It already has been a memorable season for No. 22 Duke. The Blue Devils won 10 games for the first time and are coming off their first appearance in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
On Tuesday night, they play Johnny Manziel and No. 20 Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. This is the first time Duke will be in back-to-back bowl games.
Duke will be facing the 2012 Heisman winner in Manziel after falling to 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston and Florida State in the ACC title game.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Manziel poses a “very unique challenge, to say the least.”
“They’re extremely efficient offensively and well-coached,” Cutcliffe said Saturday. “Then you throw in his ability to create. I’ve been doing this a long time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody ad-lib on the field better. So the things that concern you are giving up explosive plays when you seemingly have a play defended.”
Duke’s last postseason victory came against Arkansas in the 1961 Cotton Bowl.
According to STATS, Duke (10-3) is the first team to play Heisman winners in consecutive games in three years. In 2010, Louisiana State faced Alabama’s Mark Ingram (2009) and Auburn’s Cam Newton (2010) in two consecutive games.
The Blue Devils were overwhelmed in their 45-7 loss to Winston and Florida State on Dec. 7. Winston threw three touchdown passes and ran for a score.
Next up: Johnny Football.
The bowl game could be the end of Manziel’s college career. The third-year sophomore could enter the NFL Draft.
Manziel led the Southeastern Conference in total yards with 3,732 passing and 686 on the ground. He accounted for 41 touchdowns, including 33 through the air. He improved his completion percentage and passing yards from his Heisman-winning season, but the Aggies’ 8-4 record helped push him down to fifth in this year’s voting.
Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell said Manziel’s mobility makes life difficult for defensive backs.
“Manziel and Winston are obviously two great quarterbacks,” Cockrell said Saturday. “Winston is a much bigger quarterback, not nearly as quick and as fast, I think, but very mobile.”
“The thing about Manziel that makes him tough is when he’s back there scrambling around, you can’t really tell which routes the receivers are going to run. They could run left, right, down the field, come back up the field. ... You have to cover for so long, and your technique and your eyes are going to have to be perfect.”
Cutcliffe said Manziel’s creativity and ability to extend plays puts an unusual strain on a defense.
“You’re almost having to defend two plays in one snap,” Cutcliffe said. “The one that may be drawn up, which is difficult enough to defend, and then the one when he starts ad-libbing and moving in and out of the pocket. That is extremely taxing to your defense.”
Manziel overcame a shoulder injury early in the season and said this week he needed a break after the regular season to overcome other injuries.
“I feel good,” Manziel said Friday. “I’m healthy. We had time off, which was nice, just to relax. Really, it was a grind this year. The SEC was a tough grind for us this year. It went a little different than we thought but I was a little banged up. It feels good to be healthy again and ready to go. I’m really, really eager and ready to play, I know that.”
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said the time off allowed Manziel time to recover after hitting his hand on a helmet.
“He battled through it,” Sumlin said. “Giving him a chance to heal up, I think he feels really, really good right now. I liked practice (Friday). I think he’s feeling better. He’s got a bit more bounce.”