Stallings, Slocum Talk Alabama-Texas A&M

Football coaches spend their lives immersed in the game they love. Passion for the sport is never exorcised even in retirement. No longer roaming the sidelines, they stay close to the action by either traveling to stadiums or watching on television.

The Legends Poll, formed in 2005, is comprised of 17 former successful college coaches, 15 of them in the College Football Hall of Fame. Each week the prestigious group holds a teleconference to analyze the performances of the teams and vote a ranking of the top 25.

'BAMA Magazine/ had a Q&A session with two members of the Legends Poll voting panel with extremely close ties to Alabama and Texas A&M – Gene Stallings and R.C. Slocum. The topic is the Saturday hyped contest between two Southeastern Conference Western Division powers, the number one ranked Crimson Tide of Alabama and the sixth rated Aggies of Texas A&M. Kyle Field in College Station, Texas is the site of this year's game. The matchup has been highly anticipated ever since the Aggies visited Tuscaloosa and defeated Alabama 29-24 last November 10 in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Legends Poll

Gene Stallings, former Texas A&M and Alabama Head Coach

APS: What are the core principles you would recommend to the Alabama defensive unit to stop Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel?

GS: You've got to put a little pressure on him. You can't let him just sit back there and beat you throwing the football. You can't give him all day to throw the football. He is going to get some large chunks. He's gotten large chunks everywhere he's played. You can't miss him. People miss him all the time. If you're going to contain him, you've got to tackle him. You've got to get him on the ground. It can be done in my opinion.

APS: What is the strength of the Texas A&M team that would give Alabama the most trouble?

GS: Surely it is Johnny Manziel. They are an entirely different football team when he is not in the game. I think Alabama is going to control the ball. Alabama's offense is better than Texas A&M's defense, so I definitely think there are going to score points; but they have to slow Manziel down to keep him from scoring points. People say, they'll (Alabama) have time to get ready for him this year. Oklahoma had about 13 games to get ready for him last year and they still scored 41 points against Oklahoma. That is the key to the game for Alabama to control the quarterback. The bottom line is if Texas A&M's quarterback runs free and loose and has a great game, Alabama is in for a long night. If they can control him and contain him, and they did pretty well last year except he makes one great play when the ball bounces in the air and throws it in the end zone for a touchdown. Alabama still had a chance to come back and win the game.

APS: What must happen for Alabama and Texas A&M to win respectively?

GS: If Texas A&M is going to win the game, they have got to slow the running game down. Alabama can run that football and they run it well. They have those play action passes and so forth. If I'm getting ready for Alabama, I'm going to make them beat me throwing the football not running the football. If I'm getting ready for Texas A&M, I'm going to make them beat me with anybody but Manziel running the football. I'm not going to let Manziel beat me running, I'm going to make their running backs beat me running.

APS: What is something that has not been mentioned about this game?

GS: The Alabama people are going to be in a treat when they go to Texas A&M. They are going to be well received. There is nothing negative about going to College Station. It will be an experience for them. Obviously it is a big game for Texas A&M. It was a big game when they played Alabama last year. It was a lot bigger game for Texas A&M than it was for Alabama. Alabama lost the game and still won the national championship. I'm not sure that is going to be the case this year. If Alabama wants to win the national championship, I think they have to beat Texas A&M. Vice versa, Texas A&M can't win it either without beating Alabama. It's going to be hard to beat Alabama two years in a row but nobody's had a quarterback like Manziel that I know of. I think it's extremely hard to beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa. There is not anything that says Texas A&M can't win the game. I don't think they will but they certainly can.

APS: Is this the biggest game ever at Texas A&M?

GS: As far as I can remember it is the biggest game ever at Texas A&M. I know back when I was coaching, that was a long time ago, big games were with The University of Texas primarily. I can't think of a game that Texas A&M has played in the last two years that's any bigger than the Alabama-Texas A&M game.

APS: In all your years of being on the sideline, do you subscribe to the theory a team dramatically improves between the first and second game? If so, is there one unit of the team that has routinely improved the most?

