Texas A&M Aggies: Matt Joeckel
It has included top-10 rankings, a Heisman Trophy, historic wins, huge crowds, big television ratings and, at times, the eyes of the college football world.
But on Saturday in Baton Rouge, La., the Aggies were dealt a dose of cold, harsh reality during a 34-10 loss to LSU in what were, well, cold and harsh conditions. Life in the SEC is tough. For everyone.
Texas A&M's success in the nation's premier conference came much more quickly than people outside College Station anticipated and even faster than some wearing maroon-colored glasses could have pictured. Coming off a 7-6 season in its final Big 12 Conference campaign, it was widely thought the Aggies would, as Kevin Sumlin has said before, "get their brains kicked in."
And even though there remained a window of hope this season for attaining a berth to a BCS bowl for the first time since 1998 and potentially a second Heisman for Manziel, LSU ended those hopes emphatically on Saturday.
It helped illustrate two points: (1) The Aggies still have a ways to go to reach the level of the league's very best programs, and (2) once you get to the top, it's hard to stay there.
Take LSU as an example. The Tigers have been consistently among the SEC elite for the last decade-plus. They've won four SEC championships since the turn of the century (2001, 2003, 2007, 2011) and two BCS national championships (2003 and 2007). But the Tigers currently have the same 2013 record as the Aggies (8-3), the team they just beat.
Two weeks prior to Saturday, LSU was beaten and battered at the hands of No. 1 Alabama. The second half of the Crimson Tide's 38-17 win, and in particular the fourth quarter, was intriguing to watch as the Tide asserted its will on both sides of the football.
That was done to a program that's 92-24 in the Les Miles era.
Florida (4-7), is by all accounts, a mess right now. Florida was in the Sugar Bowl last season and was ranked No. 3 before taking a beating from Louisville. It's also a program with two BCS national titles in the last decade (2006 and 2008).
Building a program that succeeds at the level of Alabama and LSU takes time. It takes talent and years of strong recruiting classes. It takes stability in the coaching staff.
Early in their SEC membership, the Aggies are taking steps in that direction. The work on a $450 million renovation of Kyle Field, to turn it into a 102,500-seat palace, is under way and scheduled for completion in time for the 2015 season. The Aggies had the country's eighth-ranked recruiting class in the 2013 cycle, and they currently have the sixth-ranked class in 2014.
After a strong debut season in Aggieland, Texas A&M took care of head coach Kevin Sumlin with a raise to take his annually salary to $3.1 million, so that commitment is in place. Whether Sumlin, whose name is thrown around for other jobs almost annually, chooses to stay or make another move is another matter, but if he chooses to remain at A&M the potential for a power program under his watch appears to be there.
As for the current squad, Saturday's result and the Aggies' losses to Alabama and Auburn earlier this season have made a few things evident. The depth and experience needed on defense for consistent SEC success is not present yet. The Aggies are recruiting heavily on the defensive line, but it will take time for those players to be ready to contribute. The way Alabama, Auburn and LSU were able to run the ball (not to mention several other teams) when they had to shows the need for growth there.
The offense, while usually productive in its first two SEC seasons and even in the losses to the Tide and Auburn, can still improve. Even with a one-of-a-kind player like Manziel, who can mask deficiencies with his playmaking ability, the Aggies weren't able to fool LSU, a team with speed at all three levels on defense and a well-respected defensive coordinator, John Chavis. And Manziel likely won't be around next year, so the Aggies will have to progress with another quarterback, whether it's one of the current backups, Matt Joeckel or Kenny Hill, or incoming ESPN 300 recruit Kyle Allen.
It's not a given that all of those things will work out. Fortunes can change fast in this league, as Auburn and Florida have shown us this year. But regardless of how the Aggies end this season, they've had two winning campaigns to start their membership in the SEC. Dreams of BCS bowls, SEC championships and national championships apparently have to wait. In this league, it takes time.
