Saban and Bama, Manziel and Texas A&M showdown Saturday - KPTV - FOX 12

Hot Reads: Put up points and shut up Johnny Manziel

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Johnny Manziel wouldn't mind rubbing a second straight win over Alabama in the faces of Crimson Tide fans. (Source: Texas A&M Athletics) Johnny Manziel wouldn't mind rubbing a second straight win over Alabama in the faces of Crimson Tide fans. (Source: Texas A&M Athletics)
Butch Jones has brought a new look and new feel to Knoxville, and they get their first major test against Oregon. (Source: Tennessee Athletics) Butch Jones has brought a new look and new feel to Knoxville, and they get their first major test against Oregon. (Source: Tennessee Athletics)
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(RNN) - It has been said recently that the SEC Championship game is the real stage for deciding the BCS title winners, and recent history makes that hard to dispute.

But it's hard to keep the mind from drifting to the thought that Alabama's trip to College Station might have that type of impact.

That's a shocking thought for so early in the season, but hey, this is an era of instant returns. So perhaps the gurus in the SEC corporate office knew that waiting until November was better for business, err, we mean the spirit of the game.

And we're moving, people, we're moving…

SEC vs. SEC

Alabama at Texas A&M, 3:30 p.m. Saturday

It's hard to believe we're going into the third week of the season and Hot Reads is just now talking about the NFC South's honorary member, Alabama.

The most recent national champion (since Nick Saban haaaates the word defending) faces that shifty, little Heisman dude (since we're sure Johnny Manziel doesn't care how you refer to him).

College football just doesn't get much better. Am I right, Oklahoma State fans?

In our best singing voice, we ask: "How do you solve a problem like Manziel?" If only he were a happy-go-lucky ex-nun that makes clothes out of old drapery, the answer would be simple.

But since there's obviously nothing saintly about last year's Heisman winner, Alabama has to turn to old-fashioned X's and O's.

"From a strategic standpoint, I think that any time you play someone you learn a little about what they did against you," Saban said Monday during his weekly media conference. "You learn about what you did against them, and then you see some of the things that they may do to take advantage of that."

Here's what Alabama probably learned. Letting four linemen put their hand in the ground and rush Manziel straight up will get you killed.

Alabama's defense, as great as it was last season, didn't have the overall speed of LSU or Florida. That wasn't a huge problem as long as they brought their trademark discipline to the field, which unfortunately, was also lacking in this game last year.

LSU provided a textbook study on how to stop the Aggies. They faked the rush off the edge with a defensive end or linebacker and dropped that guy back to the middle to spy on the backfield. That takes away a couple of running lanes and forces Manziel to make more decisions in less time.

Easier said than done for the Tide. They don't seem to have a guy both quick enough to drop back in coverage and physical enough to stuff the run. Because the Aggies' offense has a lot of moving parts, the defense needs players that are comfortable moving around just as fluidly.

To truly understand why Manziel is so dangerous, we have to talk about "the play." You know, the one on third and goal where he scrambled, almost lost the football and then somehow with his arm dragging behind him fired a perfect spiral to Ryan Swope in the back of the end zone?

The most important thing about that play is actually what happened before the snap.

Manziel - in the same formation that got him a 32-yard completion into the red zone two plays earlier - noticed the secondary didn't shift from zone to man coverage right before the snap, which they did previously. He looked to the sideline for an audible, forcing safety Robert Lester to show his hand by sliding to cover one of three receivers lined up out left.

On that big first-down throw, Manziel faked a run and then pulled back to pass, but this time he did the opposite. He immediately looked to the left side of the field. Every player in coverage drifted that way and left a running lane to the end zone. In his excitement, Manziel almost created a college version of the "butt fumble," but he somehow stayed on his feet, kept control of the ball and extended the play long enough to get it to Swope.

Most freshmen might have gone with their first pre-snap read and made a stupid play, but most freshmen aren't QB1 for Texas A&M.

Love him, hate him, troll him on Twitter or whatever else - but you can't deny he's more than just a good athlete scampering around on the field.

Honestly, Hot Reads doesn't care if Manziel celebrates by flashing fake money or break dancing in the end zone. Any fan who wants to keep him from ticking them off has two options - root for him or desperately hope your team can stop him.

Vanderbilt at South Carolina, 7 p.m. ET Saturday

Who else thinks it is totally conceivable that South Carolina can lose again this weekend?

Given what has gone on the first two weeks of the season, don't snicker at the thought.

Vanderbilt is not exactly impressing anyone with their stomping of Austin Peay, but this is not the type of team you want to play early in the season with healthy bodies and high hopes.

That first-quarter offense, though... The Commodores scrounged up just 36 yards in the first 15 minutes against Ole Miss. They rolled up 116 in the first quarter against Austin Peay, but they only had a field goal to show for it.

That can't happen against the Gamecocks. Giving them a lead early in the game is like throwing blood out to sharks. That defense will do nothing but pin its ears back and attack the backfield.

Speaking of Carolina's defense, we hear some folks around the program are a bit grumpy. Talk of scared quarterbacks and the Heisman has turned to saving face and just being able to make it through a game without tossing cookies.

If Hot Reads may offer a little front porch wisdom… Let your play do the talking. If you have to go around telling people what you are, you ain't much.

There's life outside the SEC?

Tennessee at Oregon, 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday

This game might get very interesting. At the very least, it's a glimpse into the future.

Tennessee's offense under new coach Butch Jones has shades of Oregon streaked in it. Nowhere near as fast and with nowhere near as many offensive options, the run-based spread is still the foundation of the Volunteers' current philosophy.

You better believe the boys in orange will be taking notes, and that could mean headaches for SEC defenses later this year.

But you're like, "Well, Tennessee's defense gave up a million points last season."

That was last season. That was a year with nowhere near as much focus on conditioning and without up-and-coming star safety Brian Randolph. Speaking of injuries, defensive end Jacques Smith is returning from a fractured thumb, which will definitely help.

"Long way to go," Jones said of his team. "We're learning how to win, we're learning how to fight through fatigue when it gets a little bit hot. Need more leadership, and that's what championship football teams do. They have that inner drive."

The forecast is 87 degrees in Eugene on Saturday, so hope that's not too discouraging, coach.

But you're like, "Tennessee's schedule is B-R-U-T-A-L."

When teams play opponents like Austin Peay and Western Kentucky, the coaches look at how well their players executed. The Vols did a lot of small things wrong - poor angles on missed tackles, hitting the wrong holes on the read option, receivers dropping passes.

But again, those are small things, and there was noticeable improvement between halves last week. So what we're talking about is a team with a new system, new quarterback and semisolid chemistry that beat their first two opponents by outrunning them.

Those are the ingredients of a squad that could be very scary, and way sooner than people think.

Stat of the Week

5: No team has ever led the SEC in scoring defense for five consecutive seasons, something Alabama could accomplish this year. The only other team to lead the league in scoring defense four consecutive years was Auburn (1986-89).

Copyright 2013 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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