GS: Not necessarily. I can't see any area other than you should eliminate some silly mistakes like substitution mistakes, illegal procedure mistakes, things of that nature should be a big improvement from game one to game two. I think you should get better every week. If you are going to be a good football game, your sixth game should be better than your fifth. You may not win it but you should be better. There has got to be improvement between every game. Whether or not there is more improvement between the first game, second game, I can't answer that because I never really thought about it to tell you the truth.

R.C. Slocum, former Texas A&M Head Coach:

APS: What are the core principles you would recommend to the Texas A&M defensive unit to stop Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron?

RCS: I would say this game is no different than any of the games. I think it is hard for offenses if you limit big plays. If you can as a defensive coach say to your team, they are going to make some yardage. You're not going to shut them down to nothing but if you can limit and reduce big plays. We are not going to give them any long passes and we're going to gang tackle so they are not going to get many long runs. We are going to make them line up and see how many yards they can get and how many points they can get by eliminating big plays. The key is to coach no long runs, no long passes. Being an old defensive coach, they are going to make some yards but don't give it up in big chunks. If you make them go a long ways and take a lot of plays to do it then you have things working in your favor. You can't let them get points in a hurry.

APS: What is the strength of the Alabama team that will give Texas A&M the most trouble?

RCS: I don't know if you can pick out a single area but it might be Alabama's offensive line against Texas A&M's defensive line as the biggest matchup in the game. We have had some injuries and young guys playing in the defensive line and at linebacker. Going into the game the big challenge is for our defensive line to be able to hold up to their offensive line so they can't just keep the ball.

APS: What must happen for Alabama and Texas A&M to win respectively?

RCS: Turnovers in a game like this can make a huge difference. I think it will be a very competitive game. The kicking game is going to be really, really important. If you look at the last Alabama game against Virginia Tech, the kicking game made a huge difference in that ball game. It's the same thing in this game. I think the teams are close enough that the little things matter – a field goal made or missed, punt return. The closer the game, the more important the kicking game is to the outcome. I think it's a pretty even ball game in my mind. The team that makes the fewest mistakes and plays well in the kicking game has the best chance to win.

APS: What is something that has not been mentioned about this game?

RCS: Number one, if you look at it, there have not been a lot of teams around that have beaten Alabama two years in a row with Nick Saban as the coach so you know that is going to be a challenge. That program (Alabama) has had great pride and great success. They are really, really hard to beat. If you look at the record, trying defeat them two years in a row is a challenge. I don't know that anybody has done that to them. I know they have great pride and have been in some challenging situations but Kyle Field is I would venture to say will be as wild a stadium as they have visited. I've been to LSU and a bunch of great places in our league but the house will be rocking on Saturday.

APS: Is this the biggest game ever at Texas A&M?

RCS: I think the whole thing with the history between the schools because of Coach Bryant having been at Texas A&M and then going to Alabama and Gene Stallings having been at Texas A&M and then at Alabama. There is a long feeling between those two schools that I don't know personally so much from Alabama to Texas A&M but I know from Texas A&M to Alabama. There has always been a lot of respect and feelings for Alabama because of the Bryant and Stallings connections. And then out of respect for what has been accomplished there under the current situation with Nick Saban – what they have done is unbelievable in college football. I think our feelings are more out of respect for them. We understand full well the caliber of program that we are playing and the challenges before us because of the great pride Alabama takes in itself.

APS: In all your years of being on the sideline, do you subscribe to the theory a team dramatically improves between the first and second game? If so, is there one unit of the team that has routinely improved the most?

RCS: I do think teams generally improve more between the first and second game because you can go through spring training, two-a-days and practice against each other but until you go against some strangers you don't know for sure how people are going to perform. I think players grow up more going out on the field from the first game to the next game. You usually see the most dramatic improvement. Everybody normally has some holes to fill where you have some guys who never played in a college game and they get on the field for the first time. They normally grow up a little bit once they get out there, so I think that is true. I think probably both lines improve the most because it is harder to play. If the receiver can run and catch they can play pretty early and play pretty well. There are some things in the offensive and defensive lines that you just have to learn and experience.

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