Johnny Manziel continues to dazzle in loss to Alabama; more Overtime

Monday September 16th, 2013

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel accounted for 562 yards of total offense in a loss to Alabama.
John W. McDonough/SI

There are three different ways to watch a football game, and each provides a different perspective. The first is on TV, which affords viewers the luxury of seeing numerous replays and close-ups. The second is from the stands or the press box, which allows viewers to focus on individual matchups and watch as plays develop. The third way to watch is from the sideline.

When covering a game, I usually go down to the field for the last five minutes or so of regulation in order to set up for postgame interviews. While undeniably cool, it's usually the least beneficial vantage point. It's mostly just a big scrum of bodies running into each other. Often, I find myself looking up to the video board for a better view of the action.

But watching Texas A&M's final touchdown drive from the sideline on Saturday at Kyle Field was a revelatory experience. Though it doesn't take a master's degree in football to recognize Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel's talent, watching him operate at field level gave me an entirely new appreciation for his skills. You can read my thoughts on Alabama's 49-42 victory here, but more than anything, Saturday's classic served to remind me why Manziel is the best player in college football.

Roll your eyes if you wish. Choose to fixate on the sophomore's two interceptions (one in the end zone, one on a deflected pass that turned into a pick-six) if you must. But the player who racked up 562 yards of total offense against the nation's most renowned defense certainly didn't fall off this Heisman voter's ballot. If anything, he moved back up to No. 1. That realization wasn't necessarily going through my mind when Manziel staked his team to an early 14-0 lead, or when he completed a jump ball to wideout Edward Pope after a ridiculous backpedalling scramble, or when he connected time and again with stud receiver Mike Evans (including on the 95-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter that cut the Crimson Tide's lead to 42-35 and got Texas A&M back into the game). The realization took hold during the Aggies' final, and ultimately inconsequential, drive.

STAPLES: Despite loss to Alabama, Texas A&M chasing SEC and national goals

At field level, I could discern just how small Manziel is relative to the other players on the field, most notably the monstrous pass rushers who charge at him on every play. While he's listed at 6-foot-1, it's doubtful Manziel is much taller than 5-11. His weight is listed at 210 pounds, but I assume that's only when his helmet and pads are included. It's thus a wonder that he manages to survive repeated hits from the likes of defenders such as 6-4, 290-pound Alabama defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan.

In Manziel's world, however, Pagan and the other Crimson Tide pass rushers don't even seem to be on the field. A&M's star effortlessly darts around them without ever taking his eyes off his receivers. On TV, Manziel's wild scrambles come off like something from a video game. He is an image on a screen. At field level, though, he is a real, live person, with body control unlike any I've ever seen from a quarterback. In turn, he extends plays like nobody else in the game. It's incredible that any player can buy three to five extra seconds against the sport's most talented defense.

"It was a lot of work chasing around Manziel," said Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley.

Meanwhile, on television, viewers can't see what Manziel is looking at during those extended scrambles. The ball leaves his hand, the camera follows the ball and receivers Evans or Malcome Kennedy magically appear on the other end. Most fans aren't able to see the organized chaos of 21 bodies shuffling around in front of Manziel. Yet he always seems to know exactly where his receivers will end up.

"He played Johnny-like, that's about the way to put it," Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said after the game. "He scrambled around and made some plays but he also stayed in the pocket and remained efficient."

Manziel's final stat line on Saturday was 28-of-39 for 464 passing yards and five touchdowns, with two interceptions, as well as 98 rushing yards on 14 carries. No other quarterback has done anything remotely like that against Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban's defense, and it's a safe bet that no one will do so again anytime soon. Ultimately Manziel lost, and that's the most important thing. But he won the Heisman last year largely off his victorious performance against 'Bama -- one that could have easily gone the other way if Aggies cornerback Deshazor Everett had not intercepted Tide quarterback AJ McCarron in the end zone.

In two meetings with Alabama, Manziel has now completed 73 percent of his passes for 717 yards and seven touchdowns, rushed for another 190 yards and converted 16-of-26 third downs. Through three games this season (nine quarters, really) he's put up nearly identical passing stats (70.8 completion percentage, 984 yards, 11 touchdowns, three interceptions) to Teddy Bridgewater (70.5 completion percentage, 1,002 yards, 10 touchdowns, one interception), the Heisman hype machine's current quarterback du jour.

