He picked apart Arkansas.
He put up huge numbers against Mississippi State.
Still, I didn’t believe the hype surrounding “Johnny Football” the Texas A&M freshman quarterback.
Sure, he put up record numbers against Auburn, but who doesn’t?
Manziel wasn’t going to pile up statistics against Alabama. Not when he had to play the top defense in the nation. The Tide defense would show Manziel a thing or two. Freshmen don’t lead teams to victory at Bryant Denny Stadium, right?
Well, they do now.
Manziel showed Alabama a thing or two, rolling up 345 yards of offense and a pair of touchdowns in the Aggies’ shocking 29-24 win over the top-ranked Tide.
Manziel may not be the best player in the nation or a Heisman Trophy finalist, but he fit the mold on both of those fronts on Saturday with pin-point accuracy and a certain calm under pressure despite the screaming masses.
I had Manziel pegged as another flashy, duel-threat quarterback who puts up monster numbers against the lesser-opponents, and falls short on the big stage — much like West Virginia’s Geno Smith.
Just look at the LSU game as an indication. Manziel gained just 27 yards on the ground and was intercepted three times in LSU’s 24-19 win.
He was not the same quarterback on Saturday.
Even as he led the Aggies to a 20-0 first-quarter lead, I knew he would come crashing down to earth in the second half.
It looked like I was right at first. Manziel was sacked three times on Texas A&M’s first two possessions of the second half. He narrowly averted a safety at one point.
Alabama soon cut the lead to three points at 20-17.
That’s when Manziel came back to life. He led the Aggies on a 21-play, clock-draining drive that ended with a field goal to open the fourth quarter.
Manziel then took advantage of a T.J. Yeldon fumble that squashed a promising Alabama drive. He followed the miscue with a quick-strike touchdown.
The biggest play of the game may have come on Manziel’s 42-yard pass to Ryan Swope down the sideline. Had the ball been thrown one yard off the mark, Alabama would have had the play covered. Instead, Manziel hit Swope on the numbers and the Aggies followed with what proved to the game-winning score on Manziel’s 24-yard strike to Malcome Kennedy.
Manziel — who is on track to beat Cam Newton’s SEC record for rushing yards by a quarterback — didn’t beat Alabama by himself. The Tide’s uncharacteristic mistakes — three turnovers that led to 13 Texas A&M points — played a key role in defeat.
Despite Manziel’s heroics, Alabama still had its chances.
Tide quarterback AJ McCarron, coming off a stellar game-winning drive against LSU in the final minute last week, didn’t have another game-winner in him on Saturday, throwing an interception on 4th-and-goal with 96 seconds remaining.
Alabama had one last gasp after holding Texas A&M on third down in the final minute. However, an offside penalty on Tyler Hayes slammed the door on the Tide.
Manziel who became the first ever freshman to beat a No. 1 team on the road, completed 24 of 31 passes on the night for 252 yards and two touchdowns. He added another 92 yards on 18 carries for an average of 5.1 yards per carry.
I’m sure Manziel will continue to put up huge numbers this season. His final two regular-season games come against Sam Houston State and Missouri.
Those teams better beware because this freshman sure doesn’t play like one.
After Saturday, I’m a believer.
Johnathan Bentley is the Sports Editor at the Daily Mountain Eagle. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.