- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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In a year in which the Heisman race has really lacked pizzazz, one player is bucking the lackluster trend.
Small in stature but big in plays, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel proved yet again over the weekend he deserves a seat at the Heisman table in New York next month.
The redshirt freshman has been too exciting, too productive and too darn good not to get some real Heisman love. If the season ended today, it would be an absolute crime if Johnny Football wasn’t a Heisman finalist.
If what he’d done heading into the Alabama game didn’t win you over, Saturday inside Bryant-Denny Stadium had to.
He was thrown right at one of the nation’s best defenses from the start, accounting for 16 of Texas A&M’s 27 plays in the first quarter and collecting 150 of the Aggies’ 172 first-quarter yards (passing/throwing). All three drives ended with Aggies touchdowns.
He made defenders look sillier and sillier with each scramble, such as his nifty 29-yard scamper on the first drive to put the ball at the Alabama 14-yard line, and his clumsy-turned-slippery 32-yard pass on the second drive that set up the Aggies’ second touchdown.
He pulled off another jaw-dropping 32-yard run on the third drive just for fun.
He even fumbled a ball in midair, only to catch it, roll out and find a wide-open Ryan Swope for a 10-yard touchdown in the first.
After struggling in the second and third quarters, he led the Aggies on two fourth-quarter scoring drives. On A&M’s final scoring drive he threaded a pass to Swope for 42 yards down the right sideline before tossing a perfectly thrown flag pass to Malcome Kennedy for the go-ahead 24-yard touchdown.
Manziel finished with 345 total yards and two scores. It was reminiscent of another dual-threat quarterback who walked out of Bryant-Denny Stadium with a shocking win. His name was Cam Newton, and he left with two more touchdowns, but 90 fewer yards.
Given the Herculean task of besting Alabama’s defense, Manziel came through and never wavered. Defensive stops didn’t stun him. He stunned the Tide.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Manziel completed all six of his passes outside the pocket and scrambled for 94 yards when forced out of the pocket. Before Saturday, Alabama’s opponents were completing 35.7 percent of their passes outside the pocket and had scrambled for 12 total yards in nine games.
He also completed 4-of-5 passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield. In previous games, Alabama allowed nine completions on 41 pass attempts thrown 20 yards or longer downfield and hadn’t allowed a quarterback to complete four such passes since the start of the 2009 season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
He ran the nation’s No. 1 team out of its own stadium and momentarily knocked the SEC off it path toward a seventh straight national championship appearance.
That right there should get voters outside of the South giddy about Johnny Football, but there’s so much more to him than just Saturday’s stellar outing.
Manziel doesn’t look like he can do much, but even with his generously listed 6-foot-1 height and his awkward and graceless scurrying, Manziel constantly finds ways to make plays. You can’t bring too much pressure because he’ll just sidestep his way outside and sprint for a big play. Don’t bring enough, and he’ll burn you over the top.
He’s third in the SEC in passing (2,780), first in rushing (1,014) and has combined for 33 total touchdowns. He’s averaging 379.4 yards of total offense per game and is the second freshman in Football Bowl Subdivision history to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,000 yards in a single season.
People harp on his two home losses to Florida and LSU, but plenty of Heisman winners have lacked perfection. Tim Tebow and Robert Griffin III both lost three games before hoisting the bronze trophy. And if Manziel & Co. keep winning, he might play in a BCS bowl game -- something Tebow and Griffin didn’t do during their Heisman years.
When compared to Tebow, Griffin and Newton, Manziel is right in line. He won’t pass for Griffin’s 4,293 yards and 37 touchdowns, but he’ll surpass Newton’s passing yardage and needs 507 yards to beat Tebow’s. He also has rushed for more yards than Tebow and Griffin and needs 460 yards to surpass Newton’s SEC quarterback record of 1,473 he set in 2010.
So when it’s time to cast those Heisman ballots and pick those worthy candidates to suit up in the Big Apple, Manziel can’t be left out. He has done too much already, and still has time to do even more.
2hSam Khan Jr. and Alex Scarborough
6dJeremy Crabtree and Brandon Chatmon