The play that has made Heisman Trophy candidates out of West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Kansas State’s Collin Klein and Oregon’s DeAnthony Thomas is called the Zone Read. It is THE THING on all levels of football. I’ve spoken of it in previous articles. It is the staple running play of the shotgun offense.
Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez is credited with inventing the Zone Read play while coaching at West Virginia. His quarterback, while running the “Sweep” hand-off during a practice, noticed the Defensive End on the side where his running back was lined up kept chasing the ball carrier down from behind. The next time the play was called the quarterback decided to fake the hand-off, keep the ball and run wide to the side the Defensive End had just vacated. There was nobody out there. NOBODY!
Other innovators included Ohio State University coach Urban Meyer, Kansas State University Coach Bill Snyder, and Oregon coach Chip Kelly. Urban Meyer set the SEC on its ear with the Zone Read for several years before heading north.
As I’ve watched the Aggies progress this season, it has become obvious that the Zone Read is a perfect complement to the rest of their offensive system. In Johnny Manziel, they certainly have a quarterback with amazing speed, elusiveness and agility. His passing ability is unquestioned and he is like a cottontail rabbit back in the pocket. A pack of wolves would probably wear itself out chasing him down.
I have continuously praised this Texas A&M staff for bringing the offense along with Johnny, and never imposing the opposite. When you force a quarterback into doing something he isn’t comfortable with, you steal his confidence, slowly but surely. “Triple
option” coaches did this to many high school and college quarterbacks, because it was the “next hot thing” during their eras. This stubborn persistence in force-feeding uncomfortable offensive schemes contributed immensely to Texas A&M University losing real shots at national championships in the 70’s. I would assume ours isn’t the only case study you could find regarding this subject.
Now we have a head coach who is playing his own game in the development department. He isn’t the kind to walk on the field and say to his starter, “Hey, let’s see if you can do this,” and after a couple of unstable repetitions say, “Wow, you look great! Okay guys, here’s what we’re doing from now on.” Nope, Coach Sumlin has known all along what the ultimate plan was and when to spring it. Now, Aggies everywhere will be flipping out when they see what the TOTAL PACKAGE with Johnny Football will look like.
This isn’t your father’s Aggie football anymore.
What isn’t so satisfactory is the manner in which we dropped two home games, one of which we were favored, and the other only a slight underdog. The Zone Read could have been the back-breaker we needed to win both games against top-flight opponents; so where was it? Why would you leave such a potentially devastating play, run by such a smooth operator, up on the gun rack for some later date? In hindsight, this just seems like another bizarre chapter within the vast amount of idiocy we Aggies have witnessed in the past. It’s just ludicrous to knowingly let these game-winning situations fall by the wayside without a second glance. What were we thinking?
My thought is this: Our coaches weren’t confident enough in our players’ execution during practice time to include it in the game plan.
And guess what. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this decision.
Any time you’re reading a defensive player to decide whether to hand the ball off to your back or keep it yourself, there are distinct possibilities the ball will end up on the ground, or the play will lose yardage due to a bad read. This was what old-timers once said about passing: “three things can happen and two of them are bad.” Well, phooey on that.
We have watched the Aggies run 635 plays this season, give or take. Did you notice what happened on play number 608? Well, this is probably not quite enough information so I’ll give it to you straight, with a hint attached. It was Johnny Manziel’s final play of the night at Auburn. It was his 20-yard “dance in the Moonlight” that represented A&M’s seventh touchdown of the game coming with twelve minutes left in the third quarter.
That’s right; this was Johnny Manziel’s first Zone Read of his college football career.
And then, just like that, he was gone; and with him the Zone Read.
On this single play for an easy untouched 20-yard romp, we saw the bright, immediate future of Texas Aggies football. Sumlin’s Stun Gun Offense is all off the rack now, but we’ve only seen traces of what’s yet to come.
Well played, Maroon and White. Well played.
The amazing thing is that Johnny Manziel had already accumulated 773 rushing yards on 116 carries, a 6.7 average, before running a single Zone Read. This is because the Aggies have implemented several other designed running plays for his abilities; one is a sweet counter play where he shuffle-steps one way while his Pistol backfield mates lead him the other, as was the case on his 72-yard burst to clinch the La. Tech game.
I’ll guarantee you one thing: there will be hundreds of high school coaches from all over the southeast heading to College Station this spring to visit and watch plenty of tape on what the Aggies are doing. I know this isn’t exactly what the experts around the state and the rest of the country were predicting at this stage of our season.
You don’t necessarily need to have a ‘Johnny Football’ on your team to make it all work efficiently, but if you have someone even close, you’re going to want to study this offense and take it back with you to Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and everywhere in between. And if you’re leaving Texas to go visit other SEC schools, well, there’s always something you can learn about defense from, say, LSU or Alabama.
Alabama is No. 1 in the country in Red Zone efficiency, both on Offense AND Defense.
Perhaps you can sell your A.D. on that for your check request.
The resiliency of this A&M team is marvelous. It’s not easy to hit the road two times, sandwiched around such a tough loss as the one against LSU, and perform so admirably. We watched ‘execution perfection’ Saturday night at Auburn, perhaps the most mistake-free exhibition of volatile offensive football one has ever seen on an SEC floor. The numbers and the consistency were simply unfathomable.
Sure, Auburn is on the down side offensively, and A&M made their defense look, well, ghastly; but it still takes tremendous cohesiveness and concentration to attack so relentlessly, yet so flawlessly. If preparation and enthusiasm indeed dictate performance, then the Aggies are in tremendous shape going down the home stretch. Texas A&M scored a touchdown with their opening drive for the fifth straight game.
Let’s prorate Johnny’s performance from Saturday night and look at his numbers, had he finished the game. How does 636 yards sound, compared to 350? Yes, I know.
Still, the offense collected 671 yards, a record amount for anyone playing against an Auburn team… ever. Overall the Aggies had eight scoring drives for touchdowns that each averaged 69 yards, 3 ½ minutes and 8.6 plays. That is moving right along. We’re third in the country (behind Air Force and Marshall) in third-down efficiency at 54.03%. Money.
This isn’t your father’s Aggie football anymore. Oh wait, I’ve already mentioned this.
Auburn had five first-half drives that netted four yards. On their only other drive, they picked up 82 yards and their only score of the half. The stats, unlike last week in the LSU game, were totally indicative of the Auburn score. 42-7 at halftime sums up the domination of this two-year removed National Champion very well. “We got some guys off the field because we have a really serious stretch of games coming up,” Kevin Sumlin said.
