W2W4 – Texas A
Yea, Alabama! You just won what many are calling the most exciting comeback game in Crimson Tide history! But, your defense just barely survived playing 40 minutes on the Death Valley turf while getting their brains beaten in by a tremendously physical football team. How are you going to celebrate? Well, by playing the top offense in the league, that’s how! Oh boy! Buckle up boys and girls, this is very likely going to be a bumpy ride!
Johnny Football. His parents know him as Johnny Manziel but A&M fans and fans across the country know him as Johnny Football. Someday soon, you’ll know him as a Heisman trophy winner – yeah, he really IS that good. Much like Robert Griffin last season, this season I’ve scoured the television schedules to make sure I have recorded every single A&M game. Oh, and it’s not for film study. Ohhh, no. I just love to watch the offense that Kevin Sumlin & Cliff Kingsbury run. Oh, and I love the talent that A&M has and has access to. As soon as A&M joined the conference, I felt that the league had awakened a sleeping giant and now, here we are – and much earlier than expected. While A&M likely does not stand in the way of another Bama trip to Atlanta, they most certainly DO stand in the way of another national championship game appearance. The Lighthouse says this little game against the Aggies doesn’t particularly set up well and, for the first time this season, we feel the outcome is in doubt. (Based on what we’d seen from the LSU offense all season, there was no reason to think the Tigers would win – sorry, but we were a little mistaken on that one, eh?)
After spending nearly all of Saturday night fending off the Bengal Tigers, the defense’s reward this week is to go against an offense that will stretch them from sideline to sideline while threatening the middle all at the same time. Oh, and A&M snaps the ball about every 12 seconds or so (sometimes as soon as they blow the whistle ready for play) so there are no breaks, no huddles and no time to catch your breath. Any soreness or dead legs that were brought back from Baton Rouge may very well be exposed against the Aggies so this is not a game that can just be blown off as another Bama romp. If you are not heeding the Lighthouse’s warnings, then perhaps these numbers can get your attention:
Texas A&M Offense is ranked #1 in:
- Scoring offense (44.7)
- Total Offense (559.6)
- Rushing Offense (251.3)
- First Downs (27.9)
- Third Down Conversions (54.3%)
Thankfully, A&M gives us a break when they pass the ball, as they are only SECOND in the conference in passing offense (308.2).
Defensively, the Aggies aren’t going to look very good statistically (8th) because, as a result of their offense’s pace, their defense has played 663 snaps. That’s 116 more snaps than Alabama’s league low 547 defensive snaps! So, in nine games the Aggie defense has already played the equivalent of 11 games!!! But, we do like A&M’s aggressive scheme and it could pose problems, particularly in long yardage situations. But, enough of the statistical yammering – here’s what to watch for against the Ags!
Alabama on Offense
Many would say that we should start this week’s W2W4 with the defensive segment and, based on the information above, they’d probably be right. However, the Lighthouse feels it’s a given that A&M is going to move the ball some and we feel the Aggies will put some points up as well. The question then becomes whether or not the Bama offense can awaken from about 58 minutes worth of slumber last week to put up some points of their own. The offense’s ability to run the ball, control the clock and put up more than 20 points this week will determine the fate of the game this week. The mandate for the O this week: put up points, provide some R&R for the defense and wear down an Aggie defense that has already faced more snaps than anyone else in the league. Let’s Roll!!!!
Eight Isn’t Enough: You know we’re old school when we are busting out the Eight Is Enough references but hopefully this will make sense. Against LSU, the Aggies stacked the box with 7, 8, and, many times, 9 men in an effort to stuff the Tigers’ running game. Of course, it didn’t work as LSU tallied 219 yards rushing but most of that came in the 4th quarter as the A&M defense wore down. Mettenberger missed four or five wide open receivers against this look as the Aggie defensive backs were beaten deep numerous times in man to man coverage. Basically, A&M gives you this look and dares you to try to attack their corners. This will be the land of opportunity Saturday.
Bum Rush: LSU, Florida and, when they chose to run the ball, Mississippi State all had success on the ground against A&M. If you were to devise the perfect game plan, it would consist of a very heavy dose of the running game intent on owning the time of possession, resting the defense and breaking the will of the Aggie defenders. Given what we’ve seen, this is very doable and very necessary. The particular weakness of the Aggie run game is on the perimeter as both LSU and MSU were able to outflank the Aggies and get significant yardage on the edge.