Whether on or off the field, Manziel sparks discussion, but until recently, there was one word that wasn't frequently used when listing the traits that make the Heisman Trophy winner elite.
Despite his penchant for scrambling and running the football, the redshirt sophomore quarterback has been able to avoid significant injury through his first two collegiate seasons. Things seemed easy for him and he took every hit and got back up.
Manziel missed just a little more than five minutes of game time before returning to finish the game.
And despite his status being questionable and little practice time throughout the following week as he rehabilitated from the injury, Manziel started on Saturday in the Aggies' 56-24 win over Vanderbilt.
He didn't begin throwing until Wednesday and didn't participate in 11-on-11 practice until Friday during the Aggies' walk-through. But Manziel said he was planning to play all along.
"In my mind, I was always going to play," Manziel said. "It would take a lot to keep me off the field and away from these guys. They count on me and they expect me to be there. If I have to come in and get treatment and do whatever I have to do to get back, I have to do it for those guys. This offense and this team means everything to me, so to miss a game, that really wasn't an option for me."
Throughout the week, coach Kevin Sumlin called Manziel's status "hopeful." While Sumlin is known to selective about releasing injury information about his players, he admitted Saturday that Manziel was truly a game-time decision.
When Manziel woke up on Saturday morning, he informed the coaching staff of soreness that he felt in the shoulder, but once he participated in warmups before the game, Manziel felt good enough to go.
"I was a little concerned," Sumlin said. "We really didn't make a decision until warmups. People thought I was being coy, but we didn't really know. We worked [backups Matt] Joeckel and Kenny Hill the whole week."
And it's not simply noteworthy that Manziel has played through pain the last two weeks; he has played at a high level while doing so. After returning for the final 9:06 against Auburn, he completed 9-of-10 passes for 102 yards and ran for a touchdown. On Saturday against Vanderbilt, he remained a pocket passer for most of the day (he carried the ball four times for a career-low 11 yards) and completed 25-of-35 for 305 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception in roughly two-and-a-half quarters of work.
"It just really wasn't in our game plan [against Vanderbilt] for me to run," Manziel said. "My shoulder is just a little sore. I don't know if it was bruised or what all was going on. It kind of got squished when I went down last week against Auburn. But it didn't cause me too many problems [in the game], so that was a positive."
When Manziel led the Aggies' to a come-from-behind win over Ole Miss -- a night in which he briefly after grabbed his left knee in what turned out to be more of a scare than a serious injury -- Sumlin called Manziel "one of the greatest competitors that I've ever been around." Manziel's determination to play the last two games, regardless of the circumstances, seems to support that thought.
"My dad and family were a little cautious about me coming out because they didn't know how severe it was but in my mind, I was always going to play," Manziel said. "I wasn't going to leave these guys without being out there."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M looks to bounce back from a heartbreaking loss while Vanderbilt tries to build on a big win when the two teams meet for the first time in their respective program histories at 12:21 p.m. Eastern time. The No. 16 Aggies (5-2, 2-2) lost 45-41 to Auburn while the Commodores (4-3, 1-3) scored their first SEC win of the season last week, a 31-27 victory over Georgia.
Here are five things to keep an eye on heading into today's cross-divisional SEC clash:
1. Who are the quarterbacks? The question remains whether Johnny Manziel will take the snaps for the Aggies. Earlier this week, head coach Kevin Sumlin called him "hopeful," and offered little else. On Friday night, a source stuck to that line, saying Manziel was "hopeful" and likely a game-time decision. If he can't go, the backups for Texas A&M are junior Matt Joeckel and true freshman Kenny Hill and the most likely scenario would be Joeckel getting the start. He started the season opener against Rice when Manziel had to sit out the first two quarters with a suspension, and has the most experience in the offense. Vanderbilt will be trotting out a new starter: freshman Patton Robinette. Last week, Robinette replaced Austyn Carta-Samuels, who suffered a left leg injury against Georgia. Head coach James Franklin called Robinette the "perfect fit" for the Vanderbilt offense earlier this week.
