Johnny Football meets Roll Tide in the marquee match-up of Week 11. The Bear Bryant Bowl is realistically Alabama’s final hurdle before the SEC championship, while for Texas A&M, this is an opportunity to mark its SEC mark. The Aggies have more than exceeded expectations for their debut in the nation’s most celebrated conference, but nothing could announce A&M’s presence (or slightly compensate for Alabama’s pilfering of Bryant decades ago) like derailing the Tide’s BCS train.
Other BCS front runners Oregon and Notre Dame face contests they should win, though the Fighting Irish learned last week not to take anything for granted. Kansas State certainly won’t be able to overlook Gary Patterson’s TCU Horned Frogs, one of the match-ups in this edition of the Saturday Six-Pack. The great mystery of Week 11 is if Heisman Trophy pace setter Collin Klein will play — and if he does, how effective will he be?
Mystery? Better get
Scooby-Doo Johnny Football on the case! If Klein doesn’t play or is limited, the redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel could make serious moves in the Heisman chase with a stellar performance against Alabama.
TEXAS A&M at ALABAMA
We have previously seen this incarnation of the Nick Saban-built Tide machine play spread offenses. However, Ole Miss in its first season of Hugh Freeze’s reconstruction project is a far cry from Kevin Sumlin’s high flying incarnation of the system. At 44.7 points per game, A&M is among the nation’s highest scoring offenses and tops in the SEC.
Discussion of the Aggies begins with Manziel, one of most elite dual threat quarterbacks in the nation. He’s passed for 16 touchdowns and over 2500 yards, and could surpass 1000 yards on the ground this week. Seem as it might, though, the Aggie offense isn’t a one-man show. The running back duo of Ben Malena and Christine Michael have combined for over 900 yards, and wide receiver Ryan Swope has proven as effective an end zone target for Manziel as he was for Ryan Tannehill a season ago.
Alabama’s top ranked defense is the perfect counter to the uptempo Aggies. Dee Milliner, one of my nominees for the FWAA All-America team, has been a lock-down cornerback all season and could draw a match-up with Swope. If Milliner’s not covering him, expect to see the corner paired with Mike Evans, Manziel’s most routinely targeted receiver.
What has made Sumlin’s offensive philosophy work so well in addition to the skill players is a great offensive line. The Aggie front boasts some of the premiere talent in the conference. But Alabama has an o-line stacked with equal Sunday-destined talent, like Barrett Jones. The Tide’s superior play at the line sets up AJ McCarron and opens opportunities for the dual backfield of TJ Yeldon and Eddie Lacy. Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore is another of my FWAA All-America nominees, and how the Tide contains him is of paramount importance on the offensive end.
After an emotionally draining defeat of rival LSU last week, the potential for letdown permeates in Tuscaloosa. However, no head coach is as equipped to address such issues as Nick Saban. With a raucous Bryant-Denny Stadium supporting it, Alabama is in great position to continue its roll to Atlanta and eventually, Miami.
ADMIRAL ACKBAR TRAP OF THE WEEK
KANSAS STATE at TCU*
Bill Snyder’s zipped his lips, locked it and thrown away the key on the Klein injury. He told reporters during his press conference this week:
“My interest in our players is beyond football, and I always want to do the right thing for young people in our program. I think any coach in the country would feel exactly the same way. I don’t want to put any young person in any undo jeopardy whatsoever. That is why I don’t address injuries.”
So the injury that pulled Klein from last week’s win over Oklahoma Stat is no more certain on Friday than it was a Saturday ago. Wrist, shoulder, concussion: all have been speculated, but nothing confirmed. Does that make Patterson and TCU defensive coordinator’s Dick Bumpas’ job game planning for the potent Wildcat offense more difficult? While Klein is a one-man wrecking crew, K-State has other weapons that would factor more heavily into the attack with Daniel Sams playing quarterback. Running backs John Hubert and Angelo Pease are averaging 5.5 and 5.9 yards per carry. Add the capable rushing ability of Sams, who is ripping off over 7 yards an attempt, and the Horned Frog rush defense has quite the challenge.
Still, K-State has adversity should Klein be unavailable. The Wildcats are primarily dependent on the rush, but Klein has an uncanny ability to unleash deep passes at the right moment after the defense has sold out on the run. Sams’ passing is an unknown, given he has thrown all of eight passes this season.
TCU has already faced its own quarterbacking issue. Jarrett Anderson and Rusty Burns have addressed Trevone Boykin’s inability to match Casey Pachall’s production by getting innovative. To wit, TCU unveiled a wide receiver pass from Brandon Carter that went for a critical, 25-yard touchdown. The Frog offense actually hasn’t struggled since losing Pachall, producing scores of 49, 53 and 39. However, Oklahoma State held TCU to just 14 points; Iowa State kept TCU at 23, and the Cyclone defense could be considered a less talented version of K-State’s.
Without Klein or with him limited, the Wildcat defense is good enough to dictate tempo. TCU can be turnover prone, and K-State thrives garnering takeaways: eight Wildcats have interceptions, including Nigel Malone who has seven. Maintaining possessions and converting those drives into points makes or breaks TCU’s upset dreams
in the Little Apple.
