When Gus Malzahn leads his Auburn Tigers against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M this weekend, he'll know exactly what type of player he's dealing with on the other side of the field.
Malzahn coached current Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to the national title in 2010 during his stint as an assistant coach at Auburn and compared Manziel to Newton this week.
Leading up to AU's tilt with the Aggies, Malzahn told AP writer John Zenor (via Yahoo! Sports) that not only are Manziel and Newton cut from the same cloth, but they are two of the best to ever play college football:
I would say probably those two are probably two of the best that ever played the game in college football.
We only got to see Cam Newton for one year, but this guy, he's in the same element. They're different but they're still some of the best to ever play.
Standing the two next to each other, it may be tough to see the similarities at first. Newton, listed at 6'5" 245 pounds, would look like a power forward standing next to the 6'1", 210-pound, point-guard stature of Manziel.
Despite the difference of four inches and 35 pounds, both have the million-dollar smile and can make incredible plays on the football field.
And both wore No. 2 in college while winning the Heisman Trophy.
Newton was asked about Manziel and told Zenor that he likes the way his fellow Heisman winner plays, while also tipping his hat to Tajh Boyd and Marcus Mariota:
Johnny is a great football player and he's playing at a level that people don't even really see, as well as Clemson's Tajh Boyd. There are a lot of players across the nation that are playing great football at the quarterback position. The Oregon quarterback (Marcus Mariota). I'm a fan of football at the NFL level too, and who's playing better football anywhere besides Peyton Manning right now?
The Panthers signal-caller identified confidence as the deciding factor between success and failure at the quarterback position. Newton had it when he ran all over opposing defenses on his way to the Heisman, and Manziel shows the same characteristics on a weekly basis now.
"When you look across the board and me being a fan of the game it's all about confidence," Newton said. "When you get a person playing with confidence, who knows what they're capable of? That goes to show you, when I was at Auburn I played with confidence."
Apparently Manziel was just a bit more confident than Newton, or at least his offensive coordinator was. Newton set the SEC record for total yardage when he won the Heisman, tallying 4,370 yards.
Johnny Football made quick work of that mark, exploding for 5,116 yards. He also notched 47 total touchdowns, while Newton accounted for 54 scores.
On paper, the two come out quite similar, because although the two have contrasting statures, the results are the same—both make talented opposing defenses look incompetent. Malzahn pointed out the many characteristics that put Manziel on the same level as Newton:
It's almost like watching a video game sometimes with the stuff he does. The human side, his competitiveness, his toughness, that's what really stands out to me. He's an extremely mentally and physically tough individual and he plays with that edge.
What makes the two Heisman winners so unique is their ability to make something, and often something very good, out of nothing.
Many of Manziel's best plays come when the defense does everything right, but he buys time, runs around and turns a sure defensive stop into an enormous play for the offense. Malzahn acknowledged the ability of both Newton and Manziel to just make plays happen.
"When you've got a special player, you can call anything and it usually works," Malzahn said. "They get you out of bad plays and they can make stuff right that's not right. Special ones can do that."
Of course, what Manziel does on the football field isn't some big mystery. Coaches and coordinators spend dozens of hours preparing to stop the Aggie quarterback and have built successful game plans to do just that.
After working with Newton, Malzahn knows first hand the type of playmaker he is dealing with, but knowing is just the first step.
And as Malzahn alluded to, the second step—actually stopping Manziel, is the part that no one has figured out yet.