2. The real show is at receiver: Two of the SEC's and nation's best receivers will be on display. For Texas A&M, it's sophomore receiver Mike Evans, for Vanderbilt, it's senior receiver Jordan Matthews. Matthews has a chance to make some history today. He needs just 14 yards to become the SEC's career leader in receiving yards, so he'll likely break that record. Evans made some history himself last week, breaking Texas A&M's school record for single-game receiving yards (which he owned after his Sept. 14 performance against Alabama) by posting 287 against Auburn and he became the first SEC receiver to post multiple games of 225+ receiving yards. Both are big-time playmakers so it should be fun to watch.
3. Texas A&M's struggling defense: The Aggies have had their ups and downs, but it's mostly been rough sledding for them on defense this season. They allowed a season-high 379 rushing yards to Auburn last week and gave up 45 points. The Aggies have allowed three fourth-quarter touchdowns in each of the last two weeks. That kind of crunch-time production won't get it done in SEC play. They were fortunate to get away with it at Ole Miss but it came back to bite them against Auburn.
4. Improving Vanderbilt defense: Last week, the Commodores put together their best performance of the season defensively. In the 31-27 win over Georgia, they held the Bulldogs to season lows in points (27), total yards (221), rushing yards (107) and first downs (16). Not bad against a team with a quarterback the caliber of Aaron Murray, who's the SEC's career leader in passing yards. The Commodores' performance included holding the Bulldogs to 80 yards and just five first downs in the second half. Texas A&M's offense averages 46.9 points per game and is third nationally in yards per game (588.7) so it'll be compelling to see how that plays out.
5. Touchdowns in the red zone: Sumlin and offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney stressed the importance of getting touchdowns in the red zone instead of field goals and there were a couple times last week where the Aggies had to settle for three points instead of six or seven. Vanderbilt is one of the nation's best at punching it in once the offense gets inside the 20-yard line. The Commodores score a touchdown on 77.4 percent of their red zone trips, which is the best rate in the SEC and third in the country. The Aggies are sixth in the conference and 34th in the country, succeeding at a 68.8 percent touchdown rate in the red zone. In a close game, those extra points come in handy.
The question of whether quarterback Johnny Manziel will play on Saturday is one that remains unanswered, but the Aggies have been through this type of uncertainty once already this season.
Manziel, who suffered an apparent right shoulder injury in last week's game against Auburn, is receiving treatment and rehabilitating daily in hopes of starting this Saturday when the Aggies host Vanderbilt. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin called Manziel's status "hopeful" a couple times this week but has offered little more than that.
The Aggies had uncertainty before their season opener against Rice as the school, the team and Manziel awaited the results of an NCAA investigation into an autograph-signing controversy surrounding the Heisman Trophy winner. The team allowed both junior Matt Joeckel and freshman Kenny Hill to compete for the backup job. The announcement of a half-game suspension was delivered three days before the game. Later that week, the Aggies tabbed Joeckel as the starter for the game, and he played a solid first half against Rice.
Both have seen action this season and when Manziel exited the game at the 14:36 mark in the fourth quarter of the Aggies' 45-41 loss to the Tigers, it was Joeckel who entered in his place. Joeckel was 1-of-3 passing for 12 yards in his brief appearance before Manziel returned with 9:06 remaining.
"Matt was called and has been in the fire before," Sumlin said. "We put him in on a third down situation [Auburn] territory. Kenny was chomping at the bit to go, and our practice rotation will change a little bit depending on what Johnny can or can't do as far as practice goes [this week]."
When asked earlier this week whether he would consider playing Manziel on Saturday even if he didn't practice throughout the week, Sumlin said "We'll see."
