For the past five weeks, teams have had no answer for stopping Johnny Manziel. Containment has been the goal, but the redshirt freshman quarterback has just been too slippery.
Since Texas A&M's opening loss to Florida, Manziel has averaged 424.6 yards of total offense per game and has scored 23 total touchdowns. He set the SEC record for total offense against Arkansas and then broke it last week when he put up 576 yards (395 passing, 181 rushing) on Louisiana Tech.
He has become a legit Heisman candidate, and has led the Aggies to five straight wins and to No. 18 in the BCS standings.
"If you watched the games, each week he's gotten better, especially with staying in the pocket and finding receivers down the field,” center Patrick Lewis said. “I believe as the weeks go, he's getting better as a football player and he's helping this offense improve every week."
Manziel is third in the SEC in passing with 1,680 yards and has 14 passing touchdowns to three interceptions. He also leads the SEC in rushing (676 yards) and is tied for the league lead with 10 rushing touchdowns.
He just does it all, from sprinting by defenders to chucking passes over defenders. He even saves kittens in his spare time! He’s your favorite All-American’s favorite All-American.
But major obstacles wait in this fairy tale. We already saw Manziel struggle against Florida’s top-notch defense, and now it’s time for him to take on the nation’s No. 2 defense in LSU. Manziel has toyed with subpar defenses for the majority of the season, but he’ll be thrown into the Tigers’ den Saturday.
“He’s fast and what not, but you’d be surprised how fast our D-line is,” LSU linebacker Kevin Minter said.
"Johnny Football" hasn’t seen the likes of Barkevious Mingo or Sam Montgomery off the edge, and they could really stunt his growth with their speed. However, Manziel has a chance to do the same to LSU.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, more than 70 percent of Manziel’s rushing yards (475) have come on scrambles. That’s 90 more scrambling yards than Denard Robinson, Braxton Miller and Collin Klein combined. Manziel leads the SEC in rushing touchdowns (seven), 20-plus yard rushes (nine) and rushing yards per game (79.1) when scrambling.
LSU’s opponents are averaging 7.7 yards per rush on 11 scrambles this season. And on third down, where Manziel leads the nation with 12 rushing first downs on third down and at least 5 yards to go, LSU opponents are averaging 11.5 yards per scramble and have three first downs on six scrambles, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
LSU coach Les Miles said he’d like to get at least two guys to “keep a wary eye” on Manziel on Saturday, but Minter said the Tigers will definitely have to spy to contain him.
“You got to. You gotta have somebody there to keep an eye on him,” he said. “If not, he’ll bust one for 70 [yards] real fast.”
Florida coach Will Muschamp, whose defense held Manziel to just 51 total yards in the second half earlier this season, has the formula for stopping Manziel: constrict the pocket, eliminate running lanes and make him a true pocket passer. Making sure he can’t escape the pocket is essential.
“That’s where he scares you,” Muschamp said.
But don’t think Manziel can’t launch a beauty when needed. Manziel has completed at least half his throws of 15 yards or more in each of his past three games. But he’s facing a defense that hasn’t allowed opponents to complete more than a third of their 15-yard throws this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Still, Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury believes that as the season has progressed, Manziel has turned into a better pocket passer and his attention to detail in the passing game has been his most impressive attribute.
“He can throw with anybody,” Kingsbury said.
“He’s really focused on having a plan before every play, knowing what his reads are, what his hots are, what we’re trying to accomplish with each snap.”
The unstoppable Manziel has been on a tear, but he’ll face LSU’s immovable defense Saturday. The first side to give loses, and Miles is making sure his defense doesn’t cave to Manziel.
“It’s going to take all of the strategy and all of the calls to defend a guy like that,” Miles said.