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Vandy makes Manziel its mission

The SportsXchange

NASHVILLE -- Vanderbilt coach James Franklin preaches a consistent approach, a staple he established when he first hit campus three years ago.

That applies to preparing for opponents and the players that make up those teams each week. Franklin keeps the primary focus on what Vanderbilt does. Given the results, few have found fault with the approach.

But there are exceptions to every rule.

One came earlier in the year. Franklin addressed how to prepare for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, which Franklin mentioned on Monday as he acknowledged another with defending Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M coming up.

"As you guys know, I like to keep our routine the same and not make one game more important than another, or a certain player," Frankiln said. "I think (with Manziel), it's not like I can sit here and throw him in the same category with everybody else. I think that's been obvious."

Franklin called Manziel an outside-the-box player in every respect.

"Where they're different than maybe a lot of the other people running a spread-style offense ... is people are running the zone-read and the quarterback read to gain those yards. I'm not saying they don't run those things, but most of his yardage is backyard football. It's not the zone read and power read. It's drop back, look here, look here, run around in a circle, look, jab-step, and go whoopf! and take off," Franklin said.

"He's a play-maker. He creates plays. I see a lot of people try to spy him and do some things like that," Franklin said. "Where he hurts you is the plays that really aren't drawn up and designed in a playbook. It's him just creating plays that aren't necessarily designed."

Special players like Manziel call for special preparation in practice. Although true freshman quarterback Johnny McCrary, who can run and throw, would normally be used to simulate Manziel, Franklin is going with freshman running back C.J. Duncan, a versatile athlete, for that task this week.

"That's what he played in high school," Franklin said. "He's got a chance to be a really good player for us in the future, and we need that movement -- to be able to chase him around."

Then, there are the headaches that Manziel can cause for defensive lines.

"You have to be careful because the rush lanes are very important, but you also have to be aggressive," Franklin said. "I think you have to be very careful. You tell kids that they've gotta stay in the rush lanes, they've gotta do all these things, and don't get me wrong, we do that like everybody. But I think you have to be careful how you talk to the kids, because then you make them tentative and they don't play aggressive, and now, he's sitting back there drinking a cup of coffee," Franklin said. "You want your guys to be aggressive, and we have to be careful with that."

Manziel might be slowed by a shoulder injury suffered in last week's loss to Auburn, but Franklin and the Commodores aren't counting on that.

Vanderbilt got a lot better against the run last week, allowing Georgia just 107 yards on 35 tries (3.06 per carry). With a big assist from Manziel, A&M ranks sixth in rushing yards (211.6) per game and per carry (5.16). VU ranks eighth in yards per carry against (4.3) and ninth in yardage (157.9).

A&M's pass defense against Manziel could be one of the more interesting match-ups of the day.

Aggies wide receiver Mike Evans (43 catches, 1,024 yards, nine TDs) could be the best receiver in the country, but Vandy cornerback Andre Hal has proven to be a lock-down corner.

The Aggies have had great success attacking downfield, something opponents haven't tried due to senior safeties Kenny Ladler and Javon Marshall, who give the Commodores rangy playmakers on the back end. The teams that have burned VU in the passing game are those who've taken the underneath throws and found gaps in the zone between the linebackers and safeties.
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