LSU had 104 yards after the first missed tackle on passing plays in last week's game. It was one of the many statistics he's used to explain why his team shouldn't be satisfied. - "I could go through all kinds of things that we did or didn't do like we should have. So I said, 'If you're satisfied with the outcome of the game, then you don't need to stay here for the next rest of this meeting.' If you're interested in getting better as a team and look at what you did and how we could do it better and how it's going to make us better in the future, then we got a very important meeting that y'all need to be tuned in to. "They responded to that pretty well and our players have practiced pretty well this week."
Is a game like this won more on the practice field or in the film room? "I think all games are won with a combination of both," Alabama coach Nick Saban said after practice Wednesday. "I think players having a good understanding of what they have to defend by how they study and how they prepare mentally in terms of what the other team does and then having a good understanding of what we're trying to do whether it's offense, defense, special teams, it doesn't really matter. "Then taking it to the field and being able to execute physically with the technique, discipline, eye control, whatever you want to call the fundamentals of it to be able to go into the game and have the best opportunity to do it against a really good player.
Anthony Steen came to the Alabama media room Wednesday after practice with a big bandage on one of his hands. "It's all right," the junior right guard said. "A little bit of swelling, but I'll be fine." He was asked if somebody stepped on his hand Saturday in a 21-17 come-from-behind victory at LSU. "Just trying to block somebody and got hit on top and just made it real sore here and there," Steen said. "But I'll be fine." Was that dramatic game as physical as everyone thought it would be? "Yes, sir, but it wasn't a beating in any way, it was more fun than anything, I guess," Steen said. "I'd definitely do it again. "Probably more fun than I've had in a long time around here, that game. Even though it was a nail biter, I loved it."
Nick Saban shocked the football world when he announced his disdain for the no-huddle offense, citing the huge advantage it gives and the added injury risk it creates for players. After a month of backlash, multiple interpretations of his comments, and speculation of whether the Crimson Tide could handle the no-huddle offense, Saban and his No. 1 ranked defense finally have a chance to put all that talk to rest as they take on Texas A&M’s high-powered no-huddle offense this weekend. Junior linebacker Adrian Hubbard isn’t worried about having to face a no-huddle offense. "Whatever happens, happens," Hubbard said. "To an outsider, [stopping the no-huddle offense] would seem difficult, but our offense runs no-huddle sometimes so we get a glimpse of that every day in practice." Stopping the Aggies’ up-tempo attack, however, is a lot easier said than done. So far the Aggies have been nearly unstoppable, averaging 44.7 points and 559.6 yards per game – fourth and fifth ranked in the nation, respectively, and both marks are top in the SEC. "They do what they do well," said senior defensive lineman Damion Square. "They want to get up on the ball, and they want to run plays fast and put a lot of points on the scoreboard and as a defense, we’re trying to do the exact opposite. So we gotta come in prepared and prepare the best way we can prepare and go out there and execute what coach draws up on the game-plan."
A&M's offense has prospered under first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin, who brought in former Texas Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury as his offensive coordinator. A&M is fourth in the country in scoring offense at 44.7 points per game and fifth in total offense at 559.6 yards per game. "They make a ton of big plays. and it's going to be important that we can get players lined up and playing what they have to defend," Saban said. Manziel leads the SEC in rushing at 102.4 yards per game and is second in the country in total offense at 383.2 ypg. He's accounted for 31 touchdowns, 14 more than Alabama running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon have combined. "He's extremely quick," said Saban, comparing Manziel to former Boston College great Doug Flutie. "He's very instinctive. He has the unique ability to extend plays and seems to know when to take off and run it."
The hype entering Saturday’s game between top-ranked Alabama and No. 15 Texas A&M revolves around the Crimson Tide’s dominate defense and the Aggies’ prolific offense. But that only tells part of the story. It overshadows Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron and Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore. McCarron is a Heisman Trophy candidate who hasn’t thrown an interception. Moore is second in the nation in tackles for losses and tied for second in sacks. Alabama’s offense and Texas A&M’s defense might both be a bit underrated, but both teams know these units can’t be overlooked. "All the way across the board, there are no weaknesses in this offense," Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said. "Each week when you go into a game, you see a weakness here or there that you may be able to attack. They’re good across the board ... they’re a complete offense."
