ARLINGTON, Texas – What had never happened, a freshman winning the Heisman Trophy, might be considered a fluke of circumstance, the stars aligning in the right time at the right place.
Call it what you want and call him what you want - Johnny Football, Johnny Heisman or Johnny HeisManziel … whatever his nametag, Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M no-huddle scheme is a high-octane and potent combination.
Oklahoma found out the hard way in Friday's Cotton Bowl. The Sooners' challenge was stopping the Aggies offense and it was akin to juggling nitroglycerin while riding a unicycle blindfolded and reciting the Gettysburg Address … in Latin.
Hyperbole? Hardly. Texas A&M's 41-13 victory was decided with a three-touchdown third-quarter blitz that turned a one-point game into a blowout. The Aggies (11-2) ran 20 plays – 13 passes, seven runs – that covered 251 yards on three touchdown drives that consumed 2:51, 2:27 and 1:16.
Manziel finished with 516 yards of total offense as the Aggies rolled to 633 total yards; both were Cotton Bowl records. His 229 yards rushing set an FBS bowl record and took just 17 carries (13.5 per carry). He had two rushing touchdowns and two passing touchdowns.
"He's magic," Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said of Manziel. "He puts pressure on your defense across the board. You're in a dilemma for 60 minutes. He's so difficult to contain, he's virtually unstoppable.
Oklahoma's defense was turned every which way but loose. When A&M zigged, OU zagged and vice versa. Manziel is a point guard running a fast break offense with talented teammates who are finishers on the ground and through the air.
Coming into the game, Manziel had gained 784 yards on scrambles. The Aggies scored on their first possession after the Heisman winner gained 47 yards on two scrambles. The second was a sideline-hugging 23 yarder that included a hesitation step and a hop, skip and a jump across the goal line.
"Absolutely he's the best quarterback we've faced," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, whose team finished 10-3 for the second consecutive season. "Not only throwing the football but what he does with his feet. He's so quick and strong running, he's hard to get to. He was everything he was billed to be."
That production from the quarterback created a game-long quandary for the Sooners. They tried to contain Manziel but receivers Mike Evans (seven receptions, 83 yards), Ryan Swope (eight for 104) plus running backs Ben Malena and Trey Williams (combined, 103 yards on 14 carries and a TD each) benefitted from the Aggies' offensive scheme that stretches a defense in width and depth.
"With a month of preparation, they added some wrinkles that made (Manziel) more effective," Stoops said. "We were outta luck no matter how we lined up against him. We had guys in position to make plays and we didn't make 'em. Schemes only go so far, when you get the opportunity you've got to make the plays."
Tackling smoke might have been easier than tackling Manziel.
The first three possessions of the second half turned a close game into an Oklahoma loss. The Sooners gained momentum in the first half by scoring a touchdown with 1:16 remaining to make it 14-13 at halftime. With OU getting the kickoff to start the second half, the Sooners had an opportunity to take the lead and control.
Instead, Oklahoma's first nine offensive snaps resulted in zero first downs and three punts.
"Three and out, three and out and three out," Stoops echoed. "You can't give them those opportunities. We just broke down in the second half, they totally out played us and out coached us. They executed better on defense than we did on offense."
The Sooners' second half offensive struggles were foreshadowed in the first half. Oklahoma had two of its longest scoring drives of the season – 16 plays and 18 plays – but both resulted in field goals. Against a team scoring touchdowns, field goals were the wrong answer.
The loss was the first in a bowl game for OU quarterback Landry Jones, who was 3-0 before the Cotton Bowl. In the first half, he was 23 of 30 but threw one interception that set up the Aggies' second touchdown. The Sooners were forced to rely on short passes which resulted in an edge in time of possession but a one-point deficit on the halftime scoreboard.
"They played well tonight and we didn't," said Jones, who finished 35 of 48 for 278 yards. "We got inside the 10-yard line and we didn't score twice. We scored two field goals. … When you do that, you can't expect to win a game."
Texas A&M's defense, which missed a number of tackles in the first half, was considerably stingier in the second half. With the Sooners' offense unable to keep pace with the Aggies' production, the momentum shift was unmistakable.
"They went to a three-man front and we couldn't run the ball against 'em," Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard said. "It's what Notre Dame did to us. We got in third and long and we couldn't convert. That third quarter killed us."
In the first half, Oklahoma ran 51 plays and had a time of possession advantage of 10 minutes.
"Our defense had been out there an awful lot in the first half," said Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, a former assistant at Oklahoma. "Trust me, we didn't have to explain to 'em that we needed to get off the field. With our offense, you get stops on third down, that's important."
The outcome continued what has become a galling trend for the Big 12. The SEC has won the last five Cotton Bowl matchups by the average score of 35.8 to 18.8. Oklahoma's loss also closed out the Big 12 bowl season with a 4-5 record.
