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Manziel, Aggies learning on the fly

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Posted: Sunday, September 9, 2012 4:30 am

The Orange Bowl seats were open.

They knew better than to come to Kyle Field on Saturday.

They probably had already seen Florida play last week and nearly lose to Bowling Green.

So, despite a 2-0 start, the Gators are probably not a BCS-caliber team.

And guessing that Texas A&M wasn’t going to be a BCS team either should have been pretty easy.

Blame the lack of consideration on history.

Blame it on having a new head coach in Kevin Sumlin. Blame it on Texas A&M’s move to the SEC.

And blame it on quarterback play.  

Neither Florida nor the Aggies have the guys to get it done this year.  Teams don’t usually make the BCS with second-year quarterbacks.

Because of that simple fact, I actually had a seat and some leg room in what was an overcrowded pressbox in College Station to watch Texas A&M get hung with a 20-17 loss against a rather pedestrian Gators football team with a sophomore starting quarterback, Jeff Driskel.

Against a true Southeastern Conference defense, which returned nine starters from last year’s team, Texas A&M redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel found out he isn’t the fastest guy on the field anymore.

In the SEC, he might not even be faster than some defensive tackles.

It doesn’t matter if Manziel was highly recruited. It doesn’t matter how many plays he was able to make in high school.

When a player takes the field on Saturday, none of that matters anymore.  

All that matters is can he make plays?

Manziel proved he can do that,  but he still has a long way to go. The freshman looked good in the first half, and helped the Aggies take a 17-7 lead over the Gators.

But in the second half, Florida moved six defenders into the box and effectively contained Manziel and the Aggie offense. Manziel finished with a nice completion percentage (76.6), but only 173 yards passing. He completed 23 of 30, but only 7 of 10 in the second half. He ran for 60 yards, but only 19 in the second half.

“It is hard to (evaluate his performance),” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “You have to go back and look at video. What you see from the sidelines is different than what you see from where he is … obviously he is a young guy. He made plays in the first half, but contained him in the second half by taking away his legs.”

To be fair, Manziel hardly had a chance. Florida forced the Aggies to punt on all six drives in the second half, mostly because they shut down the A&M running game. The Gators only allowed the Aggies 33 yards rushing in the second half on 13 carries.

“Johnny Manziel is an amazing athlete,” said Florida coach Will Muschamp. “He made plays for the team. We did a better job in the second half of controlling the line of scrimmage. That was the difference. There was no magic potion … you get the illusion that these guys are a passing team, but really they are not right now with Johnny.”

Muschamp’s opinion is exactly why Manziel isn’t going anywhere.

He will start next week against SMU in Dallas, and probably for the rest of the season and Shoemaker product Jameill Showers will remain on the bench.

Manziel showed too much life to think otherwise.

He gave the Aggies what every SEC team needs — a running game. He completed passes. He did make plays in the first half with his legs and he had the right attitude after the loss.

“Learned a lot from today and we will only get better moving forward. Thanks to everyone for the support and love,” Manziel tweeted after the game.

More important than anything else, though, he did not turn the ball over.

In the SEC, where possessions are at a premium, he hung onto the ball. He never gave it away.

“I think this is a real learning situation for him, like it will be every week,” Sumlin said. “But, the first thing you worry about with a young quarterback is giving the ball away to the other team, and that didn’t happen. From that standpoint … he did that.

“After that, now what?”

Now, Texas A&M moves on. Now, the Aggies keep learning on the fly with Manziel.

Now, they are glad that, unlike the Orange Bowl seats, the Gator Bowl seats were filled.

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