A.J. McCarron gets slapped with the pejorative "game manager" label, as if taking care of the football and involving the ground game are bad things. Johnny Manziel? Spectacular as always.
Despite an early 14-0 Aggie lead, Nick Saban and the top-ranked Crimson Tide executed their type of play flawlessly, pulling off 35 unanswered points, eventually winning 49-42 in College Station. The dazzling antics and extraordinary feats of athleticism performed by Johnny Manziel weren't enough to cancel out the sturdy, clock-killing, yard-eating drives by the Crimson Tide.
The dissimilarity between Alabama and Texas A&M is apparent in their quarterbacks. A.J. McCarron and Johnny Manziel could not have more conflicting styles of play. Manziel was the leading rusher of his team, running for 98 yards; McCarron didn't attempt a scramble. McCarron didn't throw an interception; Manziel threw two, one tipped and returned for a touchdown. Manziel was entertainment, throwing huge passes like a 95-yard touchdown to Mike "He Played Basketball In High School" Evans; McCarron was error-free, but not nearly as enthralling.
Alabama's running game made sure McCarron wasn't compelled to match Johnny Football's feats. T.J Yeldon and Kenyan Drake combined for 199 rushing yards and two touchdowns, methodically gaining huge chunks of ground against Texas A&M's powerless defense. But in the crunchest of crunch times, Bama's 6.3 yards per carry proved to be an effective feint.
After the Manziel-to-Evans touchdown that made the score 42-35 with 8:05 left in the game, the Crimson Tide needed a drive to eat up as much time as possible, optimally scoring at least a field goal. McCarron did even better. The senior has a reputation for staying out of the way of Saban's master plan, but in this game, a flash of creativity worked to perfection. The Aggies bit hard on this play-action call on third and goal, and that touchdown all but wrapped up the game.
Perhaps putting away one of the nation's top offenses in a shootout will be enough to retire the "boring" criticism of McCarron. Is it his fault his roster is gifted with weapons unavailable to other quarterbacks, and he's learned how to best make use of them? So he's no Johnny Manziel. Who is?
Manziel's most remarkable play, the one that no one would shut up about—for good reason—happened on a third and long. The pocket collapsed, and Manziel, whipping and twirling, avoided what would have been a drive-crushing sack by Jeoffrey Pagan and found a way to toss a pass that Edward Pope miraculously caught. The play started on Alabama's 33; Manziel ended up at Texas A&M's own 40 before throwing on the run. Manziel also made a throw that would be awful in any other situation, but hey, his receiver bailed him out and it was cool as hell, right?
To give complete context, Manziel threw his first of two picks four plays later, after putting too much on a fade pass that defensive back Cyrus Jones easily reeled in. But the Aggies will take the bad with the good when it comes to Manziel, because he's really all they've got. McCarron's bad days tend to be salvaged by his defense. Manziel is working without a safety net.
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