Before No. 18 LSU (7-3, 3-3) plays host to newly minted SEC West rival Texas A&M (8-2, 4-2), the ninth-ranked team in the country, TSD is previewing the Aggies on both sides of the ball.
Tomorrow I’ll take a look at the floundering A&M defense, but today it’s time to turn the focus to the Aggies’ offense under co-coordinators Clarence McKinney and Jake Spavital.
PROJECTED TEXAS A&M STARTING OFFENSE
QB: Johnny Manziel (6-1, 200, So.)
HB: Ben Malena (5-9, 195, Sr.)
WR: Mike Evans (6-5, 225, So.)
WR: Travis Labhart (5-9, 182, Sr.)
WR: Malcolme Kennedy (6-0, 200, Jr.)
TE: Cameron Clear (6-6, 270, Jr.)
LT: Jake Matthews (6-5, 305, Sr.)
LG: Jarvis Harrison (6-4, 325, Jr.)
C: Mike Matthews (6-2, 285, So.)
RG: Germain Ifedi (6-5, 311, Fr.)
RT: Cedric Ogbuehi (6-5, 300, Jr.)
Notable Backups: WR Derel Walker (6-2, 185, Sr.); RB Brandon Williams (6-0, 200, So.); RB Trey Williams (5-8, 195, So.); OL Garrett Gramling (6-6, 315, Jr.)
Life in the Texas A&M offense revolves around Johnny Football. And it should.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, still as elusive as ever when he has to be, has become an even smarter player in his redshirt sophomore season, posting yards and points at an equally dizzying pace as a year ago, but in a slightly different way.
Here were Johnny Manziel’s final statistics from a 13-game season in 2012: 295-of-434 passing (68.0%) for 3,706 yards, 26 TDs and 9 INTs; 201 carries for 1,410 yards and 21 TDs rushing. As averages go, Manziel gained 8.5 yards per attempt passing and 7.0 yards per carry rushing while throwing for 285.1 yards per game and running for 108.5 yards per game.
Fast-forward to 2013 (through 10 games) and the evolution is obvious: 230-of-315 passing (73.0%) for 3,313 yards, 31 TDs and 11 INTs; 110 carries for 611 yards and 8 TDs rushing. Back to the averages, Manziel has gained 10.5 yards per attempt passing and 5.6 yards per carry rushing while throwing for 331.3 yards per game and running for 61.1 yards per game.
The transition from becoming a scrambler first/passer when necessary to a more of a pocket guy who now scrambles when his hand is forced is complete for Manziel, and Les Miles and his staff have taken notice.
“I think that Manziel a year ago, he was a runner. I think this year he’s a much more capable quarterback,” said Miles on Monday. “I think he steps back in there, understands what to expect and seems to be stronger in the ability to throw it.”
Another thing Manziel and the Aggies’ offense under head coach Kevin Sumlin have done exceedingly well is start fast. Texas A&M has scored at least nine points in the first quarters of the team’s last nine games. Under Sumlin, the Aggs have scored first in 22 of 23 games and, in total, have out-scored opponents 291-106 in the first quarter.
Outside of Johnny Football, defensive coordinators game-planning for A&M must look next to 6-5 wide receiver Mike Evans. The big man from Galveston, who has a basketball background, has been going up and getting it with the best in the nation in 2013. The sophomore wide-out ranks fourth in the nation, averaging 22.2 yards per catch, and has the following ridiculous totals through 10 games: 57 grabs, 1,263 yards and 12 TDs.
Texas A&M has plenty of additional playmakers surrounding Manziel and Evans, including three more receivers with at least 33 catches this season. Junior Malcome Kennedy has 55 receptions for 606 yards and seven scores; senior Derel Walker has 35 receptions for 515 yards and two scores; and senior Travis Labhart has 33 catches for 442 yards and five touchdowns. Also, in the backfield, Manziel regularly turns to Ben Malena (476 yards, 9 TDS), Trey Williams (326 yards, 6 TDs) and Brandon Williams (212 yards, 1 TD).
Up front the Aggies have been a solid group, anchored by left tackle Jake Matthews. A&M’s front five has been pretty consistent, too, with four of the bunch having started all 10 games in 2013. Only right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi has missed a start, and he missed two (the Vandy and UTEP games) before making it back two weeks ago against Mississippi State. In his stead, junior Garrett Gramling stepped in. Gramling is listed as a right guard but can play both spots along the line.
Coming off a bye week, this Texas A&M offense figures to run at a pretty high level this Saturday inside Tiger Stadium. The key for the Tigers will be getting Manziel out of the passing rhythm he’s lived so comfortably in for most of this season and negating the Aggies’ normal quick start as much as possible.
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