He’s so right! Keeping everyone healthy is so very important when you’re facing a travel schedule like ours. We’re now ranked 16th in both polls, while Mississippi State has dropped from 12th to 17th and 18th, respectively, after the loss to the Crimson Tide. This, therefore, is the toughest 3-game stretch the Aggies have faced since my last season in 1977. That year, because ABC-TV requested we move our game with the University of Houston to the weekend following the Texas game, we were presented with five straight away games following our opener at home. Our only break would be an open date following our third game.
After beating Kansas in Kyle Field we beat a veteran Virginia Tech team in Blacksburg. Next, we went to Lubbock and beat No. 10 Texas Tech and their Heisman Trophy candidate, Rodney Allison; you’ve probably heard of Texas Tech’s defensive coordinator,
Bill Parcells. And finally, we went to Ann Arbor to play No. 2 Michigan, a team that opened the season for the first two weeks at No. 1. As you can see, there are some similarities. We were really banged up at Michigan, which is why I stress the importance of keeping everyone healthy through this tough stretch.
I do believe in my heart that this team has a chance. We’re too unique and explosive, and Mississippi State will provide even more valuable experience against a quality team. What will mark this game as pivotal will be defeating a ranked SEC team. What will make it even more special is to do so on the road.
[SEC Power Rankings for Week
Texas A&M is third in the country in scoring (45.5), behind friendly foe La. Tech and the great Oregon Ducks. The Aggies are tied for fifth in total offense. No SEC team since Florida in 2001 has completed a season ranked in he Top Five in total offense. Don’t forget though, Coach Sumlin’s University of Houston teams were No. 1 in 2008, 2009 and 2011, having an “off” year in 2010 when they finished only 11th.
The Texas A&M Aggies have already faced the No. 3 and No. 6 ranked defenses in LSU and Florida, respectively. Mississippi State ranks 28th in yardage allowed and 15th in scoring defense. They lost their first game of the season because Alabama had zero turnovers while they had three. Mississippi State had been leading the country in turnover margin. They ran only 32 plays on their first eight possessions, which were all scoreless. Alabama has given up less than 300 yards in 21 of their last 22 games. They are favored by 10 in Death Valley.
Doesn’t this FIRE YOU UP? It does me.
It will be another excellent test in Starkville for Johnny Football… and now a dose of “Zone Read” for the Bulldogs to concern themselves with. One play addition to the arsenal with Johnny Manziel around, even if it’s called only once every 600 plays or so, still equates to one huge headache for defensive coordinators from here on out. And with each of the A&M running backs having alternately big games, who do you key on? You’ve got the No. 3 guy in total offense back there with them.
And how about Damontre Moore? He is the only defensive lineman listed in the Top 25 in Solo Tackles at No. 22, and to top that, Moore leads the entire SEC with 5.63 tackles per game. This is a fantastic feat. Congratulations, big guy. D-Line play like this makes everyone want to play harder.
Finally, it’s mentally very difficult for a team that thought it was making huge strides to get completely horsewhipped like Mississippi State did last Saturday by the Tide. A team like this, you’ve got to kick ‘em when they’re down, like we did Auburn. We’re learning.
Then we get ‘Bama.
Amidst another big come-from-behind win by someone other than the Texas Aggies, I was reminded of 2011’s pre-season speaking tour starring A&M head coach, Mike Sherman. To each of the hosting A&M Clubs in cities including San Antonio, Houston, Austin, Fort Worth, etc., Coach Sherman spoke reverently regarding the LSU Tigers and the Cotton Bowl, the post-season classic to which his streaking Aggies had been invited to participate in at the conclusion of the previous season. Sherman spoke about how he and his staff realized this was a high profile game against a quality SEC opponent. He then interjected that he had nothing to do with A&M’s (unpopular) decision to turn down the SEC’s offer of membership the previous spring, and would only concentrate his energies and attention on the teams that showed up each week on the current A&M schedule.
Coach Sherman contended the Aggies’ mere participation in this “prestigious matchup”
in the Cotton Bowl could easily be the huge stepping stone the program needed to continue its climb for national prominence and continued growth on the recruiting trail. He elaborated further that a victory over this recent national champion and former natural rival would do wonders for A&M’s rising
Sherman summed up the Cotton Bowl game by telling the engaging crowds that the Aggies, after claiming a quick 10-point lead over the Tigers, thought they were once again headed for another big win. After all, they’d handily won their six previous games with some great defense and their lone adjustment made on offense, the insertion of Ryan Tannehill at starting quarterback.
What gave me so much confidence, personally, was the fact that these Aggies had recreated the exact replica of our 1976 team’s formula. This team culminated its season by destroying the University of Florida in the Sun Bowl. We completed that season with a dominating seven-game winning streak and an overall 10-2 record, earning us a Number 3 ranking in the Sporting News Final Poll.
In a FOX Sports interview prior to the Cotton Bowl, I alluded to the ’74 LSU game that set the course for the future of Aggie football — the game which you’ll recall I referred to in my last article. I also spoke of the huge turnaround in ’76 that was so reminiscent of this particular 2010 season and the irony of playing an SEC school in our bowl game just as we had.
LSU always seems to be in the mix when pivotal occurrences take place in Aggie World. Here’s another instance.
Sherman’s next quip in his speech will forever burn in my memory, and this is the heart of the story. It’s as though his words magically created an all-new Aggie tradition to be bestowed upon the humble subjects of Aggieland, exactly at the point and time when they would least expect it. His words and a hauntingly new tradition now follow the 12th Man crowd like a black cloud wherever they may gather to watch their team play. I call it “Double-Digit Fever.” Sherman’s words would easily become college football’s most prime example of the all-too-familiar “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“And after we jumped out to our 10-point lead on LSU,” he smiled, “it just pissed them off.”
Loud laughter erupted from the crowd at each venue. Things were loose with no worries. Even the loss to LSU couldn’t undermine the great finish and all the quality performers who would be returning for the Aggies’2011 season. One blemish in Jerry’s House, with still so much to look forward to, would in no way deter the boisterousness of these spirited, well-heeled Aggies who were so anxious to hear how wonderful the upcoming season would be.
Who wouldn’t be excited? That LSU team had lost but two games in 2010, one by a touchdown to the National Champion Auburn Tigers and the other by 8 to Arkansas in its last regular season game when hope for another National Crown had already been extinguished.
