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Alabama vs. Texas A&M: Can Johnny Manziel Lead Aggies To Upset Win?

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By Dave Miller, National Football Post

Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2 SEC) travels to Alabama (9-0, 6-0) on Saturday afternoon hoping to knock off the defending BCS national champions in Tuscaloosa.

The Crimson Tide leads the series 3-1 and are 13.5-point favorites over the Aggies and can secure a spot in the SEC championship game with a victory. Meanwhile, the Aggies are hoping to spring an upset after falling short in their bids to knock off SEC powers Florida and LSU, losing by a combined eight points.

Can Kevin Sumlin's squad pull the upset? Let's take a look at what the Aggies have to do to pull the upset...

• Johnny Football: The Crimson Tide's defense is so athletic that the Aggies offense should not cause as many problems as an offense that is more physical and downhill. LSU, which runs a pro-style offense, was able to move the football against the Tide because of its physical brand of football. Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger had his best game as a Tiger, which makes me think that Manziel could have more success through the air than on the ground. Not to put too much pressure on Manziel, but he really is the X-Factor in this contest. If he can avoid the rush and stay upright, gain positive yards with his feet even if he doesn't gain huge chunks while staying out of third-and-longs, this A&M offense will have a chance to move the football. But I just think that the Tide's front seven will do a great job of shutting down tailback Christine Michael and corral Manziel just enough so that he faces too many third-and-longs, which will allow Alabama's defense to do its thing. While Manziel performed well in the first halves of games against Florida and LSU this fall, he struggled mightily in the second halves of both contests. And this is an Alabama defense that will pose as many if not more problems than the Gators and Tigers. One stat to keep in mind: as great as Manziel is freelancing outside of the pocket, the Tide has not given up a touchdown and are allowing QBs to complete just 20 percent of their passes when signal-callers break the pocket.

• Rattle McCarron: Alabama's Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback AJ McCarron was calm, cool and collective on the team's final drive to beat LSU last week in Death Valley. He'll be at home this week but will still need to be calm under pressure because he will be facing an Aggies pass rush that features stud end Damontre Moore, who is having a monster season and could declare for the 2013 NFL Draft because of his pass-rushing ability off the edge. A&M had success with its stunts against Mississippi State last week, so Alabama's strong offensive line must recognize and block them. This is an Alabama offense that can wear this defense down, though, as Florida and LSU did. The Tide will use a power-run game with Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon while McCarron will be able to pick his spots in the passing game with receiver Amari Cooper. It will also be interesting to see if offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier throws in just a little no-huddle at times to catch A&M off guard because it worked late last week in the win over LSU.

• The second-half battle: We all remember the collapses that A&M experienced in the second halves of games last season. Even with the Aggies' disappointing play in the second halves against Florida and LSU this fall, they aren't losing in the same fashion as in 2011. In their close victory over LSU last week, the Crimson Tide defense spent a lot of time on the field and looked tired. A&M could tire out this unit in a different way this week, by running its fast-paced offense. I just don't think we'll be able to move the ball easily and will be pressed into moe third-and-longs. Plus, I think the 'Bama offense will be more effective this week. Alabama shouldn't wear down in the second half this week, and the Tide's run game should take control in the second half.

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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