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Texas A&M at Alabama

Since losing to LSU in overtime at Bryant-Denny Stadium last November, Alabama (9-0 straight up, 5-4 against the spread) had won 12 consecutive games by 17 points or more. In other words, Nick Saban’s team had not been in a 60-minute slugfest in a long time.

Well, the Crimson Tide got just that last Saturday night at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. Trailing 14-3 at intermission, LSU dominated the second half and bullied its way into the lead at crunch time.

Zach Mettenberger enjoyed his best game as a college football player, completing 24-of-35 throws for 298 yards and one touchdown without an interception. His 14-yard scoring strike to Jarvis Landry gave the Tigers a 17-14 advantage early in the fourth quarter.

When Mettenberger connected with Odell Beckham for a 22-yard gain to Alabama’s 31 with 2:34 remaining, LSU appeared poised to pull off the upset. But Alabama had two timeouts left and used both of them after stuffing a pair of run plays, setting up a third-and-10 situation for LSU.

Although Les Miles had been aggressive all night long and his QB was in a great rhythm, he opted for the safe play. Jeremy Hill rushed for four yards to set up a 45-yard field goal. Drew Alleman’s attempt was off the mark, though, giving the Tide a chance to go 72 yards in 88 seconds.

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LSU’s defense had given Alabama QB A.J. McCarron absolutely nothing in the second half, limiting him to one completion for zero yards. But the junior signal caller had different ideas for the biggest drive of his career.

It started with a quick throw to Kevin Norwood, who shook a tackler for first-down yardage and an 18-yard gainer. Most importantly, the clock stopped to move the chains.

Quickly on the ball, McCarron hit Norwood again on a deep out for 15 yards. This time, Norwood got out of bounds at LSU’s 39 with 1:11 remaining.

Now as long as Alabama avoided a sack, the clock wasn’t much of an issue. McCarron went to Norwood again on an out pattern for 11 yards to LSU’s 28. Again, Norwood got out of bounds.

At this point, it was time to get greedy. Forget a game-tying field-goal attempt to force overtime. McCarron smelled blood and was ready to go for the kill. He dropped back and looked to Norwood – again! – in the back of the end zone but the pass fell incomplete after Norwood and the defender went down due to incidental contact.

For the first four plays of the drive, LSU had sat back in coverage with just a four-man rush. On second and 10 with 51 ticks left, the Tigers decided to bring pressure. Unfortunately for them, Alabama had the perfect play called.

McCarron threw a screen pass to freshman running back T.J. Yeldon, who had blockers in front. This looked like trouble from the get-go and it was. Yeldon only needed to make one man miss (he did) before scampering to paydirt.

On LSU’s ensuing drive, it went three and out without getting the clock stopped once. Alabama had escaped with a 21-17 win, but LSU took the cash as an eight-point home underdog. The 38 combined points barely stayed ‘under’ the 38 ½-point total.

Now gamblers must determine where Alabama is at physically and emotionally after playing its toughest game of the season, one it was shooting for all year. The Tide better be ready for another barnburner because Texas A&M (7-2 SU, 5-4 ATS) is coming to Tuscaloosa with nothing to lose and one of college football’s premier weapons in redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny ‘Football’ Manziel.

Most betting shops are listing Alabama as a 13 ½-point ‘chalk’ with a total of 56. Bettors can take the Aggies on the money line for a generous plus-400 return (risk $100 to win $400).

Kevin Sumlin’s squad has been the SEC’s biggest surprise, losing only to Florida (20-17) and LSU (24-19) in games it led for most of the first half. This is Texas A&M’s third road assignment in as many weeks, but the road has been good.

The Aggies smashed Mississippi St. by a 38-13 count last week and went into Auburn and emerged with a 63-21 victory two weeks ago. The 63-point eruption on The Plains was the most points an opponent had ever scored in the storied history of Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Manziel has produced video-game numbers all year. He leads the SEC in rushing with 922 yards and 15 touchdowns, averaging 6.7 yards per carry. Manziel has completed 66.6 percent of his passes for 2,527 yards with a 16/6 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Texas A&M is tops in the SEC and fifth in America in scoring, averaging 44.7 points per game. With that sort of production, you know there are other key pieces in addition to the start signal caller.

Manziel has two of the SEC’s top wide receivers in Mike Evans and Ryan Swope. Evans has hauled in 56 receptions for 802 yards and two TDs, while Swope has 45 catches for 641 yards and five TDs.

RB Ben Malena has rushed for 637 yards and six TDs, averaging 6.6 YPC. Christine Michael has rushed for 381 yards and eight scores.

This offense will go up against a ‘Bama ‘D’ that’s ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense and scoring defense (9.1 PPG).

McCarron still hasn’t thrown an interception this year and has 19 TD passes.

As a home favorite on Saban’s watch, Alabama has posted a 17-18 spread record.

The ‘under’ is 5-3 overall for the Aggies, 3-2 in their road assignments. Meanwhile, Alabama has seen its totals go 4-4-1 overall, but the ‘under’ is 3-0-1 in its home games.

CBS will provide television coverage at 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

Brian Edwards can be reached at briane@vegasinsider.com.

For daily sports gambling analysis, follow Brian Edwards on twitter at Vegasbedwards.

  
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