While Johnny Manziel hogged the offseason spotlight with his flair for life, many wondered about what was being said inside the Aggie locker room.
What did his teammates really think? Did they have his back? Was the Heisman winner really as good a teammate as they were saying publicly? Did coach Kevin Sumlin have control of the locker room? And for that matter, what about Manziel? Did he have the NFL on his mind?
Manziel showed us in the 41-38 victory at Ole Miss all that matters is what happens with the ball in his hands. And more often than not, it’s pretty remarkable stuff, sometimes even special. As he passed and rushed his way to another victory Saturday night, it’s kinda hard to believe there was so much negativity surrounding him less than two months ago. He remains the game’s best player.
As for the locker room, he’s the kind of athlete who teammates will brag about for years. Heck, for that matter even their children and their children’s children will talk about dad and grandpa playing with Manziel.
Manziel put the Aggies on his back Saturday night and willed them to victory. More accurately, the 200-pounder took the football with the game on the line and reeled off four runs for 54 yards on A&M’s last two scoring drives, taking some hellacious hits.
He avoided contact during the game when he could, but if he had to take on a linebacker or defensive back to get a first down or touchdown, so be it. He wasn’t worried about getting hurt, which could end his season or hamper his professional career. His only concern was winning the game, so he took the hits. At times, Manziel was slow to get up, but he was even harder to catch and bring down. For the game, he carried the ball 18 times for 113 yards.
The Rebels couldn’t sell out on the run because Manziel was 31-of-39 passing for 346 yards. He stayed in the pocket as long as he could, and he even threw on the run. He also threw a couple of touch passes Saturday night that had to make former Ole Miss’ great Archie Manning smile.
In the end, Manziel’s legs might have been bigger than his arm. His biggest run allowed A&M to tie the game at 38. Manziel rushed for 13 yards on fourth-and-7 to the Ole Miss 32. A&M sophomore receiver Mike Evans, maybe feeding off Manziel, had a herculean 26-yard catch on the next play, leaping up to make the catch, then regaining his balance when he landed, dragging a defender to the 6 where Manziel scored on the next play.
Ole Miss failed to picked up a first down, allowing A&M to kick the game-winning field goal. Manziel started that drive with a 14-yard pass, then rushed for 12 yards, then 13 more.
Ole Miss knew what was coming but couldn’t do a thing about it as Manziel remained unbeaten on the road. Beating top-ranked Alabama last year always will be Manziel’s Heisman moment, but his two victories at Ole Miss were special. He led A&M on back-to-back fourth-quarter scoring drives last year as the Aggies overcame six turnovers, three of them Manziel’s to win their first SEC road game.
This was even more impressive, though. Ole Miss is a better team than last year, but couldn’t take advantage of the scheduling quirk that brought A&M back to Oxford and that’s because Manziel is even a better player than he was a year ago. And that’s saying something.
Manziel’s great effort on that 13-yard run to keep the game-tying drive alive was overshadowed by Ole Miss linebacker Serderius Bryant sustaining an apparent head injury on the play after an awkward collision with Manziel. Bryant was motionless for several minutes before being taken off on a stretcher to the hospital. He was hospitalized overnight for tests and Ole Miss head coach Huge Freeze texted The Clarion Ledger on Sunday, “things look good” regarding the 5-foot-9, 215-pound junior.
A&M moved up to No. 7 in the Associated Press poll, passing Georgia and Louisville, but being passed by No. 6 LSU. No. 24 Auburn comes to Kyle Field for a 2:30 p.m. Kickoff Saturday. A&M is also No. 7 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll.
• Robert Cessna’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.