Can LSU Repeat the Feat and Slow Down Johnny Manziel?

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterNovember 20, 2013

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The list of teams that have slowed down Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel as a college quarterback is short.

It reads: Florida and LSU.

That's it. Those are the only two teams to slow down the Johnny Football express in his nearly two seasons in College Station.

Florida won't have the opportunity to repeat the feat this season, but LSU will get its second crack at the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner this weekend in Baton Rouge. 

The Tigers held Manziel to just 27 rushing yards on 17 carries a year ago and forced him to stay in the pocket and attempt to win with his arm. He wasn't up for the challenge in the 24-19 loss, throwing zero touchdowns and three picks.

There's one problem for the Tigers this year, though. Several pieces of the team that kept Manziel in check last season—linebacker Kevin Minter and defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, in particular—are no longer on the Tigers roster.

"We're a little different defense than we were," head coach Les Miles said. "We'll have to do some different things, but the principles that we use will certainly be similar. We recognize that there's a great challenge there, and we're looking forward to playing them."

The principles that worked well last year depended on Mingo and Montgomery keeping contain, Minter cleaning up the mess when Manziel took off and a secondary that locked down receivers and confused Manziel when he went through his reads.

Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
Texas A&M QB Johnny ManzielBrett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

This version of the LSU defense is a shell of its former self, and that's not lost on the Aggies.

"LSU was extremely effective [last year]," Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "And a lot of those players aren't playing in this game on Saturday."

LSU's game plan against Manziel will put an enormous amount of pressure on defensive ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter to keep Manziel from getting outside, and cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Tre'Davious White to shut down the Manziel-to-Mike Evans connection.

"I think the quarterback [Manziel] is a much better quarterback than he was a year ago," Miles said. "He recognizes where he needs to go with the ball and gets it out of his hand quickly. He's very accurate. When he runs, he runs to extend plays."

Texas A&M WR Mike Evans (left) and QB Johnny Manziel
Texas A&M WR Mike Evans (left) and QB Johnny ManzielThomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

The 6'5", 225-pound Evans has lit up opposing defenses this season to the tune of 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns. He's an imposing figure who Miles knows is going to be difficult to slow down.

"[He's a] big, tall, strong man," Miles said. "A guy who can contest for balls routinely."

LSU DE Jermauria Rasco
LSU DE Jermauria RascoChuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

LSU won't be able to shut down the Aggies offense like it did last season, because the Aggies offense has evolved into more than just the "Johnny Manziel show." It's dynamic, it's unpredictable and it's dangerous.

But defense doesn't win championships anymore, and it doesn't win games, either. "Just enough defense" does, and that's always dependent upon matchups.

In this particular matchup, not only has A&M's offense evolved, but LSU's has as well. 

The Tigers offense has improved tremendously from last season, averaging 460.4 yards per game, as opposed to the 374.2 yards per game it averaged last season. As a result, the Tigers don't have to repeat the feat of last season defensively.

That's where the secondary comes in. 

Mills, White and Co. don't need to shut down Manziel and Evans; they have to get a few key stops. Manziel knows he has to not only throw to win football games, but that his defense will let him down if he doesn't. That means he has to take more risks, which gives the LSU secondary plenty of opportunities to capitalize.

If it does, the LSU offense is more than capable of making Manziel pay in the form of seven points on the scoreboard.

This will be a completely different game than the one in College Station a year ago. LSU won't repeat the feat and shut down Manziel, because it won't have to. It will, however, force a few key turnovers that directly impact the game and effectively end Manziel's chances to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner.

*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.


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