Alabama-Texas A&M Preview
Nick Saban said it's important to keep the approach businesslike and that the football field is no place for trash talk. Quarterback AJ McCarron believes his friendship with Texas A&M counterpart Johnny Manziel is overblown.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide and No. 6 Aggies are finally getting together again Saturday - this time in College Station. Alabama opened game week trying to shoot down many of the story lines, but stopping Manziel would be easier than deflating this hype.
"Yeah, it's the only game we lost last year," Cooper said Monday. "To me, it's not a revenge thing because if we wanted to get revenge, we'd have to play that same team last year with the same team we had last year.
"It's really not a revenge thing. If you lose a fight with someone, you don't get revenge from fighting someone else."
Then again, Manziel was the big puncher last season in a game that might have put a reserve on the Heisman Trophy, throwing for 253 yards and two touchdowns while running for 92 more yards. Sure, the Tide got back up from the 29-24 knockdown and won a second straight national title.
It still seems like a game ripe for overwrought emotions and perhaps some heated smack talk. Saban says not from the Tide (1-0).
"It's never a part of our game," he said. "We tell our players, there's no circumstance where you need to talk to another player, and there's been very little of that with our team. Business-like is the way we'd like to approach this game. It's going to be emotional, don't get me wrong. And I'm not trying to minimize the importance when I use the term 'businesslike.'
"People who get emotional sometimes don't make the best decisions."
The Aggies (2-0) are insisting it's just another game as well, but no matter how much they repeat the sentiment that's being fed to them by coach Kevin Sumlin and the rest of the staff, everyone knows that's not the case. It's arguably the biggest game in the program's history.
Interest in Manziel has reached such a fever pitch that CBS will have a camera focused solely on him for the entirety of Saturday's game, which they've dubbed the "Johnny Cam."
Sumlin understands the extra attention paid to Manziel. But he certainly doesn't like it.
"Everything that we do here at Texas A&M is about team and it's about building our team, building our program and not the individual," Sumlin said. "Saturday afternoon you're going to have two football teams, and I just don't understand why there's got to be one guy singled out with a camera. That's not what we try to be about, that's not what we promote."
Manziel spoke after last Saturday's 65-28 win over Sam Houston State for the first time since SEC media day. Many expected him to talk about Alabama on Tuesday, but he was not made available. The reason, according to Sumlin, was out of his hands.
"He and his family and his advisers and lawyers have advised him not to talk and I'll respect his wishes on that," Sumlin said.
Running back Ben Malena marveled at how the perception of Manziel changed after last year's game in Tuscaloosa, and he's eager to face Alabama again.
"Last year the Alabama game was a stage for the whole world to see what kind of player he is," Malena said. "He deserved it along with this team, to be put on a stage to show what we can do and what he can do. I think this Saturday is another similar stage and the world is going to see how much better and how much more he has progressed along with the whole team."
The Aggies will have to overcome Saban's impressive history in rematches. His Alabama and LSU teams are 15-2 in avenging losses the following season or later in the same season.
At Alabama, the seven wins in eight tries came by an average score of 33-12 and the lone loss was 9-6 in overtime to LSU. That preceded a 21-0 win in Round 2 for the national title.
The Tide are in very different circumstances this time. Alabama got an off-week after an opening 35-10 win over Virginia Tech, when the offense sputtered to 206 yards and a line with three new starters fielded some criticism. Last season, the Tide were coming off a down-to-the-wire win over LSU and fell behind 20-0 after the first quarter.
Saban said that's not an acceptable excuse for the poor start.
"You can't be up or down. People talk about emotion all the time, that creates that," he said. "That was an emotional win for us LSU, but that cannot be an excuse not to be ready to play the next one. It can't be acceptable, especially not in our league."
McCarron maintains "it's just another week" except for the fact that Alabama lost the last meeting.
"That's last year," he said. "Turn the page. I don't really focus on what happened last year no matter if we won or we lost. I'm worried about this year and what we need to do to win this year."
As for his friendship with Manziel, he doesn't think that's a big deal.
The two were roommates at the Manning Passing Academy, where Manziel left early and blamed missing activities on oversleeping. McCarron said the two last spoke around SEC media days in July, but wouldn't say if they had exchanged texts since then. Manziel was suspended for a half against Rice for what Texas A&M called an "inadvertent" violation of NCAA rules involving signing autographs.
"We're just friends, guys," McCarron said. "Y'all make this thing a lot bigger than it needs to be."
McCarron threw for 309 yards but had a pair of passes intercepted against A&M last year, and he'll find an Aggies defense at full strength for the first time in 2013 after playing without several suspended starters versus Sam Houston State.
Saturday will be the first full game for cornerback Deshazor Everett, who sat out the first half of Texas A&M's opener serving a suspension for violating team rules, before drawing his targeting penalty and another suspension in the second half against Rice.
He's a junior who started all but one game last season and intercepted McCarron's pass near the end zone in the fourth quarter to help secure the victory over the Crimson Tide.
He knows that many think that victory was a fluke, but that doesn't concern him one bit.
"We go into the game thinking we can beat anybody and that's how we're going to approach this game," Everett said. "When we're the underdogs, we just go in there with a fight mentality and play harder as the underdogs."