Johnny Manziel was given all the attention going into Saturday's Alabama vs. Texas A&M game, but it was AJ McCarron who led his team to a victory. He also made a strong case to be included in the 2013 Heisman Trophy race.
While plenty are sure to ogle Manziel's incredible stat line (20-of-28 for 464 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs, 98 yards rushing) it was McCarron's nearly flawless efficiency that handed Alabama the 49-42 victory in College Station.
The Alabama signal-caller matched his more flashy counterpart with a 20-of-29 effort for 334 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. While there's definitely a decided difference in the stats, a closer examination of the two quarterbacks' impacts on the game shows that McCarron outshined Johnny Football in this one.
First, there's the matter of interceptions. When it comes down to it, turnovers were the biggest key in this game.
Manziel's first interception turned out to be a huge turning point in the game. With the teams tied at 14 points apiece, Johnny Football was able to take his team down to the 4-yard line. A touchdown would have given them the lead and given the Aggies three touchdowns in four drives.
Instead, Manziel made a poor throw that allowed Cyrus Jones to settle under the fade and give Alabama the ball back. Four plays later, McCarron tossed a 51-yard touchdown to Kenny Bell that gave Bama a 21-14 lead and all the momentum it needed to build a 28-14 lead before halftime.
As ESPN Stats & Info noted, it was one of the best halves of football in McCarron's illustrious career:
A.J. McCarron has had 200 passing yards in a half twice in his career... 2nd half vs Texas A&M last year, 1st half vs Texas A&M this year.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 14, 2013
The second half would see McCarron settle into a much more conservative role as the Tide tried to protect its lead by grinding things out on the ground. Meanwhile, Manziel once again hurt his team with an interception at the wrong time.
Vinnie Sunseri's pick-six to open up Manziel's first possession in the second half gave Alabama a nearly insurmountable 35-14 lead early in the second half.
Manziel and Texas A&M did their best to overcome that lead, but Bama was always one step ahead the rest of the way. McCarron was a huge reason for that. He managed the game perfectly and never gave points away by turning the ball over to the Aggies.
Ultimately, it was McCarron who put the game away with his final touchdown strike to Jalston Fowler.
Who was more impressive?
There will be those who say McCarron can't win the Heisman because his supporting cast is just too good. It's an argument that bears some truth. Running back T.J. Yeldon played a pivotal role for the Tide with his 25 carries for 149 yards.
However, the same could be said for Manziel. Receiver Mike Evans' seven catches for 279 yards and a touchdown was arguably the most impressive individual performance of the entire game.
If McCarron can continue to execute the Alabama offense as efficiently as he did against the Aggies while the Tide march to their third consecutive national title game, it's going to be hard to argue against the man that outdueled last year's Heisman on the road.