COLLEGE STATION, Tx.-- The SEC hangs its collective hat on smothering defenses and powerful rushing attacks.
The new kids on the block, transplants from the Big XII, prefer to pitch the ball around a little bit, speed up the tempo and score bucket loads of points.
For a quarter on Saturday morning, Texas A&M imposed its will on the defending SEC champions. The throwing, running, juking, jiving freshman signal caller Johnny Manziel and his offense ran 32 plays for 180 yards against a shell-shocked LSU defense.
“They did catch us off guard a little bit,” said junior safety Eric Reid. “We knew they were going to run tempo, but they were faster than we expected.”
The Aggies surged out to a 9-0 lead, and the “12th Man” was alive and roaring in approval at Kyle Field.
But then LSU did what LSU does.
The Tiger defense clamped down and slowed the frantic pace of the game, allowing just 142 yards over the next two quarters.
But the stops weren’t what changed the game, it was the turnovers, and they started in the second quarter.
Leading 12-0 and in possession of the ball, Manziel made the first of his costly mistakes when he fired downfield in the direction of freshman wide reciever Mike Evans, waiting for it was freshman Tiger cornerback Jalen Collins.
“We were in a bail concept, and I bailed out and he just threw it up to me,” Collins said.
For all the heart-stopping plays Manziel pulled off, the Tiger defense sensed that by keeping him contained and making him a thrower, he was susceptible to mistakes.
The Collins interception turned into seven points for LSU. More were to come.
The second defensive back-forced turnover came late in the second quarter as sophomore safety Ronald Martin put a helmet on the football and popped it free from Aggie ball carrier Ben Molena.
Junior linebacker Lamin Barrow pounced on it, giving the Tigers possession. It would turn into a lead.
But no lead felt safe as the Aggie offense trotted onto the field. Not with Manziel slinging the ball all over the yard and taking shots at a Tiger secondary featuring three freshmen, Collins, Micah Eugene and Jalen Mills, along with veterans Craig Loston, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon.
Early in the fourth quarter, after being on the field an absurd number of plays, the Tiger defense found itself in the biggest pickle of the entire ballgame, and it wasn’t self-imposed.
Texas A&M, trailing by five, returned a kickoff down to the LSU 16 yard line. Only Collins’ tremendous hustle to bring Trey Williams down saved a touchdown.
The young Tiger secondary blanketed the Aggie wide outs for three plays, forcing a three and out that resulted in a missed field goal.
Still the game remained in doubt as the defense retook the field to stare down the demon that is Manziel with less than five minutes left and the lead just five.
Simon, the veteran, made the play his former teammates Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne patented during their time in the Tiger secondary.
After Manziel escaped a hellacious rush, he flung a pass down the field that Simon read perfectly, snared and took it 10 yards the other way, setting up a 47 yard Jeremy Hill touchdown to virtually put the game out of reach.
In all, Manziel threw the ball 56 times, completing just 29. None of the 56 throws resulted in touchdowns, and three were intercepted.
The win mirrored a pair of non-conference wins from last season.
“It felt like West Virginia and a little bit of Oregon last year,” Reid said. “They were able to tempo us, but we adapted and played well.”
This one counts in the conference record.