TUSCALOOSA — Alabama couldn’t beat Johnny Football.
The Crimson Tide fell behind early and couldn’t catch up to freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel and upstart Texas A&M, which joined the Southeastern Conference just in time to knock off the nation’s No. 1 team 29-24 in the program’s first trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Texas A&M scored three touchdowns on its first three drives for a 20-0 lead, and although the Crimson Tide charged back, Manziel and the Aggies always stayed out of reach.
“You have to really congratulate Texas A&M,” Alabama coach Nick Saban. “They played a tremendous game and certainly outplayed us today.”
Manziel completed 24 of 31 passes for 253 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the Aggies (8-2), and he scrambled for 92 yards on the ground as Alabama seemed to spend the whole day chasing him around the field.
It was enough to help Texas A&M beat the nation’s No. 1-ranked team for only the second time in school history. It also was only Alabama’s fifth loss in four years and likely snuffed the Tide’s hopes of repeating as national champions.
“Man, words can’t describe how I feel,” said Texas A&M defensive lineman Demontre Moore, who had five tackles and a sack. “I haven’t felt this way in a long time. ... This is one of those meaningful experiences where you reflect back on your college career, you say ‘We did something great.’ “
Alabama (9-1) struggled all day in critical areas. Quarterback AJ McCarron threw the first two interceptions of his season. A T.J. Yeldon fumble ruined another drive, giving the Tide three turnovers to A&M’s none.
The Crimson Tide defense, ranked with the nation’s leaders in every important category, gave up three touchdowns in the first quarter. And that’s after allowed only a pair of field goals in all the other first quarters of the season combined.
The Tide struggled to slow Manziel either passing or running, as he began the game by converting seven straight third-down plays into first downs. In one of his best moments, Texas A&M faced third-and-six at its own 41, but Alabama’s pass rush left an opening as it crashed down on him. He exploited it for a 32-yard run.
Afterward, Saban complained that his team seemed “out of gas” in practice and that it failed to play with the consistent focus it has maintained much of the season.
“You have to have a tremendous amount of discipline to play against a guy like that,” Saban said. “There were times when we didn’t quite get it done the way we’d like to.”
Incredibly, Alabama still had a chance to win at the end. Texas A&M led 29-17 until McCarron hit Amari Cooper for a 54-yard touchdown pass with 6:09 to play. Then after forcing Texas A&M to punt after three plays for only the third time all game, Alabama drove to the Aggies’ 6 and had first-and-goal.
The drive stalled, and on fourth-and-goal from the 2, Alabama chose passing over running. McCarron tried a quick out pass to the right side, but Texas A&M’s Deshazor Everett intercepted to end the threat.
“If we would have run it you would be asking me why we didn’t throw it,” Saban said.
Saban added, “We didn’t get the play executed. I’m not going to criticize the call, but I’m like everybody else when it doesn’t work, I wish we would have done something else.”
McCarron said the play was designed to run quickly.
“It’s a one-hit wonder,” he said. “On three steps, I throw it. The guy got underneath and got it.”
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said afterward he didn’t know the school was entering the SEC when he took the job. But he does now, as the Aggies knocked off the conference team with the best shot at a national title.
“To go on the road and win like that, it will be moment our guys will never forget,” Sumlin said.