*Editor’s note: correction made
NORTHWESTERN at MICHIGAN
Both the Wildcats and Wolverines remain in the hunt for the Big Ten Legends division’s berth in the conference championship game, but a loss on Saturday almost certainly eliminates one. Michigan rebounded well from its performance at Nebraska with a convincing win over Minnesota, while Northwestern was preoccupied with exams on its bye week.
The past two weeks have resulted in an interesting reversal of quarterback roles; an injury Denard Robinson suffered against Nebraska has his status uncertain. Devin Gardner captained the predominantly run-based offense at Minnesota, moving back from wide receiver in place of Russell Bellomy. Bellomy filled in for Robinson against the Cornhuskers but was ineffective.
Conversely, Pat Fitzgerald turned over the reins exclusively to Kain Colter in Week 9. The versatile Colter’s done a little of everything for the Wildcat offense, including given Northwestern the best opportunity to win. His dual threat ability most closely resembles that of Taylor Martinez, when compared strictly to quarterbacks Michigan’s defense has faced.
The Wolverines did an adequate job on Martinez, limiting him to 166 yards passing, 4.1 yards per carry and intercepted him once. Where Nebraska took advantage of containing Michigan on the opposite end was with Ameer Abdullah. Northwestern’s Venric Mark could play a critical role, so long as a Wildcat defense that has been improved can contain the Wolverine offense — regardless of which quarterback is captaining it.
VANDERBILT at OLE MISS
Hugh Freeze and James Franklin are both ahead of schedule on their SEC rebuilding projects: Franklin guided Vanderbilt to its second straight bowl bid with a win last week, and Freeze has an Ole Miss program that went winless in the conference a year ago one win from the postseason.
Saturday’s contest is an intriguing measuring stick for both teams. For the Rebels, it might be the last chance to reach a bowl game. Saturday is the last game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium before trips to LSU and Mississippi State. Freeze’s offense has injected some excitement into Oxford. It’s also been key to the Rebels’ five wins — Ole Miss has scored at least 28 points in all of its victories.
Coincidentally, Vanderbilt’s been at its best when containing its opponents. In the Commodores’ six wins, no team has scored more than 15. The benchmark is pretty clearly set. Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace is explosive, but also erratic. He’s been intercepted almost as often as he’s scored, which gives Vanderbilt a pretty obvious blueprint for success: force turnovers, and limit the Rebels’ opportunities.
WEST VIRGINIA at OKLAHOMA STATE
Dana Holgorsen helped instituted the spread offense that transformed Oklahoma State from Big 12 also-ran to a conference champion. He’s since taken the philosophy to Morgantown, where West Virginia has run the system better than anyone at times. Geno Smith seemed to somewhat reignite his engine against TCU, throwing three touchdown passes after two prior performances of a combined 28 points. Nevertheless, the Mountaineers stumbled for a third straight time, extending their losing streak to the program’s longest in almost a decade. Smith must return to form for West Virginia to have a chance to force Oklahoma State into a shootout. The Cowboys have been at their best when the defense is keeping scores low. That might seem like a no-brainer observation, but consider last year that OSU often surrendered significant points opposite the astronomical numbers Brandon Weeden and the offense were generating.
OSU is two weeks removed from stifling TCU to its season low, 14. Oklahoma State actually had one of its better defensive performances last week against Kansas State, all things considered. Turnovers largely produced the 44 K-State points, and were ultimately the Cowboys’ undoing. Blame the lack of ball control on the instability Oklahoma State has had at quarterback. Wes Lunt and JW Walsh were swapping duties because of the former’s injury issues; now the latter is hurt, and Clint Chelf is expected to split snaps with Lunt. And yet, even with that tumult, the Cowboys are scoring more than all but seven FBS programs on a per game basis.
I considered Joseph Randle a Heisman dark horse prior to the season and Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez told me he was among the very best running backs in the country; he hasn’t played at that level, but does have nine rushing touchdowns and should surpass 1000 yards against a Mountaineer defense that has struggled mightily in all phases, and particularly against the run. His presence is the most likely X-factor for two teams very much familiar with what the other wants to do offensively.
IOWA STATE at TEXAS
Longhorn head coach Mack Brown called for his team to line up in the Wishbone to start Saturday’s contest at Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, in honor of the man who invented the formation and whose name graces the venue.
Royal’s presence will loom large over Austin — more so than usual. His passing earlier this week might be an emotional spark for a Texas team that has been on a roller coaster this season.
On Iowa State’s last visit to Austin, the Cyclones scored their only win in the nine-game series. This Iowa State team is arguably better than the 2010 version — its already matched the five-win total of two seasons ago — and Texas has faced its struggles. Defensively porous losses to West Virginia and Oklahoma and an offensively anemic near-miss at Kansas prove the Longhorns can be had. However, last week’s defeat of Texas Tech showed signs of the Longhorns reaching the lofty potential that had some projecting a Big 12 title in their immediate future.
Iowa State is a defensive team playing without its best defender. Linebacker Jake Knott was forced into retirement with a shoulder injury, and his absence was evident in the Cyclones’ loss last week to Oklahoma. ISU should achieve bowl eligibility — Kansas remains on the schedule — but it likely won’t secure it at Texas.
The Saturday Six-Pack previously recommended another Shiner product, but a second induction is fitting in Week 11 as the college football world salutes Texas icon Darrell Royal. Lift a glass of this rich, dark offering from the best brewery in the Lone Star State.