By now you have heard the Ballad of Johnny Football.
Football fans and observers coast to coast are singing the praises of Texas A&M’s plucky redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel, that fellow over College Station way who is rewriting all the record books.
Going into this season, Texas A&M looked like it was going nowhere because it had no quarterback. Then Manziel materializes on the scene like “The Natural” — Roy Hobbs in shoulder pads.
Just six games into his college career, Manzielmania is causing whitecaps on the Gulf of Mexico. In bars around Aggieland — where the 19-year-old phenom is still far too young to legally imbibe — they sing his praises and proclaim him a legend. That tends to happen when you come into the greatest football conference in America and halfway through your inaugural campaign you lead it in both total offense (392.7 yards per game) AND rushing (112.7).
No doubt you have heard the tales, scarcely believable but true. Manziel can cure male pattern baldness with a wave of his hand, has saved Texas A&M thousands of dollars in electric bills by illuminating Kyle Field with his megawatt charm, and has scared every snake out of Brazos County (last seen headed toward the statehouse in Austin). Hear tell that when the Aggies come to play LSU in Baton Rouge next season, Manziel won’t take a charter plane. He’ll just leap the Sabine River in a single bound.
The only thing this Garbo of the gridiron hasn’t done yet is talk, kept off limits from the media by coach Kevin Sumlin’s first-year-players-don’t-get-quoted-even-if-they-are-our-entire-team policy. Even better. It only adds to Manziel’s international man of mystery persona.
A college football nation will cast a sleep-filled eye toward Saturday’s 11 a.m. LSU-A&M game — provided it doesn’t hit the snooze button too many times — having heard about Manziel gaining 8,300 yards against Louisiana Tech last week and seeing if he can do it against one of the nation’s best defenses.
They will want to see a legend truly born, a freshman turned legitimate Heisman Trophy contender.
It’s up to the LSU defense to play the villain in the piece. LSU rides into Kyle Field Saturday on a black horse named Midnight, wearing a black hat, or better yet, Darth Vader’s black helmet.
Yes, LSU gets to play the bad guy. It will try to strike down this mercurial talent, this phenom, this most amazing, stupendous, unbelievable virtuoso college football has seen since, since, well, at least 2010.
Oh, the Cam Newton of it all. Sorry, I need to take a breath. You may remember Cam versus LSU two years ago. He went off like a loaded cannon for 303 total yards, dragging All-American cornerback Patrick Peterson into the end zone on a play that was perhaps Newton’s signature Heisman-clinching moment.
LSU’s objective this time: clip the razzle and dazzle out of Manziel’s highlight reels and run them through the nearest paper shredder.
No one really knows what will happen when this irresistible Aggies force meets LSU’s immovable object. The Tigers don’t seem quite as dominant on defense as they did in 2011, though they are allowing 42 yards less per game — so far.
Manziel has had his way with defenses, but none of them, save Florida’s, is ranked higher than No. 41 nationally (Ole Miss). LSU is No. 2.
Against the Gators, A&M got off to a 17-10 halftime lead but was throttled in the final 30 minutes, as Florida rallied for a 20-17 victory. Manziel was limited to a rather (for him) pedestrian 233 yards total offense and one score.
“Against guys like him, you have to constrict the pocket,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “Don’t let him have escape lanes. Guys like him want to create things with their legs.
“We needed to make him a passer in the pocket and not out of the pocket.”
Seems reasonable enough, but Muschamp wasn’t done.
“He scares you,” Muschamp said. “He’s a great competitor.”
If Manziel is going to be truly great this season, he certainly will have his chance for a Newton-like bomb. He faces LSU, Alabama and Mississippi State in the next month. We’ll know if he’s ready for Broadway and the Heisman ceremony by then.
Meanwhile, LSU’s best defense may be its offense. Certainly, the Tigers are much less prolific, and no one is calling Zach Mettenberger the Mett-siah anymore, but LSU rediscovered the art of the run against a stout South Carolina rushing defense.
Several clock-killing drives — that actually score points — are just what LSU needs.
Johnny Football is good, but can’t alter time — can he?