Ags survive Ole Miss

While the last couple of weeks have had some games where the top teams survived upsets, week 7 of the 2013 season saw ranked teams fall.  As Lou Holtz pointed out on College Gameday Final, fans forget that this is also the time for midterms. Between road trips and exams and being college-age kids, looking flat in mid October should not be surprising.  It’s also a time when the effects of injuries build up.

Mizzou’s upset win over Georgia was the best of the early games yesterday.  When A&M and Mizzou joined the SEC last year, the conventional wisdom was that the Tigers would do better in the short run. Instead, Mizzou had a 5-7 year with conference wins only over bottom-dwelling Kentucky and Tennessee, two teams that changed coaches in the offseason. We all know how A&M outperformed expectations in 2012.  Mizzou’s 5-0 start came with the caveat that their opposition has not been particularly strong, and Georgia, despite being decimated by injuries, was favored at home. After stalling on their first two drives and letting the Dawgs draw first blood, the Tigers outscored Georgia 28-3 in the first half.  Georgia mounted a comeback in the second half, getting as close as 28-26.  When Missouri QB James Franklin was knocked out of the game with a season-ending shoulder separation, it looked like Georgia would be able to pull off the comeback.  Instead, a 40-yard double pass opened the margin to 8 pts. Interestingly, Ga had the play covered, but the Mizzou receiver just outjumped the defender for the TD.  With more than 9 minutes to go, Georgia still wasn’t out of it, but an Aaron Murray INT led to the final Missouri TD. Losing Franklin means that it will be hard for Mizzou to stay unbeaten before they host the Ags on Nov 30.  Georgia fans are left to wonder what might have been had they been at full strength.

The other early game of note was the Red River Shootout, where Oklahoma was favored to add to the miseries of Texas fans for yet another year. Instead, the Sooners laid a major egg, getting blown out by the Longhorns. The game was not as close as the 36-20 final score. While the Sooners were missing some key players on defense, the main cause of their loss was offensive futility.  The Oklahoma offense produced 2 FG and 1 TD, the latter from a short field following a tu fumble. OU had 12 possessions for the game. Of these, 3 went for 50 yards or more, resulting in 2 FG and a turnover on downs late in the game. The other 9 were the TD, 2 INTs and 6 punts, and included 4 drives that netted zero or negative yards ( -17, -7, -4, and 0). It appears that Blake “the Belldozer” Bell finished with a QBR of 4.2 (12/26 for 133 yards and 2 picks) and his longest run was 4 yards. This Sooner offense is a shocking shadow of their high-scoring editions of the Stoops era.

For Texas, the question is whether this is the turnaround that starts a run to the B12(base 8) championship and a BCS bowl? Or will things go back to underperforming as the season continues.  Texas is tied for the conference lead at 3-0. The good news for the sips is that nobody in the conference looks that great. Baylor’s high flying offense looked beatable vs. KState. They get OK State and Tech at home.

We mostly watched Aggie Michael Wacha’s pitching duel with Clayton Kershaw while the mid-afternoon games were on, so I only saw a little of Wisconsin’s win over NorthwesternLSU beating Florida, Clemson surviving BC etc.  In fact, I only checked the Baylor and Clemson games when they were on upset alert, but by the time I tuned in, they both retook the lead.

The Aggies had a 7:30 Central kickoff at Ole Miss, and that game turned into a wild one.  The A&M D has been so problematic that most were predicting the Ags would win a shootout, and while it turned out that way, the start of the game was pretty different.  A&M got off to its usual fast start and it looked like the Ags would get a comfortable margin when the Rebels oddly went for it on 4th down and 1 from their own 46 on their very first possession.  The Ags held, but missed FG after Manziel went out with a knee strain.  Ole Miss took over and drove for the tying score.  Johnny F returned to lead the Ags to an answering TD drive of 75 yards in 5 plays, capped by a spectacular 18 yard run by Trey Williams.

The Rebels cut the lead to 14-10 by halftime, but it looked like the Ags would take control again after the opening Miss. drive was a 3 and out, followed by a 9 play 67 yard drive to take a 21-10 A&M lead.  But that was the high point of the 3rd quarter for the Ags. Ole Miss used a mix of their two QBs to cut the lead to 21-17, and then, when it looked like the Ags would keep the Rebs at arms length, Manziel threw a pick in the endzone to kill an otherwise good-looking drive.  Bo Wallace threw an INT to give the Ags another shot at the endzone, but A&M could only get a FG from Josh Lambo. That made it 24-17 about a minute into the final quarter.

A short kickoff and a good return set up Ole Miss to tie the game at 24. A Manziel fumble on the second play of the Ags next possession set up the Rebels to take their first lead at 31-24.  The two teams traded scores to make it 38-31 Rebels.  Facing 4th and 7 from the Miss 45, Manziel found his receivers all covered and ran up the middle for 13 yards for a first down. A collision late in the run left Ole Miss LB Serderius Bryant needing a gurney to get off the field.  Fortunately, the news today suggests that he will be OK. When play resumed, Manziel hit Mike Evans for a 26 yard gain to the Ole Miss 6, adding to Evans’ highlight reel as he hurdled a defender on the way.  Manziel’s 6 yard TD run was vintage Johnny Football: starting right, reversing his field and beating the defenders to the corner.

At this point, the questions were whether either team would get a stop and who would have the ball last.  Starting on their own 25 with 3:07 to go, Ole Miss went 3 and out on 3 incompletions, with the last two being near catches for the needed first down. When the Rebels punted, everyone watching expected Johnny Football to use the last 2:33 to ice the win, and the Ags delivered. Josh Lambo hit the game winning FG with 0:04 seconds left

With Georgia and Stanford losing, the Ags #7 in both polls.  Defensive worries mean that maintaining or improving that position could be difficult. But regardless of polls, the thing to take from this season is the entertainment value of watching Johnny Manziel and the A&M offense.  He may not win a second Heisman, but in my maroon-tinted view he’s had the most spectacular performances so far.