TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Most headlines point to the matchup between the Crimson Tide defense and the Johnny Manziel-led Texas A&M offense as the key to Saturday's Southeastern Conference opener in College Station.
But if Alabama is to gain revenge for last year's stunning 29-24 loss to the Aggies, it will have to come with its offensive line making marked improvements from a season-opening 35-10 win over Virginia Tech.
"I think the most important things in games like these (are that) people can stay focused and disciplined to do simple and fundamental things correctly," Tide coach Nick Saban said. "Everybody has to take care of business. Everybody has to do their job."
While Saban made sure to praise A&M's defense for its toughness and physical play, Alabama appears to have a better matchup this week than it had against Tech. The Aggies don't have the tough, savvy veterans up front that the Hokies did, nor do they have a creative coordinator like Bud Foster who can concoct unusual blitzes that lead to negative-yardage plays.
A&M will have a loud home crowd on its side for perhaps the most-hyped game of the early season, as well as Manziel. Say what you want about his off-field escapades, but Manziel is the Heisman Trophy winner for a reason. His "welcome to primetime moment" as a redshirt freshman last season was slicing through Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Any quarterback who can carve up the Tide defense, like Manziel did last November in Tuscaloosa, has to be respected and feared. He will make plays and the Aggies will score points, just because of their talent level and scheme.
So it will be up to the Tide offense, and its line, to do the things this week that it couldn't consistently do two weeks ago in Atlanta.
"We are going to have to block, execute, going to have to throw and catch (the ball)," Saban said. "We have to make good decisions and play our game. Get a hat on a hat, eliminate negative plays, try not to get behind in the down and distance and take advantage of opportunities."
Notes: QB AJ McCarron (ingrown toenail) may have been hampered a bit against Virginia Tech, but with almost two weeks between that game and Saturday's trip to Texas A&M, he's expected to be close to 100 percent. McCarron was in a walking boot the day before the season opener but the injury is not a long-term concern. ... DE Dalvin Tomlinson (knee) is out for the year after undergoing surgery. Tomlinson was backing up Joeffrey Pagan and played well against Virginia Tech, making four tackles. He's considered one of the team's most athletic linemen. ... TE Brian Vogler (left hand) was wearing a soft cast at Monday's practice, but still went through blocking drills and plans to play at Texas A&M. Vogler's cast even covered his pinkie and index fingers.