There was 2012’s eye-opening, Heisman Trophy-deciding upset in Tuscaloosa. There was Saturday’s record-setting rematch in College Station, and only a diehard wouldn’t hand it to Texas A&M’s electrifying quarterback.
He’s really good, and the statistical games within the games say “Johnny Football” owns an Alabama defense that has otherwise owned college football recently, keying the Crimson Tide’s three national-championship runs in four years.
And none of that mattered Saturday.
For all of the ink and air time blown discussing how Alabama’s defense must go about stopping Manziel, for all of the Manziel-vs.-Nick Saban hysteria, reality pre-empted mythology on Kyle Field.
Johnny Football had himself a game, ringing up 562 of A&M’s 628 total yards, the most ever against the Tide.
Alabama won itself a game 49-42.
So, it was never about Alabama’s defense vs. Manziel.
It was never about Johnny Football vs. Saban, though Saban had the final say.
“We said it was their team against our team,” Saban told reporters sardined into a tiny room in his postgame news conference. “I know you tried to make it out as this 61-year-old guy against their big quarterback, but we didn’t have much of a chance in that game.
“We had a lot better chance, our team against their team.”
That’s because Alabama’s improving offense spent better than half of the game playing against Texas A&M’s awful defense.
For 35 minutes and two seconds, Manziel watched from the bench as Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron passed for 334 yards and running back T.J. Yeldon ran for 149.
That’s not to say Alabama’s defense had no say. It made the two biggest plays in the game.
Cornerback Cyrus Jones married preparation with athleticism, beating A&M receiver Ja’Quay Williams to the outside on a fade route for a crucial interception in the end zone in the second quarter. A&M had a chance to regain the lead, but Alabama’s offense wound up driving 80 yards to take a 21-14 lead of its own.
The third quarter saw Alabama cornerback Jarrick Williams tip a deep pass in the air and Vinnie Sunseri run the rebound 73 yards for his second interception return for a touchdown in as many games. That put Alabama up 35-14.
But Manziel and receiver Mike Evans bombed away to force a dramatic finish.
Yes, Alabama’s secondary went without cornerback Deion Belue from mid-second quarter on because of a turf toe, but Manziel and Evans bombed away on cornerback John Fulton before that.
Manziel even avenged himself against Jones, throwing over his head to Evans for a 95-yard touchdown bomb to make it 42-35 with 8:04 to play.
Against a Saban/Kirby Smart-coached defense, Manziel threw for five touchdowns.
Against an Alabama defense that spent and much offseason time trying to solve hurry-up spread offenses and a bye week trying to solve Manziel, he threw for 464 yards and rushed for 98.
And Alabama won.
So, we learned Manziel will spend much of 2013 running a scoreboard race against A&M’s defense, which was bad enough to make Alabama’s offensive line look much improved in two weeks.
We learned that Alabama’s offense can win a scoring match, even against the likes of Johnny Football.
We also learned that Manziel can have a day, and Alabama can have its way.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.