Johnny Manziel may have behaved a bit sophomoric during the off-season, but “Johnny Football” has shown no signs of regressing on the field since he began his second season leading the Texas Aggies
By Kendall Webb
Special Contributor: SEC Football
If you were looking for a sophomore slump, then don’t hold your breath.
In Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel’s first big test of the 2013 season, he showed that he’s still every bit the Heisman-worthy quarterback that he was a year ago. Manziel’s early leadership spotted the Aggies a 14-0 advantage in the first quarter. His late heroics, however, were the latest chapter in a legacy that seems certain to end with Manziel being hailed as one of college football’s all-time greats.
Trailing 42-21, Manziel would rally his troops with three fourth-quarter touchdown passes including a 95-yarder to Mike Evans (who was brilliant in his own right with seven catches for 279 yards). In the end, the Aggies would fall short in a 49-42 classic, but the legend of Johnny Football was augmented even in defeat. He would finish 28-of-39 for 464 yards and five touchdowns while adding another 98 yards rushing.
Manziel’s performance was hailed as it should be, and he received several national player of the week honors including the Davey O’Brien Award’s Quarterback of the Week. But here’s the truth about Manziel’s performance Saturday – it also cost the Aggies the game.
You see, Manziel also threw two extremely costly interceptions. The first came in the first half when the Crimson Tide had rallied from that early 14-0 deficit to tie the game. Manziel had responded by driving the Aggies into prime scoring position with a first-and-goal at the Alabama 7-yard line. He would then rush for three yards on first down, but on second-and-goal from the 4-yard line, he’d make the first of two crucial mistakes that would end up eventually swinging this game to Alabama. His second-down pass would end up in the arms of Alabama’s Cyrus Jones for a touchback taking at least three points off the board for the Aggies. Four plays and 80 yards later, the Crimson Tide would take their first lead of the day on a 51-yard AJ McCarron to Kenny Bell touchdown pass.
The second pick would prove to be even more immediately damaging. Trailing 28-14, Manziel’s long pass down the middle of the field into tight coverage would lead to a tipped ball by Crimson Tide defender Jarrick Williams. It would land in the arms of Williams’ teammate Vinnie Sunseri who would take the errant pass 73 yards in the opposite direction for a touchdown avoiding a one-armed tackle attempt by Manziel himself. It would prove to be the one mistake from which the Aggies could not recover as they would never manage to close the gap to less than seven points.
McCarran’s performance, meanwhile, didn’t go unnoticed either. The senior signal-caller led the nation in passing efficiency last year, but was nowhere to be found in the Heisman voting despite a 30-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Saturday’s game at Texas A&M, however, might have helped McCarran shed the dreaded ‘game manager’ label. His 20-of-29 performance for a career-high 394 yards with four touchdowns and, most importantly, no interceptions stood as a worthy counterpoint to Manziel’s stat line. It was good enough to earn him a few player-of-the-week nods as well, including the Maxwell Award’s Player of the Week.
Week Three Recap
Straight up I went 7-1 to get to 29-4 overall through three weeks. And there were some hard to pick games last week – Alabama at Texas A&M, Mississippi State at Auburn and Ole Miss at Texas were all difficult games on paper.
In the Alabama game, I predicted a fight to the finish with the game possibly turning on one crucial mistake by Manziel. Take your pick, or rather ‘picks’, as Manziel threw two that figured into the game’s final outcome. And in the Auburn game I took the Tigers’ home field advantage with the thought that they’d likely be more effective running the ball than Mississippi State. I missed on that second part as it was the Bulldogs who were more effective on the ground – but the home field came through as Auburn ended a 10-game SEC losing streak by scoring the winning touchdown with just 10 seconds remaining. Hey, I’ll take it.
But it was that last game that completely tripped me up. You see, I was biased. No, not because I graduated from the University of Texas, but more so, because I was at last year’s game in Oxford when Texas scored 66 points and ended the game sitting inside Ole Miss’s 5-yard line with a chance at 73. Heck, the ‘Horns could have scored 80 in that game last year, so considering Mack Brown’s record in bounce back games where the ‘Horns desperately need a win to, ahem, save his hide, and it was hard to picture the Longhorns not figuring out a way to get it done when they were that much better than Ole Miss a year ago.