No matter what Manziel's status turns out to be, the Aggies will have a solid plan. Should Joeckel get the nod, he's started a game before, and the Aggies are in the friendly confines of Kyle Field on Saturday so that helps. He has appeared in three games this season, completed 19-of-31 passes for 265 yards and a touchdown.
Should Hill happen to be pressed into action, he too has played in some live action. He made his debut in Week 2 against Sam Houston State, led a touchdown drive on his first possession and is 6-of-11 passing for 83 yards in his two appearances this season.
"I was very pleased with them," quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said earlier this month when asked about his two backup quarterbacks. "I thought Joeckel earned the right to get in there and compete, and he started the Rice game. I thought he did a great job moving the ball. And then Kenny coming in during the Sam Houston State game and throwing a touchdown and moving the ball, they both still have a long ways to go ... but I've got to be pleased with how they performed."
Neither necessarily brings the unique skill set to the table that Manziel does, but teammates and coaches alike say they're confident in whomever calls the signals come Saturday.
"We have great backups in Matt and Kenny," senior receiver Travis Labhart said. "I am comfortable with those other guys, and I know the other receivers are. But obviously you want Johnny back there because of who he is."
The game serves as a rematch from a November clash last season, one that Texas A&M claimed 47-28.
The Aggies are heavy favorites, as expected, but coach Kevin Sumlin has hammered home two main points to his team in preparing for the Bearkats. One traces back to last season's battle.
Sam Houston State outscored the Aggies 28-6 once A&M's backups entered the game. Sumlin noted Tuesday that many of those that were on the field at that time have significant roles on this season's squad.
Also, seven FCS teams earned upsets over FBS teams in the opening week of the season. One of those teams was Sam Houston State's opponent in the FCS national championship game last year, North Dakota State, which went into Manhattan, Kan., last week and upset defending Big 12 champion Kansas State.
"Anybody who watched North Dakota State last week win their game last week, that'll get your attention in a hurry," Sumlin said. "They go to Kansas State and win. Then you turn on last year's Sam Houston-North Dakota State game and it's a heck of a ballgame. Our players get that."
Texas A&M comes into the game shorthanded in a few areas. Four players are serving the second of a two-game suspension for a violation of athletic department rules, three of whom are defensive starters: cornerback De'Vante Harris, outside linebacker Steven Jenkins, defensive end Gavin Stansbury and reserve receiver Edward Pope. The Aggies will also begin the game without the services of starting cornerback Deshazor Everett (targeting) and true freshman defensive end Daeshon Hall (throwing a punch). Both were ejected in the second half for their respective infractions and thus, by rule, must sit out the first half of tonight's game.
The Aggies do regain the services of starting defensive tackle Kirby Ennis and safety Floyd Raven, both of whom served one-game suspensions as the result of offseason arrests. Tonight will also mark the first start of the season for quarterback Johnny Manziel, who was suspended the first half of the season-opening 52-31 win over Rice because of "inadvertent violations" discovered during an NCAA investigation that concluded last week.
So now that all the personnel issues are hashed out, here are some keys to look out for from Texas A&M:
- Improvement on defense?: The Aggies yielded a whopping 509 offensive yards, including 306 on the ground, to Rice. Many of the struggles can be attributed to the fact that six key defensive players sat part or all of the game because of suspensions, and a total of 11 defensive true freshmen saw the field at some point. Against a veteran offense like Rice that's well-coached, that's a bad combination. But the Aggies need to show some improvement from game one to game two because some of those young players will have to play significant minutes later this season, starting next week in the Aggies' showdown against Alabama.
- Assignment football: Sam Houston State an option attack which will require the Aggies to stay disciplined on defense and play assignment football. That should be useful experience for Texas A&M's young defensive players. The Bearkats return the two-time Southland Conference Player of the Year in running back Tim Flanders and starting quarterback Brian Bell, who has engineered 31 victories in the last three seasons. A transfer from Texas A&M, Chance Nelson, is also back after a freshman season that saw him record 671 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. That experience will help the Bearkats, who are have appeared in the FCS national championship game the last two seasons.
