Back in April, Texas A&M held their spring game with the hopes of finding a clear-cut favorite for the starting quarterback position. Three men took reps with the first team offense: Jameill Showers, Matt Joeckel and Johnny Manziel. When the game ended, it seemed pretty clear who would lead the Aggies into their inaugural season in the SEC. But it was not #2. It was #3, Jameill Showers. Throughout the scrimmage, Showers looked like the only quarterback who seemed capable of completing passes from within the pocket, let alone his arm strength far exceeded—and it still does—any of his competition.
When Manziel went under center, or rather went into the shotgun, his primary and at the time maybe only instinct was to scramble. Whenever the play call said pass, Manziel usually responded by scrambling right, hoping a receiver would follow or a run lane would open. Long story short, the redshirt freshman did not impress.
Matters only got worse when Manziel spent a night in jail after breaking into a fight on Northgate followed by showing a fake ID to a police officer. After scoring over 70 touchdowns in a single season at Kerrville Tivy High School, it looked like Johnny Manziel would never touch the football field again.
Lo and behold, fall camp began and all of a sudden, the quarterback battle did not turn out to be an open and shut case. Discreetly, Kevin Sumlin continued to compliment all three of the quarterbacks--with a few direct mentions of Manziel. With mostly closed practices, no one outside of the Aggie locker room could see what was taking place, but Manziel’s progression appeared to be night and day from last spring. Then, with the beginning of the season on the horizon, Coach Sumlin sent shockwaves through the Aggie community by naming Johnny Manziel the starter over Jameill Showers.
Though his name was #1 on the depth chart, the belief still felt like Manziel’s leash was pretty short. All eyes of the 12th Man were upon the redshirt freshman. More so, all eyes of the college football world were upon him in the Aggies’ season opener-and Johnny’s first career start--against SEC powerhouse, Florida. For such a momentous occasion, Manziel did not look overwhelmed. In fact, for most of the ballgame, the Aggies had the Gators on the ropes, but in the end the maroon and white could not hold on.
While Manziel certainly played above expectations, a rough second half, where the Florida defense took away his option to scramble, showed how much the freshman needed to learn. And while A&M proved that day that they can hang with the physicality of the SEC, the general consensus still expected many more bumps in the Aggies’ road.
How did Manziel respond? Only by going on a three-game stretch where he threw for 921 yards, ran for 306 more and scoring 15 total touchdowns in the process. The last game of that stretch put Manziel on the map. Against a reeling Arkansas Razorbacks, the 19-year-old Johnny officially added “Football” to his name by breaking the SEC total yardage record previously set by Archie Manning. 453 yards passing. 103 yards rushing. And the beginning of a new era in Aggie football. But after reaching his highest point of the season, Manziel faced severe adversity in the weeks to come.
First came Ole Miss. Within the first half, Johnny Football threw his first interception of the season, which unbeknownst to him would open up the turnover floodgates for A&M. Three and a fourth quarters and six turnovers later, Manziel dropped back to pass and an Ole Miss defensive end brought him down close to the endzone. The ruling said the ball was down at the one, but the replay showed Manziel’s knee touching the goal line. Fortunately for A&M, the ball did not cross the plane making the play stand as called. Johnny Football took advantage of his second chance and subsequently led the offense on back-to-back touchdown drives, the second being a game winning pass to senior Ryan Swope for the Aggies’ first come-from-behind victory of the Kevin Sumlin era. With all the drama that filled that night, it didn’t stand close to the week that followed.
In Shreveport, Texas A&M looked as if they would be able to rest their starters for the second half when they went up 34-7 in the second quarter. The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs had other plans when they rallied from the 27-point deficit to come within two after a pick-six from Manziel. All signs pointed to a collapse of 2011-like proportions. Yet once more, Johnny Football did not back down. For the second straight week, Manziel led back-to-back to scoring drives, the second being a 72-yard touchdown run and breaking the total yards record for the second time. But the following week brought the emerging Johnny Manziel back to earth.
Against an elite LSU defense—while gaining the most yards of any Tiger opponent this season—Manziel threw a season high three interceptions, the last being the most painful. Down five with an opportunity to lead a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, Manziel rolled right and tried to throw across his body to an Aggie receiver. The Tiger D jumped the pass and A&M earned another “just-miss” in a big-time game. Now the main criticism of Manziel and the Aggie offense was a team that could run wild on the lower squads but cannot matchup with superior athleticism.
Since that last game at Kyle Field, Johnny Manziel has not only continued to grow as a quarterback but has played his best football in the last two weeks against Auburn and Mississippi State. In two weeks, Manziel’s thrown for 571 yards and rushed for 219. Also in two weeks, Manziel has not played a full game due to being pulled early so the backups could get some experience in garbage time. You can be sure Johnny Football will go for all four quarters when he faces his toughest test to date in the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Whatever may happen in Tuscaloosa, Johnny Manziel has already revealed a pattern of success in his short career. With each adversity the young man faces, the more he seems to rise to the occasion the next time around. Each trial in the last year has led to better and better performances on the football field. After learning some hard lessons during the summer, he responded by earning the starting job. After being shutdown by the Florida Gator defense, he responded with an insane 3-game stretch. After committing his first turnover, he responded with his first game-winning drive. After throwing his first game-ending pick against LSU, he responded by making the Auburn and MSU games watchable only to Aggie fans.
The next trial? Nick Saban’s defense.
So…How will Johnny Football respond this time?