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The Bobble launched Johnny Football, just ask Alabama

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It has become known as The Bobble, at least to those who endured its result.

Dropping into coverage, Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri sounded one of the first alarms in front of 102,000 other folks catching Johnny Manziel's act for the first time.

"My first reaction was, 'Ball on the ground!'" Sunseri recalled.

Except the ball wasn't knocked completely free from Manziel at Bryant-Denny Stadium last Nov. 10. In stamping his Heisman moment that day, Manziel stepped up, bumped into right tackle Jake Matthews, stumbled and had the ball jarred loose by right guard Cedric Ogbuehi. That was before Johnny Pinball caught it in midair before rolling left and throwing a touchdown strike to Ryan Swope.

It was early, midway through the first quarter, 14-0 Texas A&M on what would turn out to be an epic day. But already certain truths had emerged. One of them: Johnny Football had been born.

"It was kind of like a wake-up call ...," Sunseri said. "We were unaware of the explosiveness of Johnny Manziel."

The Bobble, The Fumble, The Incredibly Lucky Bounce, whatever you want to call it, sandlotters everywhere rejoiced. The Tide were Johnny Heismaned that day. In Nick Saban's championship production line, even an eventual national title wasn't enough to cauterize a wounded empire.

"There were a lot of NFL games on Sunday. If you want to watch the quarterback, go watch those games. If you start watching this guy in our game you're going to get busted."

Saban was speaking to the media this week. He might as well have been lecturing his players.

Ten months later they're still beating themselves up here over the biggest play from the season's biggest upset. Watch it again, that's All-America linebacker C.J. Mosley, getting suckered like the rest of us. First dropping in coverage, then attacking when he saw Manziel in distress.

"I wasn't even mad at that play," Mosley said. "I put my hands out like, 'Wow, really?'"

Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix remembered thinking, "We have to find something to do with this guy."

They never did. Johnny Unscripted is the most potent talking point here at Camp Saban this week. The vibe is that the nation's No. 1 defense two years running won't be bamboozled again. Saturday's meeting in College Station will be more about straight-up, apple pie, good ol' American football.

They hope.

For a defense-first head coach in charge of a program with a grand defensive tradition, deception is not to be tolerated. Remember, this is the guy who is against up-tempo offenses because of player safety concerns.

You can imagine how he views a quarterback who plays like Miley Cyrus dances. Adding to the intrigue: The last four teams Alabama has lost to have been guided by dual-threat quarterbacks -- LSU's Jordan Jefferson (twice), Auburn's Cam Newton and Manziel.

Seeing a pattern?

"It was an eye-opener until I realized how to approach this kind of player and to approach these kinds of games," Sunseri said.

Saturday's defensive game plan -- such as it is -- leaked out easily. Keep Manziel in the pocket and you keep A&M more ordinary.

"Yessir, that is the plan," Mosley said. "Pocket passer."

"Easier said than done," Sunseri said.

"Duuuh," a nation of coaches are thinking.

The problem is that Manziel plays quarterback as if he's got ADD. While that might explain some of his conduct off the field, it is the brilliance/frustration of his total game.

If he doesn't know what he's doing once the play breaks down, how can the opponent?

"Growing up playing backyard football that's what you want to do," Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron said. "Johnny's got an unbelievable talent doing that, creating plays for his offense. Any quarterback, especially growing up, you love doing that kind of stuff."

Manziel played it mostly straight last week against Sam Houston State, throwing for 426 yards -- the second-highest total of his career -- mostly out of the pocket. Was that merely a decoy for Alabama, which would love to see him stay put behind his rebuilt line?

Sunseri had an obvious conclusion after studying the cut-ups.

"When he [stays in the pocket], he's still a great passer but he's not as elusive as he is on the run," Sunseri said.

As if you need to be told. Saban has this term for his defense when things do break down -- undisciplined eye control.

"I heard that so many times since I've been here," Sunseri said. "It means paying attention to what you need to pay attention to."

If you're a defensive back, don't look into the backfield. Keep your eyes on your man until an elusive quarterback crosses the line of scrimmage. Both Mosley and Sunseri have admitted to the dreaded UEC when Manziel bobbled the ball last year.

They, and the rest of Alabama, never recovered that day. Tide-wise at least, Johnny Football has never been stopped. The prospects for Saturday depend on what side of The Bobble you were on.

"I've not really seen him get rattled in a game," Saban said.

 
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