On the morning before the 2012 game that turned Johnny Manziel from standout SEC QB to college football's first rock star, the redshirt freshman posted a comment on his Twitter account from a gladiator movie. At the time, Manziel had about 30,000 followers. By the time the Aggies' 2013 spring game arrived that number swelled 10 fold. Of course, so much else for Manziel and the Aggies changed after Nov. 10, 2012 in Tuscaloosa, including the A&M QB becoming the first freshman to ever win a Heisman.
Manziel and first-year Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin jolted Nick Saban, mighty Alabama and the rest of the college football world with their frenetic, up-tempo attack. As had been the norm for A&M, Manziel and Co. jumped on the Tide early. Manziel scooted his way around defenders and zipped passes to give the Aggies the early lead.
No. 15 A&M outgained No. 1 Alabama, which had only allowed six points in its previous nine games, 172 yards to 34 yards in the opening quarter. The Aggies put up 20 points on Nick Saban's D before the opening quarter was over, and Johnny Football wasn't just trending, he was becoming the sports world's hottest new thing.
All season no player had a run go for longer than 22 yards against the Tide. Manziel, though, gashed the tide for runs of 29 and 32 yards. More impressively: Manziel started the game 21 of 22 as a passer.
Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder also had a surprise for Alabama QB AJ McCarron. Snyder was unveiled something his D hadn't used all season -- 2-Robber, a defense where the Aggies would show two "high" safeties but "rock" to one. The coach observed in film study that Alabama loved its crossing routes.
McCarron, who hadn't been intercepted all season, got picked off twice by the Aggies, snapping his streak at 291 passes without an INT, and Bama struggled with the 2-Robber most of the times A&M threw it at them.
In addition, A&M also opted to shift its undersized, 270-pound defensive tackle Spencer Nealy over the nose to give problems to Bama center Barrett Jones in hopes of disrupting things while inserting 310-pound Kirby Ennis at the 3-Technique. Those moves also worked out quite nicely for A&M. Ennis tied for the team lead in tackles with seven (along with notching a sack). Alabama, which came into the game trailing only the Aggies in rushing in the SEC at 5.3 yards per carry, was limited to 3.9 yards a rush and was forced into three turnovers, including two McCarron interceptions.
Bama, though, battled back, scoring 17 consecutive points to get within a field goal going into the fourth quarter. But Manziel had more answers. He connected with Malcome Kennedy on a 24-yard TD pass to give A&M a 29-17 lead, which was enough for the Aggies to snag a 29-24 stunner. It was only A&M's second win in 12 tries against No. 1 ranked teams.
"No moment is too big for him," Sumlin said of Manziel after the game. "He gives our players a sense that anything can happen. It's a contagious feeling."