- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
Texas A&M pulled out a thrilling 29-24 win over then-No. 1 Alabama on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. It took a complete effort, and the Aggies were effective on both sides of the ball. Here are three examples of notable plays where the Aggies' shined:
Situation: Texas A&M ball, third-and-goal at the Alabama 10 (8:09 left, first quarter)
Score: Texas A&M 7, Alabama 0
Breakdown: For some, seeing what Manziel did on this play might have been surprising. For Aggies fans, it has become the norm. And the way the receivers and offensive line have jelled with their redshirt freshman quarterback is seen clearly here.
This is one of the plays that compels many to call Manziel "Johnny Football." It looks like a play he would make in a sandlot playing flag football with a bunch of buddies. But there are several elements involved that make this play work.
First, the protection by the offensive line is great. Alabama rushes just four defenders and the Aggies' offensive line controls each of them. Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley plays zone coverage in the middle of the field while also keeping an eye on Manziel. Manziel decides to tuck and run when seeing that the seven defenders that have dropped into coverage are leaving few windows for him to throw into.
But instead of breaking free, he runs into right tackle Jake Matthews, loses the football into the air, catches it, rolls left then finds a wide open Swope in the end zone. The Aggies do scramble drills in practices, and it shows here, as the receivers find open space where Manziel can find them.
As Mosley saw Manziel try to take off, he closed in on the line of scrimmage to try to corral Manziel. That leaves the middle of the field open. Each of the Aggies receivers improvises on their routes. Uzoma Nwachukwu, who was running a short in route, turns and runs toward the sideline. Swope, who was running a post corner route toward the left back corner of the end zone, turns and sprints to the middle. There's nobody there, and Manziel makes an awkward-body motion throw -- something he has excelled at -- and hits Swope between the numbers for the touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
Situation: Alabama ball, third-and-9 at its own 26 (6:59 left, first quarter)
Score: Texas A&M 14, Alabama 0
Result: Incomplete pass by A.J. McCarron.
Breakdown: After Saturday's game, Crimson Tide center Barrett Jones told local reporters that the Aggies "came out in some looks that we hadn't seen and really threw us off, threw me off, and I didn't do a good job of getting us in good protection schemes."
As Texas A&M built its 20-0 first-half lead, it wasn't just the offense getting it done, it was the defense too. This play is a perfect example. Third down has been a point of emphasis for the Aggies all year long, and it's an area they've excelled in (they rank seventh nationally, allowing conversions 29 percent of the time).
It's a clear passing down here for the Tide, and McCarron lines up in shotgun with three wide receivers, a tight end and a running back. The Aggies have three down linemen instead of their traditional four -- Damontre Moore, Spencer Nealy and Julien Obioha -- in a 3-3-5 look. Linebacker Sean Porter stands up next to Nealy, where another defensive tackle would traditionally be, while linebackers Steven Jenkins and Donnie Baggs are behind the down linemen.
Porter fakes a blitz, and Alabama tight end Michael Williams, who is lined up on that side of the formation, stays in to protect. He chips Obioha, before running out for a short pass pattern, but the Aggies win the numbers game on the other side of the formation by causing confusion. Porter backs off and Nealy stunts toward the area Porter was in, and there are four Crimson Tide blocking two Aggies -- Obioha and Nealy.
Meanwhile, Moore and the blitzing Jenkins occupy the Crimson Tide's right guard and right tackle and running back T.J. Yeldon is out on a pass pattern, leaving blitzing safety Howard Matthews unblocked. Matthews also does a good job of deception, not indicating he's blitzing until right before the snap. McCarron is forced to hurry his throw, and it falls incomplete, forcing the Tide to punt again. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder and the Aggies' defensive staff have done a good job this year, and this is a perfect example of a good scheme being executed well.
Situation: Alabama ball, fourth-and-goal at the Texas A&M 2 (1:41 left in fourth quarter)
Score: Texas A&M 29, Alabama 24
Result: McCarron's pass intercepted by Texas A&M cornerback Deshazor Everett.
Breakdown: This play will go down in Aggie lore, as it basically sealed the Texas A&M win. Alabama nearly got the ball back once more but was offside on a punt with 40 seconds left, allowing the Aggies to keep the ball and run out the clock.
The Aggies were in a nickel defense with four down linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs. Alabama lined up with a running back, three receivers and a tight end. Receiver Kenny Bell, lined up on the left side of the formation near tight end Michael Williams and went in motion toward the right side. He ran a quick route into the flat, and fellow receiver Amari Cooper also flooded that area, running a quick out behind Bell.
Based on reaction, it appears the Aggies were in man-to-man coverage. Safety Steven Terrell shadowed Bell, and when he went in motion, Terrell shifted as well. Everett originally was lined up against Cooper, but the recognition by the A&M secondary here is the reason for the pick. As Bell moves in motion and Terrell shifts, Everett recognizes it and takes responsibility for Bell while Terrell trails Cooper.
This is when Everett's instincts kick in. He senses the throw is coming as McCarron rolls out to his right, and he quickly steps in front of Bell, the intended receiver, and snags the ball from the air. The throw was a bit behind Bell, and Everett put himself in perfect position to grab it.
1dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough
3dSam Khan Jr.
6dSam Khan Jr.