COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Unable to stop Johnny Manziel, Alabama answered Texas A&M the only way it could: The top-ranked Crimson Tide just kept on scoring, hoping to have the ball last.
When AJ McCarron took a knee to end it, Alabama was finally safe. There was nothing more Manziel could do.
McCarron threw four touchdown passes, Vinnie Sunseri returned an interception 73 yards for a score – sidestepping Johnny Football on the way to the end zone, too – and Alabama paid back No. 6 Texas A&M with a 49-42 victory Saturday.
Manziel was his spectacular self, throwing for a career-best 464 yards, running for 98 and throwing five TDs. His 562 total yards is the second-most in Southeastern Conference history, ranking only behind the 576 he had against Louisiana Tech.
We knew we were going to have to play this way on offense to have a chance in this game, Tide coach Nick Saban said. I didnt think they were going to score 42 points, but I kind of thought they would score some points and they did.
Alabama (2-0, 1-0 SEC) spotted the Aggies (2-1, 0-1) a 14-0 lead, shades of last season when A&M jumped out to a 20-0 lead on the road en route to a victory that all but won the Heisman Trophy for Manziel.
McCarron and the Tide didnt take as long to respond this time, ripping off the next 35 points. McCarron tossed three touchdowns in the first half to put Alabama up 28-14. Sunseris pick-six made it 35-14 less than three minutes into the third.
Im so proud of our players for the resiliency they showed getting behind 14-0, Saban said. Just slowly and methodically coming back in the game and building up the lead.
The Manziel magic moment came in the second quarter, when he retreated 25 yards behind the line of scrimmage, pulling away from one pass rusher who had a handful of jersey and launching a deep ball down the middle with another Tide player in his face. Edward Pope came down with the alley-oop for a 12-yard gain that will make every highlight reel. But a couple of plays later Manziel was picked off in the end zone and the game swung the Tides way.
I will take that one on me, Manziel said.
His third-quarter pick and whiff on the tackle put the Aggies in a deep hole.
I thought his play was Johnny-like, coach Kevin Sumlin said. Anybody whos seen him play, thats about right.
Alabamas best defense was its offense. The Tide gained 568 yards and kept Manziel on the sideline with a couple of long drives.
With the type of offense A&M has, you have to eat up some clock and pound the ball, said McCarron, who passed for 334 yards.
This rematch of A&Ms 29-24 win in Tuscaloosa, Ala., last November was hyped for months, heightened by offseason drama about Manziel that culminated with the sophomore getting suspended for half of the opening game after an NCAA investigation into whether he was paid for signing autographs.
Manziel only answered questions about the game afterward.
He was one of many Aggies reminding everyone what happened to the loser of this matchup last year.
This wasnt the Super Bowl, Manziel said. Alabama lost a game last year and still went on to win the national championship. Our season isnt over.
Bama-A&M II lived up to the billing, but this SEC heavyweight matchup was no 9-6 Game of the Century. The offenses were all but unstoppable.
Theyre unbelievable, Sunseri said. Theres a reason he won the Heisman. Hes an unbelievable player, I dont care what he does off the field. He has great receivers and everything. We knew it was going to go back and forth and we just had to try to slow him down.
Sabans defense gave up 628 yards, the most ever allowed by Alabama, and 42 points. Evans finished with 279 yards on seven catches for the Aggies, but the Tide won.
I know you tried to make it out (to be) a 61-year-old guy against that good quarterback but we didnt have much of a chance in that game, Saban said. We had a lot better chance our team against their team.
And the Aggies found out just how tough it is to win two in a row against the Tide. In seven seasons under Saban, only LSU has done it.
It was far from a typical Alabama, but the two-time defending national champions will take it.
We needed everybody all in today, Saban said. Even though it got ugly at times, they competed and it was a great win for us.