ARLINGTON, Texas — Heeeeeeeeere's Johnny!
Ed McMahon introduced Johnny Carson for years with the drawn-out catchphrase on “The Tonight Show,” which happened to feature Texas A&M's Heisman Trophy winner last month.
Although as No. 11 Oklahoma prepares for its Cotton Bowl clash Friday evening at Cowboys Stadium with the No. 9 Aggies and quarterback Johnny Manziel, Jack Nicholson's frightening version of the line in “The Shining” might be more applicable.
The Oklahoma defense struggled to contain mobile quarterbacks and slow spread offenses in late-season shoot-outs. Manziel and No. 9 Texas A&M are on a different level, but Oklahoma's saving grace may turn out to be the month Sooner coaches and players had to get ready.
“He can run you ragged,” said OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. “I've never seen anyone improvise and create like he can.”
Manziel became the first freshman Heisman winner by passing for 3,419 yards, rushing for 1,181 more and scoring 43 total touchdowns. Sooners coach Bob Stoops quipped that sometimes, a defense's worst mistake might be to cover all of A&M's receivers, because of Manziel's dangerous ability to escape the pocket and run.
“You've gotta be a little bit more disciplined, a little more under control, and be alert for him to pull it down because this is a guy that's looking to pull it down and run,” said defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright.
Added Mike Stoops, “I don't think you stop him. Nobody's stopped him. I think you try to contain him.”
Easier said than done, of course, and especially for Oklahoma's defense. The Sooners struggled mightily against quarterbacks with running ability; even Oklahoma State's Clint Chelf — not known as a runner — rushed for 63 yards against Oklahoma.
To its credit, Oklahoma improved in its defense of TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, a known rushing threat, in the regular-season finale; Boykin still broke off a 36-yard run against the Sooners, though.
“They probably run more quarterback draws than anybody we've seen,” Mike Stoops said of the Aggies. “And that play's been problematic for us all year, so I'd imagine we'll see a good dose of him running the ball.”
Oklahoma's chief ally for this matchup could prove to be the time it had to prepare for Manziel.
The Sooners' bye weeks were all in September; they played nine opponents in nine weeks to end the regular season, leaving little time for significant schematic alterations.
But with a month off, Oklahoma players not only had time to get healthy and relax; they also were afforded more time to study and scheme for Manziel than any of Texas A&M's other opponents.
“You get to rest from the long season, especially with our stretch at the end,” said junior safety Tony Jefferson, who fought a high-ankle sprain through much of the season. “Your body's probably hurting.
“Anytime you get extra time to work on someone with talent like him does justice for you.”
Mike Stoops toyed with different defensive personnel groups throughout the late-season struggles with little success, and said the time off gave him and the OU coaching staff time to design a diversified plan specifically for Texas A&M.
“We'll probably be more diversified, change up some looks,” Mike Stoops said. “I think you can go in with a little more of an arsenal than we have previously in a week's period of time. We'll just add a little bit to our game plan.”