Not even Alabama coach Nick Saban believes the Crimson Tide defense will shut down Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel Saturday when the defending national champions meet the defending Heisman Trophy winner on his home field.
"He is going to make some plays," Saban said.
But when asked specifically how to best handle the college game's most dynamic dual-threat quarterback, one of the nation's top junior safeties minced no words.
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"Never take your eyes off your man," said Alabama safety HaHa Clinton-Dix. "The minute you do, he'll pop out of the ground and you know Johnny Football will throw the ball 40, 50 yards and complete a pass. It's very important that we stay on our keys and our assignments. ... He's out there, he takes off running and you think, 'Oh, maybe I can go get him.' Next thing you know he's throwing the ball to your guy. It's very important we stay locked in on our assignments."
As much as anything else, that sort of defensive mindset -- keeping pass defenders downfield and locked on their men -- will dare Manziel to run with the ball. Avoiding defensive linemen in the open field is child's play for Manziel, and if there are 10 or more yards to be had for free because the rest of the defense is playing coverage, Manziel can certainly oblige.
But for all the success Manziel has had in his limited action -- just over four quarters total -- in wins over Rice and Sam Houston State, running the ball is the one thing he's done a lot less of. After leading the entire Southeastern Conference in rushing last season with 1,410 yards, Johnny Football hasn't really found his rushing legs yet this season.
Against Rice: six carries, 19 yards.
Against SHSU: seven carries, 36 yards.
If the Crimson Tide defense stays in coverage on Manziel's scrambles, and he doesn't burn them with rushing yardage vastly improved over his first two games, it could be a long day for the Aggies.
Saban, for his part, doesn't want the UA defense committing too early to tackle Manziel himself.
"Their receivers do a really good job of playing what I call 'scramble rules' in terms of how they adjust their routes relative to how he scrambles," Saban said.