- Keep the offense rolling: When Manziel took hold of the offense, he engineered four scoring drives and threw three touchdown passes, looking much like his 2012 self. Backup quarterback Matt Joeckel was solid in his starting debut, leading the Aggies to 28 first-half points. What is often overlooked is the Aggies' running game, which was productive in Week 1. Starter Ben Malena compiled 82 rushing yards and a touchdown while Tra Carson added 76 rushing yards and two scores. Sophomore transfer Brandon Williams is expected to play after healing up from offseason foot surgery, adding a dynamic option to the Aggies' backfield.
When it's all said and done, the Aggies are hoping to come away with a solid win to put themselves at 2-0 prior to their much-anticipated showdown with defending BCS champion Alabama.
- A total of 10 players from the SEC rushed for 100 yards or more in their opening games, including both Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins of Arkansas.
- Since 2006, the SEC has posted the highest nonconference winning percentage (regular season & bowls) of any conference. The league has a 333-74 record (81.8 winning percentage).
- With the start of the NFL season upon us, a quick look around the league reveals that the SEC has had more of its former players on NFL rosters in the last five seasons than any other conference. Since 2006, the SEC has averaged 266.1 players per year on NFL opening weekend rosters. The league had a high of 257 players on NFL rosters last year, compared to the second highest ACC with 226.
- Florida is now 13-0 under coach Will Muschamp when rushing for 150 or more yards.
- The Gators have allowed two rushes of 50 yards or longer in the last 10 seasons combined, three fewer than any other FBS team. Last week, the Gators allowed a total of 50 yards on the ground and just one rush of 10 yards or longer.
- Jadeveon Clowney recorded only three tackles in South Carolina’s season opener against North Carolina, but he still had an impact on the game. He had three total pressures, which brings his total number to 31 over the last two seasons, tying him with former Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones for tops in the SEC.
- Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is going to miss his top target, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who's out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Murray completed 72 percent of his passes thrown to Mitchell, compared to 59 percent when targeting his other receivers.
- It's been pointed out time and again, and we're going to continue bringing it up until it changes: Murray is 3-11 against ranked opponents in his career. He's 0-3 all-time against South Carolina. Murray's 46.0 QBR against the Gamecocks is the lowest of any team in the SEC East.
- Your SEC leaders in Raw QBR aren't what you might expect as Arkansas’ Brandon Allen led the charge with a 91.6 rating, followed by Missouri’s James Franklin, Texas A&M’s Matt Joeckel and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger. Last season Mettenberger ranked 12th out of 13 SEC quarterbacks in QBR.
- Mettenberger's numbers could improve again versus UAB, which allowed 319 yards passing from Troy quarterback Corey Robinson, who set a NCAA record completing 93.8 percent of his passes (30-for-32).
- Auburn is now 194-1 all-time when scoring 30 points or more against non-SEC opponents. The Tigers defeated Arkansas State in both previous matchups, with each victory coming by at least 26 points.
- Ole Miss is 149-82-7 (.641 winning pct.) all-time during the month of September, including a 3-2 record last year.
- Arkansas hosts Samford in its home away from home, War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, where the Razorbacks are 166-67-4 (.709) all-time.
- Hogs coach Bret Bielema wanted to cut down on penalties during his first offseason, and the Razorbacks’ did just that on Saturday, accounting for all of four penalties vs. Louisiana -- the fewest in a season opener since 2008.
- UK had 11 first-time starters in its season-opening loss to the Hilltoppers, which is a school record for first-time starters in a game according to records kept back to the 1993 season. A total of 10 newcomers (six true freshmen) saw action.
- Tennessee is 7-0 all-time vs. current Sun Belt schools, including two wins last season (51-13 over Georgia State, 55-48 over Troy).
