With 85,000 screaming fans attending a sold-out Cotton Bowl tonight, the Texas A&M Aggies came out fighting for the first bowl game victory representing the SEC. Aggies Head Coach Kevin Sumlin noted that his team’s focus would be preventing turnovers, ball security, and getting up to speed quickly. And they did, January 4, 2013.
The traditions and the rituals were substantial. As they filed out of the tunnel toward the field, Manziel kept his head downward as he was flanked by his team as closely as he would be on the field. When he arrived, Manziel bowed his head as he knelt one leg down on the field, as a reminder of his quiet faith. The Aggies had scored first in every game this season, and this bowl game was no exception.
On the first series, Just when you thought Manziel was sure to be sacked, he poured it on and ran for over 23 yards and the first down. With Ben Malina adding yardage on the next two possessions, Manziel scored his 20th rushing touchdown of the sesaon as he skipped and flew into the end zone, as the Aggies broke the sound barrier yelling their approval for the first TD of the game.
On Oklahoma’s first possession, superb quarterback Landry Jones guided the offense expertly, combining rushing and passing plays as the Sooners’ ground game took prominence Jones’ passing was impressive as they made their way all the way down to the 6-yard line before the A&M defense simply powered down the momentum the Sooners had picked up. The Sooners had to settle for a field goal.
With their second offensive opportunity, the Aggie distinguished offensive line gave Manziel literally all day to throw the ball. The hurry-up offense that is now the Aggies SEC-style signature took the Aggies down the field, but they couldn’t make as much headway to yield favorable position. The Ags lofted a 39-yard punt down to the Oklahoma 6-yard line.
Then, the Sooners went to work on an 18-play drive but again, thanks to the Aggie defense, had to settle for 3 points. In the first 19 mins of play, time of possession favored Oklahoma by 13:08 to 5:38, but the scoreboard was not reflection of possession time.
On the Aggies’ third possession, Johnny Manziel ran on adrenaline for a 45-yard gain and his stats went to 105 yards on 5 carries. However, the celebration was cut short as Manziel’s pass was picked off in the end zone by the Sooners’ defensive back Javon Harris, when Aggie freshman receiver, Malcolme Kennedy, bobbled the ball, giving Manziel his ninth interception of the season, a present the young Heisman winner really didn’t want.
Then, the Aggies Damontre Moore, leader in tackles in the SEC, gave the Sooners one hard time trying to get past him. Ultimately, Landry Jones tossed a desperation bomb that was picked off by the Aggies’ Dustin Harris, putting the ball back into Manziel’s hands to try again.
Johnny Manziel’s magic came on the next series as he threw a pass to Aggie freshman receiver, Mike Evans, who is capable of a 39” vertical leap, and he jumped just about that high to reel in Manziel’s pass, followed by a Ben Malena run to the 5-yard line. Then Manziel ran it in for the touchdown; with the extra point, the score became 14 to 6, in favor of the Aggies.
Oklahoma got the ball and started at their 17-yard line as Saunders made a touch catch on a Landry Jones pass, expertly thrown between 2 Aggie defenders waiting to snag it away if possible. Landry Jones continued showing his stuff as he got the ball to wide reciever Justin Brown. With the extra point, the score closed in at 14-13.
At this point, the Sooners had held the ball 20:19 to the Aggies 9:41, but once again, time of possession wasn’t worth “a hoot in a holler” as the Aggies had speed and momentum and just didn’t need that much time to move the ball down the field on the backs of Manziel’s offensive line, the shoulders of his receivers, and his own foot power as the Aggie offense began to show signs of pulling away as the first half closed out.
With high hopes, Oklahoma began the second half but couldn’t put points on the board. Their 58-yard punt set the Aggies back at their 10-yard line to begin. Pass-time or pasttime, Manziel began a series of passes, one long bomb for 35 yards to Nwachaku and two consecutive passes to Swope, who was visibly fired up as he caught the perfectly thrown passes came his way. Manziel then ran, of course, and Ben Malena ran in for the touchdown, which brought the score to 20-13 and the extra point made it 21-13. Still there was not enough of a lead for breathing room...yet.
