published Friday, September 13th, 2013

Alabama offense seeks bounce-back performance

Virginia Tech safety Kyshoen Jarrett (34) tackles Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon (4).
Virginia Tech safety Kyshoen Jarrett (34) tackles Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon (4).
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Then there is the other side of the coin.

While most of the focus concerning Saturday's Alabama-Texas A&M game is on the Crimson Tide defense trying to contain Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel, the matchup of the Tide offense against A&M's defense will be equally important to the outcome. The Aggies pitched a shutout for nearly 20 minutes of last season's 29-24 upset victory in Tuscaloosa, but their defense struggled in this year's wins over Rice and Sam Houston State.

Alabama has played once this season, and its offense managed just 206 yards in the 35-10 win over Virginia Tech at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic.

"We definitely weren't clicking by any means, and we have to get better across the board, myself included," Tide quarterback AJ McCarron said. "We can't hurt ourselves and have negative plays to start the drive. We have to stay in front of the sticks."

McCarron had a 38-yard touchdown pass to Christion Jones against the Hokies, while T.J. Yeldon had a 27-yard run and Altee Tenpenny a late 20-yard carry. Take away those three gains, and the Tide had 121 yards on 59 plays against defensive coordinator Bud Foster's Hokies, or 2.05 yards a play.

It was a surprising performance for an Alabama offense that averaged 445.5 yards a game last season but lost three key linemen to the NFL.

"Everybody is acting like Virginia Tech isn't a good team just because they're not ranked," McCarron said. "They had an unbelievable defense, and Coach Foster did a great job of throwing things at us that we had not seen from them. It's not like they're some regular old team. Virginia Tech can play.

"They're a good team in the ACC, but it's about what we do, and we hurt ourselves in that game. We can't do that in this game."

Alabama coach Nick Saban has stressed trust and communication the past two weeks to his linemen who were frustrated by Virginia Tech's shifting at the line of scrimmage. Saban said the open date helped in that area, but only Saturday's game will tell.

"After Virginia Tech, everybody is talking about being disappointed in us," Tide right guard Anthony Steen said, "so we're ready to go out there and try to prove something. If we get the little things done, then we shouldn't have any problem."

Hindering Alabama's hopes of bouncing back offensively could be a raucous Kyle Field. Crimson Tide supporters comprised most of the Georgia Dome crowd, but the Tide linemen this week have practiced their calls amid blaring, pumped-in noise.

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has studied Alabama's opener and does not enter Saturday's game with any sympathy for the Tide's offensive line.

"I saw a bunch of big, athletic guys who are capable and were really highly recruited players who were probably playing in their first ballgame against a really veteran Virginia Tech team that threw a lot of different things at them from a blitz standpoint," Sumlin said. "They're a talented group, and they've had a bye week. You read their reports, and they've taken this time to figure some of that stuff out."

The Aggies, meanwhile, played "vanilla" defense according to Sumlin during their 52-31 and 65-28 opening mismatches. Sam Houston State produced a 68-yard touchdown run and a 75-yard scoring pass in the third quarter last Saturday, but Texas A&M will have its deepest roster for the Tide.

Cornerback De'Vante Harris, linebacker Steven Jenkins and defensive end Gavin Stansbury missed the first two games for violating team rules but are back, and cornerback Deshazor Everett will be available for 60 minutes after getting suspended for the first half last week due to a targeting penalty in the opener. Everett intercepted McCarron to seal last season's game.

"We'll have to knock a little bit of the rust off," Aggies defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said.

Snyder said Alabama has the best receiving corps his defense will see all season and added that the Tide offense will be as powerful as ever despite the sluggishness in Atlanta. That sentiment has been echoed by Sumlin, who sees talent across the board with the Crimson Tide attack.

"Their top-level skill positions are as good as anybody's in the country," Sumlin said. "AJ McCarron has real weapons on the perimeter: Christion Jones and Kevin Norwood and Amari Cooper can all fly. DeAndrew White is someone we're familiar with, and he's a sprinter.

"T.J. Yeldon is a big-time running back, and all these things work hand in hand. It's going to be a heck of a challenge for us, because all those guys are home-run hitters and have the capability of going wire to wire whenever they touch the ball."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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