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TRips: Three questions revisited

Revisiting three questions for top-ranked Alabama following its 29-24 loss to No. 15 Texas A&M at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

CJ Mosley led all UA defenders in tackles with 14 stops.

How much did the LSU win take out of Alabama?

TRips Friday: 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.

TRips Sunday: In his post-game press conference, Alabama head coach Nick Saban said he sensed a dip in emotion from his team in the latter stages of the practice week.

Perhaps that explains the missed tackles, ill-advised pass rush lanes and abandonment of coverage responsibilities that contributed to A&M's 20-0 first-quarter lead.

Or maybe this was who the Alabama defense was all along and it took the last two opponents to bring it to light.

In producing a slew of turnovers through the first eight games of the season, Kirby Smart's crew had been more disciplined than dynamic. Assignment sound, play within the scheme and wait for the opposing offense to hand the ball over.

The approach worked well until the defense came across a pair of hot-handed quarterbacks who took care of the football. And with that, the run on turnovers dried up.

Being in position wasn't enough to produce takeaways against LSU. Being out of position against the Aggies was enough for the Crimson Tide to find itself facing its biggest deficit since the South Carolina game in 2010.

While no one would argue that UA's defensive back seven is devoid of talent, there's also no arguing that this collection of linebackers and defensive backs are somewhat limited in what they can do beyond the stated job requirement.

And that's why the Alabama defense couldn't afford many missteps in its attempt to contain Manziel. Instead, it had more than a few during the early stages of Saturday's game and Manziel responded by treating UA defenders like Friday night fodder back in his high school playing days in Kerrville, Tex.

As if the zero in the takeaway column wasn't bad enough, third down was a major letdown once again for the UA defense. In its last two games, Alabama opponents -- LSU and A&M -- have converted 21 of 38 third down opportunities. And If it weren't for cornerback John Fulton's Marquis Johnson-against-Alshon Jefferey-in-2009 impersonation against the Aggies it would have been worse.

Ultimately, Alabama was good enough defensively for three quarters to win the game. It was also bad enough in the opening fifteen minutes of play that it needed to be better than good in the final 45 minutes of action to escape with a win.

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

TRips Friday: 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.

TRips Sunday: After rushing for 74 yards in the first quarter, Manziel was held to 18 for the remainder of the game, so give the Alabama defense some credit for stopping the bleeding after having its jugular nicked early in the contest.

However, with A&M racing to a big early lead, the Aggies' offense was never put in the position of being one-dimensional. And when it needed points the most, Manziel stepped forward, directing a two-play, 66-yard scoring drive that featured the two best throws by either quarterback all afternoon.

As for Mosley, he performed as expected, racking up 14 tackles, including a stop of Manziel on a fourth-down play that came up a yard short, and a third-quarter sack that nearly went for a safety. Other than Mosley, though, defensive heroes were few and far between for Alabama.

Can the A&M defense matchup with UA offense?

TRips Friday: 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.

TRips Sunday: We all know a guy isn't officially a head coach, coordinator or starting quarterback at Alabama until he loses a game. Following the Crimson Tide's loss to A&M, Doug Nussmeier officially checked in as Alabama's offensive coordinator.

Not that he should care, but Nussmeier opened himself up to an offseason's worth of second-guessing when he (or was it Saban?) dialed up three passes from inside the Aggies' 7 on a fourth-quarter drive that ended with a McCarron interception that may have ended Alabama's chances of a BCS Championship repeat.

Given the billing of UA's offensive line as the very best in the country combined with a pair of powerful running backs who had already reached the paint in the game, the sequence didn't exactly jive with the identity Saban set out to achieve back in 2007,

That said, some other scoring opportunities that went by the boards couldn't be pinned on the play caller. For the next decade or so, a good number of you will ponder how different the outcome might have been if fourth-quarter deep balls to Amari Cooper and Kenny Bell had finished in the end zone. If Cooper and Bell catch those passes in full stride, turnovers that followed each of those big plays don't happen.

And really, mistakes are what this game came down to. At plus-three in turnover margin, A&M played cleaner than Alabama, a team previously hailed for its efficient play.

Considering that the Crimson Tide is minus-five in turnover margin the past two weeks, it wouldn't be a stretch to say this team was fortunate to get through LSU and A&M with a split.

As it is, over the next few weeks Alabama fans will be in the all-too-familiar position of rooting for teams that can help push the Crimson Tide back into the BCS title hunt. If UA doesn't get some assistance from others down the stretch, this November home loss won't be as easy to forget as the one from a year ago.

Friday's prediction: Alabama 31, Texas A&M 19.
Saturday's score: Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24.

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