“It just pissed them off.”
Burn, baby, burn.
Yes, this 2011 Cotton Bowl set the stage for the immediate future, and LSU initiated the script we would soon follow. With its 10-0 lead whirling face-down into a 14-10 deficit, the Aggies made one last desperate stab at the scowling Bayou Bengals, taking their final lead of the night, 17-14. Before the fans’ “kissing while scoring” tradition had even climaxed, the gavel slammed downward and the Aggies were sentenced with a tentative length still today proving rather probationary.
In the final five minutes of the first half, the LSU Tigers permanently laid out the star-gazing Farmers, 28-17. The second half was but a formality with the final score posted forever as 41-24. LSU, only a one point favorite before kickoff, never flinched. Texas A&M most certainly did. Tannehill, the flawless one during the six-game winning streak, uncharacteristically was snuffed out by three interceptions erratically tossed into the hands and chests of the Golden Bandits.
“It just pissed them off.”
Once the talking was done at the A&M Clubs and the games began in 2011, it seemed as though every team the Aggies played was falling behind and getting “pissed off.” Of the thirteen games the Aggies played, they were favored in twelve, with the lone exception coming on a trip to Oklahoma. The Aggies in Oklahoma proved the handicappers absolutely correct, yet a 12-1 record (as predicted by these same handicappers) would have certainly been considered an outstanding season in anyone’s book. Perhaps it would have been sufficient to even get the Aggies into the BCS championship game.
As you recall, it turned out to be once-beaten Alabama that got the call to instant replay LSU when Oklahoma State fell unexpectedly to Iowa State. If all went as predicted, please insert Texas A&M here.
Unfortunately, the Aggies weren’t up to the task in five of the twelve games they were favored in. Astonishingly, all five losses came in the same manner as the aforementioned Cotton Bowl/LSU game. The Aggies lost leads of 17 (Oklahoma State at the Home of the 12th Man), 18 (Arkansas, inside Cowboys Stadium), 14 (Missouri at the
Home of the 12th Man), 14 (at Kansas State) and 13 (Texas at the Home of the 12th Man), respectively. These five incredibly disappointing games accounted for A&M’s 2011 losses, combined with the very predictable 41-25 loss at Oklahoma.
These results have corresponding odds attached of astronomical proportions. They’re not something one is accustomed to seeing in the course of 13 games. Including the Cotton Bowl vs. LSU, A&M lost six times in 14 games after holding double-digit leads. In the previous three years combined, Sherman’s Aggies had blown double-digit leads a total of six times, so to drop five in this manner in a single season was remarkably disturbing.
Rather haunting, aren’t they, these “self-fulfilling prophecies?”
“It just pissed them off.”
If you’re interested in a little more coaching foreshadowing, one of the double-digit-leads-gone-sour losses was in Mike Sherman’s opener as the head football coach. Yes, in ’08 the Aggies fell to Arkansas State, an 18-point underdog, by an 18-14 score after leading 14-3 in the second quarter. I know, it’s hard to fathom any A&M team getting shut out for a whole second half at home in front of the 12th Man, but these Aggies didn’t score for the final 40 minutes or so. This was called at the time “somewhat inexplicable.”
Texas A&M Aggies fans yell against the LSU Tigers during the third quarter at Kyle Field. (Thomas Campbell)
Then in the very next game, A&M blew a 21-7 second quarter lead and actually trailed 22-21 before finally winning, 28-22. This is the only time since 2008 A&M has lost a double-digit lead and still managed to come back for the win. This game wasn’t even played in 12th Man Stadium, but in New Mexico. Double-digit leads were lost for good in two other games in 2008, two more in 2009 and twice again in 2010, including the bowl game.
Texas A&M lost 10 games in which they held any kind of lead during the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons, with half of those losses occurring inside the once-formidable confines of the Home of the 12th Man. On the other hand, the Aggies have overcome their own double-digit deficits on only four occasions since the 2008 season began, with the most recent taking place several weeks ago in Oxford, Mississippi.
Unfortunately, the Double-Digit Fever continues. This is the elephant in the room. The Aggies have lost 8 times in their last 21 contests when they led by at least 10 points. Five of the eight were at home. Texas A&M has squandered double-digit leads in both of its losses this season and both were at home (LSU and Florida).
And now, the last opponent to turn the double-digit trick after getting “pissed off” also happens to be the first; LSU. LSU has proven once again to be this school’s trend-setter, for better or worse. Yes, of the eight games we initially were very confident we would win at the outset, but eventually somehow lost, the Tigers are the bookends.
Somehow this bugaboo needs to get hullaballoo’d right out of existence, or things here in the Brazos Valley will never change.
The highlights? First downs were won by the Aggies 26-18. Third down efficiency was 6/16 for the Aggies compared to LSU’s 2/16. Total yards were 410 for the Aggies and 316 for LSU. Penalties were 6/65 for the Aggies and 13/102 for the Tigers. That’s just for hullabaloo sake.
The Bugaboo starts here. Aggies: 4.7 yards per pass attempt. Aggies: 3.5 yards per running attempt. Aggies: 3 interceptions (sound familiar?). Aggies: 2 lost fumbles. Tigers: 2/2 on fourth down conversions.
The rest of the story? The Tigers used two turnovers late in the second quarter to turn the momentum after falling behind 12-0. Redshirt Freshman phenom Johnny Manziel’s first interception set up Michael Ford’s 20-yard touchdown run to make it 12-7 and, after a Ben Malena fumble, Zach Mettenberger hit Kadron Boone versus Man coverage for a 29-yard touchdown play to give LSU a 14-12 lead with only 11 seconds left in the half.
Déjà vu had busted the Aggies right square in the chops out of nowhere. Aggies traditionally don’t do so well after surrendering double-digit leads. In fact, once one is attained, that’s when things get worrisome for the Maroon and White. For many in the crowd of 87,429, it would only be a matter of watching the clock tick down to nothing and then heading out. We’ve all been here before.
“It just pissed them off.”
It’s tradition apparently, even at home. And very unfortunate.
With the victory the Tigers improved to 2-7-1 all-time in College Station, posting their first win at Kyle Field since 1987. LSU also improved to 31-2 under coach Les Miles when it has a 100-yard rusher (freshman Jeremy Hill: 18 carries for 127 yards and one score.) A missed extra-point and two missed field goals could have been the difference, but there’s no guarantee the Aggies would have scored their final touchdown since LSU went to a soft prevent defense in a two-score game. Otherwise, they may not have done so.