Two teams enter Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday afternoon with the same mindset, yet on different paths. For one, national title hopes hang in the balance of each snap, coming off a thriller in Baton Rouge, La. The other has gained the respect of the SEC already but is hungry for more. Chandler Smith, sports editor for The Battalion student newspaper at Texas A&M, said the hype surrounding the game is the largest he’s ever seen. "There’s a lot of buzz about it right now," he said. "This is our last big game, and it’s very similar to the LSU and Florida game because A&M has a ton of momentum coming into this game, and I think everyone has bought into this team and coaching staff." Many did not expect to see Texas A&M come right out of the gates after joining the SEC this season. In fact many had the Aggies struggling, while new member Missouri was supposed to be an offensive forced to be reckoned with. "Mike Sherman had a more pro-style offense while he was here," Smith said. "People would call this offense an Air Raid and it’s similar to what is run at West Virginia. I think our offensive coordinators and coaching staff have done a great job in the first year."
Saban said Manziel reminds him more of Doug Flutie than Michigan's Denard Robinson or former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, now with the Carolina Panthers. "I had to play against (Flutie) a long time ago," the former Kent State defensive back said. "But he's a really good player, a really good competitor and that's who this guy reminds me of. He can throw it, he's not great big in stature or anything like that, he's extremely quick. He's very instinctive. Has a unique ability to extend plays and seems to know when to take off and run it. And he scrambles and makes plays throwing the ball down the field. "But this is a unique guy in terms of his playmaking ability and his size, quickness and speed and ability to make people miss in space."
Sumlin said this game is exactly what they expected since the beginning of the season but noted the Aggies’ crescendo in momentum after winning two pivotal SEC road contests. "We’ve played a lot of places," Sumlin said. "This game has been on the schedule for weeks. We’re not going to change our approach this week in any way. I’ll be more excited Saturday than I am now. For us [this game] couldn’t come at a better time." The Aggies are riding a five-game road winning streak and face the toughest competition in the nation for the first time since the 2003-2004 season when A&M faced Oklahoma in Norman, Okla. The Texas A&M defense is ranked 46th nationally while Alabama’s offense is ranked 48th. Moore said there is no reason to overlook the Heisman-hopeful quarterback in A.J. McCarron. "Their quarterback is up for the Heisman," Moore said. "Their running back core is always talked about. A true freshman running back is doing great things. Yes, they talk more about the defense, but it’s a defensive league."
"People have to remember he's only played nine football games and we're nine games into a completely new offense for more than just him," first-year Aggies Coach Kevin Sumlin said. "We should be better than we were nine weeks ago, and I think we are at this point." Like Tebow and Newton, Manziel is proving that spread offenses can cause problems for SEC defenses. Each week he's asked about Manziel, Florida Coach Will Muschamp sounds more relieved that he's done preparing for the Aggies' offense. "They're going to make you defend the entire field, 531/3 yards wide and 120 deep," Muschamp said. "With his athleticism, he creates a lot of issues. You've got to control his rush lanes up front. … You've got to tackle well in space when you play teams like this. Generally, the ball's out very quickly in the passing game, so as far as generating pressure, you've got to rush four guys. You can't continue to pressure five and six guys."
At long last, Alabama week is here. In a 2012 season of plenty of ups and a couple downs, I can say that I have never watched a more fun Aggie football team than this year's bunch. They've been told for months that they'd get killed in the SEC. They've heard the same tired jokes. They even heard the doubt from within Aggie circles. How have they responded? It's November and Texas A&M matters. A lot. Kevin Sumlin carried a quiet confidence in that Birmingham ballroom and it has resonated in this team. Does Texas A&M belong in the SEC? Hell yes. Out of TCU, West Virginia, Mizzou, and A&M, the Aggies are the lone program with a winning conference record. Kevin Sumlin already has as many SEC West wins as Dan Mullen and as many total SEC wins as Derek Dooley. There is a surge of momentum that continues to mount in this program and people are noticing. Recruits are noticing.
"Certainly you have to do a good job against this quarterback (Johnny Manziel) but they have a lot of good skill guys who are hard to tackle," UA coach Nick Saban said. "They are bigger guys, they run with the ball well. Then they have some guys who are fast, some really good backs. By the nature of their offense, the way they spread you out, there are going to be a lot of one-on-one situations where guys are going to have to do a really good job of tackling." One of UA's best open-field tacklers, linebacker C.J. Mosley, plays nearly every snap when Alabama plays against spread offenses like TAMU's. Mosley leads the team in tackles from the weak side linebacker position, and is Alabama's best linebacker in pass coverage. "Coach always talks about it, when we're at practice and we miss tackles in the open field," Mosley said. "It's just about stopping your feet and knowing that the 10 men next to you are going to be running after the ball, too, so not stopping your feet, just taking the momentum and taking the play."
