As subplots go, the Alabama-Texas A&M game had an unexpected one from the end of the first quarter through the tense final minute: an errant extra point. Up until the decisive few seconds, when a Bama penalty on an Aggies punt killed the dregs of game clock, there lingered the question of whether the huge early lead the Aggies built would've been more durable at 21-0 instead of 20-0. At Taylor Bertolet's botched PAT, the Tuscaloosa crowd of approximately one million human sharks smelled a single drop of blood in the ocean. They began to froth. Before the Aggies scored again, it was the fourth quarter, and Alabama had run off 17 straight points.
No doubt, A&M belonged in this game. A week after playing at LSU, the Crimson Tide was primed for an upset, or at least a strong challenge. Still, the Aggies are the Aggies. Despite the enduring genius of A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, and 44.7 points per game, and 58-10 over Arkansas, and 63-21 over Auburn, and 38-13 at Mississippi State last week, could the Tide really circle this game in their hearts the way they circled AT DEATH VALLEY? The Aggies jumped out to a three-touchdown, two-extra-point lead and hung on with nails ragged as Nick Saban made adjustments, foremost among them sending another rusher to hunt/maim Manziel.
You can never trust a fast lead from an underdog, only a slow one. But that fast lead turned out to be just enough, and only just. A&M didn't punt until the third quarter. Then, on its next series, another punt, from the end zone, that set up Alabama at midfield. Meanwhile the Tide wore away at A&M's (sometimes suspect) defense. AJ McCarron hit a couple of deep balls late. After opening drives of three, four and three plays, Alabama finished the second quarter with touchdown drives of 13 and 10 plays. A nine-play, 94-yard touchdown drive in the fourth put Alabama within a touchdown of winning. That absent extra point by A&M meant that score would beat, not tie, the Aggies.
And so it was that McCarron was rolling right and throwing to the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 2, facing a 5-point deficit with less than two minutes remaining, and a gentleman in an Aggies uniform named Deshazor Everett created McCarron's second interception of the game and of the season, and maybe detonated the Tide's chance of repeating as national champions. Unless Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame suffer a chorus of misfortunes, we may see a non-SEC national champion for the first time since Texas's 2006 BCS title.
P.S.: If Johnny Football continues like this, there's no point in having a Heisman Trophy presentation that doesn't at least include him. Here's the kid's line on the day: 24-of-31 for 253 yards with two touchdowns passing, 92 yards on 18 rushes, often turning bupkis into even a few crucial yards, no picks, no fumbles, all kinds of heart and a 29-24 win over Alabama in A&M's first-ever trip to Tuscaloosa, college football's game of the year to date. They always say the three longest years of an Aggie's life are his freshman year. While that may be, truly Manziel's freshman campaign is one for the ages.