Oklahoma tried their best, but they could not sustain the drive on their next series to find the goal line so they punted, again, and put the Aggies at their 10-yard line to start. Manziel went back to the air as he threw three consecutive passes to freshman Malcome Kennedy, the middle one for a loss, but Manziel kept throwing and Kennedy kept catching. Evans caught a Manziel toss and then it was time for Johnny to run, again, and 2011 Parade All-American, Trey Williams, sailed into the end zone on a 30-yard run but Taylor Bertolet missed the extra point, leaving the score at 27-13. Still, no breathing room for comfort, but the Aggies kept on marching.
When the Sooners got the ball back at their 22-yard line, they just couldn’t make a nickel off the Aggies’ solid defense, which hadn’t had a long time to rest up between the Aggie offensive strikes. Aggie Defensive Coordinator, Mark Snyder, had accounted for that as he’d carefully prepared his troops for tonight’s contest. When the Aggie offense got the ball back at their own 30, Manziel ran on the first possession, only to have the Fox sports announcers proclaim that, clearly, Manziel had suffered no “rust” in his game after being on the Heisman press junket. As if they really expected Kevin Sumlin to let his freshman stay unfocused, despite all the glamour and glitz of the celebration that accompanies college football’s highest prize.
During the third quarter, Ryan Swope captured a record as the Aggies all-time yardage leader, but he was far from done for the night. This possession was not a points-maker for the Aggies as the Oklahoma Sooners did manage to stop their attempts, but at 14:33 to go in the fourth quarter the Fox broadcasters put up a chiron with the question “Will Johnny Manziel win another Heisman?” and then the talk started, mentioning that Archie Griffin had won the Heisman in back-to-back years, 1974 and 1975.
Here they go again, with the media not even allowing the Aggies to complete the Cotton Bowl before they start up the Heisman talk again. Less than a month after Manziel won his first Heisman, his prowess in running and passing the ball had everyone excited and fired up. Meanwhile, Kevin Sumlin was too busy coaching the game to worry about what the announcers were staying and he stayed calm, cool, and collected—and he coached.
Manziel went running down the field and had attained 192 rushing yards at this point, and then he threw the ball to Evans who caught it and fought for the first down. Then, Manziel tossed a bomb to Nwachukwu for the touchdown. With the extra point the Aggies went ahead 41-13, had amassed 599 yards of offense and there were still 9 minutes left in the game.
Oklahoma stalled out on the next drive, despite making a valiant effort; the Aggie defense was just that good, solid, and consistent force that could have withstood anyone tonight. When the Aggies got the ball back, Manziel ran for 31 yards but the Aggies had to punt. By the 2:33 mark in the fourth quarter, the game was essentially over.
With less than a minute left to go, Coach Kevin Sumlin got a cold Gatorade bath but he didn’t seem the least bit disturbed. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, players congratulated one another and greeted their opponents with respect and dignity.
And then there’s the stats. Six Aggies received 23 passes from Johnny Manziel who amassed 288 passing yards and Ryan Swope was the leading receiver with 104 yards on 8 catches. Kenric McNeal went 1 for 1 for a 19-yard completion. Manziel also led the rushing record tonight, with 228 yards on 17 runs, followed by Ben Malena, who gained 58 yards on 8 carries and Trey Williams, who chalked up 40 yards on 6 rushes, with his long 30-yard run accounting for 75% of those numbers on the night.
It’s really not about the numbers as much as it is the heart of Texas A&M’s 12th Man, who backed their Aggies across the country and back again, making sure that the Aggies had a loud crowd around them for every game. Head Coach Kevin Sumlin said, in the postgame award ceremony for the Cotton Bowl trophy, “This season would not have happened without the 12th Man and we appreciate every one of you being here.” Sumlin then emphasized the importance of the seniors who played this season with intensity, learning new plays, following the game plan and setting the pace for this year’s team.
Johnny Manziel had the final words for the night. The Heisman Trophy winner, when asked whether it was a relief to get this game behind him, said “There’s been too much talk, too much talk about the Heisman, and it’s great to get back and play again. I couldn’t be more proud of our team, especially our seniors this year.” And that, Aggie fans, is the 12th Man spirit, large and in charge. At Texas A&M, it’s all about team and when you ask the Heisman Trophy winner, he’ll tell you just that. Gig ‘em Aggies, and congratulations on your Cotton Bowl victory.