That’s right. Breathe it all in, Ags. We’re eyeing a bright new horizon and
it’s boldly being painted a gorgeous Maroon. New senses of well-being, hope,
and yes, even confidence, are gradually transforming from what once was a remote
possibility. It has never before been seen or felt with such precise clarity and
was only imagined in our dreams. In an instant this past weekend, we learned
that not only were we going to survive, but we would soon dominate as we never
have. Our collective exhalations preempted the breaths of new life reentering
our souls. Exhilarating, wasn’t it? You know it was! 80 yards in a heartbeat was
all it took. Boom! Over. Done. We’re national contenders again.
Yes, perhaps the waiting game is finally over and the wonderful relief this
acknowledgement carries with it is now ours to enjoy. We can forget about the
big “man-eaters” from the Southeastern Conference, and about those in our own
state who laughed hysterically and dared to stand in our way. Now we’re climbing
the stairway to 12th Heaven. What a beautiful sight that is in store for the
The young man leading the charge is here among us. He’s the one you weren’t
sure about when you first saw him play. You remember, right? After the first few
series of action netted 17 points for the home team, he seemed too good to fail,
yet that day he did. Regardless, he seemed to have a “dazzleability” separating
him from anyone who had ever been under center on Kyle Field. “Ever” is a lot of
history to backtrack on. It’s not that these individuals were necessarily
slower, or didn’t have the pinpoint accuracy, or strength of arm, or a hundred
other intangibles necessary to man the position. No, this guy was just
different, period, and it’s kind of hard to nail it down. He’s like the silver
ball in the old-time pinball machines.
He didn’t look all that big physically, but he seemed extraordinarily gutsy
for such a rookie, faking pitches to imaginary running backs as he sprinted
downfield full-steam ahead. Somehow he had boldness and daring that were never
betrayed, and an unbridled recklessness that bore not a single fault. “His style
of play will be his downfall,” you said. “Too much run and not enough gun.”
You’d have to take in another performance of his, or two, or maybe even
three, just to be sure this young man deserved the moniker of “special.” Your
eyes have yet to betray you, friend. Just as sure as the sun will rise in the
morning, the football gods have judged that now is your
time and he is your gladiator.
Sure, this young man seemingly came out of nowhere, somehow unheralded
because of the star that played in front of him for a season, the one whose
single-game passing record he already owns. During this “down” time he was busy
taking it all in, studying how to attack defenses and getting his feet on the
ground, biding his time and eyeing the competition. The coaching decision to sit
him out his first year was undeniably the correct one. There’d be no pressure to
win and carry a team on his shoulders quite yet, and as a rule, third-teamers
are normally not called upon for active duty. Even after spring training, he
hadn’t risen above the shoreline, but once the money was placed, his name was
called with total conviction.
That name was Johnny Manziel. Johnny is going places and taking us with him
for the ride. The swiftness of his arrival matches only the coolness coming from
underneath the No. 2-jersey we’ve watched zinging and flinging recently. The
music he shares has the artistry and brilliance of a Bach, Beethoven or a
Beatle, and the calmness of a smooth mountain lake just before sundown. For the
first time in years, decades, perhaps ever, we have standing before us the
epitome of spontaneity, splendidly functioning within an offensive system
inspired by the ideals of absolute freedom. It is the creation of a discipline
as intricate in design as any that will ever be devised, with its outer limits
approached only in proper doses. Where Johnny goes comfortably, this system will
follow. This is as it should be. This is how you don’t screw him up.
There was a storm moving into the Brazos Valley the night before the Arkansas
game. Nobody really likes to go to a ball game and sit on wet iron with
raindrops stinging their faces, but the 12th Man, true to its name, was there in
full force. The bus ride to Kyle Field from outside of College Station for the
Hogs was probably a quiet one, with each player lost in his own thoughts. When
you’re going into enemy territory with three straight losses and you see nothing
but rain, it can work on your head some. It can even get downright demoralizing.
You begin to wonder if you have what it takes to hold off a bunch of wild Aggies
who are geared up for retaliation for the last three years and for any other
reason they can come up with. That other reason would be respect. The Aggies
want it and are going to fight to earn it. We have a dog in the fight
now, and some fight in the dog. And when you get a man down, as Coach Shannon Suarez used to tell us in Sulphur years ago, you step on him. High tech – old
Soul cleansing was what this particular rain was all about. Wash away your
troubles; wash away your shame. By the time the rain had finished its work, the
Aggies had slaughtered the dumbfounded Hogs in a manner only Alabama would
understand. When it began pouring down the hardest in the third quarter, the
coaches responded by emptying the backfield of running backs and going
five-wide. Next, they had Johnny start throwing completion after completion in
fast-motion with that slippery wet football all the way down the field. Now
that is cocky.
