November 10, 2013 1:22:06 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M's football history prides itself on what it calls the 12th man.
It was all about one man -- "Johnny Football" -- Saturday.
Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins said earlier in the week that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel snuck up on his defense last season in a victory in Starkville. Maybe Collins and the rest of the MSU staff will have to admit Manziel is that good.
As the front-runner to defend his 2012 Heisman Trophy, given to the nation's best college football player, Manziel had 493 yards and six touchdowns in a 51-41 victory against MSU at Kyle Field. A year after Manziel racked up 440 yards in a 38-13 victory and was building momentum as a nationally recognized figure, he went for a career-high in touchdown passes and led No. 11 Texas A&M (8-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) to 26 plays of 10 yards or more.
"There is no way to draw up a defense to defend him," MSU coach Dan Mullen said.
Manziel made his mark when whatever play Texas A&M called broke down and fundamentals went out the window.
"A lot of times we stopped their offense but we couldn't stop him," Mullen said. "He starts twisting around, juking one way, juking the other way and then the ball gets launched 30 yards downfield."
The sophomore quarterback had just nine incompletions and threw for 446 yards against an injury-ravaged secondary that was asked to stay in coverage for 5-10 extra seconds.
"A&M just does a great job of improvising," Mullen said. "They get so many yards of offense outside the framework of their offense, and they did that so much tonight."
Texas A&M had more than 500 yards for the ninth-straight game, and scored more than 40 points for the 13th consecutive game, both of which lead all NCAA programs.
"We have two more games left in the season to push those records and get more wins, which is the most important thing," Manziel said. "I'd much rather have a great team record, a 10-2 season and go into a great bowl game than anything else."
In what was widely considered his final game at Kyle Field, Manziel dazzled the announced crowd of 88, 504 with his improvisation. Manziel, who entered the game leading the SEC in total offense, passing yards, and touchdowns, constantly avoided blitzes and extended plays just like he has in his first 22 games.
"Manziel can make big things happen with his feet by making the plays longer and longer," MSU junior linebacker Matthew Wells said. "That takes so much out of defense every time he does that when we think we have him for a loss or negative play."
MSU players, who have only seen Manziel twice in their career, were certain after the loss they had never seen that kind of improvisational routine from another individual.
"He's probably one of kind as a player," MSU senior safety Nickoe Whitley said. "It's all about his ability to move out of the pocket and make plays happen.
"There's a lot of times when he's twisting around back there that you think you got him. Then he just comes out of it and makes a play to break you. He does it over and over again."
As day turned to night in the last game played at Kyle Field before multi-million dollar renovations, Texas A&M fans chanted "one more year" as a request for Manziel to stay in school and bypass the NFL draft, which he is expected to enter following this season.
"He made enough plays for us to win -- made some big plays," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "I'm sure there's a couple of them I know he'd like to have back."
MSU (4-5, 1-4) forced Texas A&M to punt five times, two of which came on three-and-out drives. The Bulldogs created three turnovers, something they'd only done 10 times in eight previous games. They also held the football for nearly 10 minutes more than the Aggies. None of those statistics mattered because Texas A&M's most important man was playing for and in front of the Aggies 12th man. After the game, Manziel went into the stands to celebrate with the Texas A&M students.
"It was a cool deal not only for me ... Kyle Field is a special place," Manziel said. "Nothing will be the same about Kyle Field after today, and to leave that mark like we did today and go out that way couldn't have been any better."
MSU will play host two-time defending champion Alabama next week at Davis Wade Stadium. The Bulldogs haven't come within 17 points of the Crimson Tide since beating Alabama 17-12 in Nick Saban's first year as head coach in 2007.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens