By MICHAEL KINNEY
ARLINGTON, Texas — Mike Stoops has seen many great players in his time as a coach. Whether it has been in his current position as Oklahoma defensive coordinator or as a head coach in the PAC-10, he has watched talented offensive players come and go.
However, they all now pale in comparison to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. After watching the redshirt freshman dismantle his defense Friday for 41 points during the 77th Annual Cotton Bowl Classic, Manziel leapfrogged to the top of his list of amazing football players.
“He’s virtually unstoppable,” Stoops said. “Best player I think I’ve ever played. He just does so many good things. He’s got magic.”
Even though Manziel was the first freshman to ever win the Heismann, it was understandable if the Sooners didn’t truly believe the hype surrounding the man the rest of the country calls Johnny Football. OU had punished A&M quarterbacks for years when it was part of the Big 12.
But Manziel proved to the Sooners he is a different breed than what they have seen before. He finished the night completing 22 of 34 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns. He also carried the rock for 229 yards and another two scores.
“There wasn’t anything holding us back,” Manziel said. “No rust. There was no nothing. To come in and go against a Big 12 rival and do everything we wanted as a team, we couldn’t feel any better.”
In the process of winning his first bowl game, Manziel broke and set several records that have stood for years. That includes setting the all-time FBS bowl record of rushing yards for a quarterback. He also took home the Cotton Bowl record for total offensive yards in a game with 516.
For a program like Oklahoma that used to be built on a staunch defense, those are hard pills to swallow.
“We couldn’t execute, much less do anything tonight,” OU senior David King said. “Johnny went out there and did everything that he has done all year. We had him contained and then all of a sudden he got away and makes a pinpoint throw.”
Oklahoma safety Javon Harris said A&M didn’t do anything differently that they hadn’t seen on film. But they were just not equipped to slow down the high-powered offense.
“We knew what kind of player he was,” Harris said. “Clearly, you saw what he did to the SEC all year. We knew exactly what we were going to get into, but we wanted to keep him in the pocket and it didn’t happen tonight.”
Oklahoma’s defensive line had been a liability most of the season. It was made worse when they came into the Cotton Bowl without starting defensive tackle Stacey McGee, who was suspended last week.
But regardless of who the Sooners could have put on the field, the A&M offensive line kept Manziel clean and out of danger. Several times he had six to seven seconds to scan the field looking for opening receivers due to a lack of pass rush from the OU front four. And that proved to be too much for someone of the caliber of Manziel.
“You can’t catch him with four,” Stoops said. “We are not the type of team that gets him with four. You are in a dilemma for almost 60 minutes trying to defend the guy. He’s a magical player and he just puts a lot of pressure on your defense across the board. He is just so difficult to contain.”