If you read our W2W4 on offense, you know that we feel the Alabama offensive line will be the key to winning this game. However, we don’t want to minimize the matchup against Johnny Goofball! The entire college football world wants to see what Nick Saban and Kirby Smart have come up with to defend the ever tricky, ever slicky Heisman trophy winner. It’s going to be a mighty good time!
Saban loves to create a plan to combat an offense’s tendencies. His goal is to take away whatever it is that the offense does best and basically make them fight left-handed. The problem with Manziel is that everything he does is “off schedule” – this means he’s the king of ad-libs. You can plan for structure. You can plan for tendencies. You can plan for plans. But, when there is no plan and it’s basically backyard football gone wild, then it’s infinitely tougher to develop a scheme to stop it.
Saban has lamented over the fact that last year his players were found watching Manziel’s exploits instead of guarding their man and tending to their responsibilities. When he speaks of this, it’s likely he has one specific play in mind. On the butt fumble, touchdown throw, Adrian Hubbard crashed down from his defensive end spot when the fumbled ball went into the air. As a result, when he recovered, Manziel was easily able to roll to his left into the open space. Now, Hubbard was closing in on him and likely was ready to sack him anyway but Vinnie Sunseri saw Manziel emerge from the pocket and rushed in to help. This left a wide receiver wide open in the end zone and Manziel easily lofted a throw for a touchdown. Had Sunseri stayed home, the result likely would have been a sack…
We wrote a lengthy piece about what to expect from the Alabama defensive game plan but, if you missed it, here’s a synopsis of what to watch for when Alabama is on defense…
- Alabama’s front line will simply be asked to push the offensive line into Johnny’s lap. Don’t look for aggressive swim moves, spin moves and rip moves in an effort to gain penetration because Manziel will use any penetration as the opportunity to create a crease. (See Union General Dan Sickles in the battle of Gettysburg – instead of forming a defensive picket line, he pushed his troops forward and created a crease in the Union lines. His troops were slaughtered). Bama’s front line will simply be asked to hold the point and push it back into the pocket so as not to allow any running lanes.
- Now, Saban and Smart DO want to rush the passer and put pressure on Manziel so, while it won’t be the front line providing the pressure, it will certainly come from blitzing jack rabbits like Mosley, Collins, Clinton-Dix and even the corners. The defensive line will form a fence around Manziel while the blitzers will be sent in to corral him in. They did this last year starting in the second quarter and it resulted in four sacks.
- Alabama wants to make Johnny Heisman throw from the pocket all day long. The problem with that is he can absolutely do this with a lot of success. Against Sam Houston (yes, I know – bear with me), Manziel was clearly asked to stay in the pocket and sling the football all day long. He threw it 41 times and rushed only seven times – Sumlin & Co know what’s coming so they had Johnny sling it from the pocket last week to prepare for this week. He completed 28 of his 41 throws, so he can clearly complete passes from the pocket when he’s asked to.
- Look for the majority of the passes to be hitch routes, screens and little hook routes at or near the line of scrimmage.
- CJ Mosley will have to have the very best game he’s ever played because his responsibilities are immense. He has to stuff the inside running game, he has to play coverage and he’ll be asked to spy, blitz and sack Johnny Manziel. It’s going to be a long afternoon for Mosley so let’s hope the offense can give him some long breaks by owning the time of possession.
- We look for Geno Smith to make a big play this week. His coverage in the slot will be an upgrade in coverage over last year.
- Look for Landon Collins to also have his best game this week. He’ll be up at the line of scrimmage and will blitz numerous times. When he’s not blitzing, he’ll be locked up in coverage against A&M’s slot receivers. Collins will be huge this week.
- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will have to have a spectacular game, as well. HCD can cover a ton of real estate and we think Saban will bait Manziel into throwing the ball in Clinton-Dix’s direction. The result should be at least one pick and probably two. Manziel is only 6’1 so he’ll make a few blind throws on Saturday – HCD should be there to receive them.
- Adrian Hubbard had a rough, rough day the last time these two teams got together so look for him to play a lot better this week. Hubbard, Devall, Dickson, Allen and even Anderson will all be asked to hold the edge and contain any outside runs. They must play disciplined at all times and that was a problem for Hubbard last year.
- Speaking of Ryan Anderson, I think this game will be his coming out party. With his combination of speed and size he’s perfectly suited for defending the spread. We think he’ll make a sack or a big play this week that will make you say “hey, isn’t that the five star we signed a couple years ago?” Yes, Anderson is that guy.
- It will be interesting to see how much Trey DePriest is used this week. He started last year but, after the third straight touchdown drive, he didn’t spend a lot of time on the field. He wasn’t 100% healthy last year so we’ll see how much time he spends on the field this time around. We don’t think we’ll see him a ton – only against 2 back sets.
- Watch Alabama employ multiple defensive fronts to confuse the blocking assignments. Last year, Alabama opened in a 4-2, changed to a 4-1 and then started using 3-2 and 3-3 fronts. We thought the 3-2 and 3-3 looks were the most effective.
- As we pointed out earlier, the picket fence approach to containing Manziel shut down his running abilities over the last three quarters so we think Alabama holds him well under the 92 yards he gained last time out.
- We also think that Manziel will be forced to throw from the pocket so he’ll eclipse the 253 yards he passed for last year.
- There is a lot of talk about Mosley playing behind the line as a “spy” against Manziel on Saturday. Last year, he was used as a spy but only when others blitzed. Basically, the only time he spied last year was when he didn’t blitz. Instead, others blitzed and Mosley was used as a “spy” in anticipation of Manziel getting flushed from the pocket.
The Alabama defense has been trained for this very moment since the spring. They’ve shorted their defensive calls. They’ve prepared their substitutions to take advantage of any opportunity to slow the pace of the game down whenever A&M substitutes. Any time an A&M offensive player trots onto the field, Saban will use that time to send a sub or two onto the field, thereby slowing the pace of the game. They’ve also refined the tactics to keep Johnny in the pocket. They’ve sharpened their blitzes to create problems for the offensive line. In a word, they’re prepared.
With all this time spent on stopping the A&M offense, you have to expect it to be much more effective this time around. Look for Alabama to force A&M to throw from the pocket and this will result in a few big plays for the offense and a few big interceptions for the defense.
Alabama on Special Teams
We are still concerned about Cade Foster and we sure do wish he had a chance to kick a field goal against Virginia Tech just to shake the rust off. If it comes down to a game winning field goal, it may be an issue.
A&M’s punter punted one 70 yards so he’s got a big, big leg. But, as you saw against Virginia Tech, this can be to the detriment of the punt coverage team. We think lightning may strike twice with Christion Jones popping off another big punt return.
I think the Alabama defense will make things very difficult for Johnny Manziel and, as he’s shown numerous times in the past, he can be easily rattled. If Alabama can force an early turnover from Manziel, the Tide will literally turn in a hurry. Honestly, can’t you just see Manziel throwing a temper tantrum on the sideline and losing all of his mental faculties? Yeah, I think so, too.
We like Saban in revenge games – he’s 8-1 in them. We also like it when Saban and Alabama have time to prepare a defense against an opponent – they typically make very good use of that time. We like Alabama on the road – their last three losses have come at home. We like the fact that Alabama didn’t play LSU last week so they’ll be fully rested and well prepared. We like Alabama to not turn the ball over again three times. We like the fact that the A&M game from last year has been playing on a constant loop in the weight room. In short, we like Alabama.
Final Score: Alabama 34 Texas A&M 27