Oklahoma Football: 5 Players Most Important for Limiting Johnny Manziel
Sure, "Johnny Football" may now be "Johnny Heisman," but he still has a bowl game to win. When the Texas A&M Aggies face the Oklahoma Sooners in the 2013 Cotton Bowl, limiting Johnny Manziel will be paramount for OU to achieve victory.
Doing this will require nothing less than a sustained team effort, but there are a few key Sooners who must have big games if they hope to contain the first freshman Heisman winner in history.
As the countdown to Jan. 4 continues, here are the five Oklahoma defenders most important for limiting Johnny Manziel.
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Limiting Johnny Manziel's ability to run requires pressure and aggressiveness from the defensive line. David King, a senior defensive end who has played in 42 games since 2009, will need to step up and inspire his colleagues on the defensive line to constantly harass Mr. Heisman.
King leads Sooner defenders with five quarterback hurries in 2012, and his level of success in getting to Manziel early and often will be key for several reasons.
First, pressuring Manziel will increase the chances of him making mistakes, like forcing passes that lead to interceptions or fumbling. It will also rattle the freshman (at least as much as he can be rattled) and, ideally, decrease his confidence. A priority for OU against Texas A&M is forcing "Johnny Football" to morph into "Johnny Turnover."
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Lining up opposite King at defensive end is sophomore Chuka Ndulue. He has had an impressive 2012 campaign, leading the team with five sacks and tying for most tackles for loss with six.
He will need to be on top of his game in Arlington, Texas, because Manziel is the most talented player the Sooners will face this season.
It is especially important for Ndulue and King to win battles on the defensive line because it is essential for the Sooners to keep Manziel in the pocket. If Manziel gets outside, he will kill Oklahoma, both by running and buying time for his receivers to find gaps in the defense.
But if Ndulue and the rest of the defensive line can take away the outside, they will have a chance to make Manziel one-dimensional and rely on the pass, which will be key for an Oklahoma victory.
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Middle linebacker Tom Wort has regressed statistically this season, which can be attributed at least partially to his decreased role in a pass-oriented defense.
Nevertheless, Wort will be a key player in this game. It will be in the Sooners' best interest to mix up the defense against Manziel and employ three or even four linebackers to take away the run. Wort would be well-suited to act as "spy" on Manziel, making containing the dual-threat quarterback his one mission.
Mike Stoops might also strike gold by having Wort blitz on multiple occasions; the junior is one of the hardest hitters on the defense, and rattling the young freshman could make him think twice about taking off up the middle in addition to creating turnovers.
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At strong safety, Javon Harris plays an integral role in the Sooners D. As a senior, he is one of the most seasoned veterans on the entire roster. He also leads the team with five interceptions in 2012.
Harris' main job will be containing the Aggies' top receiving threats, Mike Evans and Ryan Swope. The wideouts have combined for 139 catches, 1,831 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. In terms of yards and touchdowns, they have been responsible for roughly half Manziel's passing output. Ultimately, stopping Manziel means stopping Evans and Swope.
If things go according to plan for the Sooners, Manziel will not find running room and be forced to rely on the pass. If this happens, expect him to rely on Evans and Swope, as he has all year.
Harris has been very effective in coverage this season, and he will need to be once more to neutralize the Aggie passing attack, which ranks 14th nationally in total yards this season.
Also of note, the Aggies have scored on passing touchdowns of 75 yards or more four times this season. Preventing long touchdowns, which are huge for momentum in big games, will be critical for the Sooners and another focal point for Harris and co.
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It's hard to argue Tony Jefferson is the best player on the Sooner defense. The junior free safety boasts a team-high 113 tackles this season. He has also logged two interceptions and has been critical in the secondary, especially in the most-recent win over TCU.
Jefferson is a superb tackler and thrives in big games, and his aggressive style of play will be one of OU's biggest assets against a high-end offense.
It's very likely Johnny Manziel will break into the second and third levels of the defense at least a couple times, and that could mean a one-on-one meeting between Manziel and Jefferson. Fans will be in for a treat if they see this confrontation.
Jefferson, like Harris, will be key for limiting the Aggie wideouts and preventing the deep ball. He will also be essential in run support and hitting Manziel sufficiently hard to make him think twice about running again. For Jefferson, and the defense generally, the No. 1 goal should be taking away Manziel's ability to run.
Manziel has averaged just shy of 100 yards rushing per game this season. In the Aggies' two losses, to Florida and LSU, he only ran for 60 and 27 yards, respectively. These represent his lowest outputs of the season.
In order for the Sooners to have a chance to win, they'll need to keep Manziel's run game under wraps. And Tony Jefferson, the star of the Sooners defense, will be integral in that effort.