Welcome to the Lockr Room. The youngest student-athlete to ever play quarterback for a major college football team, former Texas A&M star David ‘Moon’ Walker, provides his weekly insights on the Aggies and the SEC.
Lockr Room Legends Q&A: David “Moon” Walker, 12th Man QB
I’ve promised myself and the 17,000-plus readers of last week’s “Down Goes Bama!” article to be objective this season and tell it like I see it, without getting caught up in the “bitch-o-mania” that sometimes engulfs college athletics. Unfortunately, Texas A&M finds itself in the eye of the storm on a couple of fronts, each of which can be quickly addressed.
As the first four-year starting quarterback for A&M, I played under the same voting procedures as we all have today, minus the BCS and automatic Championship Game setup. I vividly remember the excitement and anticipation we had each week to find out where we were in the A.P., U.P.I. (Coaches/USA Today) and Sporting News polls.
Texas A&M was ranked in the top five at some point during four of the five seasons that I was a member of the Aggies football team. This is probably still an all-time record.
[Check out where the Aggies stand in the latest BCS Polls]
There once was a time when bowl games didn’t matter and statistics didn’t count toward individuals’ or teams’ season and career totals. In fact, it was only after Alabama was named National Champions and then lost in its bowl game that the rule was finally changed — henceforth, the final polls were scheduled to be posted after the bowl games.
Most bowls had conference champion affiliations back then, so it was only by pure luck that the two top-ranked teams would be matched up at the end of the season for a showdown. This sudden upheaval in practical thinking was all occurring around the same time most major universities, including A&M, first began “brazenly” recruiting African-American players to come play some football for them. The polls and their voters dominated the seasons and the final polls were, of course, the biggies. This is when teams were still allowed to “share” national championships. After every season we would humbly bow our heads and say, “Thank you, experts from afar who never saw us play!”
Yeah, we haven’t necessarily come a long way, baby, but at least we have a National Championship game that is thrust upon us by the current set of “people and machines in the know.” The programmable computers give proper credence to the people who load them up. They’re only wrong this time of year two or three times each week, which is still a very high percentage, keeping them, ostensibly, in the business of brain-washing the American public and white-washing their losing selections.
“Alabama’s just mad, and they’re going to take it out on Johnny Football and Texas A&M!” was Joey Harrington’s assessment on FOX Sports prior to kickoff.
Of course, it’s A&M’s fault for starting all this pandemonium in the first place (Happy Face emoticon goes here.).
Down Goes ‘Bama.
Now, after Saturday night, the Tuscaloosans are all dancin’ in the streets and the Aggies are off the hook for knocking the SEC out of the championship game. Yes, it’s a wonderful feeling, going from goat to hero.
I’m still not sure how any team out there can top the Aggies’ performance over the last month though, and there will always be the question of whether the Aggies would now be undefeated had they gotten that first game under their belts instead of having to sit out opening weekend. As it was, A&M fell tantalizingly short to two current top-seven BCS teams by eight points combined.
Then A&M stunned the ‘unbeatable’ No. 1 team in the nation that had just beaten LSU in Death Valley in dramatic style, once again proving its invincibility to itself and the rest of the country.
[Johnny Manziel pulls off the miracle]
This victory over the Crimson Tide came in the Aggies’ third straight game on the road (all SEC schools, by the way). Apparently none of the nation’s esteemed sportswriters and TV broadcasters have recognized just what an unusual and outstanding feat this is.
See if you can find any other team that has won three consecutive road games in any conference, topping them off by defeating an undefeated, top-ranked defending national champion. Go ahead; make your day.
And for all their astounding accomplishments, the Aggies get dropped a spot in the BCS standings below Stanford, a team coming off a home win over Oregon State to beat a brand new No. 2 team on the road at Oregon. In the shakeup following the Aggies’ defeat of Alabama, Oregon wasn’t even worthy of being voted better than Kansas State.
That Stanford win just isn’t quite as impressive now as A&M’s was, is it?
