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By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Nov. 10, 2012
I don’t usually write any column in the first person – it’s considered bad journalistic form – but I feel compelled to at least begin this column in such fashion while wrapping up this game.
Because there’s no way to accurately describe Johnny Manziel without drawing from personal experience.
I was fortunate enough to watch Doug Flutie play in person. I’ve also seen plenty of other great quarterbacks in person, whether it was the sideline fade master Danny Wuerffel of Florida, the cyborg Peyton Manning of Tennessee or the dual-threat QB to end all dual-threat QBs, Cam Newton of Auburn.
Johnny Manziel is not better than any of these guys right now. But he has the potential to be better than every one of them before his career is over. I haven’t perused other writers’ takes on this game yet, but I overheard plenty of Bryant-Denny onlookers calling him a future Heisman Trophy candidate. Bollocks. He’s a current Heisman candidate and I’d have no problem with him being the new front-runner.
Alabama was stymied by Manziel’s lightning-quick release all night. And when he wasn’t snapping passes faster than Alabama’s defense could react to them, he was scurrying around like a squirrel high on methamphetamine.
Alabama had no answer for Manziel, but to be blunt, this game was almost over for all practical purposes in the first quarter, if not for some timely adjustments that allowed the Crimson Tide to get back into the game in the second and third quarters. Unfortunately, Texas A&M won the fourth quarter 9-7, Manziel kept working his magic and Alabama picked precisely the wrong night to play its worst game since getting run out of Williams-Brice Stadium by the South Carolina Gamecocks in 2010.
The collapse Alabama waited until the fourth quarter to serve up against Auburn that same year, came early this time. Alabama avoided the wait by turning the ball over in plus territory on a tipped ball in the first quarter, and then a defense full of future NFLers couldn’t put away a guy that NFL general managers will have no idea what to do with.
What I saw was the second coming of Flutie, the magician of Boston College who was the bane of every opponent despite being smaller than a lot of placekickers. I made mention of it in the pregame preview, but I didn’t realize just how close to Flutie he was until I saw him in the flesh.
Manziel will give Alabama trouble every year until he’s no longer in the league. The upside? By the time he’s done, Alabama fans might not be forced to recognize Auburn’s Newton as the best dual-threat quarterback ever in the SEC.
Manziel’s success, as Newton’s before it, shows just how important one player can be in the college game. Auburn was unbeatable under Newton, inscrutable before and after his tenure. Texas A&M last year barely was bowl-eligible with a quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, who went in the first round to the Miami Dolphins this past April. And Manziel is a better college quarterback already.
It also demonstrates perhaps the future of collegiate offenses – if one is lucky enough to find a quarterback so adept at running as well as throwing. The fast-paced, heavy-on-the-improv offense the Aggies employed against Alabama effectively nullified the Tide’s advantages in personnel and scheme, for the most part. It turned Bryant-Denny Stadium into a sandlot and made the Bama defense look like the Bad News Bears.
Sure, Alabama gave Texas A&M a lot of help. That’s what the Five-Point Breakdown below will flesh out. So in actuality, we have a six-point breakdown this week – with the first point being that Johnny Manziel deserves every bit of hype he’s received to this point.
And as a result of Manziel’s play, there will likely be no national championship for Alabama in 2012. Too many miracles would have to happen at this point to get Alabama where it needs to be.
1. A.J. McCarron played his worst game in crimson. The Heisman Trophy talk can stop. It wasn’t necessarily the two interceptions that did it – the first one came on a tipped ball after Kenny Bell was hit going across the middle – but McCarron missed several open reads inside the A&M 40 on multiple drives that might have led to scores. The interception off Bell’s hands should not have been thrown, either, as it led Bell into triple coverage and a decleating hit from the middle safety. There was also the interception that wasn’t, thanks to an A&M defender just barely landing out of bounds with the ball in his hands. McCarron also started cold for the second week in a row, was absent for most if not all of the first quarter, and the ending play sequence was groan-worthy. Fans will point to the 300 passing yards, but just as Greg McElroy found out against Auburn in 2010 when he too went over the number, the proof is on the scoreboard.
2. Final playcalling sequence didn’t help. Playcalling is the bane of many a fan, but in most cases it’s mistaken for poor execution. Alabama’s final drive, though, was one of those times when the criticism was worthy. Alabama had 1st-and-goal on the 6 and the drive ended on the 2, four plays later, with an interception into the end zone. As it did against LSU last week, Alabama seemed too eager to abandon the run, which is a sin to begin with, but with Kevin Norwood out of the game at that time, virtually unimaginable. Norwood’s absence forced Kenny Bell into the Tide’s goal-line passing package, something for which he isn’t an ideal fit. Combined with the way the evening was going for McCarron, Alabama didn’t play to its strengths.
3. Offense spent too much time early trying to copy LSU. Alabama had so much trouble defending Odell Beckham Jr., Kadron Boone and Jarvis Landry last week when they were lined up in the slot inside of a tight end split wide, that it spent the bulk of its first two drives trying to replicate the package with Michael Williams or Kelly Johnson outside of Norwood or Amari Cooper. Texas A&M might not have seen that look on tape from Alabama before, but Alabama wasn’t comfortable enough to make it work. By the time the Tide found something that did work – the hurry-up offense out of a single-back, three-wide shotgun look – Texas A&M was up three touchdowns.
4. Turnovers (not to mention a certain offsides penalty) were a killer. Here’s the you-don’t-say item in this breakdown. Alabama turned the ball over three times; two of those turnovers led to Aggie touchdowns and the third snuffed the Tide’s hopes in the south end zone. The offsides penalty that ended the game for Alabama was simply insipid. For a team that prides itself on not making mistakes, Alabama crammed a season’s worth of mistakes into one game. Whether a lack of focus, or simply being shellshocked by the Johnny Manziel phenomenon, in the end the only thing that mattered was that Alabama handed away its title hopes.
5. Defense couldn’t create a pressure point. Aside from the first couple of Aggie drives in the second half, Alabama couldn’t find any way to seriously affect Manziel in the pocket. Alabama has struggled with a lack of consistent edge rush this year, hence the reason Alabama essentially rebuilt its Jack rotation two weeks ago around Xzavier Dickson more so than Adrian Hubbard. True freshman Denzel Devall got a ton of work in this game, but none of those three players made a big impact. And unfortunately, this is a trend. The same story played out, albeit along different lines, against LSU and Zach Mettenberger. This is two weeks in a row that Alabama has allowed the opponent to set the terms of how the game would be played rather than setting the terms itself and forcing the opponent to react to the Tide’s superiority. Alabama did debut a new wrinkle in the secondary, moving Dee Milliner to the Star position, after realizing the triple-safety look it put out against LSU would not fly against Manziel and Texas A&M. The Aggies seemed a bit slow on the uptake, initially targeting safeties or Deion Belue and not going after Fulton until later in the game, and Fulton did a decent job holding his own once Texas A&M started throwing his way. The problem was, having Milliner in the Star didn’t really accomplish much in terms of pressure or confusion. Alabama was almost forced into hoping Kevin Sumlin would just flat-out call the wrong play, or Manziel would simply miss his target all on his own.
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