Containing Johnny Football

Johnny Football.

Indeed it is a name that grabbed the SEC by the balls in 2012. Everything from his vast inexperience to setting school and SEC records has been discussed. “Yep. He did it again,” is usually the statement we find ourselves making. Offensive Coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, a previous standout quarterback at Texas Tech who spent a few years in the NFL, and Johnny Manziel’s attitudes and competitive nature feed off each other on game day. Kingsbury largely still believes he’s the best quarterback in the stadium, with his cocky swagger, while Manziel knows without a doubt he’s the best player on the field. It’s a beautiful collision for Aggies fans.

Manziel leads the SEC in total offense with 2,356 total yards gained, with 387 yards separating him from his closest competitor in Tyler Wilson. Manziel is tied with fellow freshman Todd Gurley with 60 total points scored. Manziel is currently ahead of Tim Tebow’s Heisman pace, averaging 43.8 more yards rushing each game and 27.3 more yards passing per game.

Time will tell whether Manziel really makes a strong push for New York, but there’s much tougher defenses out to prove a point against the Aggies, with LSU and Alabama looming ahead on the schedule.

How do you contain Johnny Manziel? There’s only been one team to do it in one half of football – Florida. The Aggies outgained the Gators in the first half 270 yards to 188. However, Florida made the necessary adjustments, holding the Aggies’ offense to 49 total yards in the second half.

It gets real again this week as LSU comes to Kyle Field looking to limit Manziel’s explosive plays. Les Miles has already said he will not “spy” JFF on defense, but I promise you Miles will be forced to in certain situations. It just may not be called a spy technique.

So, how can LSU limit Manziel much like Florida did in the second half?

1. The best defense is the offense – run the football: Even though Manziel ran wild on Florida in the first half, the time of possession was split almost evenly at 15 minutes a piece in time of possession. However, Florida controlled the clock in the second half at an astounding 20:05 minutes compared to Texas A&M’s 9:55. Keep Manziel off the field by running the football and controlling the clock. LSU brings a stout running game with four running backs – Jeremy Hill, Spencer Ware, Michael Ford and Kenny Hilliard – who will all see carries in certain situations. LSU can control the time of possession, keeping Manziel and the offense off the field. LSU is fifth in the SEC, averaging 30:01 minutes of offense per game. Manziel can’t hurt you if he’s on the sidelines. Cliché football, I know.

2. React to Manziel, not the other way around: Florida is an aggressive defense to start with, and they haven’t been great at getting to the quarterback thus far, with just 12 sacks for the year. Likewise, Texas A&M has several NFL offensive linemen who have controlled the point of attack and run-blocked rather well. Although LSU has better pass rushers than Florida, they are going to have to stay home and not get caught up the field. When your defensive ends rush the quarterback and get up field too far, it does your defense no favors and allows a running quarterback to exploit the running lanes. LSU must keep Manziel in front of them, and they must react to Manziel, as opposed to Manziel taking off because of the pass rush. That’s where he torches defenses.

3. Keep him in the pocket: To correlate along with #2, LSU must try and keep Manziel in the pocket. Now, Texas A&M will design some runs for him in the running game, but on passing plays, the Tigers must try and make Manziel beat them through the air. I’m not saying he can’t, because he is third in the SEC in passing with 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns. But I would rather limit his explosiveness when plays break down and keep him in the pocket. No team has really done that yet. The passing windows will be tighter against a much faster and more aggressive LSU defense.

Can LSU shut down Manziel? I’m not so sure, but if the Tigers can limit his long running plays and try to keep him corralled in the pocket, they have a better opportunity for success on defense.