The Aggie Defense Rests
The most highly anticipated game of the college football season saw the Alabama Crimson Tide beat the Aggies of Texas A&M 49-42. Personal bests were set, one defense stunk it up, and the Tide appears to be rolling toward another national championship.
For the second straight year, Aggie coach Kevin Sumlin's offense, with QB Johnny Manziel at the helm, racked up more yards and more points than opponents even dream about when they're facing a Nick Saban defense. This year, the problem lay somewhere on the other side of the ball. 'Bama QB A. J. McCarron led a balanced attack that moved at will against the Artist Formerly Known as the Wrecking Crew. That is, after the first five minutes, which forecasted an Aggie blowout.
Texas A&M's offense took control of the game early, taking a 14-0 lead in devastating fashion. The first series saw Mike Evans dominate Alabama's defensive backfield, something he would do all game long, on the way seven receptions and a career high 279 yards. Quick Manziel-to-Evans strikes of 32 and 35 yards set up the first TD toss of the season to TE Cam Clear, a weapon the Aggies had been saving for this particular opponent.
After a quick three and out by Saban's squad, the Aggies again marched down the field using a long throw to Evans, capped by a one-yard touchdown run by RB Ben Malena. At this point, the crowd pulsed with energy at the thought of a rout.
That's the precise moment, however, that the Tide decided to remind everybody that this wasn't anything close to their first rodeo (or second, or third, or eighth.) Alabama settled down and proceeded to score four unanswered touchdowns before the half came to a close, the most demoralizing of which was a 51-yard pass from McCarron to WR Kenny Bell.
Alabama got a big one immediately after the break, when DB Vinnie Sunseri caught a deflected Manziel pass deep in Tide territory and returned it 73 yards for a score. Instead of closing the scoring gap, the Aggies found themselves down 21 points, the largest deficit of the contest.
The two offenses would trade touchdowns for the next quarter until Alabama fumbled the ball near the A&M goal line. Backed up on their own five and facing third and nine, Manziel connected with Evans, who had beaten his man at midfield and proceeded to outrace two defenders for a 95-yard score, his lone touchdown of the game.
Any upset hopes were dashed as McCarron led Alabama on a five-and-a-half minute drive that left the Aggies down 14 points with little more than two minutes to go. Manziel drove the length of the field and connected with WR Malcome Kennedy for a touchdown (his third of the day), but time was running out. After a failed onside kick, the Tide kneeled out the game.
Both Manziel and McCarron had outstanding performances. The two combined for almost 900 yards of offense and nine touchdowns in the air. And while Saban can't be happy with the performance of his defense, the Aggie D looked much worse. McCarron was rarely hurried and never sacked, and both running backs and receivers achieved first downs with ease.
Therein lies the ultimate takeaway.
This game was supposed to determine the prohibitive favorite for a slot in the national championship. (The SEC gets a spot every year, don't you know?) Alabama proved they have what it takes on both sides of the ball to both get there, and possibly even win it for a ridiculous fourth time in five years.
This Aggie squad isn't there yet. No team with this poor of a defense deserves that level of success. What's amazing, though, is that a couple more plays from Manziel and crew would have put them squarely in the hunt for the crystal trophy. That's why the legend of Johnny Football continues to grow, even in defeat. With the NFL calling, he's got the rest of this year to cement his legacy.