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TRips: Three questions for UA-TAMU

Three questions for top-ranked Alabama (9-0, 6-0) as it heads into Saturday's meeting (2:30 p.m. CT/CBS) with No. 15 Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2) at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Dee Milliner and the rest of the UA defense will be asked to make plays in space this week.

How much did the LSU win take out of Alabama?

This should become clear rather quickly; as in, the first few series of the game.

The focus will be on an Alabama defense that absorbed the equivalent of 45 body shots (number of called LSU runs) while being on the field for 85 total plays in Baton Rouge last Saturday.

Led by quarterback Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M's offense, an uptempo attack that would have no problem working within the NBA's 24-second shot clock, has been quick to register points, scoring on seven of its nine opening drives in 2012.

With opposing defenses struggling to adapt to the rigorous pace, Oregon East has outscored its opponents 96-34 in the first quarter. While impressive, Alabama has been even more dominant early in games, dropping a 104-6 first-quarter hammer on its nine victims to date.

Even after last week's exhausting win, Alabama's legs should be fine. A&M's offensive tempo will make it difficult to substitute between plays, but the Crimson Tide defense is deep enough up front to keep guys fresh from series to series.

More than anything physically related, Alabama's emotional status will be something to keep an eye on early.

Did the win at LSU invigorate a team that was less than two minutes away from playing for nothing in January? Or did it leave a lasting hangover, the kind that the Aggies capitalized on a week ago when Mississippi State missed the team bus to Scott Field?

If teeing it up against a team whose quarterback goes by the nickname of Johnny Football isn't enough to motivate the UA defense, silencing the "Alabama has been exposed" noise should be.

Of greater importance are those carrots known as SEC and national titles. The ring, after all, is still the thing in Tuscaloosa. And the route to the gemologist these days passes by Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Will the Texas A&M offense be able to make yards on the ground against Alabama's nickel package?

Ultimately, this is what the game will come down to for the Aggies.

If forced to throw 50 times against the Alabama defense, the closest Manziel will come to a Heisman Trophy Saturday will be John David Crow's, the former Aggie who won the award as a player on Coach Paul Bryant's 1957 A&M team and later allowed it to be displayed at the Bryant Museum.

While he's a decent passer, Manziel depends on the threat of the run to bolster his accuracy in the passing game. Without that threat, defenses can devote more people to coverage, which leads to smaller passing windows and an increased probability of turnovers.

In the past, spread offenses have struggled to run the football against Alabama's nickel and dime packages, much less its base defense. Its ability to slow down the run with a six-man box has gone a long way in UA faring well against offenses like the one it will see this week.

With Manziel, the SEC's leading rusher, at the controls, the A&M running game will pose a legitimate challenge to linebacker CJ Mosley, UA's one-man version of the "spread killer", and the rest of Alabama defense.

We know Mosley can make plays in space. After coming up short on more than one occasion at LSU, the rest of the defense will need to do the same.

Can the A&M defense matchup with UA offense?

Believe it or not, there will be times in the game when Alabama will have possession of the football. Crimson Tide fans are hoping those stretches amount to more than the 20 minutes and change AJ McCarron and his mates had it for a week ago.

As much as everyone talks about how difficult the A&M offense is to prepare for, here's guessing the Aggies' defense hasn't seen a unit that dictates the action like the Crimson Tide's does. LSU was physical, but it was anything but well-orchestrated when the Tigers faced A&M on Oct. 20.

There's nothing sandlot about Alabama's approach. All the film study in the world can't prepare A&M's front seven for what a pulling Chance Warmack will do once he reaches his intended target.

The biggest mismatch in this game can be found where Warmack, Barrett Jones and Anthony Steen thrive. And that's why A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, a guy who doesn't mind dialing up pressure, will take his chances against McCarron and the rest of the Alabama passing game.

Spurred by last week's finish at LSU, look for the junior quarterback to return to the form he displayed over the first eight games of the season. Manziel will put up some yards and points, but McCarron will get his 22nd win in 23 starts.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Texas A&M 19.

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