Umm, any questions?
For all the doubters, detractors and denial artisans out there who struggle to venture outside the norm, see beyond the status quo and admit that conventional wisdom isn’t always correct, this one had to be tough.
To think Alabama, ranked No. 1 in the country, playing before a raucous home crowd in Tuscaloosa, could lose to a two-loss Texas A&M squad and its freshman quarterback was preposterous. Possessing arguably the nation’s top defense, the Tide figured to roll over the Aggies and systematically submerge Johnny Manziel with the complexities of their schemes and the other-worldly skill level of their waves upon waves of athletes.
A&M stood no chance, and, surely, Manziel’s Heisman campaign would be snuffed out on its biggest stage yet … and things would get back to the way they should be: typical, common, almost scripted.
Only three hours and change after kicking off before a national-TV audience, a major rewrite was in order.
Really? Yeah, really … big time.
Not only did A&M hang in there, but it beat ’Bama in its own building … and overcame a shaky call late in order to do so. The defense checked in with crucial plays at just the right time, especially Deshazor Everett’s interception on fourth-and-goal from the 2 with little more than 90 seconds remaining.
Even better, Manziel made a mockery of anyone who cast aspersions on the idea of a freshman not being capable of winning the Heisman … or directing his team to victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Make no mistake about it, he is the best player in college football, circa 2012. For all the numbers West Virginia’s Geno Smith put up early, the heroics Kansas State’s Collin Klein has shown throughout and the efficiency of – oops – AJ McCarron of Alabama displayed up until Saturday, Johnny Football surpasses all their efforts … by a wide margin. He is Ohio State’s Braxton Miller with better feet, decision making and a much, much more accurate arm. Oh yeah, having some pretty terrific receivers, headed by Ryan Swope, doesn’t hurt Manziel; nor does having a coach in Kevin Sumlin who recognized the young man’s talent and opted to utilize it to the fullest.
Manziel doesn’t just “athlete” an opponent to death, he outthinks it and outmaneuvers and out-toughs it as well. His confidence in unwavering, and his natural instinct on when and where to throw, run, cut, dive, you name it is up there with one of the game’s all-time greats, Doug Flutie.
If anything, Manziel brings something extra to the table in that comparison – the ability to burn defense for big chunks of yardage with his legs.
Against the Tide, he rushed for 92 yards on 18 carries to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the season. He also passed for 253 yards, completing 24 of 31 attempts, and two TDs.
The hosts didn’t know what hit them right out of the chute, as Manziel buzzed around like a whirling dervish decked out in all-white, juking and jiving and throwing the Aggies out to a 20-0 lead after one quarter. Read that again – he had the No. 1 team in the country down, almost single-handedly, 20-0 after just 15 minutes of play.
Being the defending national champ, ’Bama stiffened and responded and rallied. But it never quite could get a handle on Manziel, or enough of one to make a comeback complete.
He tossed a 24-yard score to Malcome Kennedy with eight minutes and change remaining that could have silenced the Tide for good – only a potential interception by Everett was ruled out of bounds when video evidence gave a good argument that the A&M defender may have been inbounds, paving the way to a TD bomb from McCarron two plays later.
That kept the champs alive, down 29-24 with 6:09 to go, until Everett got the clincher later.
Questions be damned.
– Looks the gas tank might be hitting “E” for Penn State. The Nittany Lions started leaking serious oil in the second half of a loss to unbeaten Ohio State, and essentially drove off the road Saturday in the final two frames at Nebraska, losing 32-23 after being ahead 20-6 at halftime. As much of a savior as Bill O’Brien has been to the program, his passing affinity is getting in the way of truly utilizing his best weapon: bruising RB Zack Zwinak.
– Can we finally put the nail in Florida’s coffin as a really good team? The Gators struggled with 5-4 Louisiana-Lafayette, edging it 27-20 on a blocked-punt TD with two seconds left Saturday … in the swamp. They should have lost to Missouri, could have lost to Louisiana State and their biggest claim to fame was kicking the bejesus out of South Carolina on the scoreboard – despite being outgained.
– The Louisville undoing came a little earlier than expected here. The season-ender at Rutgers smelled like a toxic explosion of an undefeated fall, but Syracuse got the jump on everyone, just shredding the Cardinals’ defense for 524 yards en route to posting a victory that was not as close as the 45-26 final would indicate.