Published December 10, 2012 - 9:15am
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Texas A&M Aggies
Final Record: 10-2 overall, 6-2 SEC
Texas A&M surpassed every preseason expectation possible. Entering their inaugural season in the SEC, many thought they would struggle. After all, Kevin Sumlin was breaking in his “pass happy” offense into the SEC with no proven quarterback. How did that work out for the Aggies? Yeah, Johnny Manziel was unreal as a freshman, but you have to give credit to Sumlin and his staff for the serious job they did on both sides of the ball. I once heard Andre Ware say that Sumlin was going to have a massive impact on the SEC, but who would have thought that impact would be flexed in his first year? Yeah, not me.
I had six or seven wins penciled in for the Aggies. Entering the SEC West with the likes of Alabama, LSU and Arkansas, it was easy to think this team would stretch to notch seven wins. How would they adjust to SEC life? Well, obviously, we look like a fool asking that question now.
Kevin Sumlin and Kase Keenum put up sick numbers at Houston. But he had an even better quarterback in Johnny Manziel who had his way with nearly with every opponent. Manziel helped lead the Aggies to the best scoring offense in the SEC, averaging 44.8 points per game. No SEC team in the last five years averaged that many points per game, and they did it averaging over 550 yards of total offense. If the Aggies had been in the Big 12, it would have set records. Freshman sensation Johnny Manziel showed on his very first drive against Florida that he would move the ball at will on any defense in the country. To say that Manziel was special in his freshman season couldn’t be more understated, and the Heisman Trophy is the only way you can put it into perspective.
But while Manziel was the face of the explosive and sexy offense, he had players around him making plays, too. Ben Malena and Christine Michael emerged as two guys who could help take the load off Manziel in the running game. Malena finished with 752 yards and seven touchdowns, and Michael finished with 417 yards and 12 touchdowns. Both were crucial to give the offense so much balance so that teams couldn’t key on just Manziel in the running game.
The biggest emerging star not named Manziel on offense was receiver Mike Evans. Did you see this cat play? The freshman Evans, a former basketball player at 6-5, is an NFL receiver in the making. He led the team in receptions and yards, not senior Ryan Swope. Evans totaled 75 catches for 1,022 yards and five touchdowns. Swope caught 64 passes for 809 yards and seven touchdowns. Experienced veterans Swope, Uzoma Nwachukwu and Kenric McNeal, combined with freshmen Evans and Thomas Johnson, provided Manziel with some real weapons at wide receiver, not just possession guys.
The backs and receivers were special, but the offensive line is the main reason the Aggies scored at will. This group is probably the second best line in the SEC, behind only Alabama. Tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews and center Patrick Lewis were road graders. They pushed around defensive lines and provided Manziel with more than enough time in the pocket to find open receivers. This group is often overlooked but was great each and every game.
The freshmen nucleus of Johnny Manziel, running back Trey Williams and receivers Mike Evans and Thomas Johnson gives Kevin Sumlin a chance to have much success over the next couple of years.
The Aggies weren’t an unstoppable force on defense, but they played well enough to win every football game. If you look at the two games the Aggies lost – Florida and LSU – both teams scored late in the second half to secure the win. And both of those teams were 10-game winners. Simply put, defensive end Damontre Moore is a monster. If not for Jarvis Jones or Jadeveon Clowney, Moore would be the face of defense in the SEC. Moore totaled 12.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. Senior linebackers Jonathan Stewart, Steven Jenkins and Sean Porter turned great seasons as well. All three combined for 202 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, seven sacks and two interceptions. The secondary was the weak point of the defense as a whole. Senior Dustin Harris and sophomore Deshazor Everett led this group. Harris totaled 10 pass breakups, and Everett was tied for a team-high two interceptions.
The Aggies’ defense is underrated, but the one thing that was really lacking was forcing turnovers. Texas A&M only forced 15 the entire season. Defenses like Alabama, Florida and LSU forced 28 to 31. That’s what it takes to be a great defense, and that will be a big motivation for the defense in the offseason.
Heisman Winner: What more is there to say about Johnny Manziel? He just posted the best freshman season in the history of college football. He set a record for total offense in a season with 4,600 yards in 12 games. He led the SEC in rushing with 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also finished third in passing with 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns, completing a higher percentage of his passes than both Aaron Murray and Tyler Bray. Archie Griffin is the only two-time Heisman winner, and can Manziel make further history? It’s going to be fun to find out…we’re only scratching the surface.
Defensive Stud: Damontre Moore was an absolute beast. He often gets left out of the conversation because Jones and Clowney overshadow him, and Moore even finished tied for fourth in the entire country in sacks and tied for third in tackles for loss. And we don’t even hear anything about him, either! It can’t be overstated that Moore played in a 3-4 system last year under the former regime, and he played the hybrid linebacker/defensive end. His transition into a full-time defensive end was breathtaking at times. He can get to the quarterback at will with sick athleticism and a relentless motor. Did you see him run down the ball carrier from behind against Mississippi State? He’ll be a top-ten pick come spring.
Where To Next: The Cotton Bowl turned into a de facto BCS bowl. With former Big 12 rival Oklahoma looming, it will make for an exciting game that could turn into a possible shootout. You can also tell that Texas A&M’s brand is expanding into SEC country by how well recruiting is going as well. Sumlin is a boss, and he’s having a massive impact on the program and brand of Texas A&M.
Photo Credit: Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE