FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Johnny Manziel put on the show all of Arkansas dreaded in the first half.
Texas A&M’s running game and timely defense took over from there — providing the perfect formula for the 10th-ranked Aggies’ 45-33 victory over the Razorbacks.
A year after Manziel had his coming-out party in a 58-10 win over Arkansas, totaling 557 yards of total offense, he was back at it on Saturday night.
The sophomore accounted for 253 of his 320 total yards in the first half, including two touchdown passes to Mike Evans, as the Aggies (4-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) came away a winner in their first trip to Fayetteville since 1990 — when both schools were members of the Southwest Conference.
The win was Texas A&M’s second straight after a loss to No. 1 Alabama, and it was the school’s ninth straight on the road.
Manziel finished 23-of-30 passing for 261 yards, and he rushed for 59 yards.
“We asked (Manziel) to make plays, and he made plays,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “He took care of the ball. We were able to run it and be patient.”
Arkansas (3-2, 0-1) stayed close throughout, bolstered by the return of quarterback Brandon Allen.
The sophomore missed last week’s loss to Rutgers with a shoulder injury, but he returned Saturday — finishing 17-of-36 passing for 282 yards and two touchdowns.
Arkansas had the ball down by one score or less three times in the second half, but Texas A&M’s defense held each time — ending one drive with Deshazor Everett’s interception and forcing two three-and-outs.
The teams combined for 1,006 yards of offense. The Aggies, who entered the game leading the SEC in scoring at 50.2 points per game, outgained the Razorbacks 523-483 in total yardage.
“We knew we had to score basically every time we had it,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said.
Manziel appeared to turn Razorback Stadium into his personal playground in the first half, zigzagging his way through the Arkansas defense on his way to 253 total yards.
The Aggies led 24-20 at halftime, behind touchdown catches of 9 and 7 yards by Evans — the second of which came over a host of Arkansas defenders and put Texas A&M up 24-10. The Aggies went up 30-20 to start the second half when Everett intercepted Allen and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown.
While Manziel controlled the action for much of the first half, Texas A&M turned to its running game to hold off a renewed Arkansas offense in the second half. The Aggies rushed for 150 of their 262 yards in the second half, during which they ran the ball 29 times and threw it only seven.
After the Razorbacks pulled within 31-27 on a 9-yard touchdown run by Alex Collins, Texas A&M responded with an 8-play, 68-yard touchdown drive — with all eight plays coming on the ground. Williams capped the drive with a 17-yard touchdown run.
Tra Carson had 64 yards rushing on 9 carries for the Aggies, while Ben Malena added 40 yards on 12 carries.
“I think the offensive line did an excellent job,” Malena said. “The coaches told us at halftime if we want to win the game, we’re going to have the run the ball. So the offensive line got the message.”
While the Aggies had little problem moving the ball, Arkansas’ offense surprised Texas A&M with its ability to move the ball.
The Razorbacks lost at Rutgers last week after leading by 17 points in the second half. They played that game with AJ Derby at quarterback, but Bielema tweeted Friday night that Allen — who injured his shoulder two weeks ago against Southern Mississippi — was healthy and would return against the Aggies.
The sophomore looked comfortable during warmups and even better once the game started, throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass to Keon Hatcher on Arkansas’ first drive. Allen also threw a pair of interceptions, including one late to Texas A&M’s Steven Jenkins that sealed the win, but his return provided a much-needed boost the Arkansas passing game.
“I thought he played great,” Bielema said. “… I think that last (interception) might have been more fatigue than anything. He really, basically, didn’t do anything for about a week and a half.”
Collins led the Razorbacks with 116 yards rushing on 14 carries, and fellow freshman Hunter Henry had four catches for 109 yards.
Despite the boost from Allen’s return, the Razorbacks once again had few answers for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner Manziel.
“He did a lot of big things,” Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith said. “We only got to him one time, but he’s a great player. Like I said before, he made a lot of moves. Give credit to that offensive line. They were good too.”