College football season is well within reach!
With less than 100 days until kickoff, we here at Team Speed Kills are introducing a brand-new, quotidian countdown series to help you prepare for the first slate of college football action on August 26th.
In this series, we will post a daily SEC-related fact and/or story that corresponds to the number of the day in the countdown. Hopefully, you’ll find this series enlightening and entertaining. If you do, click that ‘share’ button we all know and love. If you do not, quit lying to yourself.
I specifically recall talking with one of my friends prior to the Florida-Texas A&M game in 2012 about who was going to win. I asked him who he thought had the advantage and he said, “Florida. A&M’s got a freshman at quarterback.”
My friend was right about the first part. The sentiment of the second part was wildly incorrect. This 6-foot, 200-pound dart began in College Station that afternoon against the Gators what became a Heisman-winning season that reached a fever pitch on a November afternoon in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Most who’ve come to know modern offensive football will automatically reference Johnny Manziel and this game where the 15th-ranked Aggies came to the Capstone and upset the top-ranked Tide.
The first quarter was all Texas A&M. You may remember Manziel’s heroics, but the defense certainly did its job against a generational Alabama offensive line and the steadiness of quarterback A.J. McCarron.
After marching down the field on its first drive to go up 7-0, the Aggies’ D picked McCarron off at midfield, allowing Manziel to do what Manziel always did at that time, including this little Heisman sizzle reel number that put A&M up 14-0 just seven minutes into the first quarter.
The A&M defense forced a three-and-out and Manziel drove the offense down for another score, putting them up 20-0 by the end of the first quarter. Against Alabama. The #1 team in the nation.
What gets lost in the shuffle of this game is how effective Manziel was running the ball. Like many of his best plays, he either bought time with his feet, creating such havoc in the Alabama secondary that receivers were just found wide open, or he plain slipped the pocket and ran for first down after first down.
While ‘Bama’s defense finally settled down, holding the Aggies scoreless for the next two quarters, Manziel still wore down a team that was very unfamiliar with this style of play. Whenever the Tide drew closer, Manziel came up with an amazing drive. Eventually, it was enough to win the game 29-24.
Manziel finished with 253 passing yards and 92 yards on the ground.
The larger story of this game was that it set in motion a blueprint for stopping Alabama. To this point, Nick Saban’s defenses were largely immovable objects, relentless in their pursuit of the football. Even Urban Meyer and Bobby Petrino to a point had trouble getting past them.
When Johnny Manziel came to town, though, that narrative changed. Coaches began to realize that a quarterback that was not only mobile, but an offense that could be created around that mobility and a general misdirection might be able to topple the giant.
This is why Deshaun Watson and Clemson, Ole Miss and Ohio State found success against otherwise dominant Alabama defenses. Gus Malzahn and Auburn might’ve found cracks in the foundation, but on November 10, 2012, Johnny Manziel destroyed it.
Almost singlehandedly, Manziel forced Nick Saban to do what was unnecessary in his entire career up to that point: Adapt. He had to recruit smaller, faster players at all levels of the defense. He had to update his own offense to simply keep up with Malzahn and Hugh Freeze, whose offenses were putting up major numbers every game.
Essentially, Johnny Manziel’s performance against the Tide in 2012 made way for these Crimson Tide accomplishments going forward: Three consecutive SEC championships, three consecutive CFB Playoff appearances, two straight National Title Game appearances and one National Championship.
Congratulations, Johnny. You helped Alabama become a better Alabama.