COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- He was confident and fearless. He made plays. He was turnover-free.
All those statements accurately describe Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in his debut performance on Saturday, his first as a collegian and first as the Aggies' starting quarterback. All those things didn't add up to a Texas A&M win, as the Aggies fell 20-17 to Florida, but regardless, the redshirt freshman is receiving positive reviews from coaches and teammates alike for the way he played.
The latter of those three statements was the one his head coach, Kevin Sumlin, felt best about.
"I thought Johnny for his first start, as a redshirt freshman, to start against a team like Florida, I thought he performed well," Sumlin said. "I think the first thing you worry about with a new guy is turnovers, whether it's the quarterback or anybody who's handling the football."
If there's one area where Manziel has made significant strides in the offseason, it's in the turnover department. Early in fall camp, offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury described the spring football version of Manziel as "reckless" with the football.
Kingsbury observed that Manziel came into fall camp showing great improvement in that area and it showed on Saturday, as Manziel avoided putting the ball or his teammates in precarious positions. He was efficient (23-of-30 passing, 173 passing yards) and effective when he didn't throw (17 carries, 60 yards, one touchdown).
And while ball security was emphasized and observed, it might have also been the reason Manziel was quick to tuck the ball and run rather than wait for plays to develop and attack downfield. The Aggies had just three plays go for more than 20 yards in the loss to Florida. Manziel averaged 5.7 yards per attempt on Saturday.
Sumlin said part of that can be attributed to youth.
"I think Johnny was a little bit closer to the vest too," Sumlin said. "That's something that was a lot different than he was in the spring. As experience comes, he'll be able to sit in there a little bit longer and go through and read things out a little bit more and look down the field a little bit more. From our standpoint, we've gone back and looked at the video, and he understands where he can get better."
His teammates came away with positive feelings about his performance, all things considered.
"I think you guys have got to realize that that was his first time running out on Kyle Field," senior receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu said. "It was his first time playing in a college football game. He had a great game. That speaks volumes. He did all of that well with all of that pressure on him. He did a great job controlling the game and not throwing any interceptions at all and not forcing anything. He did a great job overall in my book.”
Kingsbury also came away pleased with what Manziel showed.
"I knew he would play hard and he fought the whole game," he said. "It’s a tough situation, obviously, playing against that defense and I thought he battled. We just have to keep getting better each week. I’ve got to coach him up and get him going."
While there is room for improvement for Manziel, it appears he proved his grit and gained some trust with his performance on Saturday.
"He’s a very tough guy," junior left tackle Luke Joeckel said. "He took some hits out there but he got right back up. He’s always trying to make plays. You can’t hate him for always trying to make plays and do that for us this year. I have total trust in him. I know he’ll make plays for us."