There was an incredible amount of hype building for the game between Texas A&M and Alabama that has been building since the last one ended. Nick Saban got another shot at Johnny Manziel and company with a chance to right a wrong in their minds, by shutting down the Heisman winning signal caller. The game ended up a shootout and while there will be a huge focus on Manziel as well as Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, the player who really stole the show was wide receiver Mike Evans. Evans is hardly a sleeper but a game like this showed why the NFL cannot wait to this guy into the league as a likely first round pick and an instant matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
Evans (Broken down here before the season), was an extremely impressive redshirt freshman that was a huge part in Manziel’s success and meteoric rise. He came into this season and picked up where he left off last year. In the first two games of the season against Rice and Sam Houston State, Evans caught 13 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns. In those games, he and rest of the Aggies were an overwhelming favorite and expected to dominate. While he was certainly a mismatch for Alabama, their defense is still regarded as maybe the best in the country and the stat line of 7 catches (led the team), 279 yards (of Manziel’s 464 yards) along with a touchdown speaks for itself. But what made Evans so overwhelming and so impressive in this game was how he accumulated the numbers and just how much he was able to do in this game.
Evans made plays with his speed, his size and strength as well as his hands and showed the entire package of what he offers both for the Aggies now and what he can give a team in the NFL in the future. It was clear from the jump that Alabama could not single cover him in their defensive scheme and it is unclear why they thought they could get away with it in the first place. Evans was an incredible talent coming into the year and Alabama might have their worst set of corners since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. The Aggies did not hesitate to take advantage and went to him in their first drive on single coverage.
Evans used his size and strength to beat the press with relative ease and create separation. He was then able to utilize his raw speed to just blow by the opponent and get wide open down the sideline. Manziel threw a great pass that hit Evans in stride and allowed him to gain extra yardage as the Aggies went right down the field and scored. They went back to him on their second drive which was also straight down the field for a touchdown. Once the Tide was down by 14 points, they adjusted their coverage and gave the corner help over the top and used bracket coverage.
After a period of being relatively quiet as Alabama marched their way back into then taking it over by scoring 35 straight points, Manziel just went ahead and forced the football to Evans. On two occasions, Manziel was able to escape pressure with a combination of quickness and grit that freed him up to the throw the football. On both occasions, he threw up a couple of prayers that had no business being caught by anyone other than a member of the Tide and Evans found a way to make both plays with the second being more spectacular than the first.
The first time, Manziel threw a pass towards the middle of the field where Evans came back and caught the football to extend a drive and make a huge play. The combination of Manziel and Evans on this play becomes incredibly disheartening for opponents as they had Manziel dead to rights and missed him on the sack when the defensive lineman had him in their grasp. On that play, Evans did a good job of working back to get open, locate the football and make the catch.
On the second one, the pass looked more like a punt than a pass. He escaped long enough to roll out and throw the ball up on a moon shot reminiscent of Scott Zolak throwing to Irving Fryar in Tecmo Super Bowl. Evans did a fantastic job of getting in position to go up and get the football. He used his size and strength to box out opponents coming up his back, went up and high pointed the football like a rebound off of the glass and came down with the catch.
The last play was the biggest in terms of the impact of the game as it was a momentum swing and put the game back in doubt with A&M having an opportunity to come back and tie the game. On this play, Evans again managed to beat the coverage up the sideline where Manziel threw a beautiful pass with zip on it between defenders where his receiver could catch it in stride and keep going. This is where Evans showed off his speed as he made one defender miss with a quick move inside and he was off to the races with no one having a chance to catch him from behind. While he had a good head start, it is unclear if any of the Tide defenders could have caught him if they were within five yards of him when he got going. He is not a sprinter by any stretch but he showed and has shown that he is someone who can make plays with the ball in his hands.
On this play, Evans not only showed how fast he can be with the ball in his hands, but how comfortable and fluid he is as a runner. He was smooth in how he moved and looked natural as a runner; not stiff or clunky. Evans is not an ideal player to make defenders miss in space, but he has enough wiggle to make opponents take him seriously and combined with his power, can intimidate defenders when running at them.
Evans is also a player who is extremely comfortable as a blocker and willing to get out in front of plays. With the way Manziel can improvise in the backfield, having plays where he ends up scrambling are hardly rare and a player like Evans is willing to help maximize those plays as well as work to protect him from taking big shots.
Manziel will get a ton of press and attention for everything he does good or bad as one of the most exciting and controversial players in all of College Football, but Evans is one of two players along with offensive tackle Jake Matthews on Texas A&M’s roster that are better football players. The Aggies may only go as far as Manziel can take them in that offense, but Manziel’s gambling style of play is made possible by having a true franchise receiving threat in Evans. Evans is an absolute stud and whenever he decides to enter the NFL Draft, he is going to be a huge factor and it is going to be difficult to keep him out of the first round with the potential to be the top receiver taken; he is simply too big, too strong, and too fast of a player coming into a league with rules that make it so difficult to defend a player like him. When Saban came off the field to shake hands with A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, he was reported to have said, “You just took 10 years off my life.” That could be a theme for Evans in his career