My point is this; send any of the teams ranked ahead of A&M to Auburn, Mississippi State and then Alabama three weeks in succession after a heartbreaking defeat at home against LSU, our second conference loss, and let’s see how they roll. This season is so much like 2010, which was also identical to my 1976 season. In all three we lost our first two conference games before murdering the rest of the schedule.
The exception in 2010 was that we didn’t seal the deal against LSU in the Cotton Bowl, while in ’76 we crushed Florida to finish third in the Sporting News and seventh in the other two polls at 10-2. Much like this 2012 version we’re now celebrating, by the end of the year media types were saying, “Of all the teams out there, A&M is the team no one wants to play.” Hail to these Ags — at least in the minds of many.
We realize somewhat begrudgingly that only the polls prevent us from being that team not only in the minds of many, but also on paper. Rest assured the case has been made even as we wade through a muddled mess of scenarios.
Well done, Aggies, but you can’t beat City Hall. What a tremendous comeback season, particularly with so many road games, a new staff, new offenses and defenses and only one spring training under your belts, and it was one which did not even include Johnny Manziel as starting quarterback.
But what if it had? If the spring isn’t good for getting your ducks in a row then teams wouldn’t have one, right? Regardless, against all odds this team refused to be negatively affected after narrow losses to two great, powerful football teams, and as a result they accomplished the near-impossible — impressively.
Provided we win out and regardless of our final “rankings” this outfit will go down as one of the highest achieving teams this school has ever produced. We can’t concern ourselves with the final polls should we finish lower than current expectations call for, nor can we fail to recognize the spirit, resilience and intelligence with which this great assimilation of players and their coaching and training staffs should be endorsed.
“Down Goes Sam!” does not have the same ring as “Down Goes ‘Bama!” — but it’s still a win and counts toward the 11 victories and hopefully a top five finish for which this team is striving. I wrote in my last article what would need to happen in order for the Aggies to get to the Title game, and lo and behold, I went two-for-two with Baylor and Stanford each recording huge upset wins.
I felt the Bears had a real shot at home against Kansas State because they were such Cardiac Kids last season with RG3, and their quarterback, Nick Florence, is lights out this season as well. Baylor’s defensive coordinator, coach Phil Bennett, a guy I played with for four years at A&M and who was also the D.C. under R.C. Slocum, kept the same 11 guys on the field for almost the whole game, never making a substitution. These kids played the game of their lives and K-State had no answer for Baylor’s offense.
[By the Numbers >> Who had the better weekend statistically, Florence or RGIII?]
I hoped beyond hope in my earlier article that one of the two remaining Texas teams on Kansas State’s schedule would knock them off their No. 1 perch, thus giving the state two block-buster games and teams to look back on. I ask you, when in the history of football have two teams 90 miles apart beaten the top teams in America on successive weekends, or even in the same season? Baylor got it done before Texas got the chance. My hat is off to our former Highway 6 foes for a great game plan and an emotional season-salvaging win.
Now getting to my favorite subject: Quarterbacking. We jumped on Sam Houston State, a team in the top-five in its NCAA classification and a National Finalist just last season, pretty hard in the second quarter at Kyle Field. (Pardon my word usage here, but occasionally I’m not sure whether we’re in Kyle Field, at Kyle Field or on Kyle Field.)
Johnny Manziel is a marvel to watch and can entertain you even on the lamest of plays. We’re not ALL spit and polish out on that field, you know. It all looks pretty, choreographed and synchronized, but trust me, there’s a lot of grunt work going on protecting both this young man and our end zone. ‘Third and shorts’ do happen, and then we go to our jumbo set … sometimes. And somehow sparks fly from this young guy regardless of the situation, the play call or the competition.
For instance, on his first rushing touchdown we were running the lead option to the right. The defensive end, Johnny’s pitch key, shot up-field and took away Johnny’s pitch back. Then a linebacker slipped through the line preparing to tackle Johnny for a loss when he cut up-field. Dead to rights, right?