Now we do what we must do; clear our heads, regroup and get ready for three road games in a row. I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that A&M hasn’t played three in a row on the road since 1979. That season the Ags opened in Houston to play BYU and
then traveled the next four weekends. In 1977, my final season with the Aggies, we had five straight games on the road, winning four. Two of the teams we played back-to-back were ranked; Texas Tech and Michigan, respectively.
The only team to win three consecutive games on the road in the modern era was the 1975 team, which beat three unranked opponents.
Although the only national ranking you’ll find Auburn in is the Bottom 2 or 3 offensively, this weekend’s SEC matchup between Mississippi State and Alabama will leave two ranked teams for us to play in the second and third games of this trifecta. Each is 7-0 overall and the loser most assuredly will remain in the Top 25 when this one is over.
First things first, though, thankfully. Auburn is off to its worst start in 60 years and ranks 121st nationally in scoring (15.7) and 122nd in total offense (276.7). Auburn is surrendering 411 yards defensively (77th) and 25.1 points (56th). They will probably start at least a dozen freshmen and sophomores. The buyout for coach Gene Chizik is $7.5 million and there are a lot of fans who are okay with paying it. As my high school coach used to say, “It ain’t far from the penthouse to the outhouse.” Of course, he wasn’t making $7.5 million.
Meanwhile, A&M defensive end Damontre Moore is averaging 1.36 sacks, which are more than 24 teams are averaging. He leads the nation with 2.43 tackles for loss per game and leads all defensive linemen with 8.9 tackles per game. There’s your Heisman Trophy winner!
And finally, this Auburn game, A&M’s first visit to Jordan-Hare Stadium, should mark Coach Sumlin’s 10th straight win on the road including his last season with Houston. With a streak going like this, maybe we CAN be the first team in 35 years to win three straight on the road.
Now THAT would piss them off.
So it’s money time now for both the LSU Tigers and Texas Aggies – specifically the
initial SEC West Division Survivor Game of 2012. May the best team win. It’s
going to be a dogfight.
I have special feelings in my heart for both schools. I loved LSU as a kid growing up in Sulphur, Louisiana, just 30 minutes from the Texas state line in Calcasieu Parish,
located in Southwest Louisiana. We were Powerhouse stuff.
The Golden Tornadoes beat Terry Bradshaw for the title his senior season at Woodlawn of Shreveport, and a few years later beat Bert Jones in the semi-finals before losing the title game to Joe Ferguson, who had replaced Bradshaw. We also lost a close one in the
title game the year before we’d beaten Bradshaw and should have been in the
finals one other time, but lost to Bogalusa in ’70 in the Semi’s. My senior year
I was All-State and MVP at the age of 16 and couldn’t wait to sign with LSU,
which I did.
When a different opportunity presented itself, I switched and enrolled at A&M, intent on starting immediately upon my arrival. A&M’s former quarterback didn’t like the new Wishbone offense Emory Bellard had installed and had transferred to La. Tech.
LSU happened to be on A&M’s schedule and I was hung in effigy in many areas of the state. My reasoning for redirecting westward was that if the great Bert Jones had to
split time at Quarterback because of the head coach’s philosophy regarding alternating two offensive teams, then I needed to play for someone who believed in a one-quarterback system.
My first season at A&M I became, at 17, the youngest person to ever play quarterback on a major college football team.
In fact, I was told I was the only freshman to start at quarterback for A&M since World War II. Freshmen played strictly on Freshmen teams from 1947 until 1972, so that
quarter of a century certainly had something to do with my being the first guy to do it in Aggieland. Two other guys were doing the same thing in 1973 at their respective SWC schools; Ricky Wesson at SMU and Tommy Kramer at Rice, respectively.
Throughout the modern era there have been four other “true”freshmen who made starts at A&M, and all were good quarterbacks. One of them was a fellow Louisiana
native, Bucky Richardson. In fact, we Louisianans are two of the four most
winning quarterbacks in Texas A&M’s history.
Another handful of quarterbacks, including this year’s model, started some games as “redshirt” freshmen, a term my teammates were not familiar with when we were playing. When Joe Ferguson, Bert Jones and Terry Bradshaw each became college starters, they were called “sophomores”. Like everyone else, they were ineligible to play on their “Varsity” squads as freshmen. Players before 1972 only had three years of
Varsity eligibility and “redshirt” freshmen just didn’t exist. Really, it was no big deal back then — having a sophomore with no experience as your starter at quarterback. Old School, right?
I didn’t start the first college game I ever attended while standing in a uniform
on the sidelines, but I did play extensively in it. We were playing Wichita
State, a team which had lost a majority of its team in a plane crash a couple of
years earlier and was still recovering from the tragedy. I was the backup
quarterback for this game and I recall when my number was called, we had the
ball on our own one yard line. That’s a heck of a way to begin a college career,
right? We played in front of around 36,000 fans that night and won handily. The
Aggies’ Stadium, home of the 12th Man, held around 49,700 at the time. I know,
we had a lot of empty seats, but that was the norm in those
The following week I practiced with the starting offense in preparation for LSU because of a sore ankle our starter was dealing with, but I didn’t get to step on the field
against the 11th ranked Tigers, a game we lost 28-23. It was A&M’s 11th loss in 13 tries against LSU, having won one and tied one in the process. Only two more years were left on the contract that had been revived in 1960 — a series in which every game had been scheduled in Baton Rouge. Though I became the full-time starter at A&M several games later, I would have to wait until the following year to get a shot at the Tigers.
In the Spring of 2010, I broke my neck in an accident where I was texting at night without a seat belt on, rolling my vehicle. The C-T scan at the ER was somehow negative and I went home, only to discover four months later I had two completely dislocated
cervical vertebrates in my spine; the C4 and C5. Aggie QB’s are tough sons of
guns, particularly those brought up in a high school program such as ours among
Cajun folks, but high pain thresholds can sometimes turn lethal.“Friday Night
Lights” spirit was indeed entrenched in me and Sulphur, La., only we spoke with
a little different accent than those in other parts of the
Long story short, I was in danger of becoming a quadriplegic. I went through a solid week lying on my back in traction. At times the medical personnel had as much as 60 pounds hanging from a rope off a pulley that was attached to a halo bolted into my
forehead and the back of my head, enough weight to literally rip the human
skull off. Please, don’t dwell on this too much.
