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December 8, 2012

Manziel's 2012 a Heisman-worthy tale

When Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin named redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel his starting quarterback near the end of fall practice, he said Manziel's ability to run and make plays on the move added an extra element to the offense.

In all likelihood, Sumlin didn't dream he was about to unleash a dual-threat on college football who would end up winning the Heisman Trophy in his first year as a starter.

Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman, amassing 474 first-place votes and 2,029 points, easily eclipsing Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, who had had 321 first-place votes and 1,706 points. Kansas State QB Collin Klein received 60 firsts and 894 points.

"I have been dreaming about this since I was a kid, running around the backyard pretending I was Doug Flutie, throwing Hail Marys to my dad," he told reporters in New York, where he accepted the award.

Just 20, Manziel has thrown for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns and run for 1,181 yards and 19 TDs.

Now, with his coronation complete, AggieYell.com relives Manziel's season for the ages.

Part 1: A slow start

Manziel showed his ability to scramble on Texas A&M's first drive of the season, as a 16-yard run on third and 17 -- along with a facemask penalty -- helped the Aggies stay on the move. The Aggies would score a field goal -- the first of many games in which they would score on their opening drive -- and later add to the lead when Manziel blew past a pair of Florida defenders on his way to an 11-yard touchdown early in the second quarter.

Up 17-3 at one point, the Aggies conservative game planning with the first-time quarterback and Florida's physical play ended up wearing out A&M in a 20-17 loss. But Manziel's stats for a first-time starter against one of the nation's defenses, were solid: 23-30 for 178 yards and 17 carries for 60 yards. Most importantly, he didn't turn over the ball.

After being shut out in the second half against Florida, A&M's scoreless streak reached three quarters in a frustrating first quarter against SMU. The Aggies punted three times and were stuffed on downs as the offense continued to look out of sync.

Part 2: Explosion

An offense that looked unimpressive for a large part of its opener and the first quarter of its second game suddenly caught fire. Manziel found Ryan Swope for a 29-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field with 9:08 to go in the half, then broke free for the first of his signature long touchdown runs -- a 49-yarder -- with 3:23 to go. Before the half, another touchdown pass to EZ Nwachukwu pushed the lead to 21-0.

Manziel saved his most amazing play of the game, and possibly the year, for his next scoring pass. Under pressure, Manziel spun away from an SMU defender, rolled to his left and threw, leaping, off his front foot -- finding a wide open Kenric McNeal, who would race down the sideline for a 42-yard score. At the end of the day, the Aggies would win 48-3 and Manziel would accumulate 418 yards of total offense and 6 TDs.

In A&M's 70-14 blasting of South Carolina State, Manziel racked up another 5 combined touchdowns.

And then he went nuts.

In A&M's payback 58-10 win over Arkansas, Manziel broke A&M's all-time single game passing record with 453 yards (on 29-38 passing), ran for another 105 and put four scores on the board. In the process, he broke the SEC's single game total yardage record, which had been set by none other than Archie Manning. He also became visible on the national stage with his 6-yard Playstation-like scramble for a touchdown in the third quarter.

One of the more remarkable aspects of Manziel's first four starts were that he didn't turn the ball over at all. On a cold and rainy night in Oxford, Miss., that changed in a big way. Manziel turned the ball over four total times, which looked devastating when the Aggies were down 27-17 with 7 minutes to go in the game.

But Johnny Football, backed up to his goal line and facing 3rd-and-19, went to work. A tremendous 32-yard catch by Mike Evans took the air out of the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium crowd and, two plays later, Manziel would scramble 29 yards untouched for a score. After Ole Miss failed to convert a fourth and short, Manziel stood in against an all-out blitz and lobbed a perfect 20-yard pass to Ryan Swope for the game winning score.

In A&M's 59-57 win over Louisiana Tech the next week, Johnny Football would have what was rightfully called "a night to remember." He destroyed his own SEC total yardage record as he threw for 395 yards, rushed for 189 more and put up six total touchdowns -- the last of which was an incredible sprint on 3rd and 23 that ended up going 72 yards.

Part 3: A bump in the road

The Aggies, and Manziel, would endure a frustrating day in a 24-19 loss against LSU. But, against one of the nation's top defenses, he would accumulate more than 300 yards of total offense: 276 yards through the air and another 27 on the ground. But, for the first time, he was kept out of the endzone -- and, in the minds of some voters, was out of the Heisman race.

Part 4: Statement games

Instead of brooding on a close home loss before a three-game SEC West road swing, the Aggies struck back quickly. In a 63-21 pasting of Auburn, Manziel would put up an easy 350 combined yards of total offense and five scores (two passing, three running) before calling it an early night.

In Starkville the next weekend, Manziel faced off against a defensive group that had been touted as one of the better in the SEC and decimated it. He would complete 30 of 36 passes for 311 yards and run for 127 more as the Aggies put up the first 31 points of the game against Mississippi State and cruised to a 38-13 win.

Part 5: The Moment

It was a game they weren't supposed to win. It was one that was supposed to expose the Aggie offense as a gimmick and end Manziel's resurrected Heisman chances.

Instead, Texas A&M went to Alabama and Johnny Football became known across the nation.

The Aggies shot out to a 20-0 lead against the defending champion and No. 1 Crimson Tide, and Manziel stunned the 102,000 fans in attendance with his running and a play that spawned possibly the most memorable call of the 2012 football season.

On 3rd and goal from the 10, Manziel was pressured and stepped up into the collapsing pocket. In the process, his hand hit the backside of tackle Jake Matthews and the ball popped up into the air. Manziel spun around, grabbed the ball, continued the spin and rolled out of the pocket to his left -- and found Swope wide open in the back of the end zone.

"Got him," CBS' Verne Lundquist said when it appeared Manziel would go down. Then, as the number 2 reappeared on the screen, he said, "No they didn't! Oh my gracious, HOW ABOUT THAT!"

How about that, indeed.

With 92 yards on the ground, 253 yards passing and another scoring throw to Malcome Kennedy -- on the same pattern Swope ran for the game winner against Ole Miss -- Manziel led A&M past the mighty Crimson Tide at home in a stunning 29-24 win. All of a sudden, Johnny Football looked like Johnny Heisman.

Part 5: Front-runner

The Aggie offensive juggernaut that kicked back into high gear against Auburn kept rolling after the Alabama win, even if it took a little bit to get started against Sam Houston State. After a dominating second and third quarters, 367 total yards and another five scores, Manziel got another early night on the sideline in a 47-28 whipping of the Bearkats.

In A&M's final game of the regular season, the Aggies took out years of frustration on another foe in a 59-29 trashing of Missouri. Already up 14-0 and in appearing to be in cruise control, Manziel rushed for 7 yards to the Missouri 38 -- and grabbed his left knee after being tackled by E.J. Gaines. A hushed Kyle Field watched as Manziel left the field and was replaced by Jameill Showers -- and roared when he returned two drives later. Looking none the worse for his injury, Manziel put up 439 yards of offense and five more touchdowns before leaving to a standing ovation.

It was a worthy homage to an incredible season, one in which Manziel broke the SEC's single-game total yardage record twice, led the conference in rushing in the regular season, broke the conference's total yards record in two games fewer than the previous record holder -- Cam Newton -- played and set the new NCAA standard for rushing yards by a freshman quarterback.

Oh, and he led the newcomers in the SEC West to a 10-2 record.

Before Saturday night, Johnny Manziel already owned an armload of postseason awards, including the Davey O'Brien Trophy. Now, Johnny Football has another nickname: Johnny Heisman.



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