During the first half, I found myself thinking that perhaps Texas A&M represented Alabama’s kryptonite. With Johnny Manziel leading the Aggies to a 14-0 lead, I thought that perhaps the Crimson Tide’s fatal flaw would be their inability to keep up offensively – even though they possess weapons galore.
You must be thinking; well, duh. But that being said, here me out.
No SEC offense besides A&M’s has the ability to make Alabama’s defense seem plausibly beatable — at least for one afternoon a season, just like A&M proved in last year’s 29-24 victory. And as good as the Crimson Tide have been during Nick Saban’s tenure, they’ve never been known for being otherworldly when it comes to scoring, even though they averaged 38 a game last season and went for 40 or more on eight occasions.
They just seem to enjoy taking their time.
In classic SEC fashion.
But a funny thing happened Saturday afternoon before 87,596 at Kyle Field, the fourth largest crowd in stadium history and a rowdy collection witnessing the most anticipated — and hyped — regular-season game of 2013. With Manziel busy producing a career-best game through the air, counterpart AJ McCarron and the two-time defending national champs sliced through A&M’s struggling defense all afternoon to finish with 568 yards and a memorable 49-42 victory.
The performance from both teams was enough to silence SEC haters from all corners. (No one has ever knocked the conference for lacking defense, which neither Alabama nor A&M had much of Saturday)
Those who can’t stand the conference’s low-scoring nature witnessed the teams combine for 91 points and almost 1,200 total yards. Those who believe Alabama gets too much love witnessed the nation’s top-ranked team rally from 14 points down, on the road, behind McCarron and super sophomore running back T.J. Yeldon. And those who hope Manziel doesn’t win another Heisman witnessed the Aggies’ own super sophomore produce 464 yards and five touchdowns passing, plus another 98 yards on the ground (even though his two interceptions proved costly).
But when the dust settled and all the 12th Man towels called it a day, the Crimson Tide’s offense proved to be the biggest winners.
McCarron, whom the national media has painted as Manziel’s opposite in the public persona arena, finished 20 of 29 for 334 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions and a 93.8 passer rating (Manziel’s passer rating was 74.0). He accounted for Alabama’s first three scores, finding Kevin Norwood for 22 yards to make score 14-7 in the first quarter, DeAndrew White for 44 yards to make it 14-14 early in the second quarter and Kenny Bell for 51 yards to give the Crimson Tide the lead for good, 21-14, seven minutes later.
By the time halftime arrived, McCarron’s offense had scored 28 unanswered and the Crimson Tide went into the break ahead 28-14 before a stunned crowd and national TV audience. Then, less than three minutes into the second half, the lead grew to 35-14 when safety Vinnie Sunseri intercepted Manziel and returned the ball 73 yards for a score.
In the meantime, Yeldon overcome a costly fumble inside A&M’s 5-yard line that would’ve put the game away in the fourth to finish the afternoon with 25 carries for 149 yards and a score.
Even though A&M never gave in, Manziel added more to his ever-growing legend and Cayuga HS graduate Malcome Kennedy caught three touchdown passes, the Aggies had a highly difficult deficit to overcome. The reason was the Crimson Tide’s offense, which still ranks 115th nationally after playing porously in the opener against Virginia Tech, a 35-10 victory in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.
In looking ahead, even though we’re less than a month into the season, the matchup that looks most attractive in the final BCS national championship is currently Alabama against second-ranked Oregon. Even though the Ducks already went against the SEC once in the title game and fell to Cam Newton’s Auburn Tigers three seasons ago, Oregon looks like it’s rebounded quite well following coach Chip Kelly’s departure for the NFL.
In a PAC-12 vs. SEC meeting between unbeatens Saturday, Oregon welcomed Tennessee into Autzen Stadium and destroyed the Volunteers, 59-14. The victory came a week after the Ducks (3-0) made a rare East Coast trip and ripped Virginia, 59-10.
So if Oregon keeps playing at such levels and Alabama’s keeps matching offensive-minded teams point for point, the national championship game could be quality TV should the Ducks and Crimson Tide make it to South Florida. But, remember, Manziel and the Aggies falling in September means they currently remain in the picture, too.