FAYETTEVILLE — Texas A&M’s victory over Arkansas on Saturday is replete with twists and turns that nobody saw coming.
The Johnny Manziel show lasted only one half. With everything on the line, the Aggies won with defense and a running game that excluded Manziel.
Arkansas’ fate was not sealed until Brandon Allen’s third- and fourth-down passes from the A&M 16 were incomplete with less than 7 minutes to play and his throw down the middle was intercepted 4 minutes later. The shame of that is that Allen, who injured his throwing shoulder in the third game of the season, made a difference in Arkansas’ offense.
For sure, he played like a quarterback who practiced more during the week than coach Bret Bielema let on. “I thought B.A. was outstanding to come in the way he did with limited practice …,” Bielema said.
If nothing else, Arkansas fans who bailed on this team after the loss at Rutgers should re-up on their allegiance. The Razorbacks’ effort was appreciated by the many fans who stood and cheered as Arkansas left the field on the short end of 45-33.
The defense never gave in to Manziel, the most exciting player in college football, even though he burned them regularly in the first half with an uncanny sixth sense and a nonchalance that is palatable. A lightning rod on and off the field, nobody should be that cool.
Three times Arkansas had the ball with a chance to take the lead in the second half and each time a defense riddled for 271 yards in the first half had an answer. Twice, the Razorbacks ran three plays and punted. On the other occasion, Deshazor Everett was sitting on an Allen pass and took it back 34 yards for a touchdown.
Manziel handled the ball 29 times in the first half and racked up 253 yards, including five plays of 20 yards or more, giving him 28 for the year. In the second half, he earned the A.J. McCarron label of game manager, running three times and throwing seven. His total offense was 320 yards, barely more than half what he recorded last year at College Station.
He looked particularly ordinary on a third-and-3 in the third quarter when he got outside to the right, took dead aim on a wide-open Ben Malena, and short-armed the throw. Immediately, Arkansas faced third-and-4 and Allen delivered a swing pass to Jonathan Williams who was on the receiving end of a textbook tackle by De’Vante Harris for no gain.
At that point, the Arkansas defense could not stop the Aggies’ running game. Nine runs covered 68 yards and produced the touchdown that made it 38-27 and seven more plays on the ground netted 57 yards and resulted in the final TD.
Maybe the Razorbacks were overly concerned about Manziel, but the linebackers rarely stepped into the hole to stop a running back. If Manziel is the reason, the excuse is legitimate. No. 2 is an eye magnet and he made so many spectacular plays in the first half, it was easy to lose track.
Rumors that Allen was going to be the starter surfaced early in the day, but I wasn’t sure watching him at A&M’s end of the field almost two hours before kickoff. He took some deep snaps, retreated a few steps, cocked his arm and shut it down. Once he picked up the ball and tossed it left-handed to his center, raising more questions. The session ended with a few right-handed lobs that traveled 7-8 yards.
But, shortly after the quarterbacks returned to the field, he zipped a few and it was clear he would start, making me wonder if he would justify the enthusiasm about a quarterback who played nine quarters against so-so competition. He did, an encouraging sign for the future.