A tough closing stretch for MSU continues with a second consecutive road game, and against a team that could very well be in the national title picture. This will be MSU’s second trip to College Station, the first one coming on Nov. 1, 1913 – yep, 100 years ago. Mississippi A&M, as it was known then, won 6-0. I have a feeling this game will see just a few more points than that one.
Texas A&M (Nov. 9, in College Station)
• Conference: SEC
• 2012 record: 11-2 (6-2, T-2nd Western Division)
• Coach: Kevin Sumlin (11-2, one season)
• Returning starters: 13 (6 offense, 5 defense, 2 specialists)
• Last meeting: Texas A&M, 38-13 (Nov. 3, 2012, in Starkville)
• On the Web: AggieAthletics.com
Johnny Manziel has gotten a lot of negative press this offseason, but let’s not forget what he did on the field last year. He was a tour de force, breaking records and defensive coordinator’s hearts. He accounted for 5,116 yards of total offense, topping 400 yards six times. We could go on all day with the numbers, and it’s hard to find any negative stats. Manziel did have some freshman moments, like the three-interception game versus LSU, a 24-19 A&M loss.
Three weeks later, he led the Aggies to a stunning 29-24 win over Alabama. Manziel passed for 253 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 92 yards. That was a week after he torched MSU for 440 yards of offense. It’s hard to say whether Manziel can duplicate last year’s numbers, especially now that SEC teams have a year’s worth of film on him, not to mention first-hand experience trying to defend His Elusiveness. So a lot of teams – and fans, and media – are focusing on Manziel, but we tend to ignore what else this team has going for it.
For one, Sumlin is the guy who installed this offense. He doesn’t have Kliff Kingsbury running it any more – he took the head post at Texas Tech – but this offense worked wonders at Houston, as Dan Mullen knows all too well. Clarence McKinney was promoted to OC, and he’s been with Sumlin since the Houston days, so there shouldn’t be any hiccups with that transition. The Aggies were the first SEC team to eclipse 7,000 total yards in a season, and that’s a tough act to follow, but good pieces surround Manziel.
The big loss on offense was left tackle Luke Joeckel, who was drafted No. 2 overall by Jacksonville. But right tackle Jake Matthews, who’s a likely first-round pick next spring, is back and has moved to Joeckel’s old spot. And Matthews’ younger brother, Mike Matthews, takes over at center. This offensive line should be just fine, which is good news for Manziel and the running game. Ben Malena returns at tailback after rushing for 808 yards and eight TDs last year, with an average of 5.9 yards per carry.
Mike Evans, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, will be Manziel’s main receiving target and should ease the loss of Ryan Swope. Evans led the team with 1,105 yards last season, scoring five touchdowns.
If there’s a concern with this team, it’s on defense. The Aggies fielded a solid unit last season, ranking 26th nationally in scoring defense (21.8 ppg). Defensive end Damontre Moore (85 tackles, 12.5 sacks, 21.0 TFLs) is a tremendous loss. There is some experience returning, including end Julien Obioha, who started 12 games as a true freshman and missed the Cotton Bowl with a back injury. A couple of key losses at linebacker, Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter, must be overcome. Returning at weakside LB is senior Steven Jenkins (79 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 2.0 sacks).
The secondary returns both starting cornerbacks, De’Vante Harris and Deshazor Everett, who last year combined for 86 tackles and three interceptions. Texas A&M ranked 86th in pass defense (250.7 ypg) but 39th in pass efficiency defense.
Whether A&M can be in the national title hunt late in the season will depend a lot on how good the defense is, but ultimately it goes back to Manziel and that offense. MSU just might have the chance to play spoiler.
Up next: Alabama