E very now and then a player comes along that changes the ever evolving game of football.
Especially at the college level, a player can emerge at quarterback in the right system and take over the game. In the late 90’s it was Michael Vick. At the turn of the century it was Matt Leinart/Carson Palmer. Midway through last decade it was Tim Tebow. For a flash in the pan it was Cam Newton.
And now, college football has another darling: Johnny Manziel…aka, Johnny Football.
Drawing comparisons to Doug Flutie from the 80’s (another QB gamechanger), Manziel has shattered a plethora of quarterback records in this his freshman…freshman…season at Texas A&M.
Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium, Manziel shattered the minds of thousands of Bama fans as for a quarter he held the entire stadium hostage. The damage the fleet-footed mini-mite QB would do in the first quarter would be enough to get out of Tuscaloosa with the win.
I admit, I was skeptical. We had seen Manziel do amazing things against the likes of Auburn, Ole Miss, Missy State and Arkansas. But in the biggest test of his life, Manziel passed with flying colors.
To be perfectly honest, Manziel and the Aggies caught Alabama at the absolute perfect time. Dead-legged and fresh off a physically and mentally exhausting win in Baton Rouge, Alabama limped into the game. Every team on the Tide’s schedule circles ‘Bama week as their BCS bowl game. But for the Aggies, it was something more.
This was their inaugural shot at the SEC’s bell cow, and it was time to throw the book at Bama. As Jackie Sherrill said on the Finebaum show last week, a team can only get “up” for a handful of ballgames every year (Sherrill said “three”). No doubt Bama used up their allotment before Saturday. The Aggies, not so much.
As some pointed out, it’s almost impossible in practice to simulate the speed of Manziel and the tempo the Aggies inject into a game. The Bama defense eventually succeeded in stopping the bleeding, holding the high flying Aggies to just nine points the rest of the way.
But by then it was too late. A beat up Bama offense could not stand prosperity, again turning the ball over when in scoring position, and settling for a field goal when a touchdown was the only remedy.
The first time Bama faced Tim Tebow, the spread offense (or at least Urban Myer’s version) riddled the Tide in the 4th quarter of the 2008 SEC Championship game. The second time Nick Saban’s defense faced it, having a year to study and prepare, Alabama shut it down like a dirty massage parlor.
Had Cam Newton come back for another year, my prediction is you would’ve seen more teams able to do the same (see his 2nd year in the NFL vs. his first).
Good defensive coaches find a way, and there are plenty of good ones in this league. Manziel will present a challenge for at least one more season before becoming eligible for the NFL, and not every team will be capable. But as Bama dialed up through much of the final three quarters, Johnny Football can be contained.
Still, a red-hot Aggie team deserves all the credit. They dictated the intensity of the game leading the defending National Champs to play from behind the entire game. Were it not for a puzzling offensive play sequence with first and goal from the Aggie six, Bama’s second comeback in as many weeks would have worked (why didn’t they line up and pound out six yards in four plays for the win??).
Nevertheless, joining my Missy State brethren, I too believe…in Johnny Football. At least until next season.
Amazingly, Bama still controls its own fate. At #4 in the BCS, all the Tide must do is win out (taking the SEC crown) and get help with two of the three teams in front of them to get to Miami.
It’s a long shot. But so was last season. The undefeated three’s dates with #15 Texas, #13 Stanford, #16 Oregan State and #18 USC has much to say about where Bama will be in January. Plus the Tide is the only one of the lot that will face a top five opponent from here on out, given that Georgia can get past Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech, respectively.
But what isn’t up for debate is that Johnny Manziel and that chaotic A&M offense is a handful for the SEC, making an already tough league that much tougher.