Enjoy a laugh at my expense here because I was wrong. Big-time wrong to the tune of a 27-0 Ole Miss-dominated second half as the Longhorns completely came undone on defense again.
Generally, it only gets more interesting the deeper you get into the SEC schedule, but we’re still early enough that there are a lot of non-conference games. In fact, there isn’t a single high-profile matchup this week in the SEC with the only conference games being Tennessee at Florida and Auburn at LSU – both of which should go to the home team.
Vanderbilt Commodores at UMass Minutemen
12 noon ET, Saturday, September 21 (ESPNews)
STORYLINE: Maybe getting way out-of-town will be good for Vandy
It was another rough week on the Vandy campus with some of the more sordid details coming to light in the rape case that has been the talk of the town in Nashville. For Vandy, the road this weekend might actually be a refuge.
PREDICTION: Fortunately, it’s not the most difficult opponent either. UMass will play hard at their home away from home – the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium – so Vanderbilt can’t expect the Minutemen to just lay down for them. But then again, Vandy’s talent is far superior, and they should start to create some distance by halftime.
North Texas Mean Green at No. 11 Georgia
12:21 p.m. ET, Saturday, September 21 (SEC TV)
STORYLINE: Finally a breather for Georgia
Nobody in the country has probably had a tougher road in the first two weeks of the season than the Georgia Bulldogs facing a couple of opponents in Clemson and South Carolina ranked in the top six of most national polls at the time. The Bulldogs wear the scars from those two matchups with a 1-1 record, and very little margin for error the rest of the season if they want to stay relevant in the national title chase. Bringing in an overmatched North Texas squad, however, should be just what the doctor ordered.
PREDICTION: North Texas hasn’t beaten a Top 25 opponent since 1974, and that win over San Diego State is the only time they’ve ever managed the feat. If they hold Georgia under 50, they will have accomplished about all they can in this one. Georgia in a rout.
Tennessee Volunteers at No. 19 Florida Gators
3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, September 21 (CBS)
STORYLINE: Can the Vols end Florida’s eight-game winning streak in the series?
As if it hasn’t been rocky enough up on Rocky Top the past few years, it’s been even a little rockier than usual this week. It was just a little over a week ago that a story broke about five SEC players including former Vols’ quarterback Tyler Bray receiving improper benefits during their college careers. Then came former Vols’ running back Arian Foster’s admission today that he, too, accepted money (and food, oh the horror!) during his senior year in Knoxville. Who knows what any of it means, yet, but for a program desperate to turn the page on the past and become relevant again, a win over Florida would be a nice start.
PREDICTION: Back to that eight-game Florida winning streak, it’s going to be tough for Tennessee to keep it from becoming nine. It might, however, be a lot closer than you think, and we’re going to say the Gators pull out an interesting game at home that might come down to a late drive – either a late score to pull it out, or a big stop to keep the Vols’ winless in this series for another year.
Arkansas Razorbacks at Rutgers Scarlet Knights
3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, September 21 (ESPN)
STORYLINE: It’s payback time
It was around this time last year that the Rutgers Scarlet Knights were putting the finishing touches on a 35-26 win over Arkansas – in Fayetteville. It was also about this time that any lingering thoughts of John L. Smith becoming the permanent head coach in Fayetteville quickly died as the Razorbacks slipped to 1-3.
PREDICTION: This is a tough one. At 3-0, Arkansas is in much better shape than it was a year ago, but Rutgers played a tough Fresno State team on the road losing in overtime 52-51 in the season opener. Still, the Scarlet Knights are only a 2.5-point favorite indicating just how hard it is to pick this one straight up. This is a gut feel pick – and something tells me Arkansas gets it done.
Colorado State Rams at No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide
7 p.m. ET Saturday, September 21 (ESPN2)
STORYLINE: From the Flood to the Tide
Look, it’s been a tough week out West, and while Colorado State’s campus and the surrounding city of Fort Collins were spared the worst of the historic floods in Colorado, it’s certainly been on the mind of Rams’ coaches and players as they tried to keep up a business-as-usual approach while reading the horror stories from surrounding communities that support the program. So while the Rams stand absolutely no chance at No. 1 Alabama, it’s probably appropriate that the game is at Alabama. After all, a football game in Colorado where public resources are already spread thin already seems almost trivial.
