Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma: Sooner Defenders Who Must Step Up Against Johnny Manziel
With four BCS bowls in the books, Friday night's Cotton Bowl between the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas A&M Aggies is the second biggest game left on the college football schedule.
Both teams finished the season 10-2, but all four of their combined losses came against elite competition (Florida, LSU, Notre Dame and Kansas State, respectively).
Texas A&M is a five-point favorite, in small part because it's from the SEC, and in large part because it'll have the Heisman trophy winner under center. Johnny Manziel engineered one of the most fantastic freshman seasons in the history of college sports, and only the Sooners stand between him and a fitting coda to his Annus Mirabilis.
Here are three Oklahoma defenders who must come up big in order to prevent that:
CB Aaron Colvin
Stopping Johnny Manziel is a two-fold task. First and foremost, you need to shut him down through the air. And that's where Colvin becomes instrumental.
The first-team All-Big 12 cornerback will likely be matched up with Manziel's favorite target, Mike Evans. The 6'5'' freshman pass-catcher is a physical specimen, finishing the year with 75 catches, 1,022 yards and five touchdowns. He's totaled 75-plus yards in eight of the Aggies' last nine games.
Because of his prodigious size, Evans provides Manziel the security blanket of "always being open," even when he's blanketed by a defender. Colvin has decent size for a cornerback, but he's still giving about five inches to his opponent.
He'll need to display impressive, disciplined ball skills to shut down Manziel's top receiver.
DE David King
The read option has become the principle du jour in college football, and Texas A&M is stranger to its efectiveness. They'll let Johnny Manziel, a rare athlete at the quarterback position, read the defensive end and decide what to do with the football.
David King needs to be up to the task of defending him regardless.
Much like Demarcus Ware against the Redskins last week, King could be put on an island and be forced to defense Manziel on the ground. He doesn't have the speed requisite to chase down any Aggie backs, but he does have the power to force his way into the backfield.
That will put the second-team All-Big-12 performer in a spot where discipline is of utmost performance. If he can close the edge and keep Manziel contained within the pocket, Oklahoma has a good chance to slow him down. If he abandons his assignments, however, Johnny Football could run rampant.
King and the rest of Oklahoma's defense did a respectable job against Collin Klein in September, but the unit as a whole has regressed late in the year. They'll need to make a quick turnaround in this one.
S Tony Jefferson
Oklahoma's do-it-all safety, and resident second-team All-American, will play a pivotal role in shutting down both Manziel's legs and his arms.
The Sooners' defensive leader had a team-high 113 tackles this season, registering 10-plus in over half of the team's games. If and when Manziel breaks King's contain, or when he finds some space to scramble, Jefferson will be counted on to clean up the mess. He needs to stop Manziel on the second level before he gets a chance to reach the third.
In the passing game, Jefferson will need to play his usual role, covering up any and all mistakes his teammates make. Again, he must patrol the third level and make sure nothing gets past him.
Oklahoma can't reasonably expect to shut down the Aggies entirely. But with Jefferson's help, it might be able to slow down the Aggies duly. All they need to do is keep the game in front of them, not behind them.
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