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September 13, 2013When Texas A&M and Alabama renew unpleasantries tomorrow afternoon at Kyle Field, they will do so before a huge crowd, a massive throng of media and a national TV audience. The biggest star of the show, Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel, knows everyone will be watching him -- but he's not placing greater emphasis on this game than any other.
"It feels another game. It feels like week three," he said.
Some 634 miles away, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., a certain football coach seemed to be taking the task of facing off with Manziel and his offensive compatriots a bit more seriously.
"Texas A&M has an outstanding team, one of the best offensive teams probably in college football, maybe in this history of college football in terms of their quarterback's ability to make plays and the great job of executing that they do," Nick Saban said. "They're a very well-coached team."
The strength of the two-time defending champion Crimson Tide is as it has been: their defense. Manziel was able to put on a virtuoso performance in Tuscaloosa last year, and Alabama hasn't forgotten.
"Their team got more and more confident in his ability to effectively throw the ball, which he has just continued to improve in," Saban said. "He has great athleticism. He's a very instinctive guy. He does a really good job of executing their offense. He has a really good understanding of what they need to do and how to take what the defense gives."
Manziel's now legendary touchdown pass to Ryan Swope is still a sore subject for Alabama's defenders.
"When he fumbled the ball, got it back and started scrambling to throw it, I was like, 'Wow. We've got to find something to do with this guy,'" Safety HaHa Clinton-Dix said. "He's an amazing quarterback and that's a prime example: how he extends plays and makes things happen."
On the other hand, Clinton-Dix says A&M won't surprise the Tide this time.
"They're a fast-paced offense and we weren't really expecting that," he said. "They came out and were extending plays for eight, nine, 10 seconds and we were getting tired and little frustrated. After a while we all just calmed down and got into a groove."
"We just weren't used to a player like Johnny Manziel at the time. But we know what he's capable of doing now," safety Vinnie Sunseri said.
Manziel seemed largely unfazed by the attention he's getting from Alabama's defenders, saying he'd rather have two games under his belt than a bye week to prepare.
"I'd have to say it's hard to simulate a game in practice, even if you get to look at more tape," he said. "We've got another game to get these young guys up to speed, and that's really hard to simulate in practice."
If the Tide feel like they have a better understanding of A&M's offense, the Aggies certainly know what they're getting from Alabama's defenders Saturday.
"They're a great team. They're big and strong. We know what to look forward to when we play them," right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi said. "They play physical. They play hard. They play fast. They're a team that's confident. They believe they're going to win."
Running back Ben Malena said he sees Alabama as having a complete defensive unit.
"Their size up front definitely helps them. Their knowledge of knowing exactly where to be at the right time helps them. They're a very well-coached team on both sides of the ball," he said. "Their level of intensity on every single play is tremendous. They get 11 guys to the ball on every play. That's not something you see every week when you watch film."
Offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney was even more complimentary.
"I was just up there visiting with our coaches and we were trying to find a weakness in that defense. No matter where you look, there are no weaknesses," he said. "Those guys are solid across the board."
While Saban would probably like to hear his defense spoken about in such glowing terms, he didn't appear to buy into the argument that his defense could shut down an offense that has averaged nearly 53 points a game and 601 yards of total offense in the five games since the two teams last met.
"They are an outstanding offensive football team," he said.
As for Manziel, he hopes the Aggies can stick to their script Saturday, regardless of the opponent.
"I like scoring a lot of points," he said.
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