ELLIS: Three takeaways from Alabama's high-scoring win over Texas A&M

"I worked this offseason to be a better passer, and [to] be better in the pocket and [to] get better in those areas instead of freelancing as much," said Manziel. "I think you can look at it today and our previous games and say that goal happened."

More weeks of eye-popping numbers could be set to come as A&M embarks on a schedule that's very light on elite defenses. The Aggies play SMU next, followed by trips to Arkansas and Ole Miss. Then Auburn and Vanderbilt come to College Station. Manziel might not play another game of the week until Nov. 23 at LSU, but he will remain must-see TV every week he steps on the field.

Without the sideline viewpoint, hopefully the Johnny Cam does him justice.

Sun Devils edge Badgers after chaotic finish

The wildest and most controversial ending in college football this weekend occurred shortly after 2 a.m. ET on Sunday, but even fans who went to bed surely saw the replays upon waking up. Arizona State coach Todd Graham witnessed the finish in person, and then relived it four or five times before going to sleep at 3 a.m. On Sunday morning, he watched the clip a few more times.

Not surprisingly, his description of what happened may differ from that of his counterpart at Wisconsin.

With 18 seconds left and the Badgers closing in on a game-winning field goal attempt -- but with no timeouts remaining -- quarterback Joel Stave took the snap and attempted to run to the center of the field and take a knee. Presumably, he would have spiked the ball on the next play. But after running into offensive lineman Ryan Groy, Stave slipped and simply laid the ball on the ground. He would say afterward that he took a knee, but it's unclear from replays. While a whistle blew the play dead, multiple Sun Devils defenders jumped on the ball like it was a fumble and wouldn't let go. The officials failed to re-spot the ball, the clock kept ticking and Wisconsin never got another play off. Arizona State won the game 32-30.

"From the end zone [video] copy, it looks like [Stave's] knee might be down, from the sideline copy it looks like [it] might not," Graham said on Sunday. "Whether his knee did get down or did not get down, he caused some confusion because he put the ball on the ground. If he'd handed the ball to the official, it'd probably get re-spotted."

Frustrated Badgers coach Gary Andersen laid no blame on his quarterback after the game, though he couldn't come out and blame the officials, either. "We [take a knee] with 15 seconds left and never even got a chance to snap it again," he said. "I don't know how that happens." Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez told on Sunday that Big Ten officials supervisor Bill Carollo told him that the Pac-12 officials blew the sequence. "All I know is they botched it," Alvarez said. The Pac-12 reviews the performance of all of its officiating crews on Monday.

Graham, however, was less interested in discussing how the game ended than he was in talking about his team's victory over the three-time defending Big Ten champions, which lifted the Sun Devils (2-0) into the No. 23 spot in this week's AP Poll. Arizona State's biggest weakness last year was its rushing defense, and while the Badgers did gain 231 yards on the ground, the second-year ASU coach considered the night a huge success. He noted that most of the Badgers' rushing yardage came on big perimeter runs from speedster Melvin Gordon (193 yards on 15 carries, including an 80-yard touchdown) because Wisconsin adjusted after the Sun Devils largely took away the Badgers' power plays.

"I think our guys got a lot of confidence last night," said Graham. "I knew personally we were a lot better against the run because we've gotten bigger, we've gotten stronger and we're explosive."

Arizona State will need to play even bigger, stronger and more explosively next Saturday, when the Sun Devils visits No. 5 Stanford. In Palo Alto, they'll be dealing with another power-running team -- and another Pac-12 officiating crew.

Quarterack Bo Wallace (14) and the Rebels outscored Texas 27-0 in the second half of Saturday's win.
Michael Thomas/AP

Texas' downward spiral continues

Any network (besides the Longhorn Network, of course) looking to spice up its soap-opera lineup this fall really ought to think about adding the budding hit This Week in Texas Football.

