COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Unable to stop Johnny Manziel, Alabama answered Texas A&M the only way it could: The top-ranked Crimson Tide just kept on scoring, hoping to have the ball last.
When AJ McCarron took a knee to end it, Alabama was finally safe. There was nothing more Manziel could do.
McCarron threw four touchdown passes, Vinnie Sunseri returned an interception 73 yards for a score — sidestepping Johnny Football on the way to the end zone — and Alabama paid back No. 6 Texas A&M with a 49-42 win Saturday.
Manziel was his usual spectacular self, throwing for a career-best 464 yards, running for 98, and throwing five TDs. His 562 total yards is the second-most in Southeastern Conference history, ranking only behind the 576 he had against Louisiana Tech.
‘‘We knew we were going to have to play this way on offense to have a chance in this game,’’ Tide coach Nick Saban said. ‘‘I didn’t think they were going to score 42 points, but I kind of thought they would score some points and they did.’’
Alabama (2-0, 1-0 SEC) spotted the Aggies (2-1, 0-1) a 14-0 lead, shades of last season when A&M jumped out to a 20-0 lead on the road en route to a victory that all but won the Heisman Trophy for Manziel.
McCarron and the Tide didn’t take as long to respond this time, ripping off the next 35 points. McCarron tossed three TDs in the first half to put Alabama up, 28-14. Sunseri’s pick-6 made it 35-14 less than three minutes into the third.
The Manziel magic moment came in the second quarter, when he retreated 25 yards behind the line of scrimmage, pulling away from one pass rusher who had a handful of jersey and launching a deep ball down the middle with another Tide player in his face. Edward Pope came down with the alley-oop for a 12-yard gain that will make every highlight reel. But a couple of plays later Manziel was picked off in the end zone and the game swung the Tide’s way. His third-quarter pick and whiff on the tackle put the Aggies in a deep hole.
‘‘I thought his play was Johnny-like,’’ coach Kevin Sumlin said. ‘‘Anybody who’s seen him play, that’s about right.’’
Alabama’s best defense was its offense. The Tide gained 568 yards and kept Manziel pacing on the sideline with a couple of long drives.
‘‘With the type of offense A&M has, you have to eat up some clock and pound the ball,’’ said McCarron, who passed for 334 yards.
This rematch of A&M’s 29-24 win in Tuscaloosa, Ala., last November was hyped for months, heightened by drama about Manziel that culminated with him getting suspended for half of the opening game after an NCAA investigation into whether he was paid for signing autographs. Manziel only answered questions about the game afterward.
‘‘This wasn’t the Super Bowl,’’ Manziel said. ‘‘Alabama lost a game last year and still went on to win the national championship. Our season isn’t over.’’
Bama-A&M II lived up to the billing, but this SEC heavyweight matchup was no 9-6 Game of the Century.
‘‘They’re unbelievable,’’ Sunseri said. ‘‘There’s a reason he won the Heisman. He’s an unbelievable player.’’
A&M’s defense was leaky in its first two games against far weaker opponents. Against Alabama, even with the return of four key players from various suspensions, it put up little resistance. And while the Tide’s offense wore out the Aggies, its defense struck a big blow in the third quarter.
Manziel threw deep down the middle to Malcome Kennedy, but Jarrick Williams tipped the pass into the air. Sunseri grabbed it and was off in the other direction, stutter-stepping past Manziel. The safety broke another tackle on the way into the end zone and Alabama was up, 35-14.
Alabama was poised to go up three touchdowns again in the fourth quarter when T.J. Yeldon fumbled a couple of yards from the goal line.
Two plays later, Manziel found Mike Evans deep and he broke away from a tackler and went 95 yards for a score that made it 42-35 with 8:04 left.
In need of a time-consuming drive, Alabama leaned on Yeldon and McCarron. On third and goal from the 5, McCarron rolled right and flipped to Jalston Fowler for the touchdown to make it 49-35 with 2:28 left.
Manziel threw one more TD with 15 seconds left, but Alabama grabbed the onside kick and that was that.
Saban’s defense had given up 628 yards, the most ever allowed by Alabama, and 42 points. Evans finished with 279 yards on seven catches for the Aggies, but the Tide had won.