By David Brandt/The Associated Press
STARKVILLE — Mississippi State’s vaunted defense isn’t looking so good these days.
Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel has a way of doing that to opposing teams.
The redshirt freshman picked apart Mississippi State by completing 30 of 36 passes for 311 yards and danced around the No. 17 Bulldogs for 129 yards rushing and two touchdowns, leading the 16th-ranked Aggies to a 38-13 victory on Saturday.
It was a crushing loss for the Bulldogs (7-2, 3-2 Southeastern Conference), who have dropped two straight.
“That’s as bad of a performance as I think we’ve had here,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.
Tyler Russell completed 19 of 30 passes for 212 yards, one touchdown and one interception for the Bulldogs. LaDarius Perkins led the team with 42 yards rushing, and Arceto Clark caught five passes for 64 yards.
A relative unknown before the season, Manziel is posting consistently terrific performances that are starting to generate whispers of Heisman Trophy consideration. He has certainly been the unquestioned star for the upstart Aggies.
“He has a green light to make plays, some improvised, some called,” Texas A&M first-year coach Kevin Sumlin said.
He made those plays in bunches against the Bulldogs.
Maybe the most impressive was a 37-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter that pushed the Aggies’ lead to 21-0. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Manziel rolled right, and when he didn’t see an open receiver, weaved around multiple defenders on his way to the end zone.
“He’s a great player,” Mississippi State linebacker Cameron Lawrence said. “He’s slippery. It’s hard to contain a guy like that. At times I thought we did a good job of containing him, but you let him get out one time and it can be trouble.”
Sumlin admitted the Aggies are still adjusting to their quarterback’s uncanny playmaking ability.
It’s a good problem to have.
“We’re lucky to have him,” running back Ben Malena said. “The play is never over. You’ve got to stay in the play and try to help him out any way you can.”
Texas A&M (7-2, 4-2 SEC) has won all five of its road games this season. Christine Michael ran for 50 yards and two touchdowns, and Ryan Swope caught nine passes for 121 yards.
The Aggies’ quick-tempo offense ran 97 plays and gained 693 total yards. Mississippi State had just 310 yards.
Mississippi State’s defense had been one of the best in the SEC this season — especially in the secondary — but was blitzed early and often by the Aggies’ unpredictable offense.
Manziel completed mostly short passes in the first half, but hit on a few long ones. When the Bulldogs dropped too far back into pass coverage, the speedy freshman gained yards with his feet.
By halftime, Manziel had completed 18 of 22 passes for 164 yards and run for 82 yards as the Aggies grabbed a 24-0 lead.
If there was any doubt about the outcome, Texas A&M cleared that up with the first drive of the third quarter, cruising 75 yards on nine plays and scoring on a 1-yard run by Michael to push the lead to 31-0.
Now a little more than halfway through his first season at Texas A&M, Sumlin’s offense is operating with impressive efficiency. Over the past six weeks, the Aggies have scored 58 points on Arkansas, 59 on Louisiana Tech, 63 on Auburn and now 38 on the Bulldogs.
The Aggies were balanced, gaining 361 yards on the ground and 332 through the air.
The only knock against Manziel this season has been a tendency for turnovers, but he avoided them while Texas A&M built its early lead. His only mistake was a fumble into the end zone as he tried to stretch for a touchdown in the second half.
By then, the Aggies had the game well in hand.
Russell threw for just 29 yards in the first half and was stopped behind the line of scrimmage on the first drive by Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore, who leads the SEC with 11½ sacks.
“We knew (Russell) is a poised quarterback,” Moore said. “He sits in there and makes throws. But that can be a good or a bad thing. He extends plays and that can be good for the pass rush.”
By the time Russell had some success it was too late. He threw a 14-yard pass to Chad Bumphis in the third quarter and added a 4-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
“We as a team played very poorly,” Mullen said. “That’s 100 percent my fault. As head football coach, that all falls on my shoulders. In every phase, we played very poorly. I will give them credit. Their kids played very well. They have a good football team.”
Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP
Read more in Sunday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.