COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Johnny Football still has his magic. Alabama has its revenge.
A certain rout by the Crimson Tide morphed into a battle worthy of all the game-of-the-century buildup. After spotting No. 6 Texas A&M a two-touchdown lead early, the two-time defending national champions nearly had a 21-point fourth-quarter advantage evaporate before hanging on for a 49-42 victory Saturday afternoon at Kyle Field.
Not only did the top-ranked Crimson Tide (2-0) get an early leg up in the SEC West, Nick Saban’s crew exacted payback for their only loss in last season’s title march. Alabama, led by four touchdown passes from AJ McCarron, improved to 16-2 in “revenge games” under Saban.
“It’s not really about payback,” McCarron said. “It’s another win for us and our program. Unbelievable job by our team.”
The Tide defense also forced two turnovers out of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who accounted for more than 550 yards and five touchdowns while almost authoring a frantic comeback over the final 15 minutes.
“I thought his play was Johnny-like,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “That’s about the way to put it. He scrambled around. He made some plays. He was in the pocket. He was efficient.”
“We fought our hearts out and played as a team,” Manziel said. “That’s all we can ask for.”
Alabama had five touchdown drives of at least 75 yards and rolled up 570 yards of offense against an overwhelmed A&M defense that had four suspended starters back. McCarron’s fourth touchdown pass – a 5-yarder to Jalston Fowler on third down with 2:28 left – clinched the victory.
“I just told Coach I wanted the ball in my hands,” McCarron said. “I felt comfortable with the play that we had. Being a leader and being a competitor that I am, I just wanted it in my hands with a chance to win the ballgame.”
Texas A&M (2-1) gained 628 yards and moved the football with ease at times. The Aggies will look back on Manziel’s two interceptions, which took one potential A&M touchdown off the board and put one up for Alabama.
Manziel also gave A&M a chance late. Down 42-21 to start the fourth quarter, the sophomore rallied the Aggies with two touchdown passes, including a 95-yard score to Mike Evans (279 yards receiving) to cut the lead to 42-35 with eight minutes left.
The Aggies would get another score with 15 seconds left on Manziel’s third touchdown pass to Malcome Kennedy. The Crimson Tide recovered the ensuing onside kick to get their payback for the 29-24 loss 10 months ago in Tuscaloosa.
“If we get one thing out of this tonight is this team is not going to quit,” Sumlin said.
The Aggies, though, may not be out of the national championship hunt. Alabama is the perfect example.
“Last year we were the team dancing around on their field,” Sumlin said. “We feel like they felt last year. We have a lot of football ahead of us.”
Saban had nothing but praise for Manziel and the Aggies. The 42 points were the most scored on Alabama in the Saban era.
“He’s a great competitor,” Saban said of Manziel. “He does a fantastic job for his team. He’s a great leader. He makes a tremendous amount of plays that nobody else probably can make.
“We obviously have to play better on defense fundamentally. That’s something that we need to work on. You have to give Texas A&M’s team a lot of credit. You have to give our offense a lot of credit.”
Manziel’s second pick on A&M’s first second-half possession gave Alabama a 35-14 lead. Vinnie Sunseri returned a deflected pass 73 yards for a touchdown, weaving through a host of Aggies, including a sliding Manziel, on his way to the goal line.
The Aggies came out attacking, just like last year. Manziel ran for a first down on the first play from scrimmage. Evans hauled in bombs of 32 and 35 yards. The 84-yard march ended on Manziel’s short play-action toss to tight end Cameron Clear.
The Tide went three-and-out the first time they touched the ball and were hurt by two false-start penalties. Manziel and Evans continued their act on A&M’s second drive before Ben Malena pounded it in. Midway through the first quarter, the Aggies were up 14-0.
“The fast start excited us,” Kennedy said. “It reminded us of last year.”
Alabama countered with four unanswered touchdowns, three on McCarron passes, to take a 28-14 lead into halftime. McCarron led the first scoring drive – a 75-yarder – that moved the chains on four consecutive plays, culminating with his 22-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Norwood.
After the first Aggies punt, the Crimson Tide briskly went 80 yards. The final 44 came on a flea flicker from McCarron to DeAndrew White.
Just when it seemed the Aggies were moving back ahead, Manziel made his first mistake and Alabama’s defense had the game’s first turnover. Cyrus Jones picked off a jump ball in the end zone to keep momentum squarely in the Tide’s favor.
A simple throw-and-catch from McCarron to Kenny Bell went for 51 yards, silencing the crowd and giving Alabama its first lead six minutes into the second quarter. Another long drive was capped by T.J. Yeldon’s 4-yard touchdown in the final minute of the first half.
Notes: This was the fifth all-time matchup between top-10 teams at Kyle Field. A&M is 2-3 in those meeting. The Aggies are 1-5 in their history against No. 1 teams. ... Alabama leads the series 4-2. ... Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is 8-3 against ranked teams, including 4-3 while at A&M. ... Alabama has a 16-game road winning streak, which is the longest in the FBS. A&M’s eight-game unbeaten streak was snapped.