The rushing stats have dipped, but Johnny Manziel is besting his 2012 season in many ways. (Cal Sport Media via AP)
Has the country completely forgotten about Johnny Manziel? While Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston dominate most of the Heisman Trophy conversation, last year’s winner is seemingly flying under the radar in College Station.
Yet Manziel’s performance against Vanderbilt on Saturday further proved that the polarizing player isn’t out of the Heisman hunt just yet.
As always, Manziel faces a couple of challenges in his path to the trophy. First, only one player (Ohio State running back Archie Griffin from 1974-75) has ever taken home the trophy twice; that notion alone will play into minds of voters, some of whom hesitate to cast their ballots for a previous winner. Secondly, Manziel’s reputation, fair or not, isn’t as spotless as it was in 2012. Many voters view the Heisman as a character award as well as an on-field award, and some don’t look fondly on Manziel’s cocky persona.
But it was only a year ago that Manziel himself broke through the Heisman’s freshman barrier, and the quarterback’s play this season has seemingly overshadowed the negative narrative that followed him off the field. His outing against the Commodores reminded us that he still might be the country’s best player.
Heisman Watch -- Week 9
1. Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
2. Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
3. Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M
4. Bryce Petty, QB Baylor
5. AJ McCarron, QB Alabama
6. Tajh Boyd, QB Clemson
7. Teddy Bridgewater, QB Louisville
8. Braxton Miller, QB Ohio State
9. Melvin Gordon, RB Wisconsin
10. Aaron Murray, QB Georgia
Player of the Week
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M QB
Week 9 stats: 25-of-35 for 305 yards, four touchdowns, one interception
Manziel injured his shoulder in Texas A&M’s loss to Auburn last week, and Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin described his quarterback’s status prior to kickoff with Vanderbilt as “hopeful.” Nobody was entirely surprised when Manziel ultimately suited up -– “In my mind I was always going to play,” Manziel told reporters postgame –- and if his shoulder was nagging him, it didn’t show.
Manziel wasted no time in toying with Vanderbilt, completing 15-of-17 passes for 175 yards and three touchdowns by the end of the first quarter, including 10-of-10 on the opening scoring drive. He tacked on another score before leaving the game midway through the third period with A&M holding a 42-17. After the game, Sumlin said Manziel only practiced once during the previous week while dealing with shoulder pain.
It’s interesting to compare Manziel’s numbers to those of his redshirt freshman season. In a year in which quarterback play is the story of the SEC, Manziel currently leads the conference in passing efficiency (181.9), an improvement from his 2012 season mark of 155.3. His 73-percent completion rate ranks third in the country, also up from 68 percent at the end of last year.
But Manziel’s stats are regressing in other categories. The passer has already thrown eight picks this year; he threw nine in all of 2012. He’s also recorded a mere six rushing touchdowns so far, while he’d punched in 13 rushing scores through eight games last year (and eventually 21 on the season). That’s partially because Manziel isn’t taking to the ground quite as often. He’s carried the ball 89 times thus far, down from 117 attempts through eight games in 2012.
Perhaps the biggest reason Manziel largely rests outside of the Heisman buzz this year is that Texas A&M currently sits at No. 12 in the BCS standings with two losses while Mariota and Winston headline teams in the national title hunt.
Manziel’s Aggies had already lost both of two losses of 2012 by this point, as well, and they went on to win the final four games of the season, including the storied matchup with Alabama. Perhaps an upset on the road against LSU or Missouri this time around could give Manziel the late boost he needs.
Mariota only found the end zone once against the Bruins, his lowest scoring output of the season, but he completed 21-of-28 passes for 230 yards and didn’t throw an interception (yet again) against Anthony Barr and that UCLA defense. But more importantly, the sophomore helped engineer four Oregon touchdown drives in the second half to break open a 14-14 halftime knot. Now Mariota can enjoy a bye week before facing his stiffest test yet against Stanford on a Thursday night.
Manziel wasn’t the only quarterback to enjoy a fast start Saturday. Winston threw all three of his touchdown passes to three different receivers in the first quarter as the Seminoles built an early 35-0 lead against NC State. He finished with 292 passing yards in just over one half of action. Given Winston’s youth, his efficiency in the pocket has been remarkable; his 207.0 passer rating currently ranks second in the country.
It took Bryce Petty less than three quarters of action to surpass his passing mark for the season. Baylor’s quarterback threw for a season-high 430 yards while tossing three touchdowns and rushing for one more as his Bears bombarded Kansas. Behind Petty, eight of Baylor’s nine scoring drives took less than two minutes. It’s no wonder the junior is the nation’s leader in passing efficiency (219.0) and yards per attempt (13.9).
No player has dissected defenses more efficiently and prolifically than Baylor's Bryce Petty. (Ed Zurga/AP)
Oregon’s State’s quarterback came into the Beavers’ game against Stanford as the country’s leading passer, but the Cardinal defense put up a fight against the junior. Mannion notched season-highs in completions (41) and attempts (57) while managing season-lows in yards (271) and touchdowns (one). The road doesn’t get much easier for Mannion either, as Oregon State closes the season against USC, Arizona State, Washington and Oregon.
Tweets of the week
That’s quite a comparison:
Marcus Mariota has a motor on him:
Video of the week
The first touchdown of Johnny Manziel’s highlight reel against Vanderbilt capped a drive in which the passer completed all 10 of his pass attempts, putting any speculation regarding his injured shoulder to rest.