Sep 14, 2013; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies tailback Ben Malena (1) runs with the ball in the third quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Johnny Manziel again authored moments of offensive brilliance, and Texas A&M again built a surprising first-quarter double-digit lead against the national champions.
But Alabama rewrote the rest of the script Saturday, proving to be the more opportunistic, balanced team in a 49-42 victory that earned the No. 1 Crimson Tide a measure of revenge against the sixth-ranked Aggies.
After months of hype surrounding this rematch between Manziel, the sport's most polarizing player who also has a Heisman Trophy in his name, and the two-time defending national champions, the Crimson Tide appeared to suck all the drama out of the SEC showdown after the first quarter.
Alabama (2-0) trailed 14-0 before unleashing 35 unanswered points to put a damper on the towel-waving, crowd-swaying scene at Kyle Field. But it was far too soon to count out the dramatics of Manziel and his favorite receiver Saturday, Mike Evans, who had seven receptions for 279 yards.
When Manziel hooked up with Evans on a 95-yard touchdown reception midway through the fourth quarter, it electrified the crowd and gave the Aggies renewed hope.
And then Alabama ended all suspense with a game-clinching touchdown drive.
Following a turbulent summer of controversy, Manziel demonstrated poise from the game's start, completed an inexplicable highlight reel-worthy pass off his back foot, and finished with impressive numbers: 28 of 39 passing for a career-high 464 yards, five touchdown passes and 98 yards rushing.
But his two interceptions were costly, the second of which came off a deflection and was returned 73 yards by Vinnie Sunseri to give the Crimson Tide a seemingly commanding three-touchdown, third-quarter advantage.
And all along, the announced crowd of 87,596 at Kyle Field got a first-hand glimpse at how inferior the Aggies' defense looked Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon and an offensive line that overwhelmed the home team.
Much like last season's upset in Tuscaloosa - where the Aggies jumped out to a 20-0 lead - Texas A&M got off to a blistering start. Manziel used his arm, legs and remarkable instincts to dissect Alabama's defense. And through the air, he found a favorite target in 6-foot-5 receiver Evans, who amassed 135 receiving yards on his first four catches - all in the first quarter.
But Texas A&M's defense just was not on par.
Hampered by injuries and suspensions, the defense was a shell of itself during two underwhelming performances against Rice and Sam Houston State. And even at relatively full strength Saturday, it posed little challenge against an Alabama offense that had slogged through its season-opening victory against Virginia Tech.
After some miscues that could be attributed to the Kyle Field ear-splitting scene on its first drive, the Crimson Tide settled down and marched down the field on a six-play, 75-yard touchdown-scoring drive midway through the first quarter.
It proved a harbinger of things to come.
Eric Prisbell, a national college sports reporter for USA TODAY Sports, is on Twitter@EricPrisbell.