October 31, 2012 10:10:33 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State University has its version of Texas A&M University freshman Johnny Manziel.
Freshman athlete Brandon Holloway, a 5-foot-7, 165-pound prospect from Florida, has been taking snaps for the Bulldogs' scout team this week to give the defense a look at what they might see at 11 a.m. Saturday (ESPN) when they face the Aggies' athletic quarterback.
The choice of Holloway shows MSU may be more concerned with what Manziel, the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week, can with his feet as opposed to what he can do with his arm.
"I don't think he's ever played quarterback in his life," MSU senior cornerback Johnthan Banks said Tuesday of Holloway after practice. "He's a 4.2 (in the 40-yard-dash) guy, so he's giving us a great look. (Manziel) is an athlete playing quarterback."
No. 17 MSU (7-1, 3-1 SEC) may revert Saturday to the basics of a game plan it used against University of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson in the 2011 Gator Bowl. The plan in that game in Jacksonville, which MSU won 52-14, was to keep Robinson around the pocket and not let him scramble to create chaos. Robinson, then a freshman, gained 313 yards (254 passing, 59 rushing), but he committed two turnovers and Michigan was 2-for-10 on third down.
"He's a lot like (former MSU quarterback) Dylan Favre and Denard Robinson because on a play where a quarterback may throw it away, (Manziel) may try to force something that's not there because of his athletic ability," MSU senior safety Corey Broomfield said.
Last week, Manziel ran for three touchdowns and passed for two more in a little more than a half in a 63-21 victory against Auburn University. Manziel led the Aggies to scores on 7 of 8 possessions. The only non-scoring drive led by Manziel, whose nickname is "Johnny Football", ended with a missed 48-yard field goal by Taylor Bertolet on the final play of the first half. The Aggies gained 671 yards, the most ever allowed by Auburn, in their first game at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
No. 16 Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2), in its first season in the SEC, led 42-7 at halftime and 49-7 after Manziel's final possession.
"Every one of these games is new to these guys," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "I think last week was a prime example of being exited to play. The newness of this, in a way, has helped us because we're going to places we've never been, and our guys are excited to go there."
Manziel took over the lead in the SEC in rushing last week from MSU junior tailback LaDarius Perkins at 99.1 yards per game. That statistic has caught the eye of plenty of MSU defensive players.
"Anytime you have a quarterback leading the SEC in rushing -- the biggest knock-down, drag-out league in the nation, you have to prepare yourself for a one great, impressive athlete," Broomfield said.
Texas A&M prides itself on getting long yardage plays running and throwing in a high-octane offense Sumlin installed after he arrived from the University of Houston. Sumlin perfected the spread at Purdue University under Joe Tiller.
"This more and more time (Manziel) gets in Kevin's offense, you can see him grasping the concepts he's being taught every day," MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. "He's gotten better and better each and every week as an overall football player and leader."
MSU has allowed only two plays of 40 or more yards this season. One of them came last week on a 57-yard touchdown pass in a 38-7 loss to No. 1 University of Alabama.
"Anytime you have a quarterback that scrambles, that's not good on a secondary because you just don't know if you should be with your guy or trying to stop the quarterback," Broomfield said. "It's a major challenge for any secondary."
MSU will try to counter Manziel's athleticism and Texas A&M's explosiveness by forcing them into mistakes. Texas A&M is 12th in the SEC in turnover margin, and is averaging nearly two giveaways a game.
"The week before (against LSU), we had four turnovers and lost and only scored 19 points," Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said. "It's still week to week and it's a growing process. We haven't come close to what I think we can become with this group. It's still a bunch of young guys out there playing, so if we just keep getting better and protect the football."