Top-ranked and two-time defending national champion Alabama is opening its Southeastern Conference schedule against an opponent that has surrendered 59 points to Rice and Sam Houston State.
That seemingly would make Saturday’s game a mismatch. But the hype suggests otherwise.
Sixth-ranked Texas A&M is Alabama’s opponent, and the Aggies have a few things going for them despite their leaky defense.
For starters, the Aggies will be at full strength with the return of linebacker Steven Jenkins and cornerback De’Vante Harris from their two-game suspensions. Also, cornerback Deshazor Everett, who has missed the first half of the previous two games for different suspensions, including a targeting penalty, is back.
“Three projected starters are now back in the mix,” Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said Wednesday on the SEC coaches’ teleconference.
Plus, there’s muscle memory. The Crimson Tide lost once last season, at home to Texas A&M 29-24 in November. The outcome could have kept the Tide out of the national title game. But later losses by undefeated Kansas State and Oregon returned the Crimson Tide to the national championship picture.
A&M ambushed the Crimson Tide, which started the game with two three-and-outs and an A.J. McCarron interception. A&M jumped to a 20-0 lead.
And Johnny Manziel clinched the Heisman Trophy that day. His touchdown pass after a scramble and bobble became his signature moment. But he also ran wild on draws and by escaping danger. That day, Manziel rushed 18 times for 92 yards, but more impressively to Alabama coach Nick Saban, Manziel completed 24 of 31 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns.
“Throughout last year, he got better and better every game,” Saban said. “He became a better passer, and he got more and more confident in his ability to throw the ball.”
Manziel played only five series in the Rice game, sitting out the first half as a reprimand for the autograph drama. He played less than three quarters of the Sam Houston State game, throwing for 403 yards and three touchdowns.
Manziel and the offense weren’t issues last weekend. The defense was. Additions will make A&M stronger this week, and they’ll need to be at full strength against a team that has the rare opportunity to avenge a loss.