Here on the University of Alabama campus the atmosphere is a mix of emotions. Anxiety, animosity and excitement all fills the air in a quiet sort of way.
This week has been game week. THE game week if you catch my drift. You can’t go anywhere, turn anything on TV, type anything in a computer without being reminded of what’s coming in now less than 24 hours.
ESPN writer SEC Alex Scarbinsky is calling it “A tale of two quarterbacks”, college football fans call it the game of the century- but Crimson Tide Nation knows this is the game of redemption.
They know the blame, at least in part, rests on them. Three Alabama turnovers mixed with this phenom- maybe you’ve heard- called Johnny Football. The then freshman had 345 total yards that game back in 2012. That is the most by a quarterback against Alabama since 2010. Yeah, we’re talking about the same game where he scrambled in the fourth to magically find a receiver in the end zone to seal the Tide’s fate. It was a play even Bama fans shook their heads at. How did he do that?
The game this Saturday would be a big game simply because of it’s story lines on the field, but the story lines off the field have made it even more exceptional. (You’re welcome college football TV ratings)
First off, it highlights the train wreck that is Johnny Manziel in prime time television. Well, let me rephrase- he’s a train wreck OFF the field.
Tweets, money, partying, meeting celebs, rockin Tebow jersey’s and the general “I’m just living life” attitude defined Manziel this offseason and it continues to haunt him in the third week of the season.
Nick Saban knows it too, and he knows they’re not playing the Heisman trophy celebrity persona on Saturday- they’re playing the quarterback who is unpredictable and lavishly lethal.
“I think the guy’s a great competitor and regardless of any other circumstance that goes on around him, when he’s playing on the field, he’s doing everything he can to help his team win and trying to make every choice and decision to do it,” Saban said.
But how do you beat Johnny Football? According to Saban, you sure don’t count on him being a pocket passer- in fact- you don’t count on anything he does.
“I told our players, I said there’s a lot of NFL games on Sunday, you want to watch the quarterback go watch the games, alright? But if you start watching this guy in our game- you’re gonna get busted and it happened in our game last year,” Saban said staring straight at the media. “You’re not going to make him be a pocket passer because if someone’s not open he doesn’t throw him the ball. He’s going to extend the play to run, or to make a play throwing the ball and I think throwing the ball first for him is what he does, he will run and he can run and he’s an effective runner and he’s really fast.”
More than 600 miles away, sitting in a College Station press room, Johnny Manziel says Alabama is just another game.
A Texas A&M beat reporter started it off, “Johnny, it’s been a wild eight months and the build up to the Alabama game. And it’s now Bama week, what does that feel like?”
With hat low, shoulders hunched tight and arms crossed together Manziel replied, “feels like another game. Feels like week three of the season.”
Oh Johnny. The most recent college football guy to have that Laissez Faire attitude toward an upcoming game was Brian Kelly with Notre Dame’s rivalry game (oh I mean just another game) against Michigan. And we all know how that turned out for him.
But alas, maybe Manziel is purely pulling a page from the Nick Saban handbook of “how to be a champion”. You know, the section that talks about staying focused no matter the opponent? Either way, I like the way Saban says it better.
“You don’t win 11 games and do the things you’ve done if you’re not good in every facet of the game. And when you play against really good players and players who are capable of making explosive plays on any down in a game. Any lack of that ability to focus and discipline is going to help them be able to make those plays,” Saban said. “They have to play a lot of players in the game so that more guys have to be ready to play disciplined football, make good decisions, based on what they’re supposed to do. And last year we didn’t do that, we really paid for it and hopefully we can do it a little better this year.”
Are you taking notes Johnny? The people who definitely are, are Saban’s players who faced a slight distraction on Wednesday with the news that former tide players DJ Fluker and Mark Barron were being investigated for taking “improper benefits” while they were at the University.
I’m telling you- the proverbial butt cheeks were clenched so tight at this university when that news came out. It was like no one dared to breath here. We didn’t know if this was the tip of the iceberg, or just what it seemed- an unfortunate mistake that thankfully was not directly connected to the university.
The timing on Yahoo Sports’ part was impeccable, knowing Alabama already was making headlines left and right for the game of the century that was getting closer and closer.
Will this affect Alabama come Saturday? I doubt negatively. This Alabama team is pissed they lost last year. That is a wound that even a National Championship didn’t fully heal, and the only thing that can cure the pain is disgracing a football phenom at his own game- in front of his own fans.
Redemption is a hard thing to regain, but I’m pretty sure it starts this weekend with a kick off and loud “roll tide roll” in a sweltering College Station stadium.
Also, what better luck could happen than your quarterback having a birthday on Friday the 13th? (Happy Birthday AJ McCarron)