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Tusks sawed off

First SEC win a record-breaking game for Manziel

Published: Monday, October 1, 2012

Updated: Monday, October 1, 2012 01:10

A&M-Arkansas

Tanner Garza

Last September, the Aggies were invited. In July, the acceptance took effect. Weeks ago, the football team took to Kyle Field with a maroon SEC logo emblazoned on the turf. But it wasn’t until Saturday, when A&M (3-1, 1-1) washed over the Arkansas Razorbacks (1-4, 0-2) in a 58-10 thrashing, that the Aggies’ inclusion in college football’s most exclusive party became more than ceremony.

Given the new conference, the history of second-half disasters and a nagging recent inability to close out Arkansas, A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said the team’s relief was clear.

“We got a monkey off our back today,” Sumlin said. “Everybody was talking about what happens to us in the second half, and these guys were determined to play.”

Sumlin wasn’t on the sidelines to witness three straight heartbreakers against Arkansas — including last season’s 18-point lead whisked away by a stagnant second half — but this year’s seniors were. The win was the first in four tries for seniors, including senior defensive lineman Damontre Moore.

“Everybody was overwhelmed,” Moore said. “It felt like the [2010] Nebraska game, the [2010] Oklahoma game, all over again. We came in after the game excited, splashing Gatorade all over. It’s a great feeling for the seniors who have been through all this Arkansas rivalry.”

Trailing 10-7 in the first quarter, Sumlin’s Aggies reeled off 51 unanswered points to close the contest. After a mixed-bag preseason of coaching scandals and top-10 rankings, Arkansas dropped its fourth in a row, furthering a disappointing season for Razorback fans.

The SEC takes pedigree seriously. But now, in his fourth start, the conference’s newest member upstart freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel has churned out the most total yardage in a game in SEC history.

Manziel’s day ended just after the start of the fourth quarter, but not before his offense accumulated 453 yards and three touchdowns passing and 104 yards and a touchdown rushing. His 557 total yards shattered the previous school record of 487 held by former quarterback Jerrod Johnson and nipped an SEC record of 540 shared by Archie Manning and Rohan Davey.

Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury praised Manziel’s performance.

“I felt like it was the best game he’s played in the pocket,” Kingsbury said. “He still went outside when the play wasn’t there. He’s got that ability. He pulled the trigger today. He liked what he saw and ripped it.”

Aiding Manziel’s success was a rejuvenated performance from his offensive line, which senior center Patrick Lewis said came from better communication.

“Communication was a big factor which was something we were lacking in the past weeks,” Lewis said. “The more we communicate, the better we play.”

A string of three quiet games had people murmuring about the diminished involvement of senior wide receiver Ryan Swope. Against Arkansas, Swope hauled in five catches for 141 yards — his tenth such game of better than 100 yards, a school record — including an 80-yard touchdown from Manziel. Of the touchdown, Swope said when the play call was made he knew he had a chance to make something of it.

“That was just a little double move, a great call by Coach Kingsbury,” Swope said. “When he made that call I knew it was my time to flip the switch and take over the ball game.”

The Aggies converted their 716 yards into 58 points, while the Razorbacks turned out just ten points in 498 yards. Senior safety Steven Terrell, who gathered in two interceptions on the day, said the defense wasn’t concerned with conceding yardage so long as big plays were minimized.

“The more snaps they have, the more chances they have to throw a pick or fumble the ball,” Terrell said. “We knew we might give up a lot of yards but as long as we didn’t give up the deep ball we knew we were going to win this game.”

The win prevented A&M from slumping into a potentially devastating 0-2 home record in the SEC. The Aggies, very much in the conference hunt just one game behind first-place No.1 Alabama in the SEC West, look ahead to a road date in Oxford against the Ole Miss Rebels.

Ole Miss (3-2, 0-1) put up an early fight but fell on the road to heavily favored Alabama, 33-14. A win in Oxford would go a long way toward solidifying any early noise touting the Aggies as a legitimate force in the new-look SEC.

Senior linebacker Sean Porter said the team has let fans down in the past, but said this year’s group has a chance to shock some teams.

“We know that we didn’t close games last year and this year we’re changing that,” Porter said. “If we just play our game, we can compete with anybody.”

 

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