I’m telling you right now, Johnny has to have eyes in his earholes because he did not give himself up and just cut up into the carnage. He didn’t surrender and just take the hit. No, he reversed back to the left down the line and out-quicked everyone to that end zone untouched. He scored an easy touchdown on a perfectly defended play by the Bearkats. Boy, that’s got to be frustrating! The poor linebacker who was about to tackle ‘Johnny the Great’ just stood there and watched, shaking his head as he went back to the defensive huddle.
Sure, it was only a four-yard touchdown run, but it would have gone 80 if that’s what was needed.
His second score came by ‘zone blocking’ to the right side by the O-Line, a fake to Ben Malena up the gut over right guard, and then a quick scoot around left end behind a great sealing block by junior Nehemiah Hicks. It looked like the old “loaded” option we once ran, except Johnny doesn’t need anyone out there with him to pitch to. This one went one yard and could have gone 99; it’s the same difference.
A minute and 26 seconds into the second half, Johnny played himself out of the ball game by completing a beautifully thrown 89-yard touchdown pass on first down to Uzoma Nwachukwu. His extra-point kick somehow sailed wide right and did not land in downtown Hearne, as was earlier reported. This attempted extra point will probably go down as the most inconsequential kick to never be forgotten in the annals of college football.
“Hey, you remember that day Johnny kicked that extra point?”
“Legend” will one day tell a different story. This is how “Legend” works, especially in Texas.
[Check out why Johnny Football will be the Heisman winner in 2012]
“Damn right, I do. It went right through the uprights and some guy caught it at the Hearne Post office. What is that, about 30 miles? Amazing stuff! That Johnny Football was a PLAYUH!”
I had predicted on Facebook and Twitter that A&M would win by 21 points and have 700 yards of total offense. I also hoped we would shut Sam Houston down but they kept recovering onside kicks and keeping possession. When you’re down 47-0, well, this is what you do when you score. As good as they were at it, they must have practiced it about a hundred times during the week leading up to the game.
As little as Johnny Manziel played and as well as Baylor played, I assumed Johnny had lost ground on Baylor’s Florence in the Total Offense race nationally. Not so. Johnny closed the gap to five yards from 15 as they still rank Nos. 1 and 2. This is excellent news, from a quarterbacking standpoint.
Besides the polls, players look at stats, and you can bet that everyone involved with these two offenses knows the score here. The “Battle of the Brazos” is only on paper this season but braggin’ rights are always of significant importance. I’ve stated in earlier articles that had Johnny stayed in games an equal amount of time as Florence has, the numbers would be adjusted in Johnny’s favor.
For instance, Johnny was on a pace to hit 699 total yards against Sam Houston as opposed to the 367 yards with which he was actually credited.
Now for the Heisman. I’ve never seen anyone having so much fun playing QB as Johnny Manziel.
Can you imagine sticking this guy behind the wheel of a Wishbone? No, me neither.
I’ve known Johnny’s high school coach, Mark Smith, for 30 years. Mark has nothing but the highest of praise for Johnny’s character, ability and leadership qualities. I give immense credit to Mark and his staff for allowing Johnny to develop into this ungodly scoring machine without enforcing common systematic hindrances which most high school coaches apply to their players and teams. Sure, you’ve got to rein them in and sometimes break them from behaviors detrimental to your team’s success on occasion, but the stallions, hey, you’ve got to let them run. And this Stallion can go!
Yet, even after the sloppy and unpolished play of the latest Heisman front-runner, Collin Klein, the second from the Big 12 to fall from grace (West Virginia QB Geno Smith was the other), we still find ourselves watching in horror as the talking heads try to gather up steam for anyone not named Johnny Manziel. I have to ask, “Why do voters feel they’re doing some kind of disservice to the game if they vote the Heisman to a freshman?”
The game’s ego will survive and after all, Johnny turns 20 next month. Isn’t 20 old enough?
It could be that Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel and Kevin Sumlin have come too far too fast for anyone to grasp. Sometimes it’s the obvious pill that is toughest to swallow.
Beat the Hell Outta Missouri. And don’t change a thing.
Latest from around Gamedayr >> College football expert Mike Huguenin updates his bowl projections. Where is A&M slotted after yet another win?