LSU against Texas A&M was predicted to be a shootout between two of college football's great quarterbacks. Instead, it was a rainy blowout in which the game's best player played the worst game of his career.
It was beautiful.
Johnny Manziel has shredded every opponent he has played this season. He has accumulated at least 300 yards of total offense in every outing of his illustrious career.
But for those who love defensive masterminds at work, LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis proved every great player can be stopped.
Manziel struggled in all phases of the game because LSU frustrated him. The Tigers played as a cohesive unit. Coaches emphasized to their players to do their job and have faith that the game plan would work.
Manziel feasts when plays extend and defenses break down. What LSU did to counter was stay disciplined and force Manziel to make plays inside and through the pocket.
After calling a timeout, Texas A&M lined up for a manageable fourth down inside LSU territory. The Tigers made a nice stop by not allowing Manziel much room to run.
Texas A&M lines up in shotgun formation with two receivers to both sides of the formation. LSU is lined up in its "nickel" package, with five defensive backs, two linebackers and four defensive lineman.
Texas A&M motions running back Ben Malena out to the left, which puts the Tigers in a bit of quandary.
Linebacker D.J. Welter eventually motions out to the left with Malena but not before communicating with linebacker Lamin Barrow. This gives away LSU is more than likely in man coverage. Barrow then replaces Welter over the middle of the defensive formation.
Playing man coverage leaves defenses open to be exploited by a running quarterback partially because defenders guarding receivers in the secondary have their backs to the line of scrimmage. Manziel knows this, trusting his ability to make a play with his legs if need be.
The ball is snapped as the LSU defensive line begins the path to the quarterback. They get great push beyond the line of scrimmage while keeping pass-rushing lanes in the process. Also, Texas A&M's biggest and best target Mike Evans (Mike) gets a physical jam from freshman cornerback Rashard Robinson.
Evans eventually breaks free. But because Barrow is spying on Manziel in the middle of the field, he cannot throw Evans the football. Manziel continues to survey the field hoping to find an open receiver.
From a different angle, the solid coverage played by LSU is on full display. A corner route to the left is open, but that is a difficult throw for Manziel to make. Also, Manziel's progressions have not gotten to the point of going to his third option.
Manziel cannot find anybody open and decides to take off. Both Danielle Hunter (DH) and Jermauria Rasco (JR) overpursue Manziel by design, forcing him inside and not allowing contain to be broken. Also, if Manziel is to sprint forward, Hunter and Rasco can easily break free and chase him from behind.
Manziel is accustomed to breaking outside the pocket. Making him step up inside the pocket consistently makes him uncomfortable. By getting outside of the defensive ends, it keeps all the rushers in front of him and in his vision. But because Rasco and Hunter are behind him, Manziel knows both could be hitting him from behind at any time.
Manziel, knowing Barrow is spying on him, begins to sprint forward looking for space to run outside to the left. Ego Ferguson is low and in great position to push his blocker and shrink the pocket. The speedy Hunter also begins his beforementioned pursuit.
From this angle, notice how Ferguson sees Manziel looking to break to the outside. Ferguson knows he must do whatever it takes to force him back inside to Barrow.
But because Manziel made his mind up to run, he takes his eyes off all of his targets downfield. Receiver Mike Evans waves his left hand in the air for what would have been an easy completion for a first down.
Ferguson does a great job from his defensive tackle position to break to the outside, forcing Manziel to the inside as Barrow begins to break to the line of scrimmage.
But as Barrow leaves the middle of the field, receiver Derel Walker breaks open on a drag route he had been running from the start of the snap. If Manziel lifted his head downfield, he would have seen him for an easy pitch for a first down.
Manziel eventually takes a big blow from Hunter, as his pursuit from the backside catches the speedy quarterback short of the first-down marker. Other LSU players were there to swarm Manziel as well.
Manziel played the worst game of his career. He only completed 39 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions. Everybody has written about his horrific statistics, especially for his standards.
But even his positive plays were tough to come by. Nearly every drive the Aggies were able to string together required Manziel having to work hard for the yards.
Much criticism will be focused on Manziel, but his receivers were blanketed, his coaching staff did not call enough runs and defense could not stop the LSU rushing attack. It was tough to get in to any kind of rhythm on a rainy day in an intimating, hostile environment.
NFL scouts will be disappointed with the tape from this game, as LSU forced Manziel to beat them from the pocket. Coaches do not mind quarterbacks running but hate when eyes are taken off receivers downfield for the entirety of the play. Dual-threat quarterback Cam Newton has gotten better at keeping his eyes downfield before taking off and running.
Overall, Manziel has done a solid job in his career-making throws downfield after extending a play. But often he has done so by scrambling to the outside. Lamin Barrow told me after the game it was important to keep him in a "bubble," even if it meant LSU giving up a couple of longer runs up the middle for chunks of yards.
Manziel converted a 4th-and-medium against Ole Miss by running hard up the middle. Nobody can truly blame him for trusting his legs. But he needs to understand that more defenses will defend him like LSU, so he must get better in the pocket.
Give Les Miles and his coaching staff credit. LSU not only outplayed Texas A&M, but it outcoached the Aggies as well. Miles had his team focused with the extra week to prepare, and it showed.
John Chavis should have been the game's MVP. Not only was the rush from the defensive line technically smart but players also who blitzed throughout the game were unblocked and under control. Keeping contain was one of LSU's critical keys before the game.
LSU also showed great communication and play recognition. Barrow and Welter realigned the assignments once Malena motioned to the outside. Communication has been a massive problem in LSU's pass defense this season.
This play was only a microcosm of LSU's dominance over Texas A&M's ridiculously productive offense. But the critical stop on fourth down also best represents the team mentality the Tigers took to Manziel. Every player, particularly on the defensive line, swallowed their pride in victory.
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