This year’s AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic promised a quarterback battle of epic proportions. It was going to be a duel in the Jerry Dome between Johnny Manziel of the Texas A&M Aggies against Landry Jones of the Oklahoma Sooners. The teams were almost secondary. But in the end, the game itself turned into a 41-13 slaughter for the Aggies, with Manziel shining significantly brighter than Jones.
Manziel set a Cotton Bowl record for rushing yards by a quarterback and had one of the top rushing totals in the game’s history with 229 yards on the ground. Remember, he’s the team’s quarterback. Manziel got the night going in style with a 23-yard touchdown where he had to tightrope walk his way into the end-zone the last eight yards or so.
The freshman QB also added a dazzling 45-yard run on the Aggies’ first drive of the second quarter. The big runs involving a lot of fancy footwork and scrambling would continue throughout the game. Sometimes they were short and sometimes they were long, but there was action almost every time Manziel ran the ball.
Through the air, Manziel was just as deadly. After an early interception following his 45-yard run, Manziel was mistake-free. By the time Manziel opened up his passing game, the Sooners had been decimated by the Aggies’ running attack, which scored twice in the third quarter with neither run involving Manziel.
Late in the third and early in the fourth quarter, Manziel threw two touchdowns of more than thirty yards. They were reminiscent of Aaron Murray‘s touchdown passes in Tuesday’s Capital One Bowl: big plays created from a good short pass over the middle and plenty of yards after the catch, mostly untouched.
In all, Manziel set a Cotton Bowl record with 516 total yards in the game.
All things considered, Jones didn’t have that bad of a game. He nearly threw for 300 yards and completed most of his passes, it was just his inability to finish a drive in the first half and put a drive together early in the second half that ended up being huge. The Sooners had to settle for field-goals in the first half on two drives that ended inside the Aggies’ 10 yard-line; the first time wasn’t Jones’ fault as the Sooners went to the Belldozer without success. Then two straight three & out possessions to start the second half after marching down the field near the end of the first half took the wind out of the sails, and the Sooners never recovered. Their defense began to erode due to the constant forward movement of Manziel and the Aggies offense, and there was nothing left to hold back the beating.
Obviously the Sooners’ loss isn’t all on Jones. Their defense was simply a tool that helped show how brilliant Manziel can be at his best. Their running game never got going either and that only added to the weight Jones was carrying on his shoulders. Their play selection at times seemed off. And they seemed mentally beaten very quickly into the second half.
There was one point in the game that ended up summing up the whole thing for me: after Manziel threw his interception in the back of the end-zone. This was after his 45-yard run and spoiled what appeared like an easy scoring opportunity. The Sooners took over, but Jones threw his lone interception of the night just six plays later. From there, Manziel completed two passes and ran in his second touchdown of the night. It was the trend: no matter what the Sooners did, the Aggies had an answer or ended up answering with something better.