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November 10, 2012TUSCALOOSA | The University of Alabama had a plan for "Johnny Football."
Johnny Football had a plan, too. His was better.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M's freshman quarterback, stared into the heart of the Alabama defense Saturday until he saw cracks. When UA plugged them, he created more.
He made plays, passing for 253 yards and two touchdowns and running for 92 yards. He also avoided the miscues that had plagued him in losses to Florida and LSU, where he either turned the ball over or got bogged down after a fast start.
Against Alabama, he didn't fumble. He didn't throw an interception.
In fact, he never even blinked at the prospect of facing an Alabama defense that came in ranked No. 1 in scoring defense and second in total defense.
He hit the Crimson Tide hard in the first quarter, making Alabama defenders look silly at times on touchdown drives that put Texas A&M up 20-0 before the game was 15 minutes old. He left pursuit behind on a 29-yard run up the middle on a quarterback draw on the first drive, drew defenders to him on a fake option play for a 32-yard completion on the second and scampered for 32 yards into open field on the third.
If UA looked unprepared for Manziel's flash and substance, that's exactly how it was.
"The main thing is you just can't practice for those kind of things, for Manziel and that type of speed," said UA linebacker C.J. Mosley, who made 14 tackles. "Those first couple of drives, that was us just getting into the mood of the game."
Alabama's offense was the best defense against Manziel in the second quarter. The Aggies had just one possession, holding the ball for 13 plays but coming up short on a fourth-down try.
In the third period, Alabama began to contain Manziel and cut off his escape routes. He was sacked twice in two three-and-out possessions, but adjusted his game. When UA started to keep him in the pocket, he settled down and picked apart UA's secondary.
On a drive to a field goal late in the third quarter, he went 5 for 7 for 42 yards and added a scramble for 9 more yards.
After A&M recovered an Alabama fumble in the fourth quarter, Manziel tested the Crimson Tide's deep coverage and found it wanting with consecutive completions of 42 and 24 yards for a two-play touchdown drive.
"That's him doing what he does," Mosley said. "That's why he's got the Johnny Football name."
Alabama threw a variety of blitzes and stunts across the defensive front, as well as disguising its pass coverage. No matter what UA threw at him, it couldn't stop him.
"You go get him and you've got to be sound in your skill or he's going to expose you," defensive lineman Damion Square said. "In a couple of situations we didn't do the right thing as far as tackling and staying on your feet and securing the tackle and things like that.
"He's a great player. He executed, we didn't."
UA coach Nick Saban praised Manziel, in particular for taking advantage of the opportunities Alabama gave him.
"We're going to give him a lot of credit for what he did," Saban said, "but we're going to also see there were a lot of times where we made mistakes that contributed to that as well."
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.