On Saturday, 24 hours after the university had shot down a report claiming that venerable athletic director DeLoss Dodds was set to step down at the end of the calendar year, the Longhorns took another step toward ensuring that at least one regime change will take place in Austin by season's end. Ole Miss rolled over Texas 44-23, after which Rebels coach Hugh Freeze -- as well as a few of the 'Horns' own players -- took some not-so-subtle shots at new coordinator Greg Robinson's beleaguered defense. Things were so bad that embattled coach Mack Brown -- 1-2 at Texas for the first time since 1998 -- pleaded with fans to keep attending games.

The Longhorns gave up 272 rushing yards to the Rebels -- admittedly, an improvement over the 550 they allowed in a loss to BYU in Week 2 -- who averaged six yards per carry, led by tailback Jeff Scott, who rushed 19 times for 164 yards and a touchdown. (He also returned a punt 80 yards for a score.) 'Horns linebacker Jordan Hicks lamented afterward, "They were running the same play over and over."

RICKMAN: Texas falls to Ole Miss to continue early-season tailspin

Realistically, Robinson could not have installed an entirely new scheme in the span of five practice days. And the absence of injured quarterback David Ash (who was not even at Royal-Memorial Stadium) and playmaker Daje Johnson presumably limited the Texas offense. Still, that an unheralded SEC team was able come into Austin and steamroll a team that was supposed to restore glory to Longhorns football was yet another insult to an already reeling program.

Ever the optimist, Brown said after the game, "I told [the players] we have a new start next week. We've got Kansas State. We get all this righted by winning the Big 12 championship, and that's what they've got to do." Yet that's a bold goal given that the 'Horns have won exactly two Big 12 titles in Brown's 15-year tenure -- and both of those teams went on to play for the BCS championship.

Brown also made this plea to obviously angry Texas fans: "Keep coming. ... Forget the coaches, come for the kids."

Tune in next week for another drama-packed episode.

Current BCS forecast

Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games. Here's my current edition:

Title game: Alabama vs. Stanford
Rose: Ohio State vs. Oregon
Fiesta: Baylor vs. Louisville
Sugar: Texas A&M vs. Clemson
Orange: Florida State vs. Michigan

The only change I made this week was swapping the Aggies for LSU in the Sugar Bowl -- which doesn't necessarily mean I think that A&M will beat the Tigers on Nov. 23. Rather, in light of Manziel's performance against the Crimson Tide on Saturday, I would assume that if Johnny Football's team is eligible, no bowl is going to pass on him. The only question is whether the Aggies' defense can improve enough to keep them in the mix.

UCLA's Brett Hundley passed for 294 yards and three touchdowns in a comeback victory over Nebraska.
Nati Harnik/AP

Spreading the field

• It's sad to see Minnesota coach Jerry Kill's continued struggles with epilepsy. An August Minneapolis Star Tribune feature detailed the numerous medical and lifestyle changes that Kill made last offseason in an effort to deal with the seizures that have caused him to miss parts of two games in each of the past two seasons. "I want to make sure I never have a situation, ever, during a game again," he said at the time.

Unfortunately, Kill suffered another seizure on the sideline at halftime of Saturday's game against Western Illinois. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys served as acting head coach for the rest of the Gophers' 29-12 win, as he has done in the past. Obviously, the primary concern is for Kill's health, but many are understandably starting to wonder about whether he can fulfill his duties as coach -- and whether he's endangering himself by staying on the job. Those are questions with no easy answers.

• The natives are growing restless in Nebraska, where the Cornhuskers suffered yet another defensive meltdown on Saturday against UCLA. The Bruins fell behind 21-3, but stormed back behind quarterback Brett Hundley to score five unanswered touchdowns in the second and third quarters of an eventual 41-21 victory. Cue flashbacks for Nebraska to last year's debacles at Ohio State, and in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin. "In times like these, we have to stick together," said coach Bo Pelini after the game. "The only people that can fix it is us."

UCLA's performance showed that the Bruins will likely be a force in the increasingly deep Pac-12. But instead of thinking about football after the game on Saturday, the Bruins' thoughts were primarily with fallen teammate Nick Pasquale, who was killed six days earlier when he was struck by a vehicle. "The first half there was so much emotion, I'm not going to lie," said Hundley, who raised a towel with the message "R.I.P.#36" above his head for the crowd to see during the game's final seconds.

