Johnny Manziel looks primed to make a push in the final three regular season games to win another Heisman and Texas A&M’s defense might
help him do it.
Manziel passed for four touchdowns and rushed for two more in Saturday’s 57-7 victory over UTEP. His seven carries for 67 yards was encouraging after last week’s four carries for 11 yards — both career-low marks — because of a sore right shoulder.
He showed no signs of being limited against the Miners. Manziel shook off hard hits during back-to-back sacks in the third quarter to throw a deep middle pass to LaQuivionte Gonzalez for 57 yards, followed by hitting Mike Evans in stride for a 26-yard touchdown. On the previous possession, Manziel had a 49-yard touchdown run that looked like something out of a video game as he split the defense, speeding toward the end zone with ease as defenders seemed to be watching more than pursuing.
Those dazzling possessions capped Manziel’s 340-yard night. It was the third time in his career he’s accounted for six touchdowns in a game.
A&M needs Manziel at his best for the last three regular season games, especially on the road at LSU and Missouri. Those games will be huge in regards to rankings and bowl-pecking order. Manziel also needs a strong finish in his battle with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston as the three quarterbacks are the front-runners for the Heisman.
Mariota and Winston have benefited from playing on unbeaten teams which have good defenses. Florida State is No. 7 in total defense, allowing 287.6 yards per game. Oregon is No. 27 (393.3 ypg) in the offensive-minded Pac-12, which has seven teams in the nation’s top 40 in total offense. The Ducks are better on defense than most think.
Manziel and his offense haven’t had the luxury of being complemented by a consistent defense for much of the season. That wasn’t the case last season when A&M was 57th in total defense and 26th in scoring. A&M’s defense played a huge role in an 11-2 season and helped Manziel win the Heisman.
This season, A&M has been ranked 100 or higher in all four of the major defensive categories — rushing, passing, total and scoring — until putting together back-to-back solid efforts against Vanderbilt and UTEP.
A&M’s defense certainly has played better the last two weeks, but how much of the improvement can be attributed to Vandy and UTEP — an average team and a bad team, which both had to go with backup quarterbacks?
It won’t take long to see how much A&M’s defense has improved with the remaining opponents all in the nation’s top 50 in total offense.
First up will be Mississippi State, averaging 447.1 yards per game and ranked 41st. The Bulldogs, 4-4, are winless in three trips away from home, and there’s no reason to think MSU will come to Kyle Field on Saturday and win, but it might be a competitive game if A&M’s defense regresses.
A&M’s defense needs to use MSU as a stepping stone because much better offenses await.
LSU is averaging 480 yards per game (No. 22) and Missouri is at 500 ypg (No. 15). Manziel could have monster games against them but it wouldn’t be a given that A&M will win. LSU and Missouri have combined to score at least 40 points in nine games.
So while it was great to see Manziel darting through UTEP’s defense Saturday night, it was just as encouraging for the Aggies to see their defense have another solid game.
Playing UTEP didn’t help the Aggies in the BCS standings as A&M dropped three spots to No. 15. South Carolina at No. 12, followed by LSU and Oklahoma State, all jumped ahead of A&M. A&M moved up a spot in the other two major polls, going to No. 11 in the AP and No. 13 in the USA Today/Coaches’ Poll.
A&M’s defense dipped under 100 in the major categories — No. 80 in scoring (29.8 ppg), No. 82 in passing (242.2 ypg), No. 97 in total (443.1 ypg) and No. 99 in rushing (200.9 ypg).
A&M’s offense is in the Top 25 in the major categories – No. 3 in total (582.6 ypg), No. 4 in scoring (49.0 ppg), No. 6 in passing (371.8 ypg) and No. 25 in rushing (210.8 ypg).
A&M sophomore running back Tra Carson tweeted late Saturday night that he was OK and thanked everyone for their concerns. Carson’s head was taped to a stretcher and he was carted off the field after complaining of neck pain after getting hit. A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said afterward that X-rays were negative and that Carson wouldn’t be hospitalized.
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