BATON ROUGE, La. -- Only now, with two games remaining (unofficially, of course) in Johnny Manziel's short but captivating college football career, do we have a handle on what it takes to make Johnny Football look mortal.
Put him on a field with LSU’s defense on the other side.
The Tigers swarmed, suffocated and effectively snuffed out Manziel’s quest for a second consecutive Heisman Trophy on the kind of wet, windy and cold day that made Texas A&M’s 34-10 loss all the more miserable.
They say it never rains in Tiger Stadium. But it sure rained Saturday, and it rained the hardest on the No. 12 Aggies, who had no answers for an LSU team that put together its most complete game of the season.
“You could sort of see it coming with the way we practiced last week,” said LSU receiver Jarvis Landry, who had a pair of touchdown catches in the first half to help stake the Tigers to a 21-10 halftime lead.
“We’ve flirted with this a few times this season and always knew we were capable. I mean, we might have lost a lot of players to the NFL last year, but there’s still a lot of NFL-caliber talent on this team. We went out and played like it tonight in every phase of the game.”
But LSU’s defense stole the show.
It was obvious early that Manziel wasn’t real comfortable in the nasty weather conditions, and that was a factor.
A much bigger factor, though, was LSU’s energy, speed and discipline on defense, not to mention a scheme that veteran defensive coordinator John Chavis has obviously perfected against these Aggies.
It was also a defense that had grown increasingly tired this past week of hearing about what Manziel was going to do to the Tigers.
“Everybody was talking about how this game was going to be a shootout,” LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson said. “Coach Chavis told us, ‘It ain’t going to be no shootout.’ We weren’t going to let that happen.”
In many ways, it was a carbon copy of what happened a year ago when these two teams met in College Station. LSU won that game 24-19 and held Manziel without a touchdown -- rushing or passing. He managed just one Saturday, that coming on a 51-yard pass to Derel Walker with 1:08 left in the first half when LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White fell down.
Chavis’ goal was simple: Make Manziel beat the Tigers throwing the football.
“I have great respect for him and know what happens when he’s able to get outside, run around and make plays,” Chavis said. “As a coach, it’s all about putting your kids in a position to make plays. We had to throw some of our younger kids to the fire this year. You don’t like to do that, but we didn’t have any choice.
“What’s so pleasing about this game is to see a lot of those same kids go out against a great player and a great offense and show how far they’ve come. We needed this. We needed it for our psyche, and we needed to get this done.”
Johnson could sense that frustration was starting to set in Saturday with Manziel, who finished 16-of-41 for 224 yards and two interceptions. He was also sacked twice and held to just 54 rushing yards on 12 carries.
It was the first time in Manziel’s career that he’d been held to fewer than 300 yards of total offense.
“He wasn’t used to not being able to run around and get those plays that he’s used to making,” Johnson said. “Everybody stayed disciplined. Our defensive backs stayed back on their routes and didn’t try to come up and help on the run.
“We stayed true to the scheme, and you saw the results.”
The Tigers were successful most of the game in not allowing Manziel to roll right, and their defensive ends did an excellent job of staying home and not giving him any room to scramble outside.
“There’s a lot of pride on this defense, and we've haven’t always played the way we wanted to this year,” LSU linebacker Lamin Barrow said. “But we went out there today and took our pride back.
“That’s the way LSU defense is supposed to be played.”
Manziel, to his credit, wasn’t offering any excuses. There was talk of a thumb injury during the television broadcast, but he said it was more a case of the Tigers hitting the Aggies in the mouth and the Aggies never really responding.
“They came out and mixed a lot of things up,” Manziel said. “They kept us guessing, and it really took us a while to figure it out.”
That makes it two years in a row. The Aggies have now scored just three touchdowns in the past eight quarters against the Tigers.
Until Saturday, they’d scored at least 40 points against everybody they’d played this season.
The Tigers’ secret?
“No secrets,” Barrow said with a smile. “It’s playing LSU football.”