Doug Flutie looks at this year’s presumed Heisman Trophy frontrunner and is reminded of the 1984 winner.
Flutie, who won the Heisman 28 years ago as a slippery, big-play quarterback at Boston College, sees a lot of himself in Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, who’s one of three finalists for the 2012 Heisman. Manziel will be joined in New York by Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein on Saturday night when it is announced which of the three wins the award.
“I love watching him,” Flutie said Friday of Manziel. “He reminds me of myself. It’s not just the scrambling and the running around, but it’s also the mannerisms, the way he does it. He’ll step up in the pocket, and if it collapses, he’ll back-pedal, which I used to do. I did a jump pass, he has a double jump pass. His movements and the way he escapes all remind me of myself.”
Flutie, who passed for 3,454 yards and ran for 149 when he won the Heisman, said there’s at least one difference between himself and Manziel, who set a Southeastern Conference record with 4,600 total yards this season — 3,419 passing and 1,181 rushing.
“He has really good straight-ahead speed, which I never had,” Flutie said. “I could never do that. I could be quick and elusive, but he can flat-out run.
“But what gets overlooked is he can make the reads and deliver the football from the pocket when the protection is there. The running around makes the highlights, but he can stand in there and throw the football from the pocket.”
Flutie noted that LSU intercepted Manziel three times, which was a big factor in the Tigers’ 24-19 victory over the Aggies.
“You’re going to live and die with his instincts, but you have to let him play that way,” Flutie said. “You’re going to make some mistakes when you play that way. The hardest thing to do when you play that way is to learn when to give up on a play and throw the ball away.
“He doesn’t like to give up on plays. The last thing you want to do is make a robot out of him. You have to trust his instincts and let him play loose and relaxed. You don’t want to handcuff him. You can live with the bad, because the majority of the time good things are going to happen. It’s going to be magic 90 percent of the time.”
Flutie, who’s promoting the Capital One Cup, a national competition to determine the athletic program with the greatest all-around success, agreed with the seemingly consensus opinion that Manziel will become the first freshman to win the Heisman. But he said there’s a wild-card factor that could benefit Te’o, who won the Walter Camp Award as the nation’s best player Thursday.
“It feels like Manziel, at the end of the year, is the front-runner and probably will win it,” Flutie said. “It’s amazing that Te’o is in the mix as a strictly defensive player. Most people usually just look at the numbers, and the offensive statistics are flashier.
“But with Manziel and Klein being from the same region of the country, they could split a lot of votes. If that happens and Manti is number one on a lot of ballots in the Midwest and the Northeast and doesn’t split them (he could win).”
Manziel and Klein aren’t the only quarterbacks who have caught Flutie’s eye. He said he has noticed much better play from LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who had his three most productive games during the last month of the season.
“He really stood and threw the ball down the field on the money against Alabama (on Nov. 3),” Flutie said. “Game experience is so important in becoming comfortable. The game slows down for you. We lose sight sometimes that these are young kids still learning to get comfortable in game situations.”
While the LSU passing game has improved during the last month, the Tigers’ average yardage per rushing attempt has dropped from 4.9 yards to 3.1.
“The biggest fear when you start to throw the ball is that your offensive line loses its aggressiveness,” Flutie said. “If you meet before the game and tell the offensive line that you’re going to run the ball the first 12 plays, they’ll throw a party. They love to hit the defense in the mouth and run the ball.
“When you’re in pass protection, it’s passive, and it’s hard to throw that switch and find a rhythm. You hear about throwing body blows and wearing the defense down. That all comes into play. You don’t want to get so infatuated with the pass that you lose that mindset. Coaches have fought with that for years.”
Flutie said he has also been impressed with Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, but said LSU’s advantage on defense would make the difference when it plays Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve in the Georgia Dome.
As for the BCS Championship Game between No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama, Flutie said the Crimson Tide deserves its role as the favorite.
“They really ran the ball and got (Eddie) Lacy rolling against Georgia in the SEC championship,” he said. “If I had to pick a winner, I’d pick Alabama, but I’m not counting out Notre Dame.
“They have a very physical front seven on defense that keeps them in ball games until their offense can make a few plays. Their quarterback (Everett Golson) has become much more confident and played very well the second half of the season. Don’t count out Notre Dame.”