Aggies fans among the 87,025 in attendance were chanting "S-E-C" at the start of the fourth quarter. That might be Texas A&M's conference now, but in previous losses to Arkansas and LSU at Cowboys Stadium, that cheer was reversed.
The 180 was courtesy of a history-making Heisman Trophy winner.
Oklahoma Bowl History (Record 27-18-1)
|Jan. 4, 2012||Cotton Bowl-Texas A&M 41, Oklahoma 13|
|Dec. 30, 2011||Insight Bowl-Oklahoma 31, Iowa 14|
|Jan. 1, 2011||Fiesta Bowl-Oklahoma 48, Connecticut 20|
|Dec. 31, 2009||Sun Bowl-Oklahoma 31, Stanford 27|
|Jan. 8, 2009||BCS National Championship-Florida 24, Oklahoma 14|
|Jan. 2, 2008||Fiesta Bowl-West Virginia 48, Oklahoma 28|
|Jan. 1, 2007||Fiesta Bowl-Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42, OT|
|Dec. 29, 2005||Holiday Bowl-Oklahoma 17, Oregon 14|
|Jan. 4, 2005||Orange Bowl-Southern Cal 55, Oklahoma 19|
|Jan. 4, 2004||Sugar Bowl-LSU 21, Oklahoma 14|
|Jan. 1, 2003||Rose Bowl-Oklahoma 34, Washington State 14|
|Jan. 1, 2002||Cotton Bowl-Oklahoma 10, Arkansas 3|
|Jan. 3, 2001||Orange Bowl-Oklahoma 13, Florida State 2|
|Dec. 31, 1999||Independence Bowl-Mississippi 27, Oklahoma 25|
|Dec. 29, 1994||Copper Bowl-Brigham Young 31, Oklahoma 6|
|Dec. 24, 1993||John Hancock Bowl-Oklahoma 41, Texas Tech 10|
|Dec. 29, 1991||Gator Bowl-Oklahoma 48, Virginia 14|
|Jan. 2, 1989||Citrus Bowl-Clemson 13, Oklahoma 6|
|Jan. 1, 1988||Orange Bowl-Miami, Fla. 20, Oklahoma 14|
|Jan. 1, 1987||Orange Bowl-Oklahoma 42, Arkansas 8|
|Jan. 1, 1986||Orange Bowl-Oklahoma 25, Penn State 10|
|Jan. 1, 1985||Orange Bowl-Washington 28, Oklahoma 17|
|Jan. 1, 1983||Fiesta Bowl-Arizona State 32, Oklahoma 21|
|Dec. 26, 1981||Sun Bowl-Oklahoma 40, Houston 14|
|Jan. 1, 1981||Orange Bowl-Oklahoma 18, Florida State 17|
|Jan. 1, 1980||Orange Bowl-Oklahoma 24, Florida State 7|
|Jan. 1, 1979||Orange Bowl-Oklahoma 31, Nebraska 24|
|Jan. 2, 1978||Orange Bowl-Arkansas 31, Oklahoma 6|
|Dec. 25, 1976||Fiesta Bowl-Oklahoma 41, Wyoming 7|
|Jan. 1, 1976||Orange Bowl-Oklahoma 14, Michigan 6|
|Dec. 31, 1972||Sugar Bowl-Oklahoma 14, Penn State 0|
|Jan. 1, 1972||Sugar Bowl-Oklahoma 40, Auburn 22|
|Dec. 31, 1970||Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl-Oklahoma 24, Alabama 24, tie|
|Dec. 31, 1968||Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl-Southern Methodist 28, Oklahoma 27|
|Jan. 1, 1968||Orange Bowl-Oklahoma 26, Tennessee 24|
|Jan. 2, 1965||Gator Bowl-Florida State 36, Oklahoma 19|
|Jan. 1, 1963||Orange Bowl-Alabama 17, Oklahoma 0|
|Jan. 1, 1959||Orange Bowl-Oklahoma 21, Syracuse 6|
|Jan. 1, 1958||Orange Bowl-Oklahoma 48, Duke 21|
|Jan. 2, 1956||Orange Bowl-Oklahoma 20, Maryland 6|
|Jan. 1, 1954||Orange Bowl-Oklahoma 7, Maryland 0|
|Jan. 1, 1951||Sugar Bowl-Kentucky 13, Oklahoma 7|
|Jan. 2, 1950||Sugar Bowl-Oklahoma 35, Louisiana State 0|
|Jan. 1, 1949||Sugar Bowl-Oklahoma 14, North Carolina 6|
|Jan. 1, 1947||Gator Bowl-Oklahoma 34, North Carolina State 13|
|Jan. 2, 1939||Orange Bowl-Tennessee 17, Oklahoma 0|