RICKMAN: UCLA storms back for emotional win over Nebraska; early Snaps

• It seems like we ask this every year, but is Oregon's offense getting even scarier? Against an admittedly talent-depleted Tennessee defense, quarterback Marcus Mariota threw for a career-high 456 yards and the Ducks scored all their points in the first three quarters of a 59-14 victory. With standout tight end Colt Lyerla out after missing practice due to illness, freshman Johnny Mundt stepped in and caught five passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Oregon just keeps on rolling.

• In his first career start, Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell left fans wondering how coach Bob Stoops could have ever chosen passed him over for the No. 1 job in favor of Trevor Knight. Bell, who has heretofore been best known for his bulldozing running, threw for 413 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions, in the Sooners' 51-20 rout of Tulsa. Asked whether the junior would keep the job for Oklahoma's next game, against Notre Dame on Sept. 28, Stoops said: "That's pretty obvious. So much for your controversy right now. It didn't last long."

• Ohio State quarterback Kenny Guiton has played so well in Braxton Miller's absence that coach Urban Meyer may have a hard time keeping him on the bench even when his Heisman candidate returns. The fifth-year senior, making his first career start, completed 21-of-32 passes for 276 yards and four touchdowns, with no picks, in the fourth-ranked Buckeyes' 52-34 win at Cal. "I think [Guiton] will be in the game a little bit" said Meyer about his plans for the position once Miller returns from an MCL sprain. "... that's something I'll need to think about."

• Revitalized Washington quarterback Keith Price (28-of-35, 342 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) and stud running back Bishop Sankey (35 carries, 208 yards, one touchdown) were impressive yet again in the Huskies' 34-24 win over Illinois at Soldier Field. But it appears that coach Steve Sarkisan's team can also play some defense. Huskies defensive end Josh Shirley had three sacks and Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase completed just 9-of-25 passes as Washington won its first non-conference road game since 2007.

• After throwing just two incompletions in his spectacular Monday night debut against Pittsburgh in Week 1, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston finally played in another game on Saturday. He came back down to earth -- briefly. In the Seminoles' home opener, the redshirt freshman missed on three of his first five attempts, one of them an interception, but then proceeded to complete his final 15 throws in a 62-7 rout of Nevada. Through two games, Winston has more touchdowns (six) than incompletions (five).

• Auburn (3-0) snapped a 10-game SEC losing streak with its dramatic 24-20 win over Mississippi State. Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall led a game-winning 88-yard drive, which was capped by an 11-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Uzomah with 10 seconds left. "I don't know if he threw a bad ball on that drive," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said of Marshall. "That was huge." The Tigers' win adds a little juice to their game next week against LSU, though coach Les Miles' Tigers will still be heavy favorites.

• It's still hard to believe, but Michigan really came within a few yards of losing at home to lowly Akron. It took three stops inside the five-yard line for the Wolverines to escape with a 28-24 win over the Terry Bowden-coached Zips, who have now lost 28 straight road games. "This is embarrassing for the University of Michigan football team," tackle Taylor Lewan said afterward. While there was plenty of blame to go around, Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner threw three interceptions, giving him six so far this season.

RICKMAN: Michigan holds on to beat Akron in Ann Arbor

• Perhaps there was a bit of a hangover on Saturday for both participants in last week's Notre Dame-Michigan tilt, as the Fighting Irish struggled for three quarters against previously unimpressive Purdue. Notre Dame pulled away from the Boilermakers with three fourth-quarter touchdowns to prevail 31-24. Irish quarterback Tommy Rees (20-of-33, 209 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) continues to play well. It doesn't hurt to have a game-breaking receiver like DaVaris Daniels (eight catches, 167 yards, two touchdowns).

• When Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney returned to school this spring after leaving to play pro baseball prior to the 2012 season, it went largely unnoticed outside of the Pac-12. But the senior always stood to take over No. 1 tailback duties following Stepfan Taylor's departure. Gaffney notched his second 100-yard effort in as many games (20 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown) in the Cardinal's 34-20 win at Army. He also had a 23-yard touchdown catch.

