"If we finish out like we're supposed to, it's probably one of the greatest wins I've been apart of in my life," McCarron said. "The win only means so much if you finish out strong. If we don't finish out strong, it really doesn't factor in, really. Just another win." One more win puts the Crimson Tide back in the SEC title game for the first time since 2009. Four more puts Alabama back in the BCS national championship, where it would vie for its third national title in the past four seasons. "You always want to be at the top of your own conference and finish out strong in the bowl game," McCarron said. "Like I said, it's going to be a tough game this week. It's definitely not going to be a pushover. We're going to have to come out ready to play and jump on them early."
Even in the two games it lost, Texas A&M held a lead at some point in the first half. It held a 17-7 advantage during the second quarter before ultimately succumbing to Florida in the season opener, and it raced out to a 12-0 lead before LSU flexed its defensive muscle and locked down the Aggies' high-powered offense. "The uptempo, play fast, probably gets people on their heels a little bit," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday. "It's hard to simulate the tempo that they play with in practice. I think that that's probably one of the most difficult things that the defense has to adjust to. "They've got a really good offensive concept and they do a really good job of executing it. They've got balance run and pass, and they make a ton of big plays."
AJ McCarron is changing more plays at the line of scrimmage this season, a freedom he's come to be more comfortable with over time. And the University of Alabama's offense is better off for it. In his second year as a starter at quarterback, the junior from Mobile sees all sorts of defensive schemes. From man or zone coverage in the secondary to well-disguised blitzes, stacked fronts to take away the UA rushing attack, and more, McCarron has as much or more information to digest before a given play as he does during one. "It falls back on the trust that coach Saban has in me, coach Nuss (Doug Nussmeier) has in me. They've given me great opportunity to get us out of bad plays," McCarron said. "When the defense shows a certain coverage, certain defense, it allows me to get us into a better play, run or pass." Typically, McCarron's communication with his teammates before the snap, be it spoken or with hand signals, is obvious to fans. But just because he's communicating doesn't mean he's checking off. "A lot of my signals can be dummy signals, just to make the defense think. Then a lot of them actually mean something," McCarron said.
How does Alabama’s defense compare or contrast to Florida’s and LSU’s defenses? "They’re all different. Alabama’s extremely aggressive. They’re all good. I think the size is probably the bigger difference. Alabama’s pretty big and stout across the board. You start looking at Jesse Williams in there at 320 and Adrian Hubbard’s a 6-6, 250-pound linebacker. It’s just a size factor. They can run. They’re physical. Those are the elite defenses, not only in this league but in the country."
Where have you gone, C.J. Mosley? Crimson Tide fans turn their lonely eyes to you (on third-and-two). After seeing his playing time limited by LSU's two-back personnel, the junior should be rested and ready for the Aggies' vaunted "Air Raid" attack. And really, his presence will be needed in dealing with Manziel's legs as much as Johnny Football's arm. With Mosley a given, it will be interesting to see who gets more work in the nickel: Johnson or DePriest? Expect a fairly even mix of the two. Mosley, on the other hand, will be needed for the game's entirety, a span that could see the Alabama defense on the field for 80-plus snaps for the second straight week.
The entire country will be eagerly watching how well this offense can play against another elite defense. After struggling against top-tier defenses in the second halves against LSU and Florida, Johnny Football gets a shot at redemption. Under Kevin Sumlin, it will always be the Aggie offense that sets the ceiling for this team. This week is no different. All eyes will be on a redshirt freshman, and the progress he has made ten games into his career. This week, win or lose, the Aggies get their chance to see exactly how far away the top of the SEC West is.
Texas A&M juniors Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews have provided stability for the dynamic Aggies and have been projected as first-round picks in the 2013 NFL draft. Alabama's tandem of redshirt junior D.J. Fluker and sophomore Cyrus Kouandjio can't claim that, but only because Kouandjio isn't eligible yet. "Both are very quality groups," LSU coach Les Miles said Wednesday after facing the Aggies and Crimson Tide in recent weeks. "Those two young guys at A&M were playing tackle there when we played them in the Cotton Bowl [after the 2010 season], and they've just matured very nicely. The offensive tackles at Alabama are big, mobile, strong guys, and they're a part of two very capable offensive lines. "If you put yourself in a position where you're not ready to take on a very powerful block, they're going to move you and move you a distance."
When you have a QB who's a wild card, like Manziel, you have a chance. He simply has to be mistake free, which has been a little bit of a problem. A&M was very competitive against both Florida and LSU. Granted, both were home games, but, against LSU in particular, if not for a turnover or two, or a ball ricocheting off a wide-open receiver and into the hands of a defender, it might have been a different game. As I said, it's a small chance, but there is one.
