November 4, 2012 1:17:23 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- It may have taken another unexpected snowstorm to stop Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M University football team's offense.
On a day where Mississippi State University football fans were supposed to be celebrating the program's victory against Texas A&M in a snowy 2000 Independence Bowl, all they saw was one of the worst performances in the 47-game tenure of MSU coach Dan Mullen.
After amassing 693 yards of offense, 440 of which came from the freshman quarterback Manziel, the fans who were left in Davis Wade Stadium at the end saw an emotionally crippling 38-13 loss for MSU.
"That was as bad a performance as I think we've had in here in a quite a long time," Mullen said.
Manziel, a 19-year-old redshirt freshman, appeared to toy with MSU defense at times. Nicknamed "Johnny Football", Manziel silenced the 55,240 fans at Scott Field with a 37-yard run past, around, and over tacklers to put the No. 16 Aggies up 21-0.
"Some of the plays he's made throughout the course of a year are called and some are improvised," said Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, whose team improved to 7-2 and 4-2 in the Southeastern Conference. "He was able to do some things with his feet on third down particularly because of how the defense was playing him."
Manziel looked like a cartoon character on his first touchdown run, as he eluded the grasp of several defenders and changed directions multiple times before being all alone in the end zone.
"He's slippery," MSU senior linebacker Cam Lawrence said. "It's hard to contain a guy like that. At times I thought we did a good job of containing, but you let him get out one time and that can be trouble."
Manziel, who added himself to the conversation for the 2012 Heisman Trophy with 440 yards (311 passing, 129 rushing) ran an attack that averaged 7.1 yards every time he touched the football.
Due to Texas A&M's policy that restricts freshmen from speaking to the media, Manziel was unavailable for comment.
Texas A&M's 693 yards is the most allowed by a Mullen-coached MSU team under Mullen by more than 100 yards. The last time MSU gave up more than 650 yards was in a 65-39 loss to the University of South Carolina on Oct. 14, 1995. MSU assistant coaches and coordinators weren't made available after the game.
Texas A&M's first-string offense has now outscored opponents 87-20 in two road games against SEC Western Division foes.
"We're playing with a lot of confidence, and to be successful on the road at the start the way we have, it has to be that way," Sumlin said. "Our guys and coaches understand the importance of preparation in how games likes this are swung."
Even when the pocket broke down or MSU's secondary handled the pass routes of the Aggies receivers, Manziel became the equalizer by scrambling to earn positive yards or to force a breakdown in pass coverage.
Manziel, who entered the game leading the SEC in rushing, has been the freedom in Sumlin's shotgun attack to call his number any time he wishes. He tested that trust Saturday and it paid off for five touchdowns in the Aggies' first seven drives. The only two possessions Texas A&M didn't reach the end zone were a made and a missed field goal. The miss sent the Aggies to the locker room with a 24-0 lead.
"There's times where I don't honestly remember after the play is over whether it was a pass call or a run call for him," Texas A&M senior center Patrick Lewis said. "When he does that it's like everybody is thinking, 'We're starting to roll now.' "
No. 17 MSU (7-2, 3-2) has been outscored 48-0 in the first half of back-to-back losses to Texas A&M and No. 1 University of Alabama. Asked why his team has failed to compete in two of its biggest games of the season, Mullen had little answers.
"We executed very poorly on offense (and) we didn't execute very well on defense," Mullen said. "That's your slow start."
The start doomed MSU's chances of rebounding from a confidence-lowering 38-7 loss at Alabama. Mullen is 1-11 in his past 12 games against ranked opponents, and hasn't defeated a ranked team since beating the University of Mississippi in the annual Egg Bowl in 2009.
MSU will play nest week at LSU. It has defeated the Tigers once in Baton Rouge, La., since 1987.