The staff at Ponypride.com, the SMU site on the Rivals network, asked AY's Jeff Tarpley for his thoughts on Saturday's game. Here's what he had to say:
How well do you think A&M is rebounding from the close loss against Alabama?
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said that they are putting the loss behind them and that seems to be the case in talking to the coaches and players. Most of the conversations this week have swirled around a defense ranked in the hundred's in most major statistical categories. That's because the Aggies were perhaps just one or two stops from winning that game and if they want to make a BCS bowl or even put themselves in position to play for a national title, their margin for error in a few games is going to be really narrow if the defense doesn't get better.
Other than Manziel, which lesser known players should SMU fans keep an eye on during the game?
Receiver Mike Evans is no longer lesser known after last Saturday so we'll leave him off of that list. The offensive line is one of the best in the country and redshirt freshman guard Germain Ifedi is fast becoming one of the better interior guys around. He's massive at 6 foot 5, 311 pounds and just mauls people in the run game. In fact, the offensive line as a whole just gets good push in the running game and have great athleticism in pass protection. It's hard for opposing defenses to play on A&M's side of the ball.
Running back Ben Malena is a really dependable runner, blocker, pass receiver, and leader. He sets an example for the younger guys. Senior receiver Derel Walker is beginning to come on and had six receptions versus Alabama. He's physical and has good hands. Slot Malcolme Kennedy has emerged as a productive receiver in the red zone and Tra Carson is a 230 pound back who has proved that he's more than a short yardage specialist.
What is better about Johnny Manziel this season than last year?
While everyone was focusing on his off the field antics, he was busy improving his footwork, delivery, and arm strength. In addition, A&M coaches worked very hard to stay in the pocket longer and keep his eyes down the field. As a result, he's averaging over ten yards an attempt while maintaining around a 70% completion rate. He's still able to elude defenders for big gains rushing or to buy time to deliver the ball. Finally, it's rare that he makes a bad decision or forces a throw. We told people all off season that he was going to be a better quarterback and no one believed us until the Alabama game.
Is there any matchup that A&M seems worried about when it comes to SMU?
A&M has scored offensive touchdowns on 21 of its 41 possessions so far this season and five of those came with backup quarterbacks in the game. Defensively, the Aggies are still trying to get personnel that were suspended for the first two games back to where they were last year and also work some freshmen into the lineup. That's all going to take time and it's doubtful that all of these problems will be solved by late Saturday night. They need to prove that they can stop the run even against teams with inferior personnel so that's a start right there. They also need younger guys and veterans who haven't played well to stand up.
How do you see this game playing out?
A&M scored 103 points in the first three quarters against Rice and Sam Houston combined and those teams may be better defensively than SMU. In particular, SMU has struggled to stop the pass which means that A&M won't just score a lot of points but they'll do it quickly. Even though the Aggies' defense hasn't played well, they gave up 59 points total between the Owls and Bearkats so look for the Aggies to have a big advantage by halftime of this game…a minimum of two touchdown lead…and wind up comfortably beating a four touchdown spread.
See the above. Last year's game had a 45 point differential and I don't see it being much different this year unless the Aggies take their foot off the gas early in the second half.