Texas A&M faces huge challenge in dealing with Alabama after bye week

Posted Sunday, Sep. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Somewhere in his office, Alabama football coach Nick Saban is reviewing videotapes of Texas A&M. Or preparing to do so.

It is happening this very minute, regardless of what time you are reading this article. And your team is in serious jeopardy if you are an Aggies fan.

At least, that is Saban’s reputation. Particularly when given additional time to prepare for a matchup, as the top-ranked Crimson Tide (1-0) received during last week’s open date before Saturday’s showdown at No. 6 Texas A&M (2-0).

Plenty of A&M fans, as well as the team’s high-profile quarterback, have raised questions about whether Saban and his staffers, who admittedly began working on an A&M game plan during spring drills, will benefit from the extra preparation time.

Gosh, let’s think. Do any of these scores ring a bell?

• Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14.

• Alabama 21, LSU 0.

• Alabama 41, Michigan 14.

The first two examples occurred during the past two BCS National Championship Games, when the Crimson Tide had more than a month to formulate its game plans. The rout of Michigan came in the 2012 season opener, when Alabama turned a showdown between Top 10 teams into a mismatch of epic proportions in Arlington.

Granted a full off-season to prepare its defensive tactics, Saban & Co. derailed the Heisman Trophy hopes of elusive Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson. That cleared the way for another dual-threat performer, A&M’s Johnny Manziel, to claim college football’s top individual honor.

After Saturday’s 65-28 spanking of Sam Houston State, Manziel said A&M benefited more by defeating an FCS foe than Alabama did by resting its starters and studying videotapes because, “We got in another full-speed game to play before they did.… To go out and get some of these young guys up to speed, that’s really hard to do in practice.”

True. But Alabama, unlike A&M, is not leaning on a laundry list of incoming freshmen to fill out its depth chart heading into Saturday’s much-anticipated matchup (2:30 p.m., KTVT/Ch. 11). The Tide’s offensive line is in transition but its offensive playmakers, as well as its rock-ribbed defense, are proven commodities.

Say what you will about the sluggish ’Bama offense in its 35-10 victory over Virginia Tech to open the season. I’ll respond that Saban, quarterback A.J. McCarron and running back T.J. Yeldon were saving all of their fresh offensive wrinkles for Saturday, when they will be unveiled against an A&M defense that has yet to take the field with all of its projected starters because of early-season suspensions.

How long has Saban been studying A&M, whose school logos were displayed in the Tide weight room for at least one week this summer?

“We look at a lot of opponents before spring practice. We make mental notes of what we want to do in the spring,” Saban said during a Thursday news conference in conjunction with the start of game-week preparations for A&M. “And we study in the summertime about every opponent. We put together a pretty thorough scouting report at that time. We do that so that, in the week of preparation, it’s not the first time we’ve seen what we will do.”

Asked about playing in College Station, Saban said: “We have a big challenge coming up. It will challenge our mettle in a lot of ways, especially mental toughness.”

Translation: A&M has been on Saban’s radar since the Tide pounded Notre Dame 42-14 to secure last season’s BCS title. A&M’s 29-24 victory in last year’s matchup still resonates with Alabama players, who sounded hungry to get a shot at the Aggies during the SEC media days in July. During interviews last week, cornerback John Fulton told reporters that video projectors rarely sit silent in Alabama meeting rooms.

“I try to watch film on anyone I can, like daily,” Fulton said.

Important disclaimer: Saban and his Alabama crew did not invent the advance preparation process. The same steps have been going on at A&M, without question, for just as long. No one is saying A&M will be underprepared Saturday or has no chance to win.

The point is that Alabama, under Saban, is remarkably good at making the most of these opportunities when granted more than a week to prepare for an opponent. If A&M can overcome that and win Saturday, the Aggies deserve consideration to be the nation’s new No. 1 team at this juncture next week. But that’s a huge “if.”

The schedule maker has granted Alabama two more A&M-specific workouts for this game than the Aggies will have to prepare for the Tide. That’s simply a fact. If A&M can win despite that, the Aggies truly are a rare team on this year’s college football landscape.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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