Johnny Manziel kept piling up the points and Mark Snyder's struggling defense finally righted the ship, as the 10th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies looked marvelous in their 42-13 rout of SMU on Saturday night.
The Aggies showed no signs of hangover from their loss to Alabama, scoring on their two opening drives to set a tone that would pervade the evening at Kyle Field.
Manziel, in just a little more than two quarters of action, added to what's been a fine post-Heisman season thus far. The sophomore quarterback completed 14 of 21 passes and threw for 244 yards with a touchdown against an interception. He connected with Malcome Kennedy on a 16-yard score in the second quarter.
The interception came on a dropped pass that dropped into Hayden Greenbauer's hands. It was the only blemish on an otherwise stellar all-around evening.
Where Manziel really hurt the Mustangs was on the ground. Often breaking loose after the SMU secondary locked up A&M receivers on his first reads, the dual-threat quarterback added 102 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries to his passing total. He scored from seven yards out on both scores, once in the first and second quarters.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, this is Manziel's ninth game with at least 200 passing yards, a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown since the beginning of last season. No other player has more.
Manziel was taken out after leading the Aggies to a touchdown on their first drive of the second half. His replacement, junior Matt Joeckel, completed four of nine passes for 63 yards before giving way to third-stringer Kenny Hill.
Although the Aggies' first-team offense was only on the field for an abbreviated stretch, Manziel helped his skill-position compadres make the most of that time.
Ben Malena rushed for 71 yards and two touchdowns, and Kennedy finished with 83 yards and six catches. Last week's hero, wide receiver Mike Evans, had only two catches, but one was a 46-yard bomb that helped push A&M into the end zone on the team's second drive.
On the other side of the ball, the Aggies defense got a much-needed confidence boost.
June Jones' vaunted spread offense was rendered mostly stagnant, gaining a majority of its 434 yards once the game was out of reach. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert needed 62 attempts to throw for 310 yards, and his 31-yard touchdown came in the fourth quarter against Aggies second-stringers.
Of SMU's first seven drives, only one went longer than 20 yards. They also turned the ball over three times, fumbling twice and turning the ball over on downs on both of their opening possessions in the third quarter. Jones attempted to keep the game within the realm of respectability by running a fake punt on 4th-and-10 at his own 44-yard line, but Mike Loftus came up a yard shy.
It was after that failed conversion that Kevin Sumlin called off his first-team dogs.
This was the first time Texas A&M had allowed fewer than 28 points all season. Rice and Alabama both totaled over 500 yards, with the Crimson Tide putting up seven touchdowns at Kyle Field in their 49-42 win.
With two critical SEC games coming on the road against Arkansas and Ole Miss in their next two games, righting the defensive ship had to be atop Sumlin's priority list. If Saturday's dominance is a sign of things to come, the Aggies could be rounding into form at the perfect time.
Either way, with Manziel in control of the offense, this team should be a handful for any opponent.
SMU, now 1-2 on the season, travels to TCU next week.
Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M): A
Saturday was just about the quintessential Johnny Football experience. There was the all-around statistical dominance, some throws that made you wonder what he could be thinking before landing in the hands of receivers, and others that said "how did he do that?"
There were a few instances where Manziel looked less than superhuman—he had four straight incompletions at one point—but those moments were fleeting. On a day that saw some of his other Heisman candidates, particularly Teddy Bridgewater, have excellent outings, Manziel upped the stakes.
There are some who have rightfully criticized Manziel for his less-than-mature outlook. But with performances like this, even his most strident detractors have to acknowledge his talent.
Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M): B-
And here is exactly why a wide receiver will probably never win the Heisman again. At this time a week ago, Evans was a hero in College Station despite the Aggies' loss. The sophomore wideout set a school record with 279 yards on seven catches, torching perhaps the nation's best defense as if they were an FCS school.
It was a performance that not only announced Evans' early Biletnikoff Award favorite status, but also got him some dark-horse Heisman buzz for his trouble.
This week? Evans had two catches for 57 yards. It wasn't necessarily a bad performance—Manziel didn't look his way all that much and SMU paid him special attention in coverage—but merely an inconsequential one. He was out of the game for a good portion of the second half with the rest of the first team, though, so you can't be too harsh.
Garrett Gilbert (QB, SMU): C
With his team woefully outgunned and his coach running a scheme that lends itself to some shaky results, Gilbert stood almost zero chance of having a great game on Saturday. Texas A&M is too talented to struggle this mightily for an overlong period, and the Aggies' struggles have come largely against the run.
Natural regression to the mean plus an ill-fitting scheme? Not a great formula.
But Gilbert managed to at least hold his own somewhat given the circumstances. He threw for over 300 yards for the third time this season, tying a school record, and managed to get his team in the end zone. It was well after the Texas A&M starters were hanging out on the bench, sure, but all Mustangs players and fans needed some type of moral victory.
Gilbert provided that.
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