Oct. 13, 2013
Johnny Manziel scores a touchdown against Auburn last season at Jordan-Hare Stadium
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - Identifying the mission is simple: Contain the most dynamic playmaker in college football. It's executing the mission that is a challenge few defenses have successfully accomplished.
Saturday afternoon at Texas A&M's Kyle Field in College Station, Texas, Auburn will get its second closeup look at Johnny Manziel, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and the man they call Johnny Football.
The first encounter didn't go so well. On Oct. 27, Manziel led the Aggies to a 63-21 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Never before had an Auburn team given up so many points at home. When it was over, the Tigers were 1-7.
Senior cornerback Chris Davis was injured and didn't dress out, but he remembers all too well.
"I watched it on TV," Davis said Sunday. "It was pretty disappointing. Hopefully, we can turn that around this year."
Much has changed since that dark Auburn day. The Tigers, under first-year head coach Gus Malzahn, have staged a major turnaround. They are 5-1 overall, 2-1 in the Southeastern Conference and ranked No. 24 going into the game against the No. 7 Aggies, also 5-1 and 2-1.
"It's always a challenge to play one of the most exciting players in college football," Davis said. "We're going to go out there and play our best. Hopefully, we'll bring a W back to Auburn."
Manziel leads the nation's most prolific offense. The Aggies, 38-35 winners at Ole Miss on Saturday, average 47.8 points and 586.5 yards per game. They pass for 361.8 yards per game and run for 224.7 yards per game.
Individually, Manziel has completed 131-of-179 passes for 1,835 yards and leads the SEC. He has rushed for 427 yards on 66 carries. Wide receiver Mike Evans, 6-foot-5 and Manziel's favorite target, has caught 32 passes for 737 yards and five touchdowns. He leads the league in receiving yardage.
The Aggies have scored more than 40 points in nine consecutive games.
Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson faces the challenge of coming up with a scheme to deal with Manziel, whose scrambling has left defenders grasping at air for a season and a half.
And it all starts with Manziel.
"When you have a team like them that has good players at every spot, you have to get it out of your mind that you are going to stop them," Johnson said. "You have to disrupt them. You have to slow them down. You have to get some takeaways. You have to play really well in the red zone."
Easy to say, Johnson acknowledged, but hard to do.
"He obviously has great mobility, but the thing that makes him extremely difficult is that on top of that mobility, he has a lot of vision when he's scrambling. He sees a lot of stuff down the field. You are trying to run him down and maybe your front guys can't catch him and you don't know when to come out of coverage. ... That's the thing that's so hard."
Johnson said the Tigers have seen offensive schemes similar to Texas A&M's the past two games against Ole Miss and Western Carolina. Even in a 62-3 homecoming victory, he said the Tigers got valuable looks.
"To have had a bad week of practice and a bad day of performance would have been something that would have certainly hurt us, not just Saturday but on down the road," Johnson said "We were very pleased by the whole attitude, the focus, the approach all through the week and Saturday, too."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: