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November 8, 2013

Know the Foe: Texas A&M; Q&A with Aggie Yell

Mississippi State is coming off of its third conference loss of the season as it fell back to .500 with a loss at South Carolina. The Bulldogs now face possibly their toughest task of the season as they go on the road to College Station to take on Texas A&M.

Who: Texas A&M (7-2, 3-2) vs. Mississippi State (4-4, 1-3)
Where: College Station, Texas; Kyle Field
When: Saturday, November 9, 2013; 2:37 on CBS
Series Record: Tied, 3-3. The Last Time: A&M, 38-13 in Starkville, 2012

About the Aggies

This week we had the opportunity to catch up with staff writer Jeff Tarpley from Aggie Yell the A&M Rivals affiliate. Jeff gave us some great insight on what to expect this weekend.

RF: First let's start with Johnny Manziel. Since you've been covering Texas A&M, have you ever seen anyone even remotely close to him as a player or a personality?

JT: No. He's the one guy who's actually better than his hype. To relate a story for you, in the press box prior to last year's Cotton Bowl the beat writers that covered Oklahoma were all talking about the Sooners had a month to prepare for him and that they would be able to slow him down. Of course, A&M scored on its opening touchdown drive and Manziel finished it off by tight roping down the sidelines in an incredible display of balance. The Oklahoma writers were just dumbfounded by him and the guys who cover A&M were laughing at them because we had seen it so many times ourselves.

He's a very unique guy with great vision, core strength, and hand/eye coordination. In addition, he's always the most competitive person on the field and will do what it takes to win or improve his play.

RF: As untouchable as he seems to be against even the best defenses, how do you think he was so overlooked by many teams?

JT: He played in central Texas in an area without a lot of great teams and not a lot of college prospects. It's a place that's not easy to get to either to go see him in person. He's not physically imposing. Oregon was by far his best offer and he was committed there until A&M came along but even then the Aggies didn't offer him until right at the start of his senior season after missing out on several other quarterbacks. He went to camp at TCU and didn't pick up an offer. Texas wanted him as a defensive back.

However, keep in mind that he wasn't the same player even in the spring of his freshman year when he lost out on the starting job as opposed to just months later. He didn't make very good decisions and his delivery and footwork needed work. It wasn't until he went out to California and worked with quarterback guru George Whitfield, Jr. that he changed those things up and it took a few games for him to make better decisions.

RF: By that same token, what was Mike Evans' story coming out of high school? We've heard about his basketball past, how did he get to College Station?

JT: A&M wasn't getting a lot of four star rated prospects to look at them for the 2011 because they hadn't had a lot of success under then head coach Mike Sherman until late in the 2010 season. They saw Evans on film and literally took a flyer on him. He never even played football until his junior year but did so because he realized that at 6 foot 5 his future was not on the hardwood. A&M offered a lot of more highly rated receivers and didn't get them, much like they struck out on multiple quarterback prospects before finally offering Manziel.

RF: What about Manziel's blockers? How has the offensive line held up to the fast-paced offense and Manziel's knack for changing the plays on the fly?

JT: Center Mike Matthews looked like that he would be able to maintain a faster pace this season than former starter Patrick Lewis as he's smaller and more agile than Lewis. However, they're actually running fewer plays a game this season than last year as teams have run the ball successfully and reduced the number of possessions available to the Aggies. Nonetheless, they've done a great job in pass protection and a good run blocking group one for a stable of backs that is a very deep…former five star Brandon Williams is the fourth guy.

RF: The Aggies have caught some flack defensively. What are some of the shortcomings there?

JT: They lost some key upperclassmen to the NFL including second round pick Damontre Moore at defensive end. Until recently, they didn't have a lot of good athletes in the front seven and some of the experienced guys they were counting on simply weren't playing well. They also played nickel personnel against teams who were using a tight end and fullback and didn't hold up in the run game, and they also weren't rotating people and were getting worn down. They've done a better job of matching personnel lately and playing backups which has made the defense better as a whole. In addition, because of injuries they've had to play some younger guys who are more athletic. They've become more aggressive, blitzing and played more man coverage the past two games which has resulted in six turnovers and more sacks the past two games than they had in the first seven.

RF: Who are some players to watch out for on the defensive side of the ball that could hurt the Bulldog offensive threat?

JT: Cornerback Deshazor Everett has a nose for the football and has forced multiple turnovers this season. Defensive end Gavin Stansbury has multiple sacks and tackles for loss the last two games and is really coming on. Middle linebacker Darian Claiborne is getting better protection up front and now is second in tackles and leads the team in tackles for loss. Safety Howard Matthews has been up and down this season but he leads the team in interceptions and has two of them the past game.

RF: As dominant as A&M has been for the majority of Manziel and Sumlin's time, what has kept them from taking over the top spot in the West?

JT: Last year, they turned the ball three times against LSU even though the defense played well and that loss precluded them from going to the SEC title game. This year, the defense has been awful…they haven't been able to get off the field or generate any negative plays until the last couple of games. Mississippi State will be a test for them in terms of stopping a power rushing attack similar to what they saw from Ole Miss and Auburn.

RF: If MSU had any shot at an upset, what do you feel they have to do?

JT: They've got to run the ball really well, reduce the number of possessions, and hope that A&M is at least minus one in turnovers. That's the formula that cost the Aggies the Alabama and Auburn games. If Mississippi State can't get to 200 yards rushing, then they're not going to be scoring many points or shortening the game and A&M will get its 40 plus points and run off and leave them.

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