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January 1, 2013

Is Johnny Football OU's toughest Heisman task yet?

IRVING, Texas -- Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel sat comfortably in front of half of a dozen cameras and a small crush of reporters in the corner of the Las Colinas Ballroom at the Omni Mandalay Hotel on New Year's Day for his final bowl week press conference.

He answered questions about how his life has changed since winning the Heisman Memorial Trophy last month, how eager he is to play the final game of his freshman season and what he'd learned from new Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury in his only season as the offensive coordinator at No. 9 Texas A&M. Then Manziel was asked what kind of defensive scheme he would employ to stop himself.

SCOOPHD: OU TALKS ABOUT STOPPING MANZIEL


How would he contain the 6-foot-1, 200-pound quarterback who has passed for 3,419 yards and scored 24 touchdowns and thrown just eight interceptions in only his first season of college football?

How would he stop the man who has rushed for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns, most which came against Southeastern Conference defenses?

How would he stop the man from Texas hill country who beat Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, Ala.?

"I don't know," Manziel said. "I'm more of an offensive guy, so I know what I would do if we were going to do some things to a defense. But if I'm a defensive coordinator I wouldn't know what to do."

No. 11 Oklahoma will need to find an answer to that question by 7 p.m. Friday at Cowboys Stadium in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, or Manziel might do to the Sooners what he's done to 10 of the Aggies' 12 opponents this season: Beat them.

Manziel might not know how to stop a player as skillful as he is during broken plays, but Sooner defensive end David King does.

"Get him to the ground," King said. "Tackle him. Wrap him up."

Is it that simple?

"I'm making it sound simple, but it's not simple because he breaks a lot of tackles," King said. "One guy has to get there and the defense has to rally to the ball. If we're able to get him to the ground all night, it will be a good day for us."

Aggies (10-2) running back Christine Michael believes King is onto the way to defend Manziel, but it might not be enough to stop him.

"You have to hit (Manziel) nose on," Michael said. "He's a winner. He kind of reminds me of a younger Tim Tebow. He has that same drive. He's very, very determined. He's just like a young Tim Tebow to me."

Texas A&M has only been toppled by SEC foes Florida and Louisiana State this season and is undefeated when it scores at least 20 points in a game.

Florida and LSU each have stout defenses that employ man coverage principles like OU. But they also have the speed and size in the secondary to keep up with the three and four wide receiver sets the Aggies like to spread the field with.

Oklahoma (10-2) could have an advantage in the secondary. Sooner safeties Javon Harris and Tony Jefferson have seen spread offenses all season, and Jefferson feels confident OU's defense can defend Manziel well enough to win.

Jefferson leads OU in tackles this season from the free safety position with 113 tackles. He recorded a career-high 14 tackles in two games this season (Kansas State and Oklahoma State) and notched double-digit tackles in seven of the Sooners' 12 games this season.

"I think we have to stay in the confines of our defense," Jefferson said. "I figure it's just going to come down to just being disciplined on the back end. What (Manziel) does a lot and where he gets his receptions a lot is off scrambling, and guys gotta lock up on their receivers. That's going to be a huge part of the game."

Harris will have to assist Jefferson and the corners in coverage if OU is going to stop Manziel from completing more passes than not, and he has the ability to create takeaway opportunities. He ranks first among the Sooners with five interceptions this season and ranks second on the team behind Jefferson in tackles with 77.

He'll concentrate on staying on assignment throughout the game and giving the defensive line and linebackers an opportunity to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities.

"For me, it's going to be about locking on, staying in my coverage and not really worrying too much about what he's doing behind the line of scrimmage," Harris said. "We all know what he can do when he does get loose."

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has great respect for Manziel's skill as a passer and scrambling ability. After playing against Manziel on Friday, his Sooners will have faced four Heisman finalists and the last two Heisman winners in the last two years but perhaps none with all the tools of Manziel.

"If you do not cover guys, (Manziel) puts the ball where it needs to be," Stoops said. "If you do cover him, uh oh, there you go, he's running. He just has a knack for making something happen even when you have played well. It is hard to explain, he just has a way to make plays."


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