If you’re a half-full glass type you are chomping at the bit about A&M playing Alabama. You feel there’s no way the Crimson Tide can stop A&M’s offense. The Aggies had 714 yards in Saturday night’s 65-28 victory over Sam Houston State. The only reason the Aggies didn’t top the school record of 774 is that head coach Kevin Sumlin called off the dogs. But it will happen. This offense is better than last year’s that went to Alabama and scored on its first three possessions en route to that infamous 29-24 victory. Optimistic fans expect A&M to have that many points Saturday by halftime.
But if you’re more the half-empty glass type, you might concede that A&M will score a pair of touchdowns in its first three possessions, but your concern is that the Aggies could be trailing 21-14 after the way A&M’s run defense has been gouged.
A&M’s defense, which last season played a huge part in complementing the offense and Heisman winner Johnny Manziel en route to a 11-2 record, is off to a rocky start against the run, traditionally an Alabama strength.
A&M already has allowed 546 yards rushing. That’s almost a third of last season’s total of 1,814. Frightening numbers, but hard to gauge because of all the suspensions the unit has had — eight of the 27 players listed on A&M’s depth chart for the opener have missed time. Senior defensive tackle Kirby Ennis and junior safety Floyd Raven Sr., were out for Rice. Junior defensive end Gavin Stansbury, sophomore cornerback De’Vante Harris and senior linebacker Steven Jenkins missed Rice and Sam Houston State. And junior cornerback Deshazor Everett was suspended for the first half of both games, and freshman defensive end Daeshon Hall was suspended for the first half of SHSU. If that wasn’t enough, sophomore end Julien Obioha, who along with Jenkins had 23 of the unit’s combined 71 career starts heading into the season, missed the SHSU game for an undisclosed injury.
All the suspended players are expected back for Alabama, but will they be in top form or even close to it? And even if they are, will the revamped unit be able to put the clamps on Alabama? At least six of those who started Game 2 likely will remain in the starting lineup after giving up 351 yards through three quarters against SHSU, and that included 194 yards in the third quarter alone. SHSU is a good Football Championship Subdivision team, having played for the title the last two seasons, but the Bearkats are a much inferior team as was Rice, a decent Conference USA team that rushed for 306 yards against A&M.
Neither Rice nor SHSU being a pedigree team could help explain some of A&M’s offensive exploits, but only some. Manziel has been almost unstoppable since his return from a half-game suspension for a violation of an inadvertent NCAA rule regarding signing autographs. Manziel has had 15 drives, 10 of them ending in touchdowns along with two field goals and a missed field goal.
But it’s not just Manziel. He’s surrounded with firepower. Junior backup quarterback Matt Joeckel had six series in the first half against Rice, leading A&M to four touchdowns. True freshman Kenny Hill completed his first two passes Saturday night to take A&M into the end zone. So out of 22 meaningful series, they’ve had 17 scores. That’s impressive no matter who the opposition was.
And the half-full glass vs. half-empty glass approach isn’t confined to A&M this week.
Two-time defending champ Alabama is coming off a so-so 35-10 victory over unranked Virginia Tech, once the pride of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Alabama rushed for only 96 yards on 38 carries (2.5 average), a far cry from last season’s average of 227.5 yards per game which was 16th best in the country. Senior quarterback AJ McCarron was sacked four times and threw an interception. He had but 110 yards on 10-of-23 passing as Alabama leaned on its defense — or Virginia Tech’s inept offense — and Christian Jones’ punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns.
Could Alabama be overrated?
Virginia Tech is coming off its worst season since 1992 , but the Hokies would be heavy favorites in matchups with Rice or SHSU. And the Tech game might pay huge dividends because Alabama had an open week to iron out its problems. Remember last year when many thought A&M would win its Southeastern Conference opener after error-prone Florida struggled in its opener to beat Bowling Green? Florida, though, came to Kyle Field and played a nearly flawless game, not having a turnover and only three penalties in a 20-17 hard-fought victory.
The A&M-Florida game taught us not to put too much stock into nonconference games in regards to comparisons, and that goes whether you’re a half-full or a half-empty person.
Alabama opened as a seven-point pick and the line immediately went to nine. The over/under is 63 and a half points.
Robert Cessna’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.