OU defense awaits challenge of Johnny Manziel
BY ERIC BAILEY World Sports Writer
Thursday, December 20, 2012
12/20/12 at 4:36 AM
NORMAN - Oklahoma's David King understands why Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is receiving plenty of attention.
But the recent hype surrounding the Heisman Trophy winner is igniting extra motivation for the Sooners' defensive end.
"We have to sit around here for a month and watch ESPN and all they talk about is 'Johnny Football' or 'Johnny Heisman,' or whatever they call him now," King said. "We sit around and we get tired of watching it. The whole national media is scrutinizing our defense and that we can't stop the run.
"We're underdogs in this game. We have a lot to prove and, on January 4, we'll be ready to play."
When the Sooners face Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, coaches will have had one month to plot strategy to slow Manziel. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said the time will be put to good use.
"We'll be a little more diversified and change up some looks a little bit," Stoops said. "We can go in with a little more of an arsenal than we have previously in a week's period of time.
"We'll add a little bit to our game plan."
OU has struggled against the run this season. The Sooners have given up 200 or more rushing yards in six games. In 13 previous years under Stoops, Oklahoma had only allowed 200 or more yards 17 times.
Manziel has stressed defenses this season with his elusiveness and ability to make something out of nothing when plays break down.
"He has a great knack, even on the blindside of the field, people getting close and spin a couple of times and get your way out," OU coach Bob Stoops said. "That's something we really have to work hard at to contain him, keep him in. You don't want to be tentative and not rush. That's a fine line that we'll work on and keep him in and try to get him."
When Manziel played "tag" as a child, OU defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright joked, he was never "it" because no one could catch him.
"You've gotta keep him in the pocket. Make him beat you in the pocket. He can't get out. That's easier said than done," Wright said. "That'll be the task at hand. Can we keep him in the pocket? Can we keep him under control? Can we make him go through all of his read progression and throw the ball from the pocket?"
OU has been troubled at times with zone reads and quarterback draws. And it hasn't faced one with a quarterback that is as potent in the run game.
"We've seen a lot of this style, but no one - whether (TCU's Trevone) Boykin or (Oklahoma State's J.W.) Walsh or (Clint Chelf) - they can't run like this guy," Mike Stoops said. "They hurt us with run game too. It's a dimension that is very difficult.
"Whenever the quarterback carries the ball, the numbers go in there favor. They have one more blocker then we can add to stopping the run. That's the difficult part. Guys are going to have to get off blocks. We're going to have to get off blocks, separate and find the football."
Manziel has rushed for a team-high 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns. The Aggies' top two running backs - Ben Malena (752 yards) and Christine Michael (417) - has combined for 1,169 yards and 19 scores.
The Sooners have studied plenty of game film and it isn't lost that Texas A&M's two defeats (Florida, LSU) came when Manziel rushed for his lowest outputs in 2012.
"The ones that they lost, he did a lot of good things in those too," Wright said. "You've gotta look at all of (A&M's games), and look at the bulk of the work. Once we finally finalize what we wanna do game-plan wise, there could be bits and pieces from other teams."
Oklahoma also cannot bypass Manziel's passing ability. The quarterback has completed 273-of-400 passes for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns. He's thrown for more than 300 yards on four different occasions, including a 453-yard performance in a 58-10 win against Arkansas.
Manziel can tax secondaries with his ability to keep plays alive. When defenders think they have him bottled up, he can squirt loose and find a wide receiver freed up when defensive backs slow down on a play.
"He can run, but a lot of people overlook his throwing ability," OU defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland said. "He can throw just as good as he can run. He makes some of those plays that (2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III) made.
"His percentage was higher scrambling than standing in the pocket, so that's just amazing ability to add to the game. Our defense has to be versatile with this guy."
While all the action is going on at the line of scrimmage, safety Tony Jefferson said it's important to stick with coverage in the secondary.
"You have to hang onto your receivers in man-to-man," Jefferson said. "It's going to create a lot of friction with us. We just have to buy into our game plan and go out and execute."
The Sooners have been impressed with Manziel's ability to "feel" pressure on his blind side.
"I don't know how he does it," Jefferson said. "He can feel when someone is going to come at him. He does some amazing things ... We know it's going to be tough."
Freshman quarterback Trevor Knight is playing Manziel on OU's scout team. But it's difficult to mirror the athletic A&M signal caller.
"You can't simulate a player like that," McFarland said.
"The guy won a Heisman."
PLAYING FORMER HEISMAN WINNERS
This will be the third time that Oklahoma will face a reigning Heisman Trophy winner in a bowl game under Bob Stoops. A look at the two previous games:
Associated Press file
2000: Chris Weinke, Florida State
The Sooners defeated the Seminoles 13-2 in the Orange Bowl to claim the national championship. Weinke was held to 274 passing yards and had three turnovers, including a costly fourth-quarter fumble in the red zone.
Tulsa World file
2004: Matt Leinart, USC
The Trojans defeated OU 55-19 in an Orange Bowl rout. Leinart threw for 332 yards and five touchdowns to help USC win the national championship.
Note: Tim Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, played the Sooners in the 2008 title game. He led Florida to a 24-14 victory in the BCS National Championship game.
COTTON BOWL: OU VS. TEXAS A&M
7 p.m. Jan. 4 • Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas • TV: KOKI-5/23 • Radio: KMOD fm97.5, KTBZ am1430
Original Print Headline: Heisman hype
Eric Bailey 918-581-8391
The hype surrounding Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, this year's Heisman Trophy winner, is giving OU's defense motivation going into the Cotton Bowl. DAVE MARTIN/Associated Press