Damion Square learned this in 2010 — referred to at Alabama as the year these seniors did not win the title — when he first started on the defensive line. Against Arkansas, Saban called several plays that isolated Square as the playmaker. That day, Square mostly failed. And after one first down in particular — Square had allowed the quarterback to get around him and run free — Saban approached him on the sideline, threw up his hands, and said: "Square, what’s up? That’s you." "I never wanted him to come back to me and give me that type of look again," said Square, who played sparingly the rest of the season, but is now a fifth-year senior and team leader. When Saban disciplines someone, it is Square who consoles them. In general, Square patrols the linemen, Johnson the linebackers and Lester the secondary, and they discuss issues among themselves, so order is kept. "We believe that that way, everybody’s going to get all of the accolades, get drafted where they want to get drafted — those other things come with us playing as a team," Square said.
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."
UVa had a 12:30 p.m. game Saturday and Sims caught pieces of the Alabama-LSU game later that night. "Whenever I do have a chance, I watch those guys," said Sims, who ran for a touchdown and tossed a touchdown pass in UVa's 33-6 victory at North Carolina State. "It was a big game for us and I just wanted to spend some time with my teammates. "Me and A.J., we have conversations every other week or text each other. He said I've helped him - don't ask me how - and I've learned some things from him along the way. Competing brought the best out in both of us."
The University of Alabama men's basketball team will host its season-opener tonight - but it may be a sequel to The Magnificent Seven as UA faces South Dakota State. Injuries combined with a small squad size limited the Crimson Tide to just seven scholarship players in action in its exhibition season-opener against Stillman College on Tuesday. And while coach Anthony Grant said Thursday he was "hopeful" swingman Andrew Steele and center Carl Engstrom could return, he added that they were "gametime decisions" and that reserve point guard Retin Obasahan remained doubtful after suffering a lacerated finger that required 10 stitches. Grant indicated that he would use walk-ons if necessary and added that his team could go 10 deep if necessary. "We've got 10 guys who are available that we have to get prepared to play, that will play and we need all of them," Grant said. "I feel like we have 10 quality guys that can help our basketball team and my job as a coach is to put those guys out there in positions where they can do what they do best and help our team win."
"It would be an understatement to say that we are excited about this upcoming week with the season starting," said Grant, whose team will open at home at 7 tonight against South Dakota State. The starters returning include 6-foot junior point guard Trevor Releford (12.0 points per game last year), 6-foot-5 sophomore guard Levi Randolph (6.5 ppg., 3.9 rebounds), 6-foot-3 sophomore guard Trevor Lacey (7.3 ppg.) and 6-foot-4 senior guard Andrew Steele (6.6 ppg.), who missed the first 40 percent of the season because of problems with concussions. Meanwhile, 6-foot-6 sophomore guard Rodney Cooper (5.1 ppg.) and 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Nick Jacobs (6.1 ppg., 3.6 rebounds) are back after each started about half the games last season. "This year we know what to expect, so it’s easier for us to help Devonta (Pollard) because there are more of us," Randolph said. "Last year, there were more newcomers than returning players."
"In regards to our team, we’re excited about opening up the season. South Dakota State, after having a chance to watching them on film, I’m extremely impressed with them. You look at what they were able to accomplish last year; winning their league, advanced into the NCAA Tournament, and playing Baylor in a great, highly contested game. They are returning 4 starters back off of that team, a lot of veteran players return as well. [They are] a very, very talented team. Their point guard is probably a Preseason Player of the Year, potential All-American candidate. He’s an excellent player, kind of reminds me of a kid I coached at VCU by the Name of Eric Maynor, A lot of the same qualities except he [Nate Wolters] is a little bit bigger at 6-4. He really affects the game, helps his team and makes the game easier for his teammates. They’ve got some veteran guys around him, really impressed with how they shoot the basketball. I think they have 3 guys on their team that shot somewhere between 45-50% from the 3 point line. They have good size, tough team. It will be a great challenge for our guys from a defensive standpoint, to be able to contain them. From an offensive standpoint, being able to find quality shots and do the things that we need to do to put ourselves in a position to win."