Marqise Lee. Sammy Watkins. You're on notice.
Although the 11-man sieve also known as the Texas A&M defense couldn't stop Alabama from putting up seven touchdowns en route to a 49-42 win at Kyle Field on Saturday, an Aggies star once again used his matchup with the Crimson Tide as a pulpit for his arrival on the national stage.
Just the way Johnny Manziel christened himself a year prior in Tuscaloosa, his top wideout Mike Evans did the same on Saturday. The 6'5" sophomore came away from the showcase at College Station with 279 yards on seven catches, shattering the Texas A&M record previously set by Dude McLean in 1965.
Yes, Dude McLean. You can't make these things up.
That wasn't the only record or statistical anomaly he was a part of. Point to just about anything regarding Evans' day and you'll find one of the best receiving performances in recent college football history.
Best receiving performance in school history? Check.
Best performance against Alabama in more than a decade? Check.
Second-longest pass play in school history? Check.
The latter was a beautiful pitch and catch from Manziel to Evans, which saw the massive wideout turn on the jets and outrun the Alabama secondary for a 95-yard touchdown. The score brought Texas A&M within a touchdown with time to spare in the fourth quarter, sending Kyle Field into a tizzy. Alabama would subsequently go on a nine-play, 65-yard drive to all but ice it out.
That said, the crushing loss can fall on neither Aggies star's shoulders. On an afternoon where the Aggies defense allowed 35 unanswered points in the second and third quarters, Manziel and Evans continually bailed out their struggling teammates.
Manziel was obviously the talk of social media, what with his whole autograph scandal hanging over the entire season and all. But for a special day, all of that ugliness washed away and we were allowed to remember just how damn good a football player Manziel can be.
The 20-year-old quarterback's play was drawing multiple comparisons to Tim Tebow and Brett Favre against Bama—for the right and wrong reasons. He was a playmaking machine, scrambling around oncoming pass rushes, scrambling for extra yardage and making plays that will show up in year-end highlight reels.
And in Favrian and Tebowian fashion, sometimes heaving ill-advised throws.
Evans was most often the man making sure those ill-advised throws didn't wind up in the wrong hands. Using his 6'5" frame to box out the smaller Alabama cornerbacks, the sophomore receiver was the recipient of multiple jump balls deep down the field. The Tide secondary often did an excellent job at initial coverage, only for Manziel to buy extra time with his feet and then hoist one down the sideline to the outstretched arms of Evans.
The first 15 minutes were brimming with such outcomes. Manziel and Evans connected for 135 yards in the opening quarter, as the Aggies pulled ahead for a 14-0 lead.
A second straight upset of the top-ranked Tide wasn't to be this season; the defense just couldn't stop AJ McCarron and Co.
But what this contest did do is perhaps confirm what Manziel feels—Evans is the best receiver in college football:
Now, since we're still firmly in National Overreaction Month, folks will spend these next few days heaping all the rightful praise they can on Evans. The most hyperbolic of those may try shoving Evans as a potential Heisman candidate down your throat.
Three words: not a chance.
Three wide receivers in history have won the Heisman: Johnny Rodgers (Nebraska, 1972), Tim Brown (Notre Dame, 1987) and Desmond Howard (Michigan, 1991). Brown and Howard were among the biggest special teams marvels in the history of college football and racked up massive all-purpose totals. Rodgers essentially played running back and wide receiver, scoring 10 times on the ground during his Heisman-winning campaign.
Evans is a wide receiver. Bold. Underline. Special characters. He's not out on special teams hauling in return touchdowns, and the only carries he may get are on trick plays; there's no all-purpose menace to be had. That's not a denigration of Evans' skills—we saw he had the jets on that 95-yard touchdown catch—but just a fact based on anecdotal historical evidence we have with Heisman votes.
Evans won't win in part because of his position. He'll also not win because he plays alongside one of the most talented and easily the most famous quarterback in the nation, Manziel. While Johnny Football probably won't repeat his bronze statue, he's far more likely to get an invite to New York City than the man on the receiving end.
On the other hand, Evans should be far and away the Biletnikoff favorite at this juncture. He's three games into the 2013 season and already has 20 catches for 518 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers are inflated thanks to his performance on Saturday—don't listen to anyone who tries giving you prorated stats at this point—but this breakout isn't a fluke.
Evans caught 82 balls for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns last season. While Ricky Jones-Seals came into 2013 with 5-star hype and looking like the 18-year-old Calvin Johnson, it's Evans who already had the rapport with Manziel.
He was on the Biletnikoff watch list coming into the season for a reason. With big games on the biggest of all stages, Evans has created a chasm between he and the other top contenders.
Lee, the reigning Biletnikoff winner, has spiraled right alongside his struggling USC compadres. The preseason Heisman hopeful had an 80-yard touchdown in the Trojans' 35-7 win over Boston College on Saturday, but it was part of a two-catch, 90-yard outing. Lane Kiffin has struggled mightily deciding between quarterbacks, and it's turned Lee's once-promising outlook for 2013 into an early repeat of Robert Woods' junior season.
Watkins, the other ostensive favorite, has continued showing inconsistencies. He broke out for 127 yards and a touchdown in Week 1 against Georgia but followed that up with a rather nondescript outing versus South Carolina last week.
Evans stands above it all. The inconsistencies. The lack of quarterback play. He's got a Heisman winner and a high target total at his disposal—what more could you ask for?
Of course, the concept of a favorite for a postseason award remains fluid. Evans is a two-week injury away from shuffling to the back of the pack. Watkins and Lee are two of the most explosive playmakers in all of college football, and the former has a superstar quarterback at his disposal. Allen Robinson is a superstar in the making in Happy Valley.
But in one fell swoop Saturday in College Station, Evans delivered a backhanded slap to his competition. He had a record-setting performance against the nation's best team and defense a half-decade running. Omar Little from The Wire once said, "You come at the king, you best not miss."
Evans came at Nick Saban on Saturday. He sure as hell didn't miss.
Now it's up to Watkins, Lee, Robinson and others to see if they can do the same on their royal stages.
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