I found out my neck was broken on September 3rd and I went into the hospital on the 24th. After the traction, I still had several weeks before I would go into surgery to see if
they could save my spinal cord from these bones burrowed up next to it,
threatening to crush or penetrate it.
I wore a halo from my head to my shoulders and it wrapped around my chest during this time of waiting. My surgeon, Dr. Jose Rodriguez of Houston via Puerto Rico, wanted to get some opinions from colleagues during a convention in Orlando. Each
immediately said when looking at my MRI pictures, “Oh damn, a Quad, huh, Doc?”
“No,” he’d say, “just an Aggie quarterback who walked into my office last
I physically was supposed to have either suffocated at the time of the accident or minimally be in a wheelchair. I’d made it through life for all these months somehow without collapsing into a heap onto the ground. Still, paralysis awaited me, unless
with this man’s expertise I could escape this most horrible of occurrences and
again live a semi-normal life.
Unemployed, I had no insurance. I self-paid with every credit card I had and cash in the bank and loans from family members. There was no “pay-as-you-can” system available and no government subsidy. Put up or shut up, “brother”. This was now
the name of the game. Perhaps my credit rating did me in. “His debt’s low.
There’s lots of room on his cards. He can pay!”
Obviously, I was truly petrified I would soon be totally helpless. Saturdays became my sanctuary. Not Sundays; Saturdays. LSU and Texas A&M were the only teams that mattered. For 3 ½ hours I could completely forget my fear and my troubles and watch the wonderful exploits of each team, enjoying their tremendous finishes with great
joy and excitement. These two teams, even as long as I’ve been away from the
game, kept me proud, hopeful and completely entertained, and for this I will
love and support them both as long as I live.
Somehow, as if destiny had her finger on my pulse, both teams had outstanding seasons and met in the Cotton Bowl. I was a couple of months into my recovery when they played and I knew then that whichever team won, they’d both already won for me. They were special at a time when I most needed them to be, yet none of the players would ever have any idea how this one “scared to death” old-timer was so dependent on
their performances. How could they?
My guess is this happens somewhere every College Game Day.
Maybe watching them play was what brought me mentally back to my own playing days — days which seem like yesterday to me still. I was an 18 year-old sophomore with seven total starts under my belt the next time we rolled onto the LSU campus in ‘74. We’d just demolished a pretty fair Clemson team in our opener, falling just a few yards
short of the all-time single game rushing record we had set the previous season.
Coming off a 5-6 year with no recent history of being a viable modern day
threat, we were not even close to being ranked while the Tigers were in the Top
5 in the country.
Odds-makers had us installed as solid two-touchdown losers. I looked out the bus window and saw a huge sign on the side of Tiger Stadium which read, “Aggie Joke No. 8 – Davey Walker”. I was booed unmercifully in the team introductions. “Blood makes the
grass grow – Kill. Kill!”
Hell hath no fury like Death Valley scorned.
The eighth-largest crowd in LSU history had come out to watch the lowly Aggies once again get massacred by the great Fightin’ Tigers, which meant their 70,000 seat stadium was still jammed to capacity, but less standing room tickets were sold. To us, it was the loudest, meanest and maddest crowd we’d ever experienced. Warming up was even an experience unlike any I’d felt. Shoot, Mike the Tiger was kept right at the door
of our locker room as we exited, and damn, he especially scared the hell out of
Never look a real Tiger in the eye.
Totally focused nonetheless, by halftime we had rushed for over almost 300 yards and
held a 14-7 lead. Personally I was so much in awe of LSU’s defense that I could
not believe how our offensive linemen had grown into such churning machines, man
for man just whipping and pounding their opposing counterparts. We went right at
them with our blocking scheme, blocking Numbers 0, 1, 2 and 3 on the play side.
It’s all we did. I DID NOT want to screw this up for them because they were
working their butts off.
LSU tied it in the third and we headed into the fourth, knowing it was ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again’ time — or once more accept the down-trodden status snobbishly bestowed upon us by the game’s all-time elite.
Late in the fourth quarter, under unbearable conditions caused by the intensity and loudness of this LSU crowd, we lost all cohesiveness offensively and laid the ball on the
ground. LSU then returned the favor on the next play. Soon, with five minutes
left to play, we bludgeoned our way in for the winning touchdown.
We had run for 417 yards, an all-time record for an LSU opponent. That’s a lot of history, folks. All three of our running backs, Bucky Sams, Bubba Bean and Skip Walker, had gained over 100 yards each, a first for A&M. We had held them to one pass
completion until their final drive, which fizzled at our 25 yard line. The LSU
scoreboard read, ‘Wait’ll Next Year!’. The banner regarding ‘Aggie Joke No. 8’
had been removed. I watched little elderly Cajun women crying their eyes out in
the parking lots, unashamedly. This loss threw the Tigers into a tailspin.
Meanwhile, when we flew back into College Station the airport was so packed the police had to start turning cars away because there was no more parking available. The following Monday the ticket office sold more single-day season tickets than at any time in the history of the school. Texas A&M would play in front of standing room only crowds for the next four seasons, both at home and on the road. Every game we played there was an all-time new attendance record being set.
The football polls moved us all the way up to No. 7 in the country, the first time A&M had been in the Top 10 since Bear Bryant’s 1957 team, the one with the Heisman Trophy
winner, John David Crow, who by the way, is also from Louisiana.
The Aggies would eventually rise to No. 3 in 1974, No. 2 in 1975, and No. 3 in 1976 and ‘77. Our defenses ranked 2nd in ’74, 1st in ’75 and 3rd in ’76. Ed Simonini, Garth Ten
Napel, Robert Jackson, Pat Thomas and a slew of others made it happen. Texas
A&M was suddenly in the thick of winning the National Championship for four
This would also mark the first time since the 1920’s that Texas A&M would have four consecutive winning regular seasons. Before we were done, the 1977 Aggies had set 28 school records and tied two others. The 322 points scored by the 1977 team in the
regular season were the second-highest in A&M history. The 1912 team scored
366. No lie.
By 1977 we had 22,000 Aggies follow us to Rice Stadium for our fifth straight road game, an all-time number of tickets sold to Aggies for any game played in Houston. The season ended with attendance at Kyle Field averaging almost 54,000 per game, far above its 49,700 capacity. Out of necessity, plans and drawings were immediately put
into place the following year to expand Kyle Field. This expansion continued
into 1980, when a third deck was added, bringing the capacity to a “Death
Valley” styled 70,000 seats.
