"(It was) critical in this game to get off to a great start offensively. (Texas A&M) has scored on their first possession almost every time," UA coach Nick Saban said. "We were fortunate to win the toss, get the ball first, hopefully establish some momentum, keep the ball, move the ball, and we didn't get that done. That was something we really emphasized to our team in terms of how important that would be in this game."
Manziel was everything Saban warned of and more. When Alabama's defenders broke contain and tried to tackle Manziel as he scrambled, he tore off for huge gains early. "He must have had 50 yards rushing in the second quarter," Saban said. Actually, Manziel gained 74 of his 92 rushing yards in the first quarter as the Aggies built a 20-0 lead. But that wasn't going to be enough playing against some of the game's best defensive minds coaching some of the game's best defensive players. Alabama found its discipline after that opening salvo. The Tide brought more pressure off the edge and forced Manziel to step up into the pocket instead of tearing around the corner. Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury adjusted by calling more plays that allowed Texas A&M to move the pocket and give Manziel room to throw. His accuracy devastated Alabama. He completed 15 of his first 16 throws and wound up completing 24-of-31 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Meanwhile, receiver Ryan Swope (11 catches, 111 yards, one touchdown) caught passes while getting smothered by Alabama defensive backs. The Aggies could never duplicate their first-quarter success, but they moved the ball just enough in the second half to keep Alabama at bay. When it seemed the Crimson Tide would claw their way back into the game midway through the fourth quarter, Manziel hit Swope for a 42-yard gain and then found Malcome Kennedy down the left sideline for a 24-yard touchdown that extended the Aggies' lead to 12.
If it does nothing else, Saturday's Alabama-Texas A&M game proves one thing. The main thing is not the manner in which you choose to pursue your goals. It is how well you perform once you have chosen. That has been the real reason for Alabama's success in recent years. It isn't a matter of having craftier schemes or pulling more surprises. It is a matter of making few mistakes, of "performing to a standard." No one has instilled that more effectively in his program than Nick Saban. But that only made Saturday's 29-24 loss more puzzling and painful for the Crimson Tide. Texas A&M's fast-paced offense is a far cry from Alabama's attack and its make-the-other-team-quit ethos. Philosophically, the teams are miles apart. Yet in many ways, Texas A&M beat Alabama at its own game. The Aggies were prepared and emotional from the beginning. They didn't turn the ball over, not once, while Alabama turned it over three times. Texas A&M stuck with what they do best. Alabama, meanwhile, struggled to find its own identity at times, even as Texas A&M remained true to itself. "Texas A&M outplayed us," Saban said. "I want to give them a lot of credit for what they did. But we are also going to see that we made mistakes that contributed to that."
"You trying to make me the villain?" Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin asked. "Well, there's 120 other teams that are happy. No one is going to ask me anymore if we deserve to be here." No, they're not. As defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said, "We beat them. It shouldn't have been that close."
"It goes to show that we can compete with anyone in this league," said Swope, who finished with a game-high 11 catches for 111 yards and a touchdown. "We practice with confidence and you have to be a confident football team to do those kinds of things. You can tell guys played with heart tonight. It was unbelievable."
It took a chameleon quarterback to get it done. Freshman Johnny Manziel is part unearthly skill set, part anonymous slinger (A&M freshmen can't talk to the media), part Halloween cartoon dog. He's still scrambling right now -- all the way out of Bryant-Denny Stadium with Alabama's national championship hopes. It took a team ready to flog anyone who says one more time that A&M isn't ready for the SEC in its first year in the league. "People doubted us," said receiver Ryan Swope, who broke off 111 yards of understatement on Saturday. It took a team that bottled up all those second-half meltdowns under Mike Sherman last year, and got fed up with coughing up leads in recent struggles against Florida and LSU this year. "We're a different team," said first-year coach Kevin Sumlin, the clubhouse leader for SEC coach of the year. All at Alabama's expense. Texas A&M combined an opportunistic defense with an efficient no-huddle attack in a stunning turn of events in the SEC.
All of this because of an undersized ball of anything goes, who grew up dreaming of playing for Texas and eventually settled on Texas A&M. Of all the angst over the last three years in Austin; of all the losses and the slippage and the downright ugly play; letting Johnny Dynamic get away may be the worst of all. In 10 games, Manziel has lifted a team that finished seventh in the Big 12 last season to the elite of the biggest, baddest conference of them all. The redshirt freshman who couldn’t win the starting job in spring ball, and had to fight to beat out Jameill Showers in fall camp, is now the talk of college football. A freshman has never won the Heisman Trophy, but a sophomore had never won the award until Tim Tebow did it in 2007 at Florida. Why not Johnny Highlight, why not now?
