total offense by averaging 600 yards a game.