Maybe, just maybe, Duke wasn't that bad after all. There's a bias against Duke because it's Duke, but it got to the ACC title game for a reason – it was really good. Texas A&M's defense might be a disaster, but still, Duke came out with a great offensive gameplan, the O line did its part, and it pushed a far, far better Texas A&M team right to the final drive. So, does that mean that Florida State is just that amazing for what it did to the Blue Devils in the ACC championship game? The puzzle will be put together after the BCS championship, but maybe this might be a little bit of an indication that the Seminoles are at a whole other level.
But, of course, this was Johnny Manziel's night.
Leave it to the Aggie defense to be awful enough to make Manziel have to press and press some more, and he got to do what he does best with a nearly perfect night, a highlight reel play on the body surf play for a 19-yard touchdown pass to Travis Labhart that will go down as one of the ten best in a career of amazing plays. He's going to take off for the NFL early, and this was the way to do it.
2. Duke was up 35-17 and was daring enough to come up with the onside kick after Josh Snead's 25-yard touchdown run in the final minutes of the first half. But if you're going to be the type of go-for-the-jugular team that can have the type of moxie, then you have to keep it going. Yes, normally going for the field goal with two seconds to play and a chance at free points, but the Blue Devils had the ball on the one-yard line and the Aggie defense wasn't remotely close to slowing down the ground game. You go for it. You go for it and you make a bigger statement by trying to go up 42-17 and get the ball coming out of the locker room. What do you have to lose if you're Duke? By hitting the field goal, it's almost as if Duke killed its own momentum and ruined everything it did to get to the point it did late in the half. Texas A&M grabbed the mo all to itself in the second half, and the rest is Johnny Manziel history.
By Rich Cirminiello
3. Johnny New Year.
If that indeed was the final college game of Johnny Manziel's career, it was a fitting end to arguably the most entertaining two-year flash across the sky in the sport's history. You will be missed at this level, Mr. Football, even amongst many of your peers in the SEC. Since the consensus is that Manziel will be paid to perform his unique brand of magic from now on, it's more imperative than ever that Texas A&M address the reality that its defense is an abomination. And without No. 2 to bail the unit out in 2014, the Aggies could be facing a sudden drop-off in overall competitiveness.
If Kevin Sumlin doesn't want to become this generation's Don Coryell, he'll have to spend the offseason finding some solutions for a unit that was embarrassed by Duke and its coach David Cutcliffe in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Yeah, the Aggies came through with a couple of game-changing picks in the final minutes, including the game-winner form Tony Hurd, but those were the exceptions on a night when Anthony Boone was made to look like the second-coming of Dan Fouts.
It looks as if Johnny is, well, gohnny. Sure, this system breeds points and offensive pyrotechnics, but College Station may not be the same again for a very long time. When you're jotting resolutions for 2014, Coach Sumlin, write something about the defense at the very top of the list. Bold it, underline it and then commit to it for the next eight months. Johnny bailed your team out in Atlanta this evening, but that toothless defense of yours won't have nearly as much margin for error next fall.
4. What's next for Texas A&M?
Luke Joeckel or Kenny Hill, your table is waiting. Good luck following that. With Johnny Manziel ready to start getting paid for writing his name, can the Texas A&M offense keep on rolling? RBs Tre Williams, Tra Carson and Brandon Williams are too good to not start getting the ball more, and even with LT Jake Matthews likely off to be one of the top five picks in the draft, the line should be outstanding with the other four starters returning. Mike Evans is also gone to the next level, taking away the Aggies' top target, and now it'll be up to Malcome Kennedy and Laquvionte Gonzalez to pick up more of the slack until Ricky Seals-Jones can be 100% healthy and the superstar No. 1 target everyone expects he'll become.
The good and bad news for a defense that was so porous – almost everyone is back. Leading tackler Steven Jenkins is done, and nickel defender Toney Hurd's eligibility is up, but everyone else is back with eight of the ten top tacklers returning. Darian Claiborne looked like the real deal at middle linebacker, and now he has a year of experience. More is needed from the defensive front to get into the backfield, and it might start with Gavin Stansbury on one end. All the kickers are back.
5. What's next for Duke?
Could his be just the beginning for the Blue Devils? With nine starters back on offense, the attack could and should be far more dangerous with the 1-2 rushing punch of Jela Duncan and Josh Snead back along with QBs Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone to lead the way. Jamison Crowder should be in the NFL, but the team's leading returning receiver could be an ACC superstar as part of a strong passing game that returns nine of the top ten targets only losing Brandon Braxton. LG Dave Harding has to be replaced, but the other four starters return to the O line.
The defense isn't quite as loaded, but it should be strong in the back seven. The line will be an issue with three starters gone and only Jamal Bruce back on the nose, but the biggest hit is losing corner Ross Cockrell. All the safeties are back led by Jeremy Cash, a big hitter who's always in the right spot. The linebacking tandem of Kelby Brown and leading tackler. David Helton should be solid. PK Ross Martin and P Will Monday are back.
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