By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – So, just how does a defense slow down Johnny Manziel?
Depends on who you ask. This week, It’s No. 17 Mississippi State’s task to rein in Texas A&M’s freshman quarterback, a player who’s equally dangerous passing and running.
Senior cornerback Johnthan Banks said the best plan is to attack Manziel, a.k.a. “Johnny Football.”
“We’re going to go flying after him,” Banks said. “We’re going to try to get after him pretty good, try to make him go fast.”
Linebacker Matt Wells said a more disciplined approach is essential.
“Of course you can’t run back there, you’ve got to be under control,” he said. “You know you’ve got to just contain him and not be moving too fast. You’ve just got to take great angles.”
So which is it? Boldness or control?
“Yes, all of the above,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said with a laugh. “You’re just going to have to play great defense.
“If you give him all day to stand back there and throw the ball, he’ll throw and beat you with his arm. If you give him open spaces, he’ll take off and beat you with his legs. You have to do everything to contain him.”
Such is the conundrum many defenses have faced when scheming for Manziel and the No. 16 Aggies, who lead the lead in scoring (45.5 points per game), total offense (542.9 yards per game) and rushing offense (237.6 ypg).
Manziel leads the league in rushing (793 yards), and Texas A&M is second in passing offense (395.7 ypg). Manziel is fifth in passing efficiency.
Safety Corey Broomfield compared him to Michigan’s Denard Robinson and former MSU quarterback Dylan Favre. But Manziel is a better passer than both, and being a dual-threat guy makes it tough for defenses, because even when a play breaks down, Manziel can make something big happen.
“Whenever you get a guy that scrambles, that’s not good on the secondary,” Broomfield said. “You’ve got to look at your guy, but you know he’s back there scrambling a lot of times, you’re in a run/pass conflict. You don’t know if you want to go help out.
“Has he crossed the line of scrimmage yet? Do I need to be covering my guy, or do I need to stay on him? It presents a problem.”
Manziel has been slowed down before, by Florida and LSU. Those have been the Aggies’ only two losses, and in those games Manziel was held to 449 passing yards and 87 rushing yards. He threw three interceptions against LSU.
“The biggest thing they’ve done, it’s the matchups, who they have out on the football field,” MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. “You’ve got to have guys on the field who can get him on the ground. I don’t know if this is a game for 330-pounders at times.”
No, containing Manziel is all about speed, which means MSU’s linebackers will play a huge role. Strongside linebacker Deontae Skinner said different players will be “spying” on Manziel depending on the play call, to make sure he doesn’t get loose.
“If you don’t contain him, if you get out of your gap any time in the game,” Skinner said, “it’s a touchdown.”