TRips: Three matchups for the D

Previewing three matchups for the Alabama defense in the top-ranked Crimson Tide's upcoming game against Texas A&M.

Busy Saturday on tap for Mosley.

Alabama linebackers 32 C.J. Mosley (6'2, 232, Jr.); 33 Trey DePriest (6'2, 245, So.) and 35 Nico Johnson (6'3, 245, Sr.) vs. Texas A&M quarterback 2 Johnny Manziel (6'1, 200, rFr.) and running backs 1 Ben Malena (5'8, 195, Jr.) and 33 Christine Michael (5'11, 220, Sr.).

From the UA perspective: Where have you gone, C.J. Mosley? Crimson Tide fans turn their lonely eyes to you (on third-and-two).

After seeing his playing time limited by LSU's two-back personnel, the junior should be rested and ready for the Aggies' vaunted "Air Raid" attack. And really, his presence will be needed in dealing with Manziel's legs as much as Johnny Football's arm.

With Mosley a given, it will be interesting to see who gets more work in the nickel: Johnson or DePriest? Expect a fairly even mix of the two. Mosley, on the other hand, will be needed for the game's entirety, a span that could see the Alabama defense on the field for 80-plus snaps for the second straight week.

From the Texas A&M perspective: If you pick up a strong scent of Texas Tech from a few years back while watching this A&M offense, well, it's literally by design. The connection is Aggies offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, a product of the Mike Leach playing/coaching tree.

It's difficult to talk about Leach and not be reminded of just how good Alabama's 2005 defense was. In the 2006 Cotton Bowl, Texas Tech, working with the kind of diabolical, schematic advantage only Leach and his co-offensive coordinators, Sonny Dykes and Dana Holgorsen, could devise, managed a whopping 10 points in a three-point loss to the Crimson Tide.

So yeah, Saturday's meeting with a Leach disciple will not be Alabama football's initial exposure to a spread offense. Far from it. If anything, Alabama coach Nick Saban built college football's premier defense with the spread in mind.

For the Alabama defense, this game should be what the Michigan game was supposed to be -- and at a much faster pace. Denard Robinson was hardly used as a runner in the opener. That won't be the case this week as Manziel's ability to extend plays with his feet will play a large role in the outcome of this one.

While the diminutive Manziel doesn't bring Tim Tebow or Cam Newton to mind, he doesn't have a problem putting his body in harm's way. And once he reaches the second level, he's as dangerous as Newton was.

Who gets the nod?: The No. 1 rushing offense in the SEC takes on the No. 1 rushing defense in the league.

While Manziel keys the attack, A&M didn't get there solely on the efforts of the SEC's leading rusher. Together, Malena and Michael are contributing 111 rushing yards per game. As A&M's primary backfield duo, Manziel and Malena have combined to rush for 1,559 yards and 6.7 yards per carry.

Between quarterback runs, both designed and improvised, option, zone plays and powers, A&M gives opposing defenses plenty to think about. Ultimately, though, it will come down to something as simple as tackling, a task Manziel can turn into an embarrassing moment for a defender who doesn't take a disciplined approach.

It would be easy to reduce this matchup to Manziel vs. Mosley, but both will need some help from their teammates. Edge to UA.

Alabama outside linebackers 42 Adrian Hubbard (6'6, 248, rSo.) and 47 Xzavier Dickson (6'3, 262, So.) vs. Texas A&M offensive tackles 76 Luke Joeckel (6'6, 310, Jr.) and 75 Jake Matthews (6'5, 305, Jr.).

From the UA perspective: A sexy matchup on paper, but Manziel's wheels will demand a more controlled rush from the Alabama front seven, with the objective being to make the redshirt freshman read coverages and make throws from the pocket.

That means you probably won't see either Hubbard or Dickson going after Manziel with reckless abandon, even when they're in there together in obvious passing situations. Damion Square, Ed Stinson and Quinton Dial will also factor in this matchup, especially on run downs, rotating at end while either Hubbard or Dickson work at jack.

From the Texas A&M perspective: A pair of true juniors Joeckel and Matthews have combined to make 64 consecutive starts at left tackle and right tackle, respectively.

Joeckel, projected as a top 10 pick for the 2013 NFL Draft, has started every game he's dressed for at A&M. Matthews joined him in the starting lineup six games into his true freshman season in 2010.

Amazingly, neither tackle leads the offensive line in career starts. That honor goes to center Patrick Lewis, a Rimington Trophy watch list member who will make his 45th start for the Aggies on Saturday.

Who gets the nod?: Compared to other spread offenses, this isn't your typical finesse-first offensive line. Think more along the lines of what Auburn put on the field in 2010. When the situation call for it, these guys can get downhill on a defense.

With Lewis in the middle and Joeckel and Matthews at the tackles, don't be surprised if A&M comes out in five wides and runs Manziel directly into the teeth of the Alabama defense (especially if UA is in nickel).

In doing that very thing against Mississippi State a week, the message sent by the Aggies' offense was clear: "We're not only more athletic than you, we're also more physical than you."

After piling up 361 rushing yards against the Bulldogs, I'd say the message found its mark. Edge to Texas A&M.

Alabama cornerbacks 28 Dee Milliner (6'1, 199, Jr.) and 13 Deion Belue (5'11, 179, Jr.) and safeties 3 Vinnie Sunseri (6'0, 215, So.) and 27 Nick Perry (6'0, 211, rJr.) vs. Texas A&M wide receivers 13 Mike Evans (6'5, 218, rFr.); 25 Ryan Swope (6'0, 206, Sr.); 5 Kenric McNeal (6'1, 184, Sr.) 7 Uzoma Nwachukwu (6'0, 194, Sr.) and 84 Malcolm Kennedy (6'0, 200, So.).

From the UA perspective: Observers read 298 passing yards for LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger and immediately flashback to the 2010 season, when the Alabama secondary committed coverage busts in critical situations.

It didn't go down that way in Baton Rouge last Saturday night.

More often than not, Crimson Tide defensive backs were in position to make plays. However, between some out-of-his-mind throws from Mettenberger; a few hand transplants for his receivers; and improved play from his offensive line, the Tigers' passing game came up big time after time.

What can't be explained away was the subpar tackling that plagued UA for much of the night. Here's guessing that nearly half of Mettenberger's yardage total against Alabama came on yards after the catch.

Between Manziel-induced fire drills and wide receiver screens, tackling in space will be at a premium this week and it might require an adjustment or two to the Crimson Tide's nickel and dime packages.

From the Texas A&M perspective: As the trigger man for the SEC's second-ranked pass offense, Manziel spreads the wealth. After nine games, seven different A&M receivers have 13 catches or more.

With 56 grabs for 802 yards, Evans is probably the most productive receiver you've never heard of. While he doesn't have explosive outside speed, the redshirt freshman uses his size to make plays against smaller defensive backs.

Swope, the Danny Amendola of the Aggies' passing game, has seemingly been at A&M since the Bucky Richardson era. For his career, the senior has 225 catches for 2,845 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Who gets the nod?: Might we see some changes to Alabama's nickel dime packages this week? Milliner's experience at star gives the defensive staff some flexibility in the secondary.

After giving up 10 third down conversions to LSU last week, the task won't be any easier for the Alabama defense this week. A&M heads to Tuscaloosa with a 54.3 percent conversion rate on thirds, tops in the SEC and third among all FBS teams.

Like a week ago, UA defenders will be in position to make possession-ending plays. The question will be, can they finish them? Edge to UA.

Also see: TRips: Three matchups for the O

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