October 17, 2014
Alabama NCAA college football coach Nick Saban talks with the media, Monday, Oct. 13, 2014, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/AL.com, Vasha Hunt)
AL.com, Vasha Hunt

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) No team has given Alabama's stout defenses more fits than Texas A&M lately.

The matchups have produced memorable, down-to-the-wire games the past two seasons, and even a shootout. Yes, involving Alabama.

The 21st-ranked Aggies' visit to the seventh-ranked Crimson Tide on Saturday still presents an appealing matchup of high-powered offense against stingy defense, even with `Bama nemesis Johnny Manziel now in the NFL.

''We've had a couple of great games with them since they've joined the SEC,'' Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said.

What's missing is the rampant hype that made this one of the more anticipated matchups - and a huge TV draw - in 2013. Now, Alabama (5-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) has lost to No. 3 Mississippi, squeaked by Arkansas and found itself likely in a must-win situation from here on out to challenge for a league title and spot in the College Football Playoff.

Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2) has done its part to derail the pre-game hoopla, too. The Aggies have lost two straight games, though they were to No. 1 Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

The Tide won 49-42 last season despite giving up an unheard-of 464 passing yards and five touchdowns to Manziel, who had led an upset in the previous meeting that helped launch him to the 2012 Heisman Trophy.

Neither game was decided until the final minutes.

This one won't set TV ratings records, but it's still a Kevin Sumlin versus Nick Saban Special. Sumlin, the Aggies offensive-minded coach, has no answer for why his team has put up such big numbers against the unyielding defenses of Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart. Or maybe he does.

''We do what we do,'' Sumlin said.

Kenny Hill has replaced Manziel and is putting up similarly outrageous numbers. Manziel's counterpart last season, AJ McCarron, is also a pro now.

But the Tide still has Amari Cooper, one of the nation's top receivers. And the Aggies still do what they do.

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Here are some things to watch in the latest Texas A&M-Alabama game:

PROLIFIC VS. STINGY: Led by Hill's passing, Texas A&M is fourth nationally in total offense while Alabama is third in total defense. The Aggies' fast-paced offense is averaging nearly twice the yardage that the Tide is allowing (546.9-277.2). The Tide must change gears from smash mouth, huddle-up Arkansas. ''We practice fastball,'' Tide safety Landon Collins said. ''We practice longshot routes every day, so if we're constantly working at it we don't have to worry about it. We're going to be ready for it.''

SIMS & HILL: Hill and Alabama's Blake Sims both replaced star quarterbacks, and have been somewhat up and down. Hill has passed for 500-plus yards once and 401 last week against Ole Miss, while Sims had one of the best passing days in Alabama history with 445 yards against Florida.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Texas A&M has performed well in tough road games under Sumlin. He's led the Aggies to a 6-2 record against ranked teams away from home, including the 2012 `Bama game, and hasn't beaten one at Kyle Field.

TURNOVERS GALORE: Alabama and Texas A&M rank 11th and 13th, respectively, in turnover margin among SEC teams. The Tide had four fumbles in the return game against Arkansas, losing two of them. Hill has been intercepted five times and lost a fumble in the past two games. However, the two defenses bring up the rear in interceptions.

STAR RECEIVERS: Sumlin is expecting receiver Malcome Kennedy to play after missing the past two games with a shoulder injury. The Aggies have six players with at least 23 catches. Alabama's Cooper is the SEC's top receiver but was held to two catches for 22 yards against Arkansas. ''You don't know who (Hill's) favorite receiver is or who he likes to throw to at any particular moment,'' Collins said. ''That's the best thing that they have.''

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