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Monday, January 7, 2013
Film Review: Cotton Bowl edition

By Sam Khan Jr.

Johnny Manziel
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel scrambles for a touchdown in the first quarter of the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma.

Texas A&M capped off its memorable first season as a Southeastern Conference member with a dominant 41-13 win over No. 11 Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl on Friday. The win gave the No. 9 Aggies an 11-2 record for the season and assured that they will finish with a top-10 ranking for the first time since 1994. Here's a look at three plays that helped the Aggies finish on the winning side against the Sooners:

Situation: Texas A&M ball, third-and-9 at the Oklahoma 23 (12:33 left, first quarter).
Score: Texas A&M 0, Oklahoma 0.
Result: 23-yard touchdown run by Johnny Manziel.
Breakdown: This is an instance where a good pass rush turns into a bad result for Oklahoma and part of what makes Manziel the player so many are wowed by.

The Aggies are in their standard one-back, four-receiver (two-by-two), formation. Oklahoma is in a dime package with linebacker Frank Shannon in the middle. The Sooners rush five, including Shannon, who is patient and eventually shoots through the B-gap on the left side and, virtually untouched, makes a beeline for Manziel. The containment by the Sooners defensive ends isn't bad, but as soon as Manziel sees Shannon, he instantly spins and reverses to his left and lets his athleticism take over.

Senior Kenric McNeal runs what appears to be a deep comeback route toward the sideline, but as soon as he turns toward the line of scrimmage and sees Manziel, McNeal knows what to do: block. He turns back around and delivers an effective block of junior defensive back Gabe Lynn, who was covering him. Manziel is too fast for the linemen and linebacker chasing him, senior defensive back Javon Harris misses a chance to tackle or push Manziel out near the sideline and the rest of the defenders slow down, assuming Manziel has stepped out of bounds. He didn't. He tiptoed the sideline and put the first points on the board for the Aggies just 3:39 into the game.

Situation: Oklahoma ball, second-and-goal at the Texas A&M 1 (7:17 left, first quarter).
Score: Texas A&M 7, Oklahoma 0.
Result: Rush for no gain by Blake Bell, tackle by Sean Porter and Dustin Harris.
Breakdown: The Sooners have been quite successful this season using this play, dubbed "The Belldozer," for Bell and the Oklahoma offensive line's ability to just run over opponents for short-yardage gains and touchdowns. Bell had 60 carries for 201 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.

Once the Sooners got the ball to the 1, it was clear what the intention was. Texas A&M responded by loading 10 defenders in the box in an attempt to stop it.

With a pair of backs to his right, Bell instead went left. The intention appeared to be deception as the Sooners' line and backs crashed to the right side, while Bell darted straight to the left.

Porter's recognition and reaction on this play is key. He initially moved in that direction as well, but kept his eye on the backfield and as soon as he saw Bell, Porter stopped, adjusted and wrapped his arms around the 6-foot-6, 254-pound sophomore quarterback. Howard Matthews, who was lined up in basically a linebacker position, darted through the right side of the OU line and got his hands around Bell's lower legs but Bell continued to drive through. Harris came from around the right side of the Sooners line and used his speed to catch up to Bell as Porter held him up, assisting on the tackle to help keep Bell out of the end zone. Senior linebacker Jonathan Stewart also came in to help finish Bell off behind Porter.

The Sooners then called a timeout, failed on third down trying to roll Bell out for an apparent run-pass option out wide and ended up settling for a field goal after a 16-play, 69-yard drive that ate up 6:38 of clock time. It was a significant stand for the Aggies defense, in large part because of the second down stop of the Belldozer. Instead of tying the game, the Sooners cut the Aggies' deficit to 7-3.

Situation: Texas A&M ball, fourth-and-5 at the Oklahoma 33 (4:02 left, fourth quarter).
Score: Texas A&M 27, Oklahoma 13.
Result: 33-yard touchdown pass from Manziel to Ryan Swope.
Breakdown: Swope, a senior, is a veteran receiver who has become better in this offense as the year wore on. This play showed why he was such a weapon.

The Aggies elected to go for it on fourth down, with a potential field goal try being about 50 yards. The Sooners have five in the box (three defensive linemen, two linebackers) and bring them all. This is a quick-strike play as Manziel gets it out of his hands quickly and Swope runs a quick, clean, crisp slant route against sophomore Julian Wilson, who is covering him one-on-one in the slot.

Wilson is backpedaling when Swope makes his break and the ball is delivered between Swope's numbers. He catches it in stride and the former high school running back evades the attempted arm-tackle by Wilson and is off to the races. He beats Javon Harris to the pylon and the Aggies seemingly put the game away, taking a three-touchdown lead with 3:55 to go in the third quarter.