PREDICTION: Something in the neighborhood of 49-7 or 49-14 sounds about right.
SMU Mustangs at No. 8 Texas A&M Aggies
7 p.m. ET Saturday, September 21 (ESPNU)
STORYLINE: A&M’s offense is fine; will the defense show any improvement?
With a defense as porous as Texas A&M’s has been, an upset is never completely out of the question. While everybody knows the Aggies’ quarterback, the SMU signal-caller – former Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert who replaced Colt McCoy in the 2009 BCS National Championship Game before later transferring to SMU – is fourth in the FBS in passing yards with 352.5 per game. It isn’t out of the question that an inferior opponent with a potent offense could get into a shootout with the Aggies this year reminiscent of that 2012 shootout against Louisiana Tech in Shreveport that ended at 59-57 in favor of the Aggies.
PREDICTION: SMU is as good a candidate as anyone to make things interesting for the Aggie defense, and we won’t be shocked if the Aggies are a little sluggish after their draining loss to Alabama last week. But the Aggies are 11-0-1 against the Ponies since a 28-20 loss at the old Texas Stadium in 1984, and they’ll find a way to get it done.
Troy Trojans at Mississippi State Bulldogs
7:30 p.m. ET Saturday, September 21
STORYLINE: Is the Mullen magic starting to wear off?
After five years of mostly below-average results under former coach Sylvester Croom, the Dan Mullen era and its three straight bowl game appearances has definitely led to more optimism and higher expectations in Starkville. But with instate rival Ole Miss quickly climbing the SEC West ladder under Hugh Freeze and the addition of suddenly resurgent Texas A&M under Kevin Sumlin, Mississippi State seems to have lost some of its momentum. After all, just last week the Bulldogs became Auburn’s first SEC win after 10 straight conference losses, and with Alabama, LSU and a slowly improving Arkansas all residing in the SEC West as well, there just isn’t much room for Mississippi State to make a move.
PREDICTION: The Bulldogs should beat Troy although last-year’s six-point victory shows just how close these games can still be for Mississippi State. They need to be careful – this is a good game to regain some momentum. It’s also a potential trap game that could put the Bulldogs in a big 1-3 hole with any thoughts of a fourth-straight postseason trip looking extremely bleak. We’ll take Mississippi State to get it done, though.
Auburn Tigers at No. 12 LSU Tigers
7:45 p.m. ET Saturday, September 21 (ESPN)
STORYLINE: Back to reality, Auburn
Hey, it was a big step for Auburn. That is, ending a 10-game losing streak in the SEC, but a home game against Mississippi State which, as we illustrated above, is in danger of ending up in the SEC West basement is also a big step down from a trip to Baton Rouge to face the LSU Tigers on a Saturday night.
PREDICTION: Auburn has improved, no doubt about it, and eventually Gus Malzahn’s crew will walk out of a place like this with a huge upset. It won’t, however, be Saturday night in Baton Rouge this year. LSU wins comfortably at home.
Missouri Tigers at Indiana Hoosiers
8 p.m. ET Saturday, September 21 (Big Ten Network)
STORYLINE: Nothing to gain, everything to lose for Mizzou
This is a no-win situation for Missouri going on the road to face a historically downtrodden program like Indiana. If they win, then everybody will say they should have won it, and if they lose … well, everybody will say they should have won it. Of course, it might be a no-win situation in the eyes of college football fans and pundits, but it still counts in the standings.
PREDICTION: The problem is, this Indiana team has actually looked pretty good. Yeah, they lost to Navy in a 41-35 shootout, but they hung 73 points on Indiana State (73-35), and they blasted Bowling Green 42-10 showing much improvement on defense. The key has been balance on offense – the Hoosiers feature the nation’s No. 11-ranked passing offense and the No. 31 rushing offense. Missouri’s No. 19 rushing offense might be able to exploit the Hoosier’s No. 102-ranked rushing defense, but they’ll still have to score a lot of points to stay out in front. I’m actually going to take Indiana to win a shootout at home.