Johnny Manziel was given the rare late-season opportunity to pad his Heisman Trophy profile against a lesser, out-of-conference opponent on Saturday, and the award's reigning winner took advantage of that circumstance by shredding UTEP in College Station.
He completed 16-of-24 passes for 274 yards and four touchdowns, and added two touchdowns and 67 yards on the ground.
According to ESPN Stats & Info., it was Manziel's eighth game since the start of last season with two-plus passing and rushing touchdowns, twice as many as any other FBS player during that span.
After starting slow and allowing the one-win Miners to stick around in the first quarter, Manziel helped guide his team to 48 points in the second and third quarters combined, pushing the Aggies' total above 50 points for the second consecutive week and fourth time this season.
The difference between that lethargic first quarter and the dominant two that followed? According to receiver Travis Labhart, it was Manziel getting in his team's face and demanding them to wake up.
"He just made a great leadership speech," said Labhart, according to quotes released by Texas A&M. "Told us to get back to doing what we do."
Johnny Football has been critcized for his arrogant demeanor, but no one can deny his leadership qualities—even though those things might seem to be counterintuitive.
He doesn't lead by example in the traditional sense, but his example still serves to lead this team, and every A&M player would run through a wall on Manziel's command.
Because his team has two losses, Manziel is still looking up at undefeated quarterbacks such as Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Bryce Petty and maybe even AJ McCarron on the Heisman hierarchy.
But he played (very) well in both of the Aggies' defeats, and it's hard to argue with the numbers Manziel is putting up:
|Top Heisman Trophy Contenders, Through Week 10|
|Name||G||CMP %||Rating||TD/INT||Total YDS||Total TD|
Manziel's advantage in games played sticks out, but it's important to remember that he barely played in the season opener against Rice, having been suspended for the first half and getting yanked by coach Kevin Sumlin for taunting in the second.
Even with that slight edge in games, it's impossible to ignore his prolific numbers: Manziel leads the nation in total offense, a stat he finished first in last year, and that the past three Heisman Trophy winners have all finished in the top three of at the end of the season.
Sure, Manziel might need some help to win his second Heisman, but the season is far from over. Oregon and Florida State still have chances to lose, no matter how easy the latter's schedule might appear.
All Manziel can do is take care of his own business, and as B/R's Barrett Sallee points out, he did that—and then some—in Week 10:
With Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota off and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston tossing two picks, Manziel tightened up the Heisman race quite a bit on Saturday night. Not only did Manziel shine, but he also showed off his leadership skills with a speech to his teammates after the Aggies came out of the gate lethargic.
B/R's Kyle Kensing goes one further, looking ahead at the Aggies' tough November schedule and making a case that it is good for Johnny Football's candidacy:
Fortunately for Manziel, he closes the 2013 campaign against LSU and Missouri, teams ranked No. 13 and No. 9 in the BCS standings.
...All Manziel can do is continue to produce. His team's BCS bowl aspirations hinge on his performance, as well as another date with history.
Heisman winners are made in November. No one knows that better than Manziel.
The Texas A&M defense might have cost Manziel a shot at making the BCS, but with a little bit of help and another late-season surge, it doesn't have to cost him his shot at another Heisman Trophy.
One game into November, that late-season surge is off to a fast start.