Here’s Johnny! Manziel, A&M coming on strong

Matt Lowe

November 06, 2012 at 5:40 pm.

Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, who has been lighting up defenses with his arm and legs, is a serious Heisman contender. (Thomas Campbell)

If you’ve watched Texas A&M play any over the last few weeks, then you should be fully aware what type of player Johnny Manziel is. If you haven’t, well, you don’t know what you’re missing.

The redshirt freshman isn’t the most gifted player physically at 6-1, 200 pounds, but Manziel more than makes up for that with his lightning quick feet, terrific throwing touch and competitive spirit, all of which have left defenses shaking their heads.

After redshirting a year ago, Manziel won the starting QB gig in the fall and hasn’t looked back. Through nine games, the former Tivy High School (near San Antonio) product has completed 203 of 305 passes (66.6 percent) for 2,527 yards and 16 touchdowns in leading Texas A&M to a surprising 7-2 record. But, despite the impressive passing numbers, it is Manziel’s feet that make him arguably the toughest player in college football to defend.

“I’ve been around longer than most, and most of our players can’t relate to this, but this guy reminds me of Doug Flutie,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “I played against him a long time ago, but he was a really good player and a really good competitor and that’s who this guy reminds me of. He can throw it, he’s not great big in stature or anything like that, he’s extremely quick, he’s very instinctive – has a unique ability to extend plays and seems to know when to take-off and run it. He scrambles and makes plays throwing the ball down the field.

“He doesn’t remind me of (Cam Newton or Tim Tebow) who were bigger, more physical, very athletic guys; this guy really doesn’t run a lot of quarterback runs. He runs quarterback draws, and he runs when it’s a pass and everybody gets all spread-out and [he] scrambles. The other guys were certainly capable of doing that, this is a unique guy in terms of his play-making ability, his size, quickness and speed and ability to make people miss in space.”

Entering Week 11, Manziel leads the SEC in rushing yards (922), rushing touchdowns (15) and is tied with Georgia true freshman Todd Gurley for the most carries (138) in the league. He also ranks second nationally in total points accounted for with 186, which trails only Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch’s 210. Some of those stats can be attributed to operating behind one of the best offensive lines in college football, but a lot of the offensive success A&M has had is due to the efficient offensive system first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury have implemented with Manziel at the helm.

“I think Kliff has done an excellent job of getting a feel for what Johnny can handle comfortably and has been conservative with that early in the year.” Sumlin said. “The growth of the amount of offense has been good, I think, and Johnny now has a better understanding what we do. I think everybody has grown a little bit.”

This weekend, Manziel will need his arm and legs squaring off against No. 1 Alabama, who owns the nation’s top defense. After dodging a bullet a weekend ago at LSU, the Crimson Tide will look to lock up the SEC West crown with a win. But it won’t be easy going up against Manziel and a Texas A&M offense that has scored a touchdown on its opening possession in six straight games.

“Texas A&M is obviously a very good team.” Saban said. “They only have two losses, both to top 10 teams by three and five points. They are one of the leading offenses in the country, certainly in our conference. (Johnny) Manziel is a terrific player who can do a lot of things. He creates a lot of plays, extends a lot of plays. He’s a great scrambler, a very effective passer there in the spread, no huddle and going fast. He does a really good job of executing it.”

One big key for Alabama’s defense in the game will be how well it adjusts to the tempo of A&M’s offense. Outside of Ole Miss, the Crimson Tide hasn’t faced any up-tempo spread teams so it will be interesting to see how Kirby Smart’s unit responds. Alabama’s vital sub packages may not factor in much due to the Aggies offensive pace, so it will be critical for the Crimson Tide defense to limit A&M’s yardage on first and second down. Alabama will want to avoid third-and-short yardage due to Manziel’s running ability.

Last week against Mississippi State, Manziel and the Aggie offense stayed in manageable down and distances the entire afternoon, which kept the Bulldogs’ defense off-balance the entire game. Perhaps that’s why the Dan Mullen’s club allowed a school-record 693 yards of total offense.

“Manziel, he is a ball player,” Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks said after Texas A&M’s 38-13 win. “He did a great job managing the offense. They (Texas A&M) got the job done.”

A win for Texas A&M over Alabama would be big in a number of ways. Not only would it temporarily knock Alabama out of the BCS title race and keep the Aggies alive in the rugged SEC West division title hunt, but it could put “Johnny Football” Manziel in the lead for the Heisman Trophy. And while no freshman has ever won college football’s most prestigious award, there’s a first time for everything.