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November 4, 2012

HURT: Tide's focus quickly turns to Aggies

Injuries are a major concern for all college football teams this fall, so the University of Alabama will have to take precautionary measures to avoid a collective case of team whiplash this week.

The sudden head spin could be caused by having to switch for a game against a tough, physical LSU team to the fast-paced, no-huddle high-scoring offense of Texas A&M.

The Aggies aren't quite Oregon in Kevin Sumlin's first season as head coach but they are close as the Crimson Tide will come unless they meet the Ducks in Miami.

Texas A&M - especially its amazing young quarterback, Johnny Manziel, are the fastest show in the league when they have the ball, and the Aggies catch Alabama at its most bumped-and-bruised in the wake of a 60-minute street fight in Baton Rouge.

It isn't a perfect schedule spot for the Aggies either, since they will be making their third straight road trip into the Deep South in three weeks. But travel fatigue isn't likely to slow them down. The SEC's tougher defenses (Florida and LSU) have been tougher sledding for A&M, but in the past two weeks, in Auburn and Starkville, they have put 101 points and a staggering 1,364 yards of total offense.

Manziel, the SEC's leading rusher and the No. 2-ranked quarterback in the NCAA in total offense, is the star of the show (although I promise to use the "Johnny Football" nickname sparingly this week) but he isn't the whole show.

The Aggies have good running backs and solid receivers and perhaps the best pair of offensive tackles in college football in Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel (although votes for the D.J. Fluker/Cyrus Kouandjio ticket will be considered as well.) First, however, Manziel has to be contained.

In the recent past, Alabama has seen many of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the game (the notable exception would be Robert Griffin III). The Crimson Tide has faced Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Denard Robinson with fairly decent to mixed results, generally relying on a strategy of containing those dual threats in the pocket as much as possible and making them win by passing and not running, if they could.

Whether that same strategy will be used against Manziel, either exclusively or as part of a spectrum of changing defenses, is a secret Nick Saban will keep to himself. But as Mississippi State learned last Saturday, you can't simply sit back and hope.

The game will also be an interesting psychological test for Alabama. The Crimson Tide might be scared by its close call in Baton Rouge, or it might be inspired by it. At least there will be no more questions on whether not having been in a close game is a concern.

Alabama could come out determined not to be in that position again, to have its BCS dreams hanging by a thread. That, Saban said in his post-game remarks, is the goal, a brief celebration of a memorable win that will be truly historic only if lessons are learned from it. The home crowd, which has been good if a bit spoiled this season, may also have renewed post-LSU vigor.

The questions about whether Alabama has faced a test are now a thing of the past. But there is no promise that beating LSU was the final exam. It was probably the first of several tests - starting with Texas A&M.



Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.



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