Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel shares insights about the signature game of his career – leading Texas A&M to a victory at Alabama in 2012. The game marked only the second time in history that Texas A&M defeated Alabama, the first time being in the 1968 Cotton Bowl.
Background Going Into The Game
It’s the second week of November 2012 and Texas A&M is ranked 15th in the country. Alabama is ranked number one. Johnny Manziel talked about what it was like for Texas A&M going into that game.
“We didn’t have a lot to lose in that game. We were the underdog — fifteen-point dogs going on the road. Our first year in the SEC, going to play the mighty Alabama, who was undefeated.”
A team that feels like it has nothing to lose can be dangerous in any sport. A lot of you probably remember this game. And if you were like me, you were thinking, OK, “This freshman QB Manziel is fun to watch, and A&M certainly played a lot better in the SEC than expected, but how well is a freshman quarterback going to fare against Alabama at Alabama?.”
Texas A&M was 7-2 overall at the time. The ‘seen it all before’ side of a lot of us was thinking that Nick Saban and company probably had some sort of a plan that would basically shut down the whole A&M magic carpet ride.
Alabama’s quarterback was AJ McCarron, who was 21-1 as a starter and hadn’t thrown an interception all season. And remember, this is the 2nd week in November. Alabama’s defense had a couple of shutouts to its credit, and in a couple of games they only gave up seven points. Incredibly, they hadn’t given up a first-quarter touchdown all season. Again, this is mid-November. The Crimson Tide also stood as defending national champions.
The Magic of College Football
Now, those of us who watched college football for a long time had seen similar scenarios before. You had an upstart team with a breakout star having an amazing season until they played Florida State or Nebraska or Alabama. But then there’s also that other side of the coin, the side of us that remember Drew Brees as a sophomore, leading Purdue to a bowl victory over fourth-ranked Kansas State. Kordell Stewart beating Michigan in the big house. Brett Favre of Southern Mississippi knocking off mighty Florida State as a Junior. Doug Flutie’s last-second win at Miami. And like Johnny Manziel, certainly remembered, Texas Longhorn quarterback Vince Young upsetting USC in the Rose Bowl for the national championship.
Magic does exist in college football and it’s a big reason why we watch. That’s what was intriguing about the Texas A&M Alabama game in 2012. It’s certainly why I was excited about the game, not because I was a fan of either team, but because I’m a fan of the magic.
Now, to put the 2012 Texas A&M vs Alabama pregame scenario in context, this game was really the first time that Manziel had played on national television. ESPN had shown a couple of A&M games by this point, but this was the first time that the whole country could watch Manziel on the big-time CBS SEC Game of the Week. A lot of people had heard something of Manziel by this point but hadn’t had a chance to see him play.
A Strong Start for A&M
Texas A&M took less than three minutes to drive over 70 yards for a touchdown. The underdog did what it needed to do. But sometimes the upstart teams look good on their first drive and get a touchdown, but you’d never know it in the end. Watching the 2012 Texas A&M Alabama game, I remember being impressed, but I also kind of expected to see Alabama solve A&M and eventually pull away.
On Alabama’s next possession, however, AJ McCarron threw his first interception of the year, which was his first in almost 300 passing attempts dating back to the previous season.
Johnny Manziel Bobble Pass
Manziel looked to the sidelines for a long moment after the offense lined up for the 3rd and goal on the drive following McCarron’s interception.
Alabama’s pass rush immediately disrupted the play. Manziel ran into his own linemen and actually bobbled the ball into the air. He quickly grabbed it but was surrounded by traffic. It looked like a sure sack.
Manziel spun out of it, however. In a blink of an eye, he was in the clear running to his left. He then threw across his body to a wide-open Ryan Swope in the end zone.
Call it luck. Call it magic. Whatever it was, Manziel did three remarkable things on that play. First, he extended the play. He then recovered from running into his own linemen and had the presence of mind to grab the floating ball out of midair, after the collision. He then threw a perfect strike across his body for a touchdown.
Manziel talked about the play on The Game Before the Money Podcast. “It was a legendary play that I still look back on today and just wonder kind of how it did happen,” he said in the episode that featured many of his memories of the game.
Texas A&M scored three touchdowns in the first quarter. They went 5/5 on 3rd down, and had mighty Alabama reeling at home. After that third touchdown, the Aggies had 172 yards in the first quarter. Alabama only had 26. Manziel himself had 74 yards rushing in the 1st quarter, more yards than Alabama’s entire offense.
Alabama Giving Up First-Quarter Touchdowns at Home
The last time that I could find that Alabama gave up 21 points at home in the first quarter, was 1995 against Tennessee at Legion Field in Birmingham, where Alabama occasionally had home games for many seasons. In 1995, Tennessee had a kid named Peyton Manning playing quarterback and Tennessee won that game.
In 2012, Alabama trailed Texas A&M by 20 after 15 minutes of football (Texas A&M missed an extra point). Alabama didn’t record a first down on offense in the first quarter. But if you watched this game, you knew that Roll Tide wasn’t about to roll over.
An Incredible Ending
AJ McCarron threw a beautiful 54-yard bomb to Amari Cooper to make it a 5 point game at 29-24 with just over 6 minutes left. Alabama’s defense then got a 3 and out.
Alabama started at their own 40 and with 4 1/2 minutes left. It was crunch time for both teams. On 1st down, the defending national champions threw a magnificent punch. McCarron hit Kenny Bell on a play-action pass that got Alabama all the way down to the Texas A&M 6-yard line.
Alabama. At home. Down by 5. First and goal on the 6. As a college football fan, you feel like this is almost automatic. Bama is going to score.
Texas A&M’s defense held, however, and on fourth down Deshazor Everett made an interception at the goal line. It was Alabama’s third turnover and A&M held on to win 29-24.
For Alabama, this game was a tough loss that stung, but all was not lost by any means. Alabama won their second straight national championship with a convincing victory over Notre Dame in the BCS championship game later that season. Texas A&M went on to win the Cotton Bowl and finished fifth in the final AP poll. Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy.
NOTE: The interview took place at a Tristar Productions event in Houston, TX. Manziel signed autographs and interacted with fans.Embed from Getty Images