The weather doesn’t dictate to us. We dictate, no matter what.
Do we call this the Honey Badger Offense?
Hey, if you don’t love cocky, you just might be in the wrong building. Did
you hear the announcers saying the Aggies should let up some near the end? Are
you kidding us? Embrace it.
The 58 points scored by the Aggies are the most ever scored in the series
covering 69 games. One can only imagine what the score could have been had the
Aggies not failed to convert on 8 of their 12 third-downs. Regardless, all told
the Aggies amassed 32 first downs and 717 yards, the third-highest yards total
in school history.
Manziel passed for a school record 453 yards and three touchdowns and ran for
another score while adding 104 yards on 14 carries. He has now thrown for 10
touchdowns without an interception and has another six scores on the ground.
Johnny averaged 10.7 yards per play when running or passing against Arkansas.
This is an astounding number when considering the number of plays he was
involved in. He is now up to 8.3 yards per play for the season. Bo Wallace of
Mississippi in comparison averages 6.13.
The Aggies have given up less than 12 points per game, ranking 8th in the
country. This has to be a jaw-dropper to the rest of the SEC, albeit we’re still
early in the season. Meanwhile the Ags are scoring 48.2 and ranking 7th. They
have outscored their opponents in the 2nd and 3rd quarters 134-9. Keep these
trends going and this team’s aspirations will all be met.
Now to the individual hardware: Johnny’s 557 total yards broke the SEC
record of 540 previously held by Archie Manning of Mississippi vs. Alabama in
1969 and Rohan Davey of LSU vs. Alabama in 2001. As a result, Manziel was named
SEC Offensive Player of the Week and offensive tackle Jake Matthews was named
SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week, for good measure.
Manziel’s NCAA Quarterback Rating (170.9) is now ranked 10th in the country
and third in the SEC, behind Aaron Murray of Georgia (3rd) and Alabama’s AJ
McCarron (7th), both Heisman Trophy candidates. A&M ranks 12th in total
offense per game in the NCAA and second in the SEC behind Georgia (11th).
My recommendation to the current Ole Miss staff would be to pull out some old
film from the Manning era and see how the other SEC teams tried to stop
him. Manziel is every bit the double threat that Manning was and also does some of his finest work while scrambling to the corners. Each threw equally well going to his left, or
to his right, and both were tough to bring down.
Now begins the toughest part of this inaugural season in the SEC. Five of the
next six games will be played in our opponents’ stadiums. The Ags line up with
the next two away, one at home and then three more away. Don’t even put the
names to them and you still see the difficulty here. Then realize all but one are SEC schools. The one that isn’t? Undefeated La. Tech…and it’s at their place.
It wasn’t intended this way, but because the La. Tech game was rescheduled
from Game 1 to Game 6, the bye week prior to LSU was lost and this created a
miserable span of games to be played mostly on foreign grass. Hey, we have fans
who love to travel and feel great to be watching a game no matter where it’s
played, but the players prefer the familiarity of College Station, the campus
and Kyle Field.
Texas A&M hasn’t played three straight road games since playing four in
succession in 1979 (plus a neutral site game vs. BYU in Houston) and an
unbelievable stretch of five straight games as visitors in 1977. The only loss in ’77 was the third one, by the way, which was played in Ann Arbor. Some of you may recall that Michigan game between America’s No. 2 and No. 3 teams. If you’d like to know what happened in the Big House, it’s all described in detail in my book, “I’ll Tell You When You’re Good!” Winning four of five straight is about as much as can be expected from the dynamics alone, and a sweep is simply unheard of. I thought those days were over but apparently we’ve gone back in time.
Winning three consecutive games on the road has been accomplished at A&M. It’s doable. The great ’75 team, led by All-Americans Ed Simonini, Robert Jackson, Pat Thomas, Lester Hayes and Garth Ten Napel, got it done, but none of the teams were ranked. Nonetheless, we were 10-0 and No. 2 in the country heading into Arkansas for the final regular season game. That’s as close as A&M would ever be to the “Promised Land” during the modern era. This unfortunate tale is in my book as well.
The great thing now is, we’re not in that Aggie Wishbone!
Go, Johnny, Go!!