On Blitzen: With A&M stacking the box, their favorite thing to use is the zone blitz. Seven, eight and nine defenders will show blitz with no less than five coming on nearly every play. Typically, this exposes the Aggie secondary and, as we said above, look for Bama to take advantage of this. One particular pattern that has seemed to be available is the curl route. When the Aggie corners know they are in man to man, their #1 goal is to not get beaten deep. Therefore, the corners play “off coverage” and give up the curl routes. Curls are also available against the A&M zone blitzes, as well.
He Ain’t Heavy: The A&M front four (they play a 4-3 or 4-2 in passing situations) weighs 255, 280, 277 and 245. While this front works well against the pass happy Big 12, LSU and Florida showed that it can be pounded by a physical running game. A&M counters this by stacking so many defenders to try to fill all of the running lanes but, as we said, this exposes them in other areas.
Less is Moore: Devonte Moore (#94) is the key Aggie defender. The versatile defensive end leads the SEC in sacks, is second in tackles for loss and actually leads the team in tackles. Now, with more than 100 extra snaps, he’s had plenty of opportunities to pad his stats. Against MSU, Moore injured his ankle so the Lighthouse thinks his production will be limited this Saturday.
Swami Sez: Alabama will rush for over 200 yards. AJ will hit someone deep for a quick six – the Lighthouse wants to say this will happen twice but we won’t get too crazy. This pass will be available, though. Wide receiver screens should be available so we’ll say there will be three of these and they will be more successful than any screens to the backs. With A&M playing man, they should be able to stuff most of the screens to the backs. Alabama will score more points in the second half than they will in the first. They will also rush for more yards in the second half. AJ will get sacked at least twice during this game but will throw for over 240 yards. Look for the tight end to be used again against the blitz.
Alabama on Defense
The challenge of all challenges awaits the Bama defense this week. And, if you haven’t seen Johnny Football play yet this season, you’ll likely drop your jaw more than once during this game. Manziel has a tremendous ability to make defenders miss in a phone booth and he pairs that with good speed as well. LSU and Florida both had to bail out of using four man defensive fronts and, instead, used two defensive ends, a nose tackle and a bevy of linebackers and defensive backs so they could better track down the elusive Manziel. Thankfully, it just so happens that Alabama has fleet-footed defensive ends with Devall, Hubbard and Dickson and they have athletic tackles in Square, Stinson and Williams. But, best of all, CJ Mosley was basically off last week as Bama used the bigger duo of Nico Johnson and Trey Depreist against LSU’s running game. Mosley is unlikely to come off the field much this week so he’ll be cheering for the Bama offense to give him a much-needed break this week. Here’s what you can look forward to when A&M has the ball.
Johnny Be Good: Listen up peeps – this isn’t hype. This kid is really, really good. He’s averaging 60 yards more than Cam Newton did when he won the Heisman. He’s gaining 40 more yards than Tebow did when he won the Heisman. But, Nick Saban had success in stopping both of the former Heisman winners and stuffed Denard Robinson this year, as well. Manziel is a more adept passer than D-Rob (but so is a double arm amputee) but you should see a very similar Bama game plan. Look for Saban to once again employ the “mush rush” where the job of the front four is to really contain the QB and force him to throw from within the pocket.
Roger Rabbits: Bama will have to use their “rabbit” package a ton this week and this is where fatigue could be a factor. If Bama follows the LSU model, you’ll see Hubbard and Dickson at the ends and either Square or Williams at the nose of a three-man front. Mosley would be one LB with probably Depriest at the other as the goal is to get as many “rabbits” on the field as possible. If Bama goes with their usual preference of a four man front, look for Stinson and Square to man the tackle positions far more than Williams and Ivory. Their job will be to stuff the interior running game and then chase Manziel when he has the ball. This style of defense does open up the interior running game and A&M can take advantage. Their running back duo of Malena and Michael is averaging a combined 111 yards per game.
Broken: LSU may have broken the code of the Alabama defense. When Bama was in their nickel or dime packages (defensive alignments that employ extra defensive backs), LSU invited the blitz and then completed passes to the slot receivers who were matched up against Nick Perry and Vinnie Sunseri. There is a reason Perry and Sunseri are safeties – they cannot cover wide receivers as well as a corner can. So, when you blitz and leave these two kids in coverage, you are betting your blitzers will get to the quarterback before Perry or Sunseri’s man runs away from them. Against LSU, the blitz didn’t get there in time. And, when the Tide backed out of the blitz, the Tigers continued to work against Sunseri’s part of the Bama zone defense with great success. Listen, there’s a reason Coach Saban has been wearing out Geno Smith on the sidelines during blowouts. Nick would much rather have an extra corner out there on the field instead of using four safeties in his dime look. Look for A&M to watch some film and try to exploit the weaknesses of Perry and Sunseri in pass coverage (something we’ve mentioned as a problem all year). But, also look for Bama to replace Perry with backup cornerback John Fulton in the dime packages since Geno isn’t quite ready for primetime.
