I’m a die-hard Alabama fan. Not just because of their recent success, but because I married a woman who was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. And, as anyone from that part of the world knows, if you’re from Tuscaloosa you are an Alabama fan.
Despite our recent success (3 National Championships in 4 years) we’ve had one Achilles heel, the Quarterback who can scramble and invent create something out of nothing. We had this problem with Tim Tebow. We also had this problem with Cam Newton. And finally, now we’re having the same problem with Johnny Manziel. Elusive and talented young athletes break the mold of what is expected at the college level of football. Yet, once in a while they pop up, like these young men have; and when they do it creates nightmares for coaches and teams to defend against.
Last year, Alabama was shocked, and so was much of the college football world, when Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies took off to a quick 3 touchdown lead in the first quarter against the #1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama had just come off a really hard game against LSU the week prior, and was certainly caught off guard by this fairly unknown Quarterback out of Texas. After a long and hard fight to come back, Alabama came within one play of winning the game, yet fell short.
With an entire year to prepare for a little payback, Nick Saban should have been ready for whatever Johnny Manziel had to throw at Alabama. He was not. Ultimately, it came down to the simple fact that at the college level, the majority of the athletes on the field at any given moment do not have the skillset to stop a player like Johnny Manziel. On September 14, 2013 Johnny started off the game the same way he did the year before with two relatively quick touchdowns scored in the first quarter. What was clear however; was that basically two things were working for Texas A&M. Those were: Johnny Manziel and a wideout by the name of Evans, who was a former 6 foot 5 inch high school basketball player. In order to move the ball up the field Texas A&M would either have Manziel run it himself, or throw to Evans (who turned out to be a mismatch for whoever Alabama tried to apply man coverage on him).
This was serious gut-check time for the Tide. It rapidly became apparent to Alabama that the only way to beat this guy was to out-score him. So, that’s exactly what Alabama set their minds on, and apparently changed their game plan to achieve. On Alabama’s second drive of the game they played a much faster, hurry-up offense than is typical of Alabama. They threw the ball much more than is typical as well. In short order and by the end of the first half of the game Alabama had turned the tide in their favor with a 28-14 lead.
The second half started out with Alabama having possession of the ball; however a couple of false starts and Alabama was having to punt the ball away. One thing that Johnny Manziel either doesn’t know how to do or believes is beneath him is to throw the ball away when there is no play to be had. Twice in this game he made this dreaded mistake. Once, in the first half he tossed up a poorly thrown pass which was picked off in the end zone. In the 2nd half, on A&M’s first drive Manziel tried to thread the needle and throw what was an ill advised pass up the middle into triple coverage. It cost him not only the down, but it also cost him 6 points. The ball was popped up into the air right before it got to its intended receiver and then picked up by Alabama’s safety Sunseri. Sunseri returned the interception over 70 yards for a Touchdown. At this point in the game Alabama had outscored Texas A&M 35-0 since the initial 14-0 Texas A&M had put up on Alabama in the first quarter.
Effectively, at this point in the game Alabama had secured themselves a victory without a total meltdown. Of course, Manziel did continue to make amazing passes to his go-to receiver Evans, and scramble for many yards. But in the end it wasn’t enough.
I could discuss some terrible calls (and no-calls), but that wouldn’t change the outcome of the game anyway, so what’s the point?
Ultimately, the only answer right now to beating a team with Johnny Manziel on it is to keep their wide receiver Evans from catching any passes and to contain Manziel at the line of scrimmage. Don’t get behind him or he’ll leave you and run up the field for a lot of yards.
Roll Tide Roll