AUBURN, Ala. – Texas A&M has flourished in a new offense, and quarterback Johnny Manziel has become an instant sensation.
The Auburn Tigers switched quarterbacks and offensive gears, too, with disastrous results.
The 22nd-ranked Aggies (5-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) land their high-flying offense in Auburn Saturday night against the Tigers, who haven't managed to take off even after eight weeks languishing on the runway.
The quarterback play pretty much sums up how things have gone for both teams. Manziel is only a redshirt freshman but already has a cool nickname, Johnny Football, and close to Cam Newton-like stats for the SEC's top offense.
"He's a young guy that really is very mature beyond his years," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "If you just watch his film, he's got really an uncanny ability to just get a feel for the game and the pass rush. He sees things and he's got just great vision for the field, and he extends plays. I've counted sometimes when he's stood back there for 10 seconds before he ever made a move. That's a long time for a quarterback.
"They help him a good bit with getting him in the right plays, which takes a lot off of a young quarterback. All those things combined, I think that's why you're seeing this offense being pretty high octane."
Auburn (1-6, 0-5) has turned to Clint Moseley at quarterback the past two games after Kiehl Frazier struggled with mistakes and sluggish decision-making for the league's worst offense. The results haven't changed much, and the Tigers are off to their worst start in six decades two years after Newton ran and passed them to a national title with a no-huddle offense.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin insists he's wary about a team that has repeatedly wilted in the fourth quarter.
"This is a prideful program two years off of a national championship," Sumlin said. "If you look at recruiting rankings, they've had three straight top-10 recruiting classes. There are a lot of good players on this team. And this is one of the storied programs in college football. There's tradition and pride. They're playing at home and we're going to get their best shot.
"A wounded animal is a lot of times the most dangerous."
There have been few if any signs that's poised to happen.
Auburn is planted in 118th nationally in total offense and one spot worse in scoring offense, out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. The Tigers have also been victimized for numerous negative plays and go against national sack leader Damontre Moore.
It's been a rocky debut for offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and his pro-style offense after a system that peaked with Newton and the national title team.
Now, they're charged with trying to keep up with an offense that planted 58 points on an Arkansas defense that held Auburn to a single touchdown. Or at least keep Manziel off the field with sustained drives, which have been as elusive as the Aggies' quarterback.
"That's our plan to win here, is to keep their offense off the field," Loeffler said. "That's going to be crucial. We've got to keep drives alive. We've got to keep them off the field."
Manziel is second in the SEC in both rushing and passing. He has accounted for 24 touchdowns, while Auburn's entire offense has managed only 11. So much for troubles adjusting to life in the SEC with a young quarterback.
"For a freshman to be as productive as he is and do what he does is, in this league, pretty incredible," Chizik said.
Added defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder: "He's a handful because he's a good athlete that's creative."
Manziel is coming off a three-interception performance against LSU, which held him to 276 passing yards and 27 on the ground.
Auburn's inexperienced defense has struggled in slowing down uptempo offenses. The Tigers have experience that includes facing Oregon in the national title game two years ago. Plus, Chizik is a former Texas defensive coordinator.
"When I was in the Big 12, pretty much all we faced was spread offenses," Chizik said.
Follow John Zenor on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jzenor