He is a good one, man. Are you kidding me? He’s a tough, hard-nosed guy who fights like hell. He’s a tremendous player.” LES MILES, LSU coach
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — During practices leading up to Saturday’s game at Kyle Field, LSU used dual-threat freshman Jerrard Randall to mimic scrambling Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
LSU safety Eric Reid said Randall did a bang-up job as the scout team’s Manziel, but it’s hard to image that any player anywhere could have simulated the savvy and quickness the Tigers saw behind center in their 24-19 victory over the Aggies.
“I know why they call him ‘Johnny Football’ now,” Reid said.
“Because he did an amazing job of keeping the play alive whenever we thought we were going to get a sack.”
Manziel spun, cut and circled LSU defenders for much of the day, showing precisely why he entered the weekend averaging 392 yards of total offense and as the Southeastern Conference’s rushing leader at 112.7 yards per game.
Little wonder one of the nation’s most celebrated defenses took some time to get its bearings.
Manziel ate up the Tigers through the first quarter and a half, completing 14 of 25 passes for 156 yards — and rushing for 19 early yards — as the Aggies raced to a 12-0 lead behind their up-tempo spread offense.
But the redshirt freshman was mostly running for cover the rest of the game.
Manziel finished 29 of 56 for 276 yards with three interceptions — twice as many picks as he’d thrown the first six games of his career — and managed a season-low 27 yards on the ground.
A&M’s only points over the final 37 minutes came with LSU up by 12 points and 1:17 left in the game.
“Our guys had adjusted to the speed really well,” LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis said when asked about the mid-game turnaround. “Certainly we made some adjustments from a scheme standpoint, but the biggest thing was that our guys adjusted to the speed of the game.”
The key for the LSU defense was eliminating the big plays Manziel can make with his feet without using defensive backs to provide help.
When the A&M quarterback broke outside the pocket, the Tigers relied on the defensive linemen and linebackers to run him down. The secondary stayed home.
“The mistake teams were making is that DBs would try to come up and get the sack and leave the receivers open,” Reid said. “So the emphasis for us was to stay on our guys when he was scrambling and just trust that the front seven was going to get a tackle.”
The Tigers made enough to throw the Aggies off their rhythm and turn the game suddenly and stunningly in LSU’s favor.
An interception and a fumble set LSU’s offense up for a pair of touchdowns late in the first half. Three more turnovers in the second half helped the Tigers seal their second SEC road win in three tries.
But even though Manziel had the toughest outing of his young career after enjoying a strong start, the LSU defense is probably glad it won’t have to face the young A&M star again until next year.
“He is a good one, man,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “Are you kidding me? He’s a tough, hard-nosed guy who fights like hell. He’s a tremendous player.”