Despite bursting on to the scene and nearly knocking off the Florida Gators in his first career start in, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was largely unknown heading into a showdown with then top-ranked Alabama last season.
Manziel put up big numbers against lesser teams like Arkansas (453 yards, three touchdowns through the air) and Louisiana Tech (395 yards, three touchdowns), but struggled in that loss to Florida (Texas A&M didn’t score in the second half and lost 20-17) and threw three interceptions in a 24-19 loss to LSU.
Then, on November 10, Manziel became the Heisman trophy front runner. He tore up the vaunted Tide defense, going 24-of-31 for 253 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for another 92 yards on 18 carries. The Aggies upset the Tide 29-24.
“He deserves the hype he’s gotten because of what he’s done and how he’s played,” safety Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix told Dan Wolken of USA Today. “It doesn’t bother me at all. He’s one of a kind, if you ask me.”
Manziel finished the season with incredible numbers – he was 295-for-434 for 3,706 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He rushed for another 1,410 yards on 201 attempts and scored 21 more touchdowns.
Although Manziel had a tumultuous offseaon and even wound up suspended for the first half of the Aggies’ opener against Rice, Manziel picked up right where he left off. In his first game against Rice, he attempted eight passes and three of them went for touchdowns. Last week against Sam Houston State, he had 403 yards and three touchdowns.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban has taken notice.
“I haven’t seen him get rattled. I really haven’t,” Saban told Wolken. “Regardless of any other circumstance that goes on around him, when he’s playing on the field, he’s doing everything he can to help his team win and he is a fierce competitor.”
With Texas A&M struggling to get to stops, Manziel is probably going to need to play significantly better than he did last season.
Clearly, the Tide know Manziel is capable of doing just that this time around.