Surely Tiger Stadium had duly impressed the 12th Man’s Directors and if and when the time came again to set up a series with the Bayou Bengals, the Aggies could be assured they could negotiate a little better deal the next go-around. After the ’74 game,
successfully followed by the remainder of the Seventies, Texas A&M would
commit 100% to being a consistent competitor, not only in the game of football
but in all facets of college life. And LSU was the impetus for it all.
Now here we are, just a tad over 38 years since the pivotal, instrumental and most definitively influential game ever played by the Texas Aggies. The 1974 LSU game in a flash dictated all of A&M’s future fortunes and endeavors. The school suddenly
realized it was indeed possible to be a force in major college athletics.
For us and our 70’s teams, the time had come. To gain national prominence it was none other than LSU that had to fall in order to make our resurgence, maximum efforts and our very existence real. This we did on a magical night in September of 1974, and
we finished the deal in a blowout win again in 1975, 39-8. The teams wouldn’t
play again for another decade but a new exciting course had already been set
for the Aggies, as the result of one game in Death Valley.
We’re now very much in the same situation as we were prior to our explosion in the Seventies; sometimes respected but never feared. Texas A&M’s ultimate game-changer for national status, recruiting, spirit, growth and every other positive intangible are only
a few days ahead. Once again the potential magic of victory over the very
school that exclusively set new horizons for this sister school out West now
lies in her shadows.
Now for the game itself. I’ve been chastised to a small degree on some forums for being so head-over-heels pro-Johnny Manziel ever since the first day I saw him take a
snap. Going back to my very first blog for Gamedayr following the loss to Florida, I stated how amazed with his poise and confidence I was. Forget his eligibility or scholastic year or any of that, “Wow, he’s good for his age,” stuff. He’s good at any age! His instincts and vision are unsurpassed for anyone in the college game and his elusiveness is beyond comparison. I was upset however, that the Aggie coaches could not find a single crack in the Florida defense to be exploited, thus costing us the
What advantages does this 2012 squad have over our ’74 team that set Aggieland on fire? Well, I had 5 yards passing that night in Baton Rouge, and my high school coach complained to Emory Bellard he was wasting the best passer to ever come out of Louisiana. Do you really wish to return to yesteryear? Nope, it’s time we change gears.
The Sumlin Stun Gun Attack is the best thing to happen to A&M football since the
Wrecking Crew, efficiency-wise. Secondly, we are protecting our own house this
time. The 12th Man is only .500 in Kyle Field since 2000 but I’m sensing a new
attitude, one more than just “happy to be here”. LSU players will love the
cheers, TV and the atmosphere. That’s why you’ve got to come at them hard. Make
no mistake; we WILL be booed heartily when we return to Death Valley. They are
NOT your friends.
Leave the kids at home if it means having an outer-body experience which you’d rather the youngsters not see taking place. Get us this W. It’s that important.
On the field, ou linebackers are the key. We’re going to see 75% “I” formation and LSU is going to be double-teaming, isolating and stretching us all day. Do our Linebackers
play smash mouth football? They drop back in coverage really well, but will
they go smash mouth play after play after play? This will be a Man’s game,
folks, like they were in the 70’s. They’ll come in to control the clock and
make first downs.
Hey, those 70’s defenses will hold A&M records for the rest of eternity. They were relentless, once sacking an Ole Miss QB 11 times, once giving up a total of four first downs to Baylor who went on to the Cotton Bowl, and once allowing negative 57 yards total offense to TCU. They played unmercifully against any style offense at any time.
But can we? I think the traditional SEC offense will make us BETTER defensively.
Will A&M’s receivers be able to elude those who chose to play at Cornerback U.? Notably, we never went 4-Vertical against Florida like we have everyone else. Every Spread team goes 4-Vertical from a balanced set several times a game. Was it our lack of
personnel, expectations or effort? Just turn it over to Manziel and set him free
to call what he sees in the passing game. I loved how Evans had a ball stripped
on one play and on the bomb he immediately pinned that football tightly to his
side to avoid a replay. These guys learn fast and the quicker the game, the
quicker they get.
Finally, Johnny Manziel leads the SEC in rushing. He does this by turning on the jets on a few designed running plays and the rest he gets on scrambles. Defensively, you can’t rush him with your linemen and you can’t spy him. What exactly does that leave? Is he looking for a passing lane or a running lane? Can you really tell in the heat of
Johnny came just 1 yard short of breaking the all-time single game Aggie Quarterback rushing record last week against La. Tech. It went down to the wire, right up until his backwards kneel-down that sealed the victory. That record I’m referring to is mine
personally. I had 182 yards rushing against SMU in a game we won 37-21 after
trailing 21-7 at halftime … 35 years ago. That’s a long time to hold a record. I
have no doubt its days are numbered. The funny thing is, when we hired Coach
Sumlin I assumed I’d have it for many more years.
Here’s what NOBODY can get their head around when it comes to Johnny. Johnny doesn’t get it done by running the option. He doesn’t get it done by running the Zone
Read, a play where you read the defensive end while you have the ball in the
stomach of your running back crossing in front of you, determining the handoff
or QB keep based on which way the defensive end goes. It’s the predominant play
in high school and college football these days for teams running the
We do none of that. And still.
Johnny is phenomenal.
I applaud the coaches for their professional discretion. They COULD be asking for more from Manziel but they don’t; all the more credit to them. Now, that’s coaching.
The LSU coach says they have the fastest defense Johnny will ever see.
I counter that Johnny has moves that even Johnny hasn’t invented yet.
38-24, Aggies. Enjoy.
If you’ve been following my weekly posts on Gamedayr (and who hasn’t?), you may
recall the final thought in my most recent article preceding the A&M-Ole Miss game; It suggested that “the great thing now is, we’re not in that Aggie Wishbone!”
Even though I personally ran the Wishbone’s triple-option version for five years at Texas A&M University, I’ve always felt the offensive scheme imposed upon us was the sole reason A&M didn’t add three or four more “legitimate” national championship signs to its walls at Kyle Field. Lord knows we certainly had the players and staff to
Seriously, can you imagine being behind by 10 points with six minutes to play and stuck in a full-house backfield with only one wide receiver in Oxford, Mississippi? Me either. Can you imagine a less favorable outcome? Yeah, me too.
