A lot of things didn't go Texas A&M's way Saturday night and quite a few of them seemed to be self inflicted. The Aggies managed to play two good halves of football but the offense's came in a different half than the defense's. Even Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel had a couple of turnovers and it looked like for a second that the ghosts of Mississippi that had haunted Ole Miss since a last second loss in 2012 would finally find some peace.
In the end, just like last season, Texas A&M came together as a team and found a way to win. Manziel led a couple of late scoring drives, the much maligned Aggie defense got a late stop, and new kicker Josh Lambo kicked a 33 yard field goal to give the Aggies a 41-38 win.
Ole Miss didn't do much differently this season than they did last year….they used three and four man fronts and linebacker Sedarious Bryant to spy on Manziel. In addition, they played two deep safeties like SMU and Arkansas had. A&M not had a year to study what Ole Miss did last year and also continued to do this year but they also had film of how Auburn ran roughshod over that type of defense last week and the Aggies ran all over a two high safety look last week.
Instead, what we got was A&M often going five wides or with one back and putting everything in Manziel's hands. Normally, that wouldn't seem like such a bad strategy and as it turned out Manziel wound up with 470 yards total offense. Even so, it took the ball out of the hands of Tra Carson (just two carries) and Trey Williams (just seven carries, a 7.1 yard average, and two touchdowns) in the running game and they had been so effective last week. In addition, A&M seemed to want to work the perimeter in the passing game with screens which is where Ole Miss often aligned their defenders and so usually they gained minimal yardage.
However, the flip side was that because of the two deep coverage with Ole Miss' corners playing off to prevent the big play and Manziel receiving great protection, he spread the wealth in the receiving game. He hit outside receivers Derel Walker and Mike Evans underneath the corners (nine receptions for 118 yards and some nice gains after the catch) and slots Malcome Kennedy and Travis Labhart in the middle underneath the safeties (15 receptions for 186 yards).
Most importantly, when the Aggies got down 38-31 and the season hanging in the balance like it did last year, Manziel did what he does best…"I got this"…and took ownership of the game. He led A&M on a 75 yard drive and accounted for 72 of the yards, capping it off with a six yard touchdown run that was patented Manziel…he started right and then came back left all the way to the flag for the touchdown. Then, after A&M's defense got their only stop of the fourth quarter, Manziel led them on a 56 yard drive which he got going by hitting Derel Walker for 14 yards and then gaining 25 on consecutive rushes. He let the running game finish off the Rebels and get the Aggies in field goal range for the game winning points.
Manziel had a couple of turnovers but it was his competitiveness and calm detachment that drove his teammates down the stretch. He couldn't wait to get back on the field after Ole Miss went up by seven late and played like he knew the outcome was preordained. It didn't hurt that an undersized and thin Rebel front seven lost multiple players to injury which gave them little chance of stopping Manziel in the first place.
In the end, the Aggies made it more difficult than it normally would have seemed in rolling up 33 first downs and 587 yards of offense. However, Manziel can overcome the opponent's game plans, their best efforts, hostile crowds, and his even own mistakes to win games and just look so effortless in the process of doing so.
The Aggies played their best half of football of the year given the quality of the opposition in the first half of the game save for a 70 yard touchdown pass from Bo Wallace to Vince Sanders. With the Aggies' offense, you'll take ten points in five possessions by the opponent in a half, double that, and figure that A&M will still win by a minimum of three touchdowns. They allowed just 66 yards rushing in the first two quarters and even stopped Ole Miss on a fourth and short near mid field on the Rebel's second possessions which seemingly threatened to blow the game wide open. They even forced the Rebels to punt on their first possession of the second half which A&M followed up with a touchdown to go up 11.
Unfortunately, A&M's offense wasn't exactly lighting it up during this stretch and Ole Miss made an adjustment to get its running game going. They brought in offensive lineman Emmaniel McCray as a tight end and proceeded to start running the ball behind him. Backup quarterback Barry Brunetti (a runner) came in to give Ole Miss a faster dimension in running the option and although not known as a passer he proceeded to start throwing the ball off of play action. The Aggies kept nickel back Toney Hurd in the game since the Rebels still had three receivers on the field which meant that Ole Miss could run behind McCray and then go play action off of that. In addition, the Aggies lost ball hawk Deshazor Everett to injury for all of the second half. The result was three touchdowns in four drives and when Ole Miss finally got away from that alignment finally got away from it, they faked a sweep, caught A&M linebacker Steven Jenkins in man coverage, and hit a 50 yard touchdown pass to the lead back.
But last season Ole Miss misplayed its hand down stretch in blowing a ten point lead versus the Aggies last season and when provided an opportunity to get the ball back with 3:07 left, the Rebels did it again. They threw three straight drop back passes, missed on all of them, and did the one thing that they couldn't do…give the ball back to Johnny Manziel.
The Aggies helped out the Rebel's cause by jumping off sides on a fourth and eight which made it a fourth and three and allowed Ole Miss to convert. They blew multiple coverages which allowed big plays in the passing game (five of 19 yards or better). On one possession, they had Bo Wallace sacked and allowed him to get away for passes of 19 and then 21 yards for a touchdown.
And yet despite all of that and the 38 points they gave up, the defense also started doing some things that they had not done all year. They tackled better for the most part and got people on the ground. They stopped Ole Miss in short yardage on their first possession by getting penetration on the Rebel's side of the ball and Darian Claiborne dropping Brunetti for a loss. They stopped Ole Miss on their first possession of the second half and briefly looked like that A&M was going to seize control of the game. They stopped Ole Miss on their final drive after allowing over 300 yards passing via play action by breaking up drop back passes. Isaiah Golden didn't register on the stat sheet but in his first start Claiborne had six tackles and two for loss as he was freed up to make plays instead of taking on blockers. In addition, Claiborne's awareness helped him pick off a pass.
The Aggies made things hard on themselves in the second half by not adjusting to the Rebels' new alignment and having issues in down field coverage. Nonetheless, they found a way to get it done when they needed to and just like last year that was all that mattered.
We went over the methodology of how to spring an upset an upset before the game…mainly negative turnover margin and big plays by the underdogs on special teams…and many games followed that pattern (Missouri/Georgia, Texas/Oklahoma, etc.). A&M lost turnover margin but won special teams simply because Josh Lambo has come on to give A&M a kicker that doesn't require them to score a touchdown rather than a field goal late in the game. Most of all, A&M has Johnny Manziel who proved once again tonight that he is capable of overcoming anything and everything and also elevating his teammates to do the same. Because of him, Upset Saturday didn't involve the Aggies who now can continue to move up in the polls with a potential BCS bid in their sights.