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Texas A&M's speed bottles up a slow Tide

It was up-tempo offense versus beat-down defense in Tuscaloosa, with the Aggies dealing top-ranked Alabama a blow to its BCS title hopes, 29-24.

November 10, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, shown running past Alabama defensive back Deion Belue, rushed for 92 yards to go with 253 yards and two touchdowns passing.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, shown running past Alabama… (Dave Martin / Associated…)

Everyone wondered what a team like Oregon would do if it met Alabama on a field that could also serve as a laboratory beaker.

Would Oregon's up-tempo offense fizzle when mixed with Alabama's bone-crushing defense, or explode like Mentos combined with Diet Coke?

It turns out we didn't have to wait for this year's Bowl Championship Series title game to find out.

We found out Saturday.

Texas A&M's offense, seemingly not quite as lethal or fast as Oregon's, answered the question two months early with Saturday's 29-24 victory over top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

The culture clash of up-tempo versus downbeatbeat-down was won by the speedsters.

Texas A&M's spread so discombobulated Alabama that the Crimson Tide was left gasping for air and burning timeouts.

"Fatigue makes cowards of us all," Vince Lombardi said years ago, never imagining that something called "up-tempo spread" would kick his saying into the stratosphere.

"I think there's a lot of lessons to be learned here," Alabama Coach Nick Saban said after Saturday's defeat.

Alabama, until last week, had trailed for only 15 seconds all season.

Saturday, the Crimson Tide never led in the game and spent the day chasing down a rabbit masquerading as a Heisman candidate.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel finished with 253 passing yards and two touchdowns, and produced 92 more yards with his feet.

"He's very elusive, he's instinctive in the pocket, and he's also fast," Saban said.

Other than that, Manziel is a sack of cement.

Texas A&M jumped to 20-0 lead and then braced for inevitable kickback from the defending national champions.

The Aggies, fun as they are to watch, have a history of handing over second-half leads dating to Mike Sherman's last days last season.

Texas A&M led Louisiana Tech, 39-13, earlier this season and ended up winning, 59-57.

Alabama's inevitable charge did come. The Crimson Tide cut the second-half lead to 20-17 before the Aggies kicked a field goal to go back up by six.

Alabama had a prime chance in the closing minutes but was shut out at the goal line when Texas A&M's Deshazor Everett stepped in front of AJ McCarron's potential go-ahead touchdown.

Texas A&M was still stuck at its own four with 2:51 left, but here's where the up-tempo paid a dividend.

Alabama had only two timeouts because Saban burned one earlier in the half thanks to his defense having only 10 players on the field (you're allowed 11). Teams like Texas A&M can make a coordinator's head swim as he tries to shuttle defensive players in and out.

Alabama still stopped the Aggies and was set to get the ball back with about 35 seconds left.

On fourth and one, however, a jumpy defender invaded the neutral-zone infraction and handed the ball back to Texas A&M.

Game over.

"We really had a lot of undisciplined, missed assignments," Saban said.

Defeat was a blow to the Southeastern Conference's hammerlock on college football. The SEC has won the last six BCS national titles yet will wake up Monday morning looking up in the BCS standings.

Saturday just wasn't a good day in America's Conference. Missouri, the other first-year interloper from the Big 12, scored a win at Tennessee.

It was worse in Gainesville, where BCS No. 6 Florida needed a last-minute kick block to hold off Louisiana Lafayette.

This came a week after Florida's anemic offense narrowly held off Missouri, 14-7.

If this is represents the SEC's best, there is hope for the rest of college football nation.

LSU, national champion in 2003 and 2007, has sputtered along all season with a hit-and-miss offense.

Is the sun finally setting on the SEC's empire?

My guess is no, but the SEC has temporarily lost control of its fate.

No conference ever established has better advanced Branch Rickey's old saying, "Luck is the residue of design."

The SEC has been in way worse fixes than this and always seems to be near the table when dinner is served.

Tennessee needed luck to win the first BCS title in 1998, and in 2006 Florida basically yelled, kicked and screamed its way into the title game before … winning it.

Florida crawled all the way out of the BCS swamp in 2008 after losing at home to Mississippi.

The all-time comebacker was LSU in 2007 when the two-loss Tigers jumped from No. 7 to No. 2 in the BCS standings on the final weekend.

The Tigers took full advantage and defeated Ohio State for the title.

This is not probably the end of Alabama or the SEC. It might not even be the end this year.

"Two of the three national championship teams I coached both lost a game," Saban said of LSU in '03 and Alabama last year. "There's still a lot for this team to play for."

True enough.

Saturday, though, was a breakthrough day for what the SEC used to call "gimmick" offenses.

It was a seminal moment for Manziel, who originally committed to Oregon before switching to Texas A&M.

This day was coming, when speed and slipperiness would line up against a fabulous foundation.

We thought the day would involve Oregon versus Alabama, but "Johnny Football" got here first.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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