Thursday, September 12, 2013

Saban vs. Manziel--Edge to Saban

Saturday's must-see match between No.1 Alabama and No.6  Texas A&M, on the Aggies home field in College Station, can be narrowed down to this: Bama coach Nick Saban vs. A&M's Heisman-Trophy winning QB Johnny Manziel, alias Johnny Football.

Here's the key question: Can Manziel beat Saban two years in a row? The answer is no, but a very shaky no. Most bettors don't think so either. That's why the Tide is favored by 7 1/2.

Insiders close to Saban say losing last November to Texas A&M, 29-24, a win engineered by Manziel, has gnawed at Saban like no other loss. Not only did the Aggies whip Bama in Tuscaloosa, but it was the lone blemish on the 13-1 season. Being beaten by a swaggering, rowdy rebel like Manziel, who tramples on the traditions Saban savors, makes that loss sting even worse.

To stop Manziel, you need a lightening quick, high-powered defense, one with speed on the ends, plenty of athleticism at the linebacker positions and skilled cover-men in the secondary. Bama certainly has that. As usual, its defense is one of  the best in college football. Of course Bama had a superb defense last year too but it was putty in the hands of master Manziel.

What's likely to happen Saturday is that Bama will control the game via running. The key stat is that A&M is ranked near the bottom nationally in rushing defense, giving up 273 yards per game. What really makes Bama salivate is that all these yards were run up by patsies--Rice and Sam Houston State. A nobody SH State back named Timothy Flanders rushed for 170 yards in 19 carries. If lower-tier runners can trash the A&M defense, Bama's T.J. Weldon,  the best RB in the SEC, should run wild. Bama's offensive line, which lost three All-Americans, isn't the steamroller it was last year but, featuring NFL-ready Cyrus Kouandjio, it's still an elite outfit. This O line figure to flatten the A&M defense, which has looked shoddy so far against two weak teams..

In its 35-10 win over Va Tech,  Alabama hardly looked like a No.1 team. Gaining only 206 yards, the Tide offense stumbled and Yeldon, with just 75 yards in 17 carries, was largely contained. Bama's defense, however, was in top form. That unit will have to be in full butt-kicking mode to mow down Manziel.

An Aggie upset wouldn't be a surprise. The Aggies have a killer offense--high-scoring, quick, versatile, with remarkable talent at the skill positions and an unstoppable force in Manziel, who's actually improved a notch or two in key areas like footwork,  reading defenses, accuracy and decision-making. And just as important, as a team leader, he has no peer in college ball..

But in college football coaching, Saban has no peer. This game is a battle between these two giants.
The biggest advantage Alabama has is that it's powered by the iron will of Saban. Losing twice in a row to Manziel would be, to Saban, the low point of his career.. It would haunt him forever, eating away at his ego.. His players, who are dedicated to him, know that too. They'll funnel everything they have into beating A&M. On the other side, though, Manziel's effort will be just as ferocious.

But it probably won't be enough.