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2013 Cotton Bowl reaction: Johnny Manziel's Texas A&M just too much

Oklahoma held Johnny Manziel and the Aggies in check for quite a while in the first half, but the Sooners couldn't take advantage. And you had to know what was coming after that.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

229. Johnny Manziel rushing yards. He punishes every lapse, every turned head, every bad angle. He is just the damnedest thing. One of the stories of the 2013 season is going to be how SEC defensive coordinators prepare and adjust for him now that they have a year's worth of film on him and have players who have experienced Johnny Football before. Teams will come to understand his tendencies better. But ... what tendencies does he actually have?

Manziel's single biggest gift is instinct, the ability to somehow know that, while three defenders are surrounding him, there is nobody behind him and to the left, and the ability to immediately process this information, kick into reverse, and spin out to the left. His reaction time to any scenario ... well, it just doesn't make sense. And with all the film study in the world, I don't know how you completely prepare for that. The best defenses will be able to tackle, swarm and survive to fight another down (like LSU and Florida did), but in terms of feeling truly prepared for Manziel's skill set? I don't know if that's possible.

Oh yeah, and a bonus number: 252. That's the number of days until Alabama visits Kyle Field on Sept. 14.

21. Minutes between Texas A&M points in the first half. Whether they meant to or not, Oklahoma perfectly executed Kansas State's "Slowing down a faster team" game plan, one that we saw in the first half of Thursday's Fiesta Bowl (and in many Big 12 games over the last two years). With no hope for a big play, Oklahoma unfurled long, five yards a pop scoring drives; to start the game, the Sooners scored on drives of 16 plays and 5:43, then 18 plays and 7:26. Meanwhile, they forced an A&M punt on the Aggies' second possession, and pulled in a red zone turnover when Javon Harris picked off a bobbled pass in the end zone.

It was near-perfect execution, except for one thing: when A&M took over following an Oklahoma interception with seven minutes left in the first half, the Aggies still had the lead. OU had to settle for field goals on each of those two long drives, and thanks to Manziel's ballet-act touchdown on A&M's first drive, the score was A&M 7, Oklahoma 6. When Dustin Harris picked off Landry Jones near midfield on OU's third drive, that basically ended the game:

Three plays and 48 yards later, A&M scored again to make it 14-6. OU would get to within 14-13 at halftime, but it didn't matter. They had stopped the Aggies all they were going to stop them, and they couldn't get the lead in the process. Like the Fiesta Bowl the night before, the first 10-12 minutes of the second half turned a close game into a laugher. A&M's first 20 plays of the second half gained 261 yards and scored three touchdowns, while Oklahoma gained 17 yards in nine plays in the process. Ballgame.

11.3. Oklahoma's average recruiting ranking, according to, over the last four years. Certainly not too bad. So here's an honest, non-accusatory question for Oklahoma fans: Where is the truly elite talent? Is there any? As I mentioned above, Oklahoma almost perfectly executed the Kansas State game plan in the first half, but the subtitle for the Kansas State game plan is "Beating teams seemingly more talented/athletic than you." There aren't supposed to be teams more talented/athletic than Oklahoma.

In the last three recruiting classes, Oklahoma has signed three players rated at either five stars or the highest four-star designation. Receiver/athlete Justin McCay, from the class of 2010, failed to make any impact and transferred to Kansas. Running back Brandon Williams, from the class of 2011, failed to see the field in 2011 and transferred to Texas A&M. Receiver Trey Metoyer, star of 2012's spring practices, caught just 17-of-29 passes for 148 yards in 2012 and was fending off transfer rumors himself.

In 2009, Oklahoma signed three such lofty recruits: defensive end Justin Chaisson, who left school after making no impact (OU's lack of elite end play last night was both obvious and staggering), defensive back Kevin Brent, who left school after making no impact, and defensive end/linebacker Ronnell Lewis, now a Detroit Lion. Oklahoma has signed consistently solid (if unspectacular) recruiting classes, but the Sooners have struggled to either uncover truly elite talent or get it on the field. And it was painfully obvious last night. When Oklahoma desperately needed to make a play, the Sooners realized they were outmanned by their opponent, one they had beaten 11-of-13 times under Bob Stoops.

6.4. Yards per target for OU's top four receivers. The Sooners were consistent, at least. Kenny Stills averaged 6.7 yards (7-for-10 for 67 yards), Jalen Saunders averaged 6.3 (9-for-10 for 63), Justin Brown 6.3 (7-for-9 for 57) and Sterling Shepard averaged 6.1 (4-for-7 for 43, and with a six-yard carry to boot). As I've written many times, Landry Jones caught plenty of flack from Oklahoma fans, basically for not being Sam Bradford. But Sam Bradford also had Malcolm Kelly, Jermaine Gresham and Juaquin Iglesias. This year, Jones didn't even have Ryan Broyles, also now a Detroit Lion. Oklahoma loaded up on receivers in the 2012 recruiting class, knowing it was an area of deficiency; none of the Sooners' 2012 signees made an impact in 2012 except Shepard (who could be really good in the future). Brown (a late Penn State transfer) was fine, and I really, really like Jalen Saunders (a Fresno State transfer), but Jones still needed more help than he got in 2012.