Welcome back to Earth, Aggies.
Texas A&M’s football team came falling back to Earth on a sweltering Saturday when No. 1-ranked Alabama escaped a furious comeback by the Aggies to win 49-42, even after spotting the home team a two-touchdown lead.
Manziel, however, is still an other-worldly player, the best in school history even on a day when the Aggies retired the jersey of another Aggie Heisman winner, John David Crow.
Manziel’s a star in his own constellation, which is not to be confused with the moon, which re-established itself as the only thing that controls the Tide.
Make this clear: Alabama beat the A&M defense, not Johnny Manziel and not wide receiver Mike Evans, the best combination in Texas this side of chips and salsa.
Evans is as big and clutch a receiver as there is in America. He was unstoppable — except for the middle quarters when he had one catch — and finished with seven receptions for a school-record 279 yards. He looked even better than that. He was so physically exhausted, he received an IV after the game and was, uh, very self-critical. Asked to assess his own performance, Evans said, “I didn’t block as good as I’m capable.”
Manziel called him the best receiver in college football, which is high praise coming from the best player in college football. Manziel passed for a school-record 464 yards and had 562 yards of total offense, which would have been an SEC record except some guy named Manziel totaled 576 last season.
As Manziel’s coach, Kevin Sumlin, said afterward, “I thought his play was Johnny-like.”
At best, this was a draw between Alabama and its new nemesis, Manziel, who razzled and dazzled in the field and even spoke to the media afterward. The Heisman winner declined to address allegations that he signed autographs for money in the offseason, but he signed off on a team he said made him proud and one he promised will remain in the national championship race.
“This isn’t the end of our season,” Manziel said. “This wasn’t the Super Bowl. Alabama lost to us last year and still won the national championship. Alabama lost to LSU the year before and still won the national championship. Anything can happen. This isn’t over.”
Anything almost did happen when A&M (2-1) almost overcame a 35-14 deficit in the third quarter. Manziel and Evans were crazy-good, but as good as Sumlin recruits, he needs a few more Manziels and Evanses on that side.
The Aggies defense was pushed around by Alabama all day and never came close to pressuring Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron, who was never sacked and was hurried just once. McCarron was trying to out-Manziel Manziel, with a different style. He’s a true dropback passer and showed pinpoint control behind immaculate protection from his offensive line, while Manziel was scrambling for his life, usually against a five-man rush. “Johnny makes a lot of plays with his feet and arm,” Bama coach Nick Saban said.
Take Manziel out of this game and Alabama wins by 30.
The rout left the crowd of 87,596 with some startling revelations.
For one, Alabama may be even better than last season, if that’s possible. Even with three-fifths of the offensive line departed to the NFL — two of them first-rounders — the two-time defending national champions shrugged off the early deficit and scored four unanswered touchdowns and a fifth off an interception to take a commanding lead.
Secondly, A&M needs a defense. Badly. Safeties. Linebackers. The line forms to the left.
Because Manziel can’t do it alone.
But as sensational a quarterback as he is, Mack Brown wouldn’t have liked Manziel as a safety. On an interception that Vinnie Sunseri returned 73 yards for a touchdown, Manziel whiffed on an attempt at a shoestring tackle, one of five Aggies to miss the tackle.
The Tide was downright methodical and machine-like. Alabama ran and passed with equal brilliance, rushing for 234 yards and throwing for 334. McCarron installed himself as one of the early favorites for this year’s award, though Manziel deserves to stay in the thick of the race. Seven different Alabama players scored touchdowns while Manziel had a hand in five of A&M’s six touchdowns and ran or passed for 58 yards on the other scoring series before Ben Malena’s 1-yard rush. He’s still BMOC.
For now, the dynasty lives. The Aggies will need a lot of help to reach the SEC title game, but don’t discount them.
A&M’s quest for sustained national relevance continues, but it will have to do better than the Big 12-caliber defense it showed Saturday. The Aggies were not exposed as pretenders. They’re legit and will not quit.
After all, they’d have to answer to Johnny.