No. 6 Texas A&M was tied with top-ranked Alabama in the second quarter when Johnny Manziel scrambled, scrambled some more, then wriggled away from an Alabama defender who had him caught by the jersey.
Then just as another white jersey was barreling toward him -- and 26 yards behind the line of scrimmage -- he launched a pass that Edward Pope grabbed for a 12-yard gain on third down. Four plays after Manziel's sparkling highlight, the Heisman Trophy winner was picked off in the end zone, the Crimson Tide soon had the lead and Alabama didn't trail again in a 49-42 win on Saturday.
"We were just kind of on a different page and that's on me," Manziel said of the play. "It's either our ball or nobody's and I know that and I know better than that. A big turning point in the game so that one's on me."
Manziel finished with a school-record 464 yards passing with five touchdowns. He added 98 yards rushing to finish with 562 yards of total offense, which is the second-most in school and SEC history behind the 576 yards he gained last year against Louisiana Tech. A&M's 628 yards of total offense were the most Alabama has ever allowed.
"He played Johnny-like," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "He scrambled around and made some plays but he also stayed in the pocket and remained efficient."
But the Aggies had lost, despite the monster numbers.
The sophomore had another major miscue on A&M's first drive of the second half. This time his pass was deflected and intercepted by Vinnie Sunseri, who returned it 73 yards for a touchdown to push Alabama's lead to 35-14. Manziel had a shot at making a tackle on the return, but Sunseri juked the quarterback and he went sliding down on the turf as Kyle Field fell mostly silent.
It was a stark contrast to last year's upset of Alabama when Manziel and the Aggies played a charmed game to get the 29-24 win in Tuscaloosa. Manziel's nearly flawless performance helped catapult him into becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
"I was proud of the way they kept fighting until the very end," Manziel said. "That's impressive to me."
Manziel's favorite target on Saturday was Mike Evans, who caught seven passes for a school-record 279 yards receiving with a score. Malcome Kennedy added 57 yards receiving with three touchdowns.
Manziel's mistakes were far from A&M's only problem on Saturday. The defense was back to full strength after missing several starters due to suspensions for the first two games, but the unit couldn't slow down Alabama's offense, allowing 568 yards.
"There are a lot of things that we have to fix, but you give a lot of credit to Alabama," Sumlin said.
The Aggies took solace in the fact that they beat Alabama last season and the Crimson Tide went on to win the national championship.
"This isn't the end of our season," Manziel said. "This wasn't the Super Bowl. This wasn't the last game of the season ... you never know how things will turn out. All we can do is take care of ourselves and continue to get better as a team."
Johnny Football and the Aggies looked unstoppable early, scoring touchdowns on their first two drives to take a 14-0 lead. Evans powered that hot start, piling up 135 yards receiving in the first quarter alone.
Alabama got going on offense on the second drive, with Jalston Fowler breaking through the line for a 15-yard run. Kevin Norwood extended and reached over the defense to grab a 22-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 14-7.
The Crimson Tide then called a flea-flicker where AJ McCarron found DeAndrew White for a 44-yard score to tie it at 14-all in the second quarter.
Manziel's interception came on A&M's next drive. Alabama took advantage of that error when Kenny Bell took a short pass 51 yards for the go-ahead score.
Alabama tacked on another touchdown to push the lead to 28-14 at halftime. That score came on a 4-yard run by T.J. Yeldon. He mocked Manziel's touchdown celebration where he rubs his fingers together after the score before running his arms across his throat to draw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Manziel got A&M within 35-21 with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Kennedy in the third. The defense couldn't come up with a stop though, with Kenyan Drake pushing the lead to 42-21 with a 3-yard touchdown run.
Manziel connected with Kennedy again early in the fourth quarter, this time on a 12-yard pass to cut the lead to 42-28. Manziel found Evans on a 95-yard score to get A&M within a touchdown with eight minutes left, but Alabama responded with a 5-yard touchdown by Fowler.
Kennedy's last touchdown got A&M within 49-42 with 15 seconds left, but Alabama recovered the onside kick to secure the win.
The Aggies host SMU next weekend.