Riding an emotional high following a last-minute comeback victory over LSU, Alabama came out flat against Texas A&M in a classic letdown game, allowing the Aggies to stack 20 points on the board in the first quarter before the Crimson Tide figured out how to contain star freshman QB Johnny Manziel and a talented Aggies offense.
Manziel, listed at a modest 6-1, 200 pounds but possessing a rifle arm, quick feet and a moxie rarely seen in a redshirt freshman, never once backed down from a physical, punishing defense. The playmaking passer wore out Kirby Smart’s defense with special improvisational skills as he commanded a 29-24 victory to hand Alabama its first loss of the season and sour its national championship hopes.
Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin, adjusting to his first year on the job entering the Southeastern Conference, set up Manziel to convert seven consecutive third downs to start the game, gassing one of the deepest defenses in college football so much that the Crimson Tide were forced to burn a timeout in the third quarter after getting caught trying to replenish defenders who were tapping out.
The Aggies were equally as sharp defensively. Senior DT Spencer Nealy repeatedly outquicked Alabama C Barrett Jones at the snap and disrupted the backfield along with junior DE Damontre Moore, who notched a sack to remain tied for the nation’s lead (12½).
Alabama junior QB AJ McCarron — regarded by some NFL evaluators as the first legitimate QB prospect that Nick Saban has produced during time at the school — came close to pulling off fourth-quarter heroics the same way he did against LSU last week, pushing the ball downfield very quickly on two consecutive drives.
Trailing 29-24 with less than two minutes remaining on a 4th-and-goal situation from the two-yard-line, McCarron threw an ill-advised pass that he birddogged the whole way and Aggies sophomore CB Deshazor Everett jumped in to intercept it and preserve the victory.
For Manziel to go on the road in a hostile environment like Tuscaloosa, Ala., and repeatedly produce clutch plays the way he did could bode well for his Heisman Trophy candidacy. Equally impressive was the vocal presence of the highly competitive freshman after taking a 29-17 lead, as he loudly drilled a huddled offense on the sideline not to let up.
• Syracuse senior QB Ryan Nassib generated some locker-room motivation for Louisville when he said during the week that the Orangemen have never lost on Senior Day — a statement that seemed lofty to make given the Cardinals’ 9-0 record. Nassib proceeded to back up his words by directing a 45-26 upset win. In the process, he became the Big East's career completions leader (738) and SU single-season record holder for total offense (3,114), passing former SU great Donovan McNabb.
• After confronting an animated Bo Pelini on the sideline with a string of obscenities following a second-quarter touchdown in which he appeared to be unfairly criticized, Nebraska senior FS Daimion Stafford snared an interception in the third quarter that set up a TD and recovered a fourth-quarter fumble in the endzone that preserved a 32-23 victory over Penn State. Taking a page out of Bill Belichick’s offense, Nittany Lions head coach Bill O’Brien has heavily outscored opponents in the first half with a hurry-up, high-tempo offense that makes it difficult for defenses to signal in calls on time and Huskers head coach Pelini acknowledged after the game that he didn’t do a good enough job in the second quarter.
• After reportedly showing up in Lane Kiffin’s office 45 minutes before kickoff with swollen cheeks and irritated eyes from an allergic reaction, USC sophomore WR Marqise Lee caught 10-161-1 to help Matt Barkley overcome a slow start (three interceptions) as the Trojans beat Arizona State, 38-17.
• South Carolina senior S D.J. Swearinger was flagged three times for 45 yards in the third quarter against Arkansas after being charged with a horse-collar tackle and personal-foul penalty for drilling WR Javontee Herndon. Swearinger more than compensated for the losses on the following play when he stepped in front of a Tyler Wilson pass and sprinted 69 yards for a TD in the Gamecocks’ 38-20 victory. The hard-hitting safety, who finished the game with a career-high 13 tackles, drew his third penalty in as many plays when he heaved the ball into the student section. The energy and emotion he brings to the field has been a double-edged sword — one he needs to do a better job of managing in the pros.
• Despite suffering an undisclosed right wrist injury against Oklahoma State last week, Kansas State senior QB Collin Klein returned to lead the Wildcats to a 23-10 victory over TCU to stay unbeaten. Though he rushed for two TDs, Klein was not as crisp against an aggressive Horned Frogs defense, taking a season-high three sacks. He is so competitive that he has difficulty giving up on plays and throwing the ball away when he should, which no doubt is compounded by the hitch in his delivery.