- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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OXFORD, Miss. -- History certainly has a funny way of repeating itself, especially when Johnny Manziel is involved.
A little more than a year ago inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Manziel did the work of a magician in the fourth quarter to erase a 10-point Ole Miss lead. Months later, he went down in the first quarter of the Missouri game with a freak injury to his left knee, only to return and roll up 439 yards of offense and five touchdowns.
Saturday, Manziel orchestrated another come-from-behind, game-winning drive in the fourth quarter against the Rebels and missed one play in the first quarter with another scary-looking injury to his left knee.
Again Manziel flashed a fashionable knee brace, and again it didn't hamper his play. All Johnny Football did was dazzle with his legs -- juking players left and right, making it seem like the brace actually made him more agile -- and arm, as he registered 346 passing yards and 124 rushing yards with two touchdowns in the Aggies' thrilling 41-38 win over Ole Miss.
"The thing that makes him different is that he's one of the greatest competitors I've ever been around," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said.
You'd be hard-pressed to argue with Sumlin on that one. The same kid who was loathed for his off-field fun/controversy heading into the season showed once again why he's still the best player in the country. He was cool and collected when Ole Miss' rabid crowd rained boos down upon his head when he trotted out onto the field. He converted a third-and-14 with a 24-yard gain. He converted a fourth-and-7 at midfield with a 13-yard run that helped set up a fancy looking 6-yard touchdown run of his that made it 38-38 with 3:07 remaining.
In the fourth quarter, Manziel registered 177 yards of offense and a touchdown.
Neither the crowd nor his knee or even a fourth-quarter fumble could stop Manziel from playing hero/villain in the Grove on Saturday night.
"He's a funny player. He's outstanding, because I've never seen somebody who's such a gamer," said wide receiver Travis Labhart, who had eight catches for a game-high 97 yards.
"He's unreal. He's one of the best players in the country, if not the best."
There were a few anxious minutes in which the future of the reigning Heisman Trophy winner was thought to be in question. With a little more than five minutes remaining in the first quarter, Manziel fell awkwardly when his left knee buckled at the end of a pass attempt to Mike Evans. Manziel had to be helped off the field but was up and jogging on the sideline when Ole Miss' offense took the field.
Before Manziel stepped back onto the playing field, Sumlin asked if he could go back in and if he was 100 percent. Manziel had quite the answer.
"He's only got one way to do things," Sumlin said.
"If you know him, if he couldn't go 100 percent, he wasn't going to go."
On his first play back a drive later, Manziel completed a 2-yard pass to Sabian Holmes. Next, he threw a 21-yard pass to Holmes. Then, a 17-yard pass to Malcome Kennedy. His next run of the night came in the second quarter, and it went for 24 yards on third-and-14.
When the Rebels kept pace and scored, Manziel's teammates didn't flinch. They knew Manziel would get them into the end zone.
"I just never doubted. I'm always comfortable," Labhart said.
Manziel might rub people the wrong way with his lifestyle, but there's no doubting his on-field talents. He's a lightning rod for attention and controversy, but he's great for college football, and Saturday night he showed everyone why. Nothing gets to him when he's on the field. He turns on a switch and becomes Johnny Football. He makes defenders look silly with his feet and can deliver NFL throws standing tall in the pocket or on the run.
Manziel now has 2,273 yards of offense and 19 touchdowns on the season. There's a reason he won the Heisman last year, and a reason he probably should be at the top of everyone's list right now.
"Johnny's a beast, man," said Josh Lambo, who kicked the game-winning 33-yard field goal. "Week in and week out, we can expect greatness from him. It's so awesome to be a part of the team that he gets to lead out there on the field."
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