After the Aggies jumped out to an early lead on the Tide, some coaches might’ve felt the need to slow things down and not risk letting your freshman QB give momentum back to Bama with turnovers. But the Aggies never took their foot off the pedal. Head coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury continues to throw the ball down field, keeping the Alabama defense honest and giving the ground game room to work. They went for it on a 4th and 6 from the Bama 37 in the 2nd quarter, and though they didn’t get it, it showed the same kind of aggressive mindset that A&M has had all year. Instead of playing not to lose, Sumlin played to win, and it helped his squad score a massive upset.
"We knew they might come out and start hot," Jones said. "They were doing some crazy, crazy things on defense. All credit to their defensive coordinator, because he come out in some bizarre looks. … Three guys on one side of the center. They were running all kinds of things that we’ve never seen before, and we made adjustments and got on track, but early, we were really struggling. ... "I just give them credit. They came out ready to play."
"No moment is too big for him," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin told reporters after Saturday's game. "He gives our players a sense that we can score from anywhere." He also proved to be dangerous in a variety of ways, as he burned Alabama with short passes and long scrambles in the first half and then led the Aggies on a quick, fourth-quarter touchdown drive with two deep passes out of the pocket. "We threw a couple of different things at him," Square said. "We tried to get him to adjust and he made the adjustments he needed to make. "We've got things we need to work on but we can't take credit away from that guy and what he does for his team. He's great. I've seen it all year long and he'll continue to be great, too."
Yes, Eddie Lacy would have liked to have been given the ball on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line late in No. 1 Alabama's 29-24 loss Saturday to No. 15 Texas A&M. "I’m pretty sure anybody who had the ball wished that," the junior running back said. He got the ball on second-and-goal from the 6, but he run around left end gained only 1 yard. "They got good pressure up front, their D-line," he said. "We were unable to push them back, and I was unable to score."
"He's a great player, a great athlete, and he does what he does for a reason," Mosley said of the redshirt freshman quarterback, who led Texas A&M to a 29-24 victory over the top-ranked Crimson Tide on Saturday. "He's just an elusive quarterback. For the most part, we just didn't get our right gaps or we let him get outside the box. When he gets outside the box, he does what he does."
Alabama threw a variety of blitzes and stunts across the defensive front, as well as disguising its pass coverage. No matter what UA threw at him, it couldn't stop him. "You go get him and you've got to be sound in your skill or he's going to expose you," defensive lineman Damion Square said. "In a couple of situations we didn't do the right thing as far as tackling and staying on your feet and securing the tackle and things like that. "He's a great player. He executed, we didn't."
"Let me say this, and not to take away from Johnny, but for us to come in to Alabama and win, that's a complete team effort," Sumlin said. "We had to get some stops on defense, which we played very well early in the game. "We answered on special teams and we forced turnovers defensively. That's a team effort."
"We had an opportunity at the end of the game, fourth-and-2 at the 2, and we also had an opportunity to get the ball back with probably what would have been about 35 seconds left in the game with pretty good field position," UA coach Nick Saban said. "And again, jumped offsides on a hard count. (That's) something that you most certainly expect in a situation like that. The players were told 'Make sure you stay onsides. They're going to try to get you to jump with a shift or a motion or something.' "
"We believed the whole time," senior center Barrett Jones said. "We never lost faith. We felt good about executing the two-minute drive. We got down there. We just didn’t punch it in." A 54-yard pass from McCarron to Bell with 4:18 left put the Tide at first-and-goal from the 6. On first down, McCarron scrambled to his left for no gain. On second down, Eddie Lacy ran around left end for 1 yard. On third down, McCarron escaped a long loss and scrambled up the middle, nearly scoring. He was tackled at the 2 by Dusty Harris. "We felt the momentum," Jones said. "We certainly had all the belief in the world that we were going to score, and it certainly looked like we were going to, but we didn’t."
"That's football," Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron said. "Things are going to happen your way and things aren't. Everything didn't go our way. It's over and done with now. We've got to fight through a little bit of adversity that we're facing and finish strong." The Crimson Tide fell behind 20-0 in the first quarter. How was it able to keep its composure? "The scoreboard doesn’t matter," McCarron said. "It doesn’t matter if you’re down 20 or up 20, you’ve just got to keep playing. You’ve got to score, regardless."