As if the fire needed any more fuel, Johnny Manziel's eagerly anticipated Heisman defense began with a five-possession, three-touchdown performance against Rice on Saturday.
But no one is talking about his numbers.
Manziel made headlines, as always, for his non-football performance in Week 1, drawing a 15-yard penalty for taunting one opponent, pantomiming an autograph motion at another and doing a "Show me the Money" dance after his first touchdown. After drawing the flag, head coach Kevin Sumlin benched him for the rest of the game.
This, of course, comes on the heels of his half-game suspension for allegedly (though unfoundedly) signing autographs for profit. He was fortunate, by most accounts, to avoid a longer punishment, but given his blithe attitude against Rice, it seems he isn't grateful for that luck.
Regarding his conduct, the expert consensus has been borderline unanimous: Manziel is still wildly immature, and Sumlin was right for yanking him from the game, but will that be punishment enough? When will Johnny Football ever face real repercussions for his behavior?
ESPN's Lou Holtz—as only the former head coach can do—implored Sumlin to start his discipline from the top. If Manziel thinks he's better than other people, only punishing him can ensure those other people will fall in line:
Holtz's co-panelist, Mark May, had similarly harsh words in that video, saying that Manziel "can't help himself" from acting out and predicting it would hurt A&M down the line. He also likened Johnny Football to a kid in a toy store:
"He acts like a 6yr old at Toys R Us" - Mark May on Johnny Manziel— Bleacher Report (@BR_CFB) September 1, 2013
USA Today's Dan Wolken heaped praise on Sumlin, aptly titling his column "Thankfully Someone Stood Up to Johnny Manziel." But he also acknowledged just how far Manziel has to go:
After everything Manziel has gone through the last few weeks – and make no mistake, he's very lucky to have been on the field at all Saturday against Rice – you'd think maybe just a smidge of humility might have been in order...
It's quite obvious now that Sumlin still has a very immature player on his hands, one who is brilliantly talented enough to take Texas A&M all the way to a Southeastern Conference title but also one who is just volatile and narcissistic enough to implode on him.
From a local perspective, Dallas Morning News columnist Kevin Sherrington offered similar perspective, acknowledging that Sumlin is doing the right things, but wondering when (or if) his team will get the message:
Sumlin might not have been so inclined to send a message if he didn’t have a big lead, or the team on the other sideline had been Alabama. But he said all the right things Saturday. He talked about how selfish acts by individuals hurt a team. He talked about how his young team needs to mature. He talked about how it was the job of the coaches to make that happen.
He said Manziel told his teammates all of the above in his apology Friday.
But did they get the message?
Not judging by what happened Saturday, during the game or after.
Asked if he thought Manziel’s personality on the field was an issue, Ben Malena said, “He’s not quiet. He’s not shy. He’s gonna be aggressive, loud. That’s what makes him Johnny Football. We love it.”
CBS Sports' Gregg Doyel also chimed in on how fruitless Sumlin's efforts have been (and will continue to be). Manziel's head coach—just like his university and his collegiate governing body—is hopeless in his attempt to tame him:
He will be who he will be...Johnny Manziel remains Johnny Manziel. And nobody can stop him.
The NCAA couldn't. Texas A&M won't. Kevin Sumlin can't. Manziel will be who he will be, and when he has the football in his hands that means he will be the most charismatic creature in college football.
But when the football isn't in his hands, watch out. Because Johnny Manziel is the same guy he ever was, which is to say: immature, uncontrollable. He's going to do what he's going to do, and he's going to do so much of it that even his head coach, with every reason to watch his quarterback's every move, didn't spot some of the stupid stuff Manziel was doing Saturday in his little more than one quarter on the field.
B/R's Michael Felder, on the other hand, doesn't think quite so poorly of Manziel's performance. He boldly proclaimed that Manziel is "good for college football," and that rather than being out of control, he "knows exactly what he's doing":
But Felder isn't the only one who likes Manziel's bravado. According to Matt Zenitz of the Carroll County Times, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is starting to become a fan:
Joe Flacco on Johnny Manziel: "I feel like now everybody hates him. He's quickly becoming my favorite player in college football"— Matt Zenitz (@mzenitz) September 1, 2013
Flacco seems on board with the B/R consensus, further propagated by SEC Lead Writer Barrett Sallee, who conceded that even though Manziel might be a punk, he's an awesome punk:
Is Manziel a punk? Maybe. But he's an awesome punk. http://t.co/v6J3BfNdne— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) September 1, 2013
Amen to that.