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November 9, 2012

Aggies like to spread out opposing defenses

TUSCALOOSA | If the University of Alabama's offense exposed then-undefeated Mississippi State defensively in a 38-7 win two weeks ago, Texas A&M introduced an entirely new definition for the term 'exposed' a week later.

The Crimson Tide is completing preparations to face the Aggies for the first time in 24 years Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. And Texas A&M's most recent game, a 38-13 thrashing of the Bulldogs, is all the Alabama defense needs to see to know a tough challenge awaits.

The Aggies piled up 693 yards of offense against MSU and scored touchdowns on its first three possessions. And they did it by making the Bulldogs miss tackle after tackle in the open field. Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin's offense spreads out opposing defenses and is predicated on setting up as many open-field tackling situations as possible. Miss those tackles, and the Southeastern Conference's most prolific offense (44 points and 559 yards per game) will light up the scoreboard.

"Certainly you have to do a good job against this quarterback (Johnny Manziel) but they have a lot of good skill guys who are hard to tackle," UA coach Nick Saban said.

"They are bigger guys, they run with the ball well. Then they have some guys who are fast, some really good backs. By the nature of their offense, the way they spread you out, there are going to be a lot of one-on-one situations where guys are going to have to do a really good job of tackling."

One of UA's best open-field tacklers, linebacker C.J. Mosley, plays nearly every snap when Alabama plays against spread offenses like TAMU's. Mosley leads the team in tackles from the weak side linebacker position, and is Alabama's best linebacker in pass coverage.

"Coach always talks about it, when we're at practice and we miss tackles in the open field," Mosley said. "It's just about stopping your feet and knowing that the 10 men next to you are going to be running after the ball, too, so not stopping your feet, just taking the momentum and taking the play."

The open-field tackling challenge comes just a week after the Crimson Tide played what Nick Saban called its worst defensive effort "by far."

Texas A&M's offense will do what it can to make that a trend, while Alabama has worked to make it a one-time setback.

"We made a bunch of mistakes, not only tackling but also a bunch of mistakes on the field (mentally)," said safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. "We've corrected that and now we're moving forward."

To go with that spread attack, Texas A&M operates a no-huddle offense to maintain a high tempo, limit defensive substitutions, and tire out the opposition. Just as Ole Miss and Missouri did against Alabama previously this year, TAMU will try to run as many offensive plays as possible. Last week, the Aggies snapped 97 plays against the Bulldogs - 58 rushes and 39 passes. MSU coach Dan Mullen suggested that his defense isn't geared to stop spread offenses as well as more traditional, more physical styles.

"We're a pretty physical unit, when we go out there and play," Mullen said. "That's one thing we're kind of always known for, being physical and kind of smashing people. I think your schedule, I mean we've played a lot more spread teams this year, that have spread it out all over the field. That maybe takes away from the physical pounding that we usually are getting into in the trenches."

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.

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