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September 14, 2013

Five matchups to watch for today

There are going to be a lot of great one-on-one battles between Texas A&M and Alabama on Kyle Field today, but here are a look at five of them that might play a key role in deciding today's game:

1) Johnny Manziel vs. C.J. Mosley:

Manziel ran wild on Alabama in the first half and largely frustrated their pass rush all day last Nov. 10 in the Aggies' 29-24 win. This year, it looks like the Tide is going to take the drastic step of taking their best defender -- Mosley -- and assigning him the task of spying Manziel, essentially making him dependent on whatever the Heisman winner does. That could well be a mistake, as A&M's running game is better and the receivers more athletic (and, if they want, bigger) than last year. But it's going to be up to Manziel to make the right play calls to keep Mosley largely out of the picture. And, when he does freelance, he'll have to watch for Mosley to head upfield after him.

2) Deshazor Everett vs. Amare Cooper:

Last year, Cooper had several huge plays against A&M but Everett had the last laugh, jumping in front of Cooper for the end zone interception that killed Alabama's last drive. This year, Cooper is universally acknowledged as Bama's top receiving threat and Everett has provided a significant jolt to the Aggie defense when he's been on the field. His play so far has been superb, as well: 2 tackles for loss and an interception. If Mark Snyder is going to be able to blitz as much as he wants to, he's going to have to get solid coverage from both Everett and Devante Harris against the Tide's wideouts. Covering Cooper will be job one.

3) Donnie Baggs against T.J. Yeldon:

Yeldon is supposed to be Alabama's next great back, but he struggled in Bama's opener against Virginia Tech. Baggs was supposed to be the solution at middle linebacker, but he's been slow and hesitant through two weeks. This week, Alabama's goal will be to get A&M's D-line blocked well enough to get Yeldon to the second level, where Baggs will be waiting. That plan's success or failure could be contingent on Baggs being decisive, making good reads and finishing Yeldon off with a solid tackle. If he doesn't, Tommy Sanders will come in and give up a good bit of size in the process.

4) Christion Jones vs. Toney Hurd Jr.:

Even though Cooper is the top receiver for Alabama, Jones was the gamebreaker (game saver, perhaps?) against Virginia Tech. The speedy athlete lines of frequently in the slot, which means it'll be Hurd's task to defend him. If A&M blitzes a lot, McCarron's going to look for Jones on checkdowns or passes across the middle, and it's going to be the senior defensive back's job to limit the damage Jones does on those kinds of plays.

5) Mike Evans vs. Deion Belue:

Last year, Ryan Swope stole the show for Texas A&M but Evans had 5 catches for a very hard-fought 40 yards. This year, like Cooper, he's the unquestioned top target and offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney feels he has jumped to the "next level."He's been almost unstoppable in the first two weeks of 2013, but Belue is a new level of defender. He's now the top guy for Alabama with Dee Milliner gone, and he's going to have to deal with Evans most of the game. He's giving up 6 inches and 40 pounds to Evans, so if he can't handle him alone, the Tide will have to give him a hand and alter their defensive scheme in the process.

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