WATCH VIDEO BOX SCORE
By: Scott Crumbly
SEC Digital Network
Lake Mary, Fla. – When Kevin Sumlin took over as head coach at Texas A&M in December 2011, the Aggies knew all about the prolific offensive scheme that their new leader would be bringing with him from Houston.
During Sumlin’s stint as head coach at Houston from 2008 until 2011, the Cougars’ offense was among the best in the nation. Quarterback Case Keenum threw for over 5,000 yards in three of Sumlin’s four seasons at helm (the only year he failed to reach that mark was in 2010 when he was lost for the year due to an ACL injury), and his completion percentage across those three seasons was 69.5 percent.
With former quarterback Ryan Tannehill being selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins, sophomore Jameill Showers appeared to be the favorite to take the starting job at TAMU heading into Sumlin’s first year. That was until Johnny Manziel, an explosive freshman from Kerrville, Texas, stepped in and changed the complexion of the A&M offense.
Manziel, affectionately referred to as “Johnny Football” in College Station, has been nothing short of remarkable for the Aggies.
An efficient passer, Manziel has completed 70 percent of his passes so far this year for 1,094 yards and 10 touchdowns. While his completion percentage is right on par with that of Keenum at Houston, Manziel has also shown incredible poise for a freshman; of his 124 career attempts thus far, zero have been intercepted.
Through four games, Manziel is fourth in the Southeastern Conference in passing. The four signal-callers in front of him are all established veterans in Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson, Tennessee’s Tyler Bray and Aaron Murray of Georgia.
As impressive as the rookie has been as a passer, the most unique dynamic that he brings to Sumlin’s air raid attack is his ability as a runner.
Johnny Football leads A&M in rushing with 366 yards and a seven-yard per carry average, and he’s found the end zone on the ground six times. Manziel’s 91.5 rush yards per game are good enough for fifth in the SEC, and all four of the backs in front of him – UGA’s Todd Gurley, Florida’s Mike Gillislee, Mississippi State’s LaDarius Perkins and UT’s Raijion Neal – all have more carries on the season.
As dangerous as Sumlin’s offense was throughout his tenure in Houston, Keenum did not provide the kind of dual-threat weapon that he now has at his disposal with Manziel.
Manziel has thrived so far under the tutelage of Sumlin, and his 365 yards of total offense per game are the best in the SEC to this point. As it stands after one-third of the regular season, Manziel is currently on pace to throw for over 3,000 yards and rush for over 1,000 yards.
Whether he can maintain that blistering pace remains to be seen, but anything close to 3,000 yards through the air and 1,000 yards on the ground would put the freshman in rarified air – the last SEC quarterback to approach those totals was a fellow by the name of Cam Newton, who threw for 2,854 yards and rushed for 1,473 on his way to a Heisman Trophy and national title at Auburn in 2010.
Now my Manziel-to-Newton comparison is admittedly premature – after all, Manziel’s career is only four games old and the Aggies have yet to enter the meat of their SEC schedule. But based on what he has accomplished in such a short span and at such a young age, it’s obvious that we are witnessing the start of something special for Manziel in College Station.
The kicker in all of this is that Sumlin told reporters on last Wednesday’s SEC teleconference that he has not even opened up the playbook for his young signal-caller yet. The coach said that the offense will continue to expand as Manziel develops within the system, noting that as good as he has been so far, he’s capable of much more.
Considering that Manziel set school (453 yards passing) and SEC records (557 yards of total offense) in Saturday’s 58-10 win over Arkansas, that’s a scary thought for defensive coordinators across the conference.