Can You Hear Me Now: A&M hasn’t faced 103,000 rabid fans on the road yet this season so it’s imperative for the crowd to literally get into the game this week. A&M uses “check with me” calls and audibles for a majority of their offense so getting loud is of paramount importance for the crowd this week. GET UP & GET LOUD!
Empty Soul: If Manziel lines up in an empty set with no backs around him, it’s very likely either a WR screen or a QB draw. So, if you see him back there all alone, it’s not necessarily a pass.
Righty Tighty: Johnny Football is right hand dominant and that’s the way he prefers to roll. Even when he starts left, he typically tries to loop back or cut back to his right. Look for the majority of the Bama blitzes to come from Johnny’s right in an effort to force him away from his strength.
Speed Kills: LSU and Florida both used their corners and safeties to blitz A&M. This allowed their fastest players to track down Manziel while he toyed with the bigger and less mobile defenders. Look for Belue, Milliner and Lester to blitz quite a bit as they are the fastest UA defenders.
Quickies: A&M loves to line up right after a big play and run a play as soon as the ball is set. This play is always an interior running play. Bama MUST get their fronts set immediately after a big play.
No Way Out(side): Hubbard and Dickson must keep outside leverage this week and keep Manziel contained. It’s a huge task b/c A&M’s tackles are big, strong and very, very good at moving people where they don’t really want to go. Hubbard and Dickson must funnel everything back to the middle.
Danger Zone: If I were designing the defense, well, then we’d all be in trouble! But, I would employ zone coverages as much as possible. Manziel’s biggest plays are made when he breaks containment and runs down the field while the secondary (playing man to man) chases Aggie receivers. Zones allow you to peer into the backfield and shut down any potential big plays.
Swami Sez: First, we know we’ve detailed a lot of information for you to digest on the defensive side of the ball because there’s a lot to defend. What’s amazing is that A&M probably uses a maximum of maybe 20 plays. They rely on their QB, RBs and WRs to make plays in space so Bama will have to tackle much better this week than they did against LSU. We predict A&M will score more than 17 points. We predict Bama will get gashed up the middle several times while trying to stop Manziel. The Tide will pick off two passes, record three or more sacks and will play much better in the secondary than they did against LSU. CJ Mosley will dominate this game statistically because he’ll be the best player on the field other than Manziel. Lastly, Johnny Football will impress you and depress you when you realize he’s only a freshman – four more years of him may actually be worse than Obama! Anyway, look for just over 300 total yards for Johnny this week. 60 or so rushing. 240 or so passing.
Alabama on Special Teams
Here are just a few things you need to know regarding the kicking game. The kicking game stats favor A&M in all but one area. However, the one area could be HUGE!
- A&M’s Trey Williams ranks 4th in the SEC in kick return average
- A&M ranks second in the SEC in punt return average and also second in punting net average
- Aggie kicker Taylor Bertolet may be headed to the Port-o-let soon because he’s only connected on 11-19 field goals and has missed four extra points! He’s like the kicking version of Nuke Laloosh – he’s powerful but he has no clue where the ball is going once it leaves his foot. Hit the elephant!
Cody Mandell will once again need to be in beast mode because it will be imperative to force A&M to go the length of the field as much as possible. Mandell was nearly the Lighthouse’s player of the game as his value should not be undervalued in the Tide’s comeback victory. Punters are people, too!
The Lighthouse staff simply does not like where this game falls on the schedule. After being forced to grind out 40 minutes against LSU’s offense, now the Bama defenders are faced with the most difficult task in the conference – stopping Texas A&M’s offense. While most publications and pundits will focus on Alabama’s defense and how it will “slow down” the Aggies, we think it will be more important for the Bama offense to have success. If A&M’s defense is able to force McCarron & Co into many three and outs, then it will have a tremendously negative effect on the sore and wobbly legs of the Tide defense. Conversely, if the Bama offense can grind down the Aggie D and if the Tide defense is then able to stop Johnny Football even a couple of times, it may just collapse the mind, body and spirit of the A&M defense and their team in general. We look for this game to be a bit of a shootout with Alabama putting up a late score or two to eventually put the game away. Of note, this is the first week this season that the Lighthouse staff has even considered predicting a Bama loss and we strongly considered it.
Final Score: Alabama 31 Texas A&M 20