Can LSU Corral Johnny Manziel?

Ronald Martinez - Getty Images

The Texas A&M freshman is the most prolific offensive force in the SEC. Can LSU's vaunted defense slow him down?

Run Home Jack is a funny guy, but this is no joke. Manziel is second in the nation at 392.7 total yards per game at present. The 74th ranked team in total offense is UAB at 392.2 yards per game. That puts Johnny Football above 51 teams.

His street ball Air Raid routine is a fun thing to watch, and it is certainly prolific. He set an SEC record for total offense in a game with 557 yards against Arkansas, and he then broke that record last weekend with 576 yards against Louisiana Tech. The kid is a beast.

The catch, though, is that Manziel has been putting up these video game numbers against some suspect defenses. Let's set aside the South Carolina State game, as it was against a I-AA opponent and he only played a half. He's played five other teams, only one of which plays good defense. That one team, Florida, held him in check fairly well, but the other four I-AA teams he's faced are SMU, Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Louisiana Tech. There's not a feared defense among them.

To wit, here are Manziel's averages against those four teams versus what he did against Florida:

Opp. Comp-Att Pass Yds Yds/Att Carries Rush Yds YPC TOff/G TDs/G
4 I-A Teams 22.5-35 (64.3%) 333.25 9.52 16.5 134.5 8.15 467.75 4.5
Florida 23-30 (76.7%) 173 5.77 17 60 3.5 233 1
Difference +12.4% -160.25 -3.75 0.5 -74.5 -4.65 -234.75 -3.5

Manziel completed a higher percentage of his passes against the Gators, largely thanks to throwing a lot safer passes, but every other category suffers greatly.

To take the point further, Florida went into that game basically blind. The A&M opener against LA Tech had been postponed, and Kevin Sumlin has never had a quarterback like Manziel before. Will Muschamp could only watch film of Case Keenum, which will not prepare you for Manziel. After getting a chance to see what the Aggie offense could do, UF made halftime adjustments and shut him down in the second half:

Manziel 1st Half 2nd Half
Comp-Att 16-20 (80%) 7-10 (70%)
Pass Yards 150 32
Yds/Att 7.5 3.2
Carries 8 8
Rush Yards 29 19
YPC 3.63 2.38
Explosive Plays 5 0

Here, "explosive plays" means runs of over 10 yards and passes of over 20 yards. Manziel's output after halftime is lower in part because he ran 10 fewer plays, but his per play averages are noticeably lower. The legend of Florida being a second half team was born because the defense did this to him.

Now comes LSU. Tossing out the Towson game, the Bayou Bengals haven't allowed more than 237 yards against anyone. They have plenty of film to look at, and they have a defense that at the very least isn't lesser than Florida's is. The overwhelming likelihood is that Manziel will have another low production game.

Now it's true that the Tigers haven't faced any offensive juggernauts; of the four BCS conference teams they've played, the highest ranked in total offense is South Carolina at No. 82. A&M is far and away the best offense they will have faced yet this year. We know from the eye test that LSU's defense is fantastic, but who they've stymied on the year is not a rogues gallery of gunslingers.

Manziel won't be able to do his ad libbing routine to that great of effect this Saturday. It worked for a half against Florida, but the Gators shut it down in the second. LSU figures to be able to keep him contained throughout thanks to its pair of excellent defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. If he does break out of the pocket, they have the speed to force him to make faster decisions than he typically has to make. He is still just a freshman, after all, and they tend to struggle with making not just good decisions, but quick good decisions.

The answer is most likely "yes" that LSU will corral Johnny Manziel. The other question I have for the game, one I don't have an answer to, is will LSU be able to keep up if Manziel does find a way to go off. The Tigers have no more margin for error.

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