Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas-Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
Johnny Be Good
Manziel's big first half gives Aggies breathing room
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, center, celebrates A&M victory of the Razorbacks after the game Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE For all the success he has had in his less than two-year career at Texas A&M, perhaps Johnny Manziel has had no more than against Arkansas.
Manziel, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, was good early, accounting for the bulk of his 320 yards of total offense before halftime as the No. 10 Aggies won 45-33 at Razorback Stadium.
The sophomore quarterback had little trouble moving the ball against an Arkansas defense exposed late last week at Rutgers, leading Texas A&M on scoring drives in each of its first four possessions.
His 49-yard pass to Mike Evans on the first play of the game ensured the Razorbacks would have their hands full. Manziel mixed long passes with runs of 20 and 21 yards to keep Arkansas on its toes before halftime.
Manziel's best plays were the ones to keep plays alive, holding the ball for at least 10 seconds on a 9-yard touchdown pass to Evans on the first drive and eluding the blindside rush for another touchdown pass to Evans in the second quarter. He is a highlight waiting to happen and his receivers never give up on his plays.
In two career games against the Razorbacks, Manziel has combined for 877 yards of total offense and 6 touchdowns. The Aggies have scored 103 points and amassed 1,244 yards of offense in those contests.
Manziel reminded several fans of a quarterback making similar plays in Razorback Stadium a decade ago. His awareness from the blind side and ability to extend a play were reminiscent of Matt Jones, only Johnny Football has a more complete arsenal and more weapons around him.
Those were on display early and late in the Aggies' win. Evans, the acclaimed sophomore receiver, had 6 catches for 116 yards and a pair of first half scores. Once Arkansas and a heavy rain began to take away the passing game in the second half, Texas A&M turned to its rush game, scoring on all-run drives of nine and seven plays.
But even watered-down (or was it water-logged?) Johnny Football was effective when Texas A&M needed him late. His 23-yard pass to Evans converted a third down to extend a drive with less than 5 minutes remaining and his fourth-and-3 pass to Derel Walker allowed the Aggies to run out the clock when Arkansas ran out of timeouts.
Credit the Razorbacks for sticking with Texas A&M, expected by many to run away with Saturday's game after Arkansas blew a 17-point lead last week at Rutgers. The defense made some stops after halftime and gave the offense multiple opportunities to take the lead.
Brandon Allen passed for 282 yards and 3 touchdowns in his first game back from injury, and Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams each had more than 100 yards of total offense. The Razorbacks showed some potency - albeit against a poor defense - and could very well make an upset bid next week against a Florida team decimated by early-season injuries.
An upset wasn't likely to happen Saturday night, but Arkansas played well enough to keep the soaking wet crowd of 72,613 in its seats until the closing minutes.
Experience won out, though. Manziel made all the plays early and enough plays late to keep the Aggies perfect in road games in his time as starter, and showed flashes of why he is the most exciting player in college football.