• Chalk up another BCS-conference victim for quarterback Kolton Browning and Louisiana-Monroe. Browning went 43-of-68 for 315 yards and three touchdowns in a 21-19 win at Wake Forest.

• Second-year FBS member South Alabama (2-1) notched an important win for the program. It opened Sun Belt play with a 31-24 win over Bobby Petrino-coached Western Kentucky.

Rice's 23-14 win over Kansas on Saturday marked Jayhawks coach Charlie Weis' 16th straight loss to FBS opponents, dating to his final season at Notre Dame.

• USF has hit absolute rock bottom. Two weeks after getting crushed by McNeese State, the Bulls (0-3) lost 28-10 to previously winless Florida Atlantic.

• Actually, Ron Turner-coached FIU (0-3) is in the worst shape of all Sunshine State programs after falling 34-13 to Bethune-Cookman. Who would have ever seen that coming?

UCF's Blake Bortles, who ranks fifth nationally in passing efficiency, has led the Knights to a 3-0 start.
Gene Puskar/AP

Smaller story but I'm sure you're following it

This will come as a surprise to those who still remember him primarily as the head coach at Georgia Tech (or, very briefly, at Notre Dame), but George O'Leary, 67, is now into his 10th season at the helm at UCF. His tenure has included several mild highlights (winning Conference USA titles in 2007 and '10; beating 6-6 Georgia in the 2010 Liberty Bowl) and ugly controversies (the 2008 workout-related death of player Ereck Plancher, whose family filed a successful lawsuit; and a later-reversed NCAA bowl ban for recruiting violations).

On Saturday, O'Leary's Knights -- who moved to the American Athletic Conference (formerly the Big East) this year and can play for an automatic BCS berth -- gave the coach his most notable regular-season victory at UCF, knocking off Penn State 34-31 in Happy Valley. It's the program's first-ever win over a Big Ten program. While it's no secret the sanction-riddled Nittany Lions are not what they once were, it's no small feat to win a night game in front of 92,855 hostile fans.

RICKMAN: The best, worst and weirdest from college football in Week 3

"Right now, with the stage of the program and where we're at, we can build on a win like this," said O'Leary, who beat his former Georgia Tech assistant and current Penn State coach Bill O'Brien. "I think it's a big win, there's no question about it."

The Knights (3-0) -- who will get another upset opportunity on Sept. 28 when they host No. 12 South Carolina -- are getting tremendous boosts from junior quarterback Blake Bortles, who went 20-of-27 for 288 yards and three touchdowns, with an interception, on Saturday. He led a UCF attack that gained 507 yards of total offense. Through three games, Bortles ranks fifth nationally in pass efficiency, wedged right between Bridgewater and Manziel.

Louisville remains the overwhelming favorite in the American, and many have lamented that the Cardinals currently have no ranked teams on their schedule -- Cincinnati and Rutgers were considered their lone semi-worthy adversaries. UCF now certainly belongs on that list.

Fordham: For the win ...

This was football, not Atlantic 10 basketball, but FCS member Fordham knocked off BCS-conference member Temple with the equivalent of a 40-foot three-pointer at the buzzer.

Bowling Green: No punt for you

It's one thing to block a punt. It's another to steal the ball off the punter's foot and run with it.

Looking ahead

Mini-previews for three of Week 4's big games:

Boise State at Fresno State, Friday (9 p.m. ET): Quarterback Derek Carr and the Bulldogs have their sights set on a BCS run, but first they'll have to knock off Boise State for the first time since the pre-Chris Petersen era (2005). The Broncos' defense has some standouts like defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, but it currently ranks 80th nationally.

Arizona State at Stanford, Saturday (7 p.m. ET): Sadly, this is the weekend's lone game between ranked teams, and the Sun Devils only joined the fray this week. It's always interesting to watch Cardinal coordinator Derek Mason's aggressive defense go against an up-tempo spread offense like Arizona State's.

Auburn at LSU, Saturday (7:45 p.m. ET): There have been some intensely close matchups in this series over the last decade. Even last year's dreadful Auburn team fell just 12-10. Strong-armed LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger will look to continue his scorching start thus far (nine touchdowns, no interceptions).

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