At first, it seemed like a carbon copy of last year: Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M had effortlessly driven down the field to go ahead 14-0 in the early stages of the first quarter. There was no answer for Manziel and the apparently 8-feet tall (he’s really 6-foot-5) wide receiver Mike Evans. The 87,596 people at Kyle Field were raucous and Johnny Manziel was playing up to his potential.
But something changed.
After A&M’s initial onslaught, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron gathered the offense, settled everything down, and the Crimson Tide scored 35 unanswered points, creating a lead that was never surpassed. Alabama was on top at the end 49-42.
“The players showed great resiliency,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “When we put the first drive together, I thought our offense showed a lot of poise and that was the difference in the game for us.”
Alabama wasn’t itself for most of Saturday, until it was necessary. The keys for the Crimson Tide going into this game were having the ability to match A&M point-for-point, and neutralize the crowd. After a slow start, Alabama did just that. With methodical, textbook drives, and a drastically improved offensive line, Texas A&M’s inferior defense really had no answer for McCarron, the running backs and the Crimson Tide once they got into a rhythm.
“I wish we played better but I'm really proud of the way our offense played today,” Saban said. “They controlled the line of scrimmage and answered the bell every time we needed to.”
McCarron, his two championship rings, and his experience were the deciding factor. He took control of the offense, relied heavily on ‘check with me’s’ in which he dictated the plays, and threw for 334 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.
Unfortunately for McCarron, he will never be the star of the game, nor will he ever be the star on his own team. That honor went to the losing quarterback, who through defeat, still amazed with his play.
Manziel gave it his absolute all, and it still wasn’t enough. Alabama will most likely never have to face Manziel again, and that’s good news. ‘Give Nick Saban nine months to prepare and he can shut down any offense,’ has been the common adage leading up to this game, but Saban could’ve had two years and still not have been able to stop Manziel.
“He's an unbelievable player, I don't care what he does off the field,” said Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri, who caught Manziel’s second interception of the day and returned it for a 73-yard touchdown. “There's a reason he won the Heisman.”
Manziel is better than he was last year. The gunslinging, stupefying quarterback amassed 526 total yards and five touchdowns through running and passing, and the Aggies offense had 628 yards of offense on Saturday, the most yards any team has had against Alabama in school history. The 42 points allowed were the most ever allowed by Alabama in a win. In his two career games against Alabama, Manziel is 52-of-72 passing for 717 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions, and 184 rushing yards.
“We knew we were going to have to play this kind of game to have a chance to win,” Saban said. “I didn't think they were going to score 42 points, but I kind of thought they'd score some points.”
Saban didn’t figure out Manziel - no one has - but Alabama did what it had to, and left College Station with a win.
It is only Week 3 and Alabama still has yet to play a complete game, both offensively and defensively. But it hasn’t mattered. With its next six of seven games at home - the only serious test being against LSU in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 9 - Alabama has cleared the biggest hurdle of the season and has the rest of the year to get even better.