I have patiently waited for this 2012 offense to arrive at A&M for almost forty years, so please pardon my giddiness. I recall my hopes flickering once during the 2008 season when A&M and Mike Sherman were hosting the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Not once during the first half did a tight end step onto the field. We stayed in the “spread” throughout, and QB Jerrod Johnson had an excellent half of football, leading the Aggies to a 23-20 halftime lead. I was ecstatic about the future of A&M football while employing the preeminent Big 12 offense.
Unfortunately, after getting shut down in the second half by Mike Leach’s defensive staff, Sherman returned to his multiple sets and myriad of personnel packages for the remainder of his tenure at A&M, fooling no one.
Conversely, Coach Sumlin’s predator-styled “stun gun offense” performed precisely and to perfection in the latter minutes of Saturday’s game with Ole Miss. It discovered the flaws of the defense and the mismatches in alignment and personnel. It was relentless in its precision.
This offense and the confidence it instills both revived and reinvigorated the Aggies, springing them up off the canvas in as far-fetched of a fashion as you’ll ever see on any movie screen. Suddenly these down-and outers were coming from nowhere, throwing haymakers like Sugar Ray Leonard did when he hammered poor Roberto “No Mas”Duran into surrendering his dignity. The Aggies “Rope-a-Doped” the 3-2 Rebels for a vast majority of the ball game just prior to air-raiding and bombarding these visibly shaken, head-spinning opponents into silent submission, just as cool and
calculating as Ali had been in downing the seemingly indomitable George Foreman
back in ’74. The Rumble in the Jungle transformed into the Groove at the
In fact, the fighters’ own handlers were the only ones who saw the impending dooms looming for the opposing corners, just as the coaches and players comprising this A&M team did. The national TV audience and the paying crowd wildly celebrating in the stands beforehand certainly didn’t. Aggies watching around the world didn’t either. They were too accustomed to seeing the Aggies fall behind and remain stuck in neutral in previous decades. The Aggies simply lost too many games in which they were
favored. Many began wondering if the Aggies had ever come back from such a
deficit this late in a ball game. “Nope, can’t think of one,” they concluded.
“Once we’re beat, we’re pretty much beat. Same ol,’ same old. OLE MISS, BY
Rumor has it that many Aggie supporters kicking back in their homes were so bent out of shape that they switched channels after the fourth quarter interception thrown by the Aggies ended all hope. Just imagine their surprise when opening the Sunday paper the next morning–hey, this is real stuff here.
The word “surreal”doesn’t even begin to cover it, as astonishing as this most unlikely of A&M comebacks was. As much as the coaching staff had to reevaluate after faltering offensively against Florida (now the No. 4 team in the country according to this week’s AP poll), it must feel a huge amount of satisfaction for this win over Mississippi. All it
took was calculated desperation to get the rally started and the execution of
just a few well-called, pre-snap reads to finish the deal.
Though there was definitely no quit in this Rebels team throughout, there certainly was the sweet smell of victory nipping at its collective nose. Hey, when you’ve got a team crouched in its own bunkers 99 yards away from the end zone you’re defending, a third and 19 situation with 6 minutes left on the clock and holding a 10-point lead no less, well, your chances are looking pretty darned good. You’ve already totally exasperated your opponents offensively and in your mind you’ve beat the hell out of ‘em defensively, so you quietly hear the braggadocio within you whispering, “Give it up, guys. Can’t you see you’re done here?”
This juncture of the game is when you pull out all the stops, swarm the poor defenseless quarterback and at the very least get the ball back in your own territory where you do what you want with it. Victory does smell sweet when you’re finally realizing you’ve played well enough for so long that you just can’t lose, and with it comes the naturally-occurring big sigh of relief. It’s party time for the first time in
awhile here at the Grove.
And this was the precise situation Ole Miss found itself in, with everything soundly secured, excitedly waiting to see the white flag rising from the overwhelmed newbie camp of Old Army. Actually, the Maroon and White hadn’t been as tough as Ole Miss expected. They weren’t nearly as consistent or worthy as the films had suggested. The Aggies on this night had been predictably reduced to nothing more than an irresponsible, pass-happy bunch of pretty boys who apparently had no real guts or poise when needed most.
“I mean, just look at‘em all,” they exclaimed. “They’re good as finished. They’ve succumbed to the real pressure of SEC home cookin’. They played more like Texas Patsies than Texas Aggies and can’t seem to even be able to hold on to the football. They just folded, even against the worst team in the league. Hey, it’s tough on the road here in THE Southeastern Conference. Hotty Toddy, Gosh almighty, who the hell are we! Hey! Flim Flam, Bim Bam, OLE MISS BY DAMN!’”
And just as the Rebels were about to stick the proverbial fork in the Aggies’ rear ends, they got hit with the “bomb,” a perfectly lofted spiral deep down the right sideline into heavy coverage, promptly snapping the Rebs back to their senses. Having not won an SEC game in over 765 days and counting, the Rebels were, however, still certain of
victory. Their lead was too big and they’d played too well to have this game
slip away. Surely these newcomers from Texas didn’t have the courage or
wherewithal to challenge them on their own home turf with so many opportunities
already blundered. After all, this 2012 team had already given the ball away six
times in a variety of ways.
Not since 1974 when the Wishbone Aggies lost five of eight fumbles to a weak TCU team, had any A&M team been victorious while committing so many turnovers. In fact, it was that same year when A&M opened its season with a 7-0 victory over Ole Miss, a narrow victory in which the Aggies defense accounted for eleven Ole Miss Quarterback
sacks. These two schools hadn’t even met since 1980. No, nothing that happened
so long ago would have any bearing on this game. The tradition starts here, and
the Aggies were still too far down with too little time left.
“Yes,” the Ole Miss folks thought, “that was a just lucky play that will only delay the inevitable. Hang in there, defense!”
Former SEC Offensive Player of the Week, Johnny “No Fail” Manziel, hadn’t shown the Midas touch for the first 3 and a half quarters. Sure, he’d broken a few nice runs and hit a few throws, but Ole Miss was proving too quick and forceful up front for the“Who Dat’ Kid” to rise above this particular fray. He hadn’t been around long enough in this league to know it isn’t far from the penthouse to the outhouse. Heck, this “Johnny Come
Lately” hadn’t even played outside of the state of Texas in his entire life! No worries here.
