COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- At times, it seems as if Johnny Manziel is on a sandlot or a neighborhood street.
Some of the plays the Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback has made in his first four starts might have certainly stirred that image up for some, and though Manziel made more of those types of plays on Saturday in the Aggies' 58-10 win over Arkansas, it was the plays he made in the pocket that showed his growth.
Manziel, a Kerrville (Texas) Tivy product, threw for an A&M school record 453 yards, beating Ryan Tannehill's previous mark of 449 set against Texas Tech in 2010. While he freelanced on some of those pass plays, there were plenty of times where he stood in the pocket, went through his progressions and made an accurate throw.
Perhaps the biggest sign of that came late in the second quarter when Manziel hit senior Ryan Swope for an 80-yard touchdown pass that gave the Aggies a 27-10 lead.
"I felt like it was the best game he has played in the pocket," offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said of Manziel. "He still got out [of the pocket] the same when it wasn't there, but he really studied film all week and knew the game plan. It was nice to see him be confident in his throws and be accurate."
There were times in previous games where Manziel might tuck the ball away and begin to run if he didn't spot an open receiver quickly. Part of that was an emphasis of taking care of the ball and not forcing passes where the windows might be small, and in other cases, coaches said Manziel had to be more patient and allow receivers to get open.
On Saturday, it appears he had some growth in that area. The light seemed to come on for Manziel in the passing game.
"It's getting better," Kingsbury said. "He just pulled the trigger today. He saw it, he believed what he saw and he let it rip. He made some great throws from the pocket and that's very encouraging. If we keep progressing with that, he's got a chance."
The play to Swope also helped him get involved after not being able to have as large an impact as he would have liked in the Aggies' first three games. He caught five passes for a season-high 141 yards. The Aggies were already gaining momentum, but that play seemed to kick-start the offense and give them momentum that they carried into the second half.
"That was just a little double move and a great call by coach [Kliff] Kingsbury," Swope said. "When he made that call in the huddle, I knew it was my time to flip the switch and really just take over this ballgame, not only as an individual, but I felt like Johnny made a great pass and the line gave him great protection overall. It was a a great play that just got us rolling."
Manziel spread the ball around efficiently as well. Mike Evans finished with a team-high six catches for 83 yards and five different Aggies receivers recorded at least three catches in the win.
Still, Manziel made his fair share of 'wow' plays. He recorded a 52-yard run on a designed counter play and on his 6-yard touchdown run, ran back five yards to avoid a rusher and literally made a circle around the pocket before heading to the pylon untouched. Manziel ended the day running for 104 yards, giving him 557 total offensive yards -- another A&M single-game record.
"He's just a special football player, especially with the ball in his hands and he kind of reminds you of the kid in the neighborhood that you couldn't stop," center Patrick Lewis said. "Nobody could stop him, nobody could run with him, nobody could jump with him, throw with him, catch with him, he's just that special player for this offense."
After that 6-yard touchdown run, Kingsbury could be seen laughing and smiling on the sideline as Manziel jogged off, but not necessarily because of Manziel's magical run.
"I actually let him call the play before and it was horrible," Kingsbury said. "So I told him, 'You're not calling anymore plays.' So he just caught the snap and ran it in himself. So he showed me I guess."