COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Texas A&M has rebounded nicely from its season-opening loss at UCLA. But the competition level ramps up considerably Saturday when top-ranked Alabama comes to town.
Alabama has won the past four meetings.
This will be the seventh time the Aggies have played host to the nation’s No. 1 team. The Aggies are 1-5 in those matchups, with the only win coming in 2002 against Oklahoma when true freshman quarterback Reggie McNeal came off the bench and helped A&M rally to the win.
Here are four keys for A&M against Alabama on Saturday.
Get Kellen Mond going early
Facing a Nick Saban defense is a daunting task for any quarterback, let alone a true freshman making only his fifth college start, but that’s the situation for Mond. He fits the mold of quarterbacks who have been able to give Saban defenses problems in the past – mobile with the ability to extend plays a la Johnny Manziel, Chad Kelly and Deshaun Watson. To get the freshman going early, expect the Aggies to lean on the running game with bruising senior RB Keith Ford. If A&M’s offensive line can open some holes early, expect coordinator Noel Mazzone to move the pocket and get Mond some time to try to take the top off the defense.
Have a freshman linebacker step up
Linebacker is arguably the most improved position on the team in 2017, thanks to the play of Otaro Alaka – who was GN’s SEC player of the week last week – and Tyrel Dodson. Defensive coordinator John Chavis loves to stay in the nickel, but expect the Aggies to play more three-linebacker sets to counter Alabama’s physical running game. Who will be the third linebacker? The obvious choices are two freshmen, Anthony Hines or Devodrick “Buddy” Johnson. Johnson has seen more action at the SAM spot, but it may be hard to keep Hines off the field for this one. Expect Hines to see a lot more playing time this week and maybe even make a big play.
Find a way to win the turnover battle
Alabama is notorious for non-offensive touchdowns, scoring 15 last season; the Tide got its first of the season last week on CB Levi Wallace’s TD on an interception return. Two seasons ago, A&M’s Kyle Allen threw three pick-sixes against the Tide. If the Aggies want to make things interesting at Kyle Field, they must win the turnover battle. With the injury to Donovan Wilson, the bulk of the defensive playmaking responsibility has fell on the shoulders of fellow safety Armani Watts. And he’s come through in a big way, with three picks, five tackles for loss, a forced fumble and three pass breakups.
Oh, yeah: Get Christian Kirk the football
I could write this every week. Kirk is A&M’s best player and he’s liable to take it to the house anytime he touches the football. Whether it’s some kind of special return or Mazzone utilizing quick screens, Kirk must see more of the football than he did against South Carolina (six touches) if the Aggies are to have a chance against the Tide.
(You can follow Dalton Hughes on Twitter @_DaltonHughes)
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