Published: Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 10:28 p.m.
A week after Alabama's defense was finally humanized, Texas A&M's superhuman quarterback comes flying into Tuscaloosa.
The Tide are all too familiar with Tim Tebow and Cam Newton's exploits. Now, Johnny Manziel will look to make his mark against the No. 1 Tide.
“His ability to ad lib and extend plays, break down the defense, whether he does it scrambling and throwing it or scrambling and running it has been pretty phenomenal this year against some pretty good teams,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban.
After Alabama's 21-17 win over LSU, Saban proclaimed that his defense had “by far” its worst performance of the season. The Tide allowed 475 total yards, the most since Saban's first season in 2007.
“Johnny Football” all by himself averages more total yards of offense a game (383.2) than 48 FBS teams.
Along the way, the player who never got an offer from an SEC school broke the league record for most yards of total offense in a game twice, topping his 557 yards against Arkansas with 576 against Louisiana Tech two weeks later.
The Aggie enigma blessed with sub-4.4 speed and an accurate arm has put up head-spinning numbers that wouldn't even make sense in the Big 12 or Pac-12, let alone the SEC. They're even harder to fathom when being reminded of the fact that he's a 19-year-old redshirt freshman.
However, Manziel Magic was unable to put on a show against two of the nation's top defenses. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder managed only 233 yards against Florida and 303 against LSU with one rushing score and three interceptions.
In those two games, Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2 SEC) failed to score 20 points, and Manziel's one-man show never took the stage.
“We're going to need more than just one guy to go to Tuscaloosa and win,” said Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.
Back in October — after a Saturday that saw Manziel make history against Arkansas and West Virginia's Geno Smith throw for 656 yards and eight touchdowns against Baylor — Saban said, “Is this what we want football to be?” in reference to no-huddle offenses.
Saban later made it clear that he was simply stating it as food for thought.
However, even as new offenses like the Aggies' “Air Raid” offense take flight and make some question what college football will become, Saban's Tide are grounded in what the SEC has always been: a league dominated by defense.
Despite its shaky performance last week, Alabama has given up more than 17 points only once since losing to Auburn at the end of the 2010 season.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin says size is what separates Alabama's defense from the nation's top defenses.
“Alabama is pretty big and stout across the board. You start lookin' at (nose tackle) Jesse Williams in there at 320 (pounds) and Adrian Hubbard is a 6-6, 250-pound linebacker. It's just a size factor. They can run. They're physical.”
Meanwhile, Sumlin's defense will face the only SEC player other than Manziel with a shot at the Heisman: junior quarterback AJ McCarron.
The two quarterbacks couldn't be any different as Sumlin has pinned the Aggies' offense, and their success, squarely on Manziel's talents.
A&M's coach has done it with the bigger picture in mind.
“The other 10 players on offense, the challenge from the beginning has been to make the offense quarterback-friendly. We've gotten better at that,” Sumlin said. “I don't know that it's a step for him. It's a step for our program.”