Earlier in the day, Saban said both RB Eddie Lacy and WR Amari Cooper were making progress from their respective ankle injuries. That appears to be very much the case based on what we saw during today's two open periods. Lacy had some nice burst as he went through drills while Cooper continued to do everything the other wide receivers did during the open period. Both of Lacy's ankles are so heavily taped, you can't even tell which one is injured.
When A&M entered the SEC it was understood that they would not be able to hang with the likes of LSU and Alabama in the SEC West. While they were several mistakes away from a victory against LSU, they get another chance to show they belong with these elite teams this week. "Let’s just say it’s a Tuesday and we usually hate Tuesday practices, but I’m pretty amped up right now," defensive lineman Spencer Nealy said. "I don’t like taking on those double-teams as much on Tuesdays, but today we’ve got to get after it. So, I’m jacked." "I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been on No. 1 and I’ve played No. 1 a few times," defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. "Everybody is amped and geared toward you when you are No. 1, and when you’re going against No. 1, there’s a certain buzz in the air, a certain excitement. For us coaches, there’s a reason they’re No. 1 – because they’re pretty good."
The offense as a whole has evolved and Sumlin is pleased with that. "We are certainly a different team than we were week one. Ten weeks later we better be, especially with a young quarterback. We certainly have more offense at our disposal now than we had against Florida. It's just growth, number one. Number two, it is the comfort level and Johnny being able to handle it. Just because you put up a play, you better have some answers for it. Defenses in this league are pretty complex. It's not necessarily what you think you can handle as a coach but what your players can handle. In year one, ten weeks in, I think we've progressed pretty well."
The biggest thing I've taken away from this season's team is how little a lack of experience on both sides of the football has an impact on the way they play. LSU revealed some youth in fumbles from freshmen Cyrus Jones and T.J. Yeldon, but on the whole, the rookies are playing like anything but. That's the positive. The negative takeaway comes largely from what happened in Baton Rouge. You can't overlook the poor execution on both sides of the football. It was the defense's first game going up against a physical offense, and it did not go well. Zach Mettenberger was made out to be a pro prospect and the Tigers' receivers much the same. AJ McCarron's game-winning drive did a lot to quell concerns over the offense, but it's hard to forget the litany of three-and-outs.
Blake Sims, Alabama’s most athletic quarterback, will do his best to mimic Manziel on Alabama’s scout team this week in practice, as he often does when UA is preparing for a mobile quarterback. "Blake provides us with a good look when we played Michigan and Denard (Robinson) was at quarterback. Everyone always asks you what’s the difference between Denard and this guy named Johnny," said linebacker Adrian Hubbard. "Our scout team, they always give you a good look every week. So I give a lot of credit to them."
Alabama center Barrett Jones admitted Tuesday he actually has seen the forgettable ESPN movie from 2002, "The Junction Boys." It’s about legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant’s time at Texas A&M when he held a harsh training in Junction, Texas. Tom Berenger starred as Bryant, and the movie was filmed in Australia. Alabama and Texas A&M will play in Tuscaloosa on Saturday, which brought to mind the Bryant connection in Jones’ media interview after Wednesday’s practice. "The only thing I remember about the movie is some guy almost died and they had to put him in ice," Jones said. Although stories about that training camp indicate the players went through a tough 10 days, Jones said he figured "it was a movie, and they are always overdramatic in movies, especially about football." "High school football movies, they’ve got huge people out there who look like they’re in the NFL, and they’re probably 28," Jones said. "We don’t do everything quite like the movies. It’s hard, but it’s not that hard. "We’ve never had anybody die."
Gene Stallings, the Hall of Fame former Alabama and Texas A&M coach, was saddened this morning to learn of former Texas coach Darrell Royal’s death. The two coached against each other in the former Southwest Conference. "The football world has lost a giant," Stallings said from his East Texas ranch. "When I was coaching in the old Southwest Conference, I can’t tell you the great respect I had for him. "He was not only an outstanding football coach, he was a gentleman."
48 And it came to pass, when the Sabantine arose, and came, and drew nigh to meet Sumlin, that Sumlin hastened, and ran toward the army to meet the Sabantine. 49 And Sumlin put his hand in his bag, and took thence a quarterback, and slang it, and smote the Sabantine in his forehead, that the quarterback sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the turf. 50 So Sumlin prevailed over the Sabantine with a King and with a Manziel, and smote the Sabantine, and slew him; but there was no Heisman in the hand of Sumlin. 51 Therefore Sumlin ran, and stood upon the Sabantine, and took his Heisman, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith. And when the media saw their champion was dead, they fled. (ed. - go to the link for the full GBH Tailgate experience. They are our enemy this week, but at least they are a hilarious one.)