Running back Ben Malena then slipped through the line for a run of 36 yards to the Ole Miss 29. From there, Manziel found another opening, and on a run that resembled a playground “two below” game, he ran somewhat untouched the necessary 29 yards for a touchdown. This culminated an official 88-yard drive that was actually one of 99.7 yards, technically speaking.
Somehow the whale had spewed Johnny out of its mouth, for no particular reason; perhaps just to tease the visitors and their supporters. What fun this would be!
The extra-point kick was missed, of course, and Aggies everywhere began reminding themselves once again of who they were, and once again sunk deeper into depths of despair.“Well, we are the Aggies, now aren’t we?”
The only thing that could save them now was a near miracle, loosely referred to something vaguely known around Aggieland as, ahem, “defense.” This ‘wannabe’ of a mirage always brings a little chortle and a wink in quiet conversations around the water coolers, presumably because it had gone totally extinct in the Valley decades ago.
“Wait. This defense? Our defense? A STOP here when it counts? Get real.” (LOL to
Sure enough, the Aggies gave up a first down, as expected from most of the A&M crowd. Then they gave up another six yards, then two, and then only ONE! Suddenly it’s fourth down with the ball on the Mississippi 39 yard line and only 3 and a half minutes remaining. A punt from here could put the Aggies maybe 80 yards away and needing to get into the end zone to win the game. It was an obvious decision for the Ole Miss coaching staff. The Ole Miss defense had played extremely well overall. It was a
Inexplicably, Ole Miss kept its offense on the field, then got in the shotgun and tried to run for it. It wasn’t even close. That was OUR DEFENSE out there, high-stepping and high-fiving it off the field to the cheers of everyone on that sideline and springing from their La-Z-Boys. Hey, this just doesn’t happen for Aggies, but it had! Still hope!
One minute and 16 seconds later, Ryan Swope was waving the football in the air in the end zone after he and Manziel had caught the Ole Miss secondary playing man coverage and lining up beat. Swope’s perfect corner route was complimented by the perfect throw as A&M kept its two wide receivers decoying short inside routes while sending Swope
deep behind them. It was great execution at a pivotal point in the drive – and
in the game. Five minutes earlier the Rebels and their fans had been reveling in
their presumed victory but it was far from over. Coach Sumlin’s stun gun offense
had them moaning and writhing in pain when least expected.
With a three-point lead and a very improbable victory within sight, the Aggie defense, ahem, would need to keep the Rebels out of field-goal range and definitely out of the end zone to wrap this game up in regulation. Mississippi quarterback Bo Wallace calmly hit Donte Moncrief for 32 yards down to the A&M 32 yard line. Suddenly, the field-goal
possibility was looking very realistic with just over a minute to play. A&M defensive back Toney Hurd, Jr. then jumped a short option route and came up with a huge interception that sealed the fate of the once-rousing Rebels. The celebration that ensued was indeed spontaneous, well-deserved and well worth every one of the 15 ‘unsportsmanlike’ penalty yards assessed.
By remaining poised, alert and confident, Manziel now trails only Alabama’s AJ McCarron in the NCAA Quarterback Rating among SEC quarterbacks and is 12th nationally. Meanwhile, the Aggies are celebrating their first top 25 ranking as a member of the SEC, coming in at No. 23 in the A.P. and 21st in the USA Today. Seven teams from the conference are now represented in the polls. Interestingly, A&M and its next opponent, the LA Tech Bulldogs, rank 22nd and 23rd in the ESPN Power Rankings, respectively.
Tech will be the first of two consecutive big games against teams from the
neighboring state of Louisiana. The second will be the LSU Tigers, a great team
obviously still smarting from its loss to Florida while priming this week for
SEC-East co-leader, South Carolina. Favored at home by a field goal over the
undefeated Gamecocks, an LSU victory will mean a showdown for SEC-West survival
next week in College Station. While it will be difficult not to look ahead to
hosting the Tigers, the Aggies must be prepared to play their best defensive
game of the year this week in Shreveport. D-Lineman Demontre Moore is fourth in
the nation in sacks and second in the nation in tackles for a loss. He’ll need
plenty of help against this explosive offense that surrenders sacks quite
The comeback win in Oxford was a tremendous carryover from the rout of the Razorbacks a week earlier, and with the season currently exceeding expectations in many quarters, this is not the week for an upset.
Bulldog QB Colby Cameron has won 10 of his last 11 starts and also started three games during his sophomore year, with his first being against Texas A&M. Cameron hasn’t been intercepted yet this season and has thrown 13 TD passes, hitting 72.5 percent of his passes at home. Last season Cameron beat out the second-youngest quarterback in college football history, Nick Isham, who then transferred to Arizona and is red-shirting this season.
The Bulldogs have won their last 12 regular season games. Tech’s only loss in the interim was to TCU last December in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl by the score of 31-24. TCU had an excellent 11-2 record in 2011 and trailed the Bulldogs 24-17 entering the fourth quarter.
The defending WAC champions are accustomed to winning close, high-scoring games. Thus far this season, they’ve beaten Houston 56-49, Virginia 44-38 and three others by an average of 55-31, ranking third in the country while scoring 53 points per game. Louisiana Tech has also racked up the eleventh most yards per game (523.4), barely edging out the SEC-leading Aggies (516.8). Very few teams are capable of scoring one point for every ten yards gained, but Louisiana Tech is hitting the mark. A&M’s
44.6 points per game are eighth in the NCAA and also lead the SEC.
The Aggies’ are surrendering 14.8 points per game, ranking sixth in the defensive-minded SEC and 14th in the country. Louisiana Tech gives up almost 36 points per game, ranking 109th among 124 D-1 schools.
All things being equal, the Aggies should maintain or perhaps gain some ground offensively this coming Saturday, provided they get in enough game-time possessions. No one has slowed the Bulldogs down yet, and there’s only 22 seconds difference in each team’s time of possession this season with each hovering near the 27-minute mark.
Unfortunately, this will be the final game of the season where victory is expected right in step with offensive stats that will continue to be padded. The levels of competition, philosophies and game faces will change dramatically after the Tech game, when wins and losses become the only gauge of success and stats become secondary. The term “field position” will come back into play in huge quantities. I look forward to the
tests these outstanding opportunities will present for our strategies and personnel. We’re looking forward to a hard-fought, thrilling football game this weekend. The experts predict an Aggie victory by the score of 40-32, which certainly sounds reasonable.
All kinds of Texas A&M records could fall. Let’s just hope they’re all on the offensive side of the ball — stun-gun style.
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!!