1. Avoid the ESPN/Florida Hangover
Last week's game wasn't just any game. It was the beginning of a new chapter for A&M with all of the hype, pomp, and circumstance associated with such an important weekend. Former students pointed to this game for a year. They were caught up in the moment, and the university as a whole basked in the national spotlight with the dignitaries of ESPN Game Day chronicling the beginning of the SEC era. So you can imagine the high the football team was on last week. We're talking about 18-21 year-olds that consumed the excitement, met with ESPN TV crews, and ran onto Kyle Field in front of the largest TV audience of the entire college football weekend. So it is only natural that once the Florida game was over and Lee Corso moved on to Knoxville for another game that the possibility of a letdown or hangover exists. If you look at the schedule on paper, the SMU game is a classic trap game. We'll learn more about Coach Sumlin's coaching ability this week than we did last week. It didn't take much to get his team ready to play Florida. Can he avoid what looks to be a trap game? Can A&M play with energy and play a clean game? If so, the Aggies have too much firepower for the Mustangs. If the team is still reminiscing of last week's spotlight and goes through the motions, anything can happen on Saturday.
2. Contain SMU's Zach Line
The big, pounding running back is the best player for the Mustangs on the offensive side of the ball. Last year in College Station, Line punctured the A&M defensive front gaining over 100 yards midway through the second quarter. The Aggies closed ranks in the second half, but Line finished with 128 yards. Against Baylor in the 2012 season opener, Line marched 135 yards on 25 carries so he's very capable of moving the first down markers and keeping the ball away from the A&M offense. However, Line will have a much younger offensive line leading the way. In 2011, SMU had a very experienced OL with 221 starts under their collective belt. This year, that number dropped to 36, and that was before injuries took its toll in the Baylor game. SMU will utilize several redshirt freshman and true freshmen along their offensive front, and that's something the Texas A&M defense needs to exploit by taking away Zach Line's ground production.
3. Pressure SMU QB Garrett Gilbert into Mistakes
Speaking of that inexperienced offensive line, SMU will have to protect senior transfer Garrett Gilbert from an A&M defensive front that registered eight QB sacks against a much stronger and experienced Florida offensive line. Gilbert is a solid passer. He's racked up an impressive 491 yards and three touchdowns through the air. But as was the case at Texas, Gilbert can also be forced into mistakes with a little pressure. He was picked off twice against Baylor and once versus Stephen F. Austin. Bottom line, his mistakes have consumed his career. For all the yards and touchdowns in 2012, his passing efficiency rating is 103.31 which places him in the bottom quarter of all NCAA QB's. For comparison purposes, Johnny Manziel registered a QB efficiency rating of 123.11 against stronger competition. Even with an experienced OL last year, the Aggies racked up seven QB sacks. With the Mustangs forced to go to battle with several freshmen in the rotation on Saturday, the Aggie front seven looks to have a big advantage on paper. If they can hurry Gilbert, good things will happen for the defense. If for some reason A&M can't get enough pressure on Gilbert, the SMU passing game can do damage downfield and make things interesting.
4. Well-rounded Performance by Manziel
I fully expect Johnny Manziel to have a good game on Saturday. His speed outside of the pocket will cause a slower SMU defense some problems. Thus, I don't think you'll see a repeat of the second half stumbles against Florida. So whether by leg or by arm, I think Manziel will move this offense effectively. But for future games and Manziel's ongoing development as a QB that can compete against top-line SEC defenses, he'll need to improve his reads and his decision-making in the pocket. He needs to start utilizing a downfield passing game to loosen up the defense around the line of scrimmage so the short passing game and the running game can be effective as well. Spread out the outmanned SMU defense, and the yards and points could come early and often. Struggle downfield, and some of the same things that happened against Florida could come into play.
5. Explosive Plays by Running Backs
This A&M offense must find ways to score quickly and score big. You ask too much of an offense to routinely engineer 15-17 play TD drives, especially in the SEC. There must be some explosive plays that can go the distance from 40, 50, and 60 yards out. For now, those explosive players appear to be at running back. Trey Williams was a shoe lace away from taking his first collegiate carry to the end zone from 60 yards out. We know Christine Michael is equally capable of popping some long running plays. He did it last year against Arkansas. And Ben Malena showed on Saturday that he can bounce off tacklers and rip off a 15-20 yard run. If A&M can get 1-2 explosive running plays early, that should set the stage for the rest of the game.
Keys to Success - SMU Game Preview
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