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November 10, 2012

Tarp's post-game review

Ten pre-game thoughts updated to the post game:

1. The world is watching…after last weekend when there were compelling matchups across the college football landscape, there's not a more compelling matchup in college football today than A&M-Bama. You have a number one ranked Alabama team that got a good scare put into it last weekend at LSU against an A&M team with college football's most exciting player and appears to be peaking going into it's biggest game of the year. People are trying to build up the TCU and Kansas State game only because of Colin Klein's injury and that's all they've got.

Now, everyone knows who A&M is. This is type of game that A&M has tried to win over the years and come up short every time. It takes a football team to win a game like this and this was a team effort.

2. Don't turn it over…the last two weeks, because of Auburn's penchant for turning over the ball and Mississippi State's penchant for living off of turnovers, I've posted that if A&M was even or so in turnover ratio that they would win by 14 to 21 points. Well, today is opposite day….A&M doesn't force many turnovers and Alabama doesn't turn it over at all. As a result, Alabama is typically able to win games by that 14 to 21 point margin because they take care of the ball so well. If A&M can be even or just -1 going into the fourth quarter, it's probably a one score game at worst and A&M has a chance to win.

Alabama was -3 in turnovers. A&M was the more physical team and also put Bama in turnover friendly situations for the first time all year.

3. Don't let A.J. McCarron beat you…for all of the talk about the Tide lining up and steamrolling A&M on the ground, no one has really done that to them this year. In particular, A&M has been very successful against Florida and LSU…..the two teams most likely to do that…at holding them to medium gains on first down and keeping them out of third and short. However, the Aggies did have issues with the Gators' Jeff Driskel late in the game running boots and getting outside containment and LSU's receivers were able to get downfield and behind A&M's coverages off of play action (although Zach Mettenberger wasn't able to hit them). McCarron is capable of doing both; in fact, in the national title game last year, Alabama switched gears and moved McCarron outside the pocket off of play action. He not only was able to hit big gains down the field but it opened up Alabama's running game. If McCarron can do that against A&M, then it's going to be a long day for A&M's defense.

McCarron hit some long passes off of play action and did a good job of decision making for the most part. It looked like his last long pass would be the difference except that A&M played great defense in the red zone and then on fourth down put him in predictable situation and DeShazor Everett made the play that needed to be made.

4. Don't be afraid to take chances down the field….as we noted earlier in the week, teams that can protect their quarterback and hit long passes down the field can beat Alabama. A&M is well equipped to do this as they have the best tackle tandem in college football in Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, a quarterback in Johnny Manziel who can extend plays, and Bama lacks the pass rush of some of the other better defenses that A&M has faced this year and their corners were vulnerable to those types of plays last week. If A&M can hit about 20+ yard gains either via the air or Manziel's legs, history says that A&M will score 20+ points have a better chance than most teams of winning this game.

A&M had five gains of 20+ yards. They ran the ball well enough to set up play action (165 yards) and then protected well enough so that Manziel could deliver the ball down the field. Again, look back at the teams that have beaten Bama and they have done the same thing. The blueprint was there and A&M executed it.

5. Don't be afraid to set up play action by banging your head against the wall….teams that generate big plays and beat Bama typically don't run the ball well against them. However, they at least try to run the ball to set up bigger things on subsequent plays. Don't be afraid to gain no yards on a couple of plays….make sure that Bama still respects the running game enough to attempt to defend and open up play action opportunities later on.

Again, 165 rushing and A&M could have had more. As with Auburn and MSU, Alabama simply couldn't figure out what to do with the spread. They hauled their 2009 national title game defense out of mothballs that they used against Texas which meant two high safeties and defensive tackles on the outside shoulder of the guards for pass rush purposes which allowed A&M to run the ball inside enough to set up play action. It's an awful defense if you can run the ball and watching A&M run for 300+ yards the past two weeks you really have to wonder what Nick Saban and Kirby Smart were thinking.

6. How will Bama defend A&M….will Nick Saban go with his man free, one high safety, everyone in the box look? Will he do like Ole Miss and LSU did and get smaller, quicker people on the field to offset Johnny Manziel's mobility? A&M really hasn't indicated that it has a plan to deal with that other than taking advantage of numbers in the box if the other team comes out in a two high safety because those safeties can't get down very well in run support.

The Tide mixed it up but they refused to go the one high safety route far too often. They consistently played two high safeties which allowed A&M to run the ball. In addition, their defenders simply didn't know where to go. On A&M's last touchdown, their free safety aligned himself on the TWO receiver side of a five receiver set. A&M simply ran smash to the other side against man coverage. Just an awful, awful alignment.

7. Johnny Manziel's final exam… Although it's not the last game of the season, in a sense it's end of the semester for him. Manziel has been in class all year long, aced almost every test, and learned something new every week. In fact, he's basically earned a college degree in quarterbacking in a season rather taking four years to do so. He's not just improved his footwork and decision making; he's become devastating at getting A&M into the right play on every play. There's a reason that A&M has punted ONCE in the last two games when he's been on the field, or run for 300+ yards per game, or he hit 30 of 36 passes against Mississippi State. However, today there's no Scantron form to be filled out; rather, it's a 10,000 word essay to be completed in 60 minutes on the toughest defense in college football. His number two pencil has to be sharp…

The pencil stabbed Alabama through the eye. Manziel consistently got A&M in the right play (especially on the first three drives) and was able to get the ball down the field. Most importantly, he didn't throw a pick or come close to doing so. Given the circumstances, I'm not sure that any A&M quarterback has ever played a better football game.

8. On the road again….A&M has played scintillating football away from Kyle Field the past two weeks. They've maintained their poise and executed almost flawlessly in the process. Forget how bad Auburn is or that Mississippi State may not be what they were assumed to be a couple of weeks ago....road teams don't go into opposing stadiums in the SEC and outscore the home team 66-7 over two halves of football. They've come out strong early, taken the crowd out of the game, and kept them out. That's probably not going to happen today because Bama is too good to let that happen but A&M has to maintain its poise and keep mistakes to a minimum.

Turnovers: A&M was +3

Penalties: A&M was just 4 for 26 yards

Strong start: 20-0 after their first three drives.

A&M made fewer mistakes than Alabama and beat them at their own game. They deserved to win.

9. Kicking game...Bama has the best special teams in the country. Don't let them win special teams by a decisive margin.

Alabama's special teams blew their last shot to get the ball back with the offsides call when A&M was punting. It was just another mental error by the Tide in a day full of them.

10. Risky business....don't play Bama's game. Take shots, do the unexpected, go for it on fourth down...you're a 14 point underdog. Make Bama's life miserable by keeping the pressure on and never letting them get comfortable.

Actually, A&M took fewer risks than I thought they would and Alabama wound up taking more. They got away from their running game far too early in possessions and played with a sense of panic and not urgency.

Overall, A&M took a Texas high school offense that people said would never work and combined with playing SEC style defense and focus to win this game. They were more physical, made fewer errors, outrushed the Tide 165-122, and exposed every issue that Alabama displayed against LSU.

If you had a checklist of everything A&M needed to do beat Bama…and this article basically lists out the ten things they needed to do….the Aggies did virtually all of them. In particular, remember that I said that I wasn't that worried about Alabama running the ball because A&M had great success stopping the run. A&M's interior defense whipped Bama's front all day and that forced Alabama out of their comfort zone and contributed to the penalties and turnovers that followed.

A&M deserved to win this game and they did. This was not a fluke. A&M has the better team and right now they are the best team in the SEC.


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