- The Vols offensive line has a total of 129 career starts, led by Ja’Wuan James with 38 and Zach Fulton with 29.
- Tennessee's 45-0 win in Week 1 marked the first shutout for UT since a 27-0 win over Middle Tennessee on Nov. 5, 2011.
- The Aggies gained 486 total yards against Rice last week, which marked the 13th straight game that the offense has surpassed the 400-yard plateau, which is easily the longest streak in school history. Only Baylor has a longer streak of 400-yard offensive game among FBS teams. Since head coach Kevin Sumlin’s arrival in College Station, the Aggies have surpassed 400 in 13-of-14 games, including 500-plus yards eight times.
- Missouri's Gary Pinkel coached Toledo’s through the 2000 season, and left for Columbia as the Rockets’ winningest coach in school history, with a 73-37-3 record in 10 seasons. Pinkel, who was inducted into Toledo's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009, led the Rockets to a MAC title and claimed three other MAC West Division championships.
- It took 659 days, but Missouri junior running back Henry Josey, returning from a knee injury, picked up where he left off at Faurot Field this past weekend, rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries in Mizzou’s 58-14 victory over Murray State.
- Vanderbilt saw Austin Carta-Samuels become just the second quarterback in Vanderbilt history to pass for 300 yards or more in a season opener on Saturday. The last time a Commordores quarterback hit that mark was when Greg Zolman threw for 300 yards in the 2001 opener against Middle Tennessee.
- Jordan Matthews' 178-yard effort versus Ole Miss was the most by a Vanderbilt receiver since Earl Bennett amassed 223 receiving yards against Richmond in 2007.
But silence is a key word in describing some of the growing pains the Aggies had to go through in their season-opening win against Rice on Saturday, as they played 16 true freshmen, 11 of which were defensive players.
A&M coach Kevin Sumlin illustrated that point thusly:
"We had a couple situations where a couple guys actually froze up out there and wouldn't even open their mouths and couldn't get lined up," Sumlin said after Saturday's 52-31 victory. "The D-line said they couldn't hear and then one of them admitted to me "Coach, I just didn't say anything. I was just standing there.'"
Not exactly what a coach is looking to hear from defensive players, particularly when facing a no-huddle offense. Communication, especially in those situations, is key for a defense.
The Aggies coaches did what they could to prepare their newcomers, but some lessons are only learned the hard way.
"It's like anything else," Sumlin said. "As a coach, you try to prepare guys for all situations, but until the live bullets are flying, you don't know. It'll get better as it goes on, but I think the experience that we gained from today will help us down the road, a bunch. Particularly [in the front seven] because that's where most of the guys are gone."
The struggles were clear. As the defense tried to find its footing, Rice showed the ability to move the ball with ease. The Owls finished the game with 509 total offensive yards, including 306 rushing. The last time they gave up that many offensive yards was in their marathon battle against Louisiana Tech last October (615) and they haven't allowed that many rushing yards since a 66-28 drubbing at the hands of Oklahoma on Nov. 8, 2008.
True freshman played on the defensive line (Jay Arnold, Isaiah Golden, Daeshon Hall and Hardreck Walker), at linebacker (Darian Claiborne, Jordan Mastrogiovanni, Shaan Washington) and defensive back (Noel Ellis, Tavares Garner, Alex Sezer Jr. and Jonathan Wiggins).
"There's no way to duplicate the tempo and the emotion [of a game]," Sumlin said on Tuesday. "You know what you're doing, but the pressure to perform in that environment can be very, very difficult on a young guy, and that's what experience is all about."
Offensively, the Aggies were much better off. Even though Matt Joeckel made his first career start at quarterback, he's a junior who has spent more than a year practicing in the offense and he had at least seen some game time. Center Mike Matthews, who received high praise from Sumlin on Tuesday, also played in games and traveled with the team last season.
The true freshmen who saw the field for the first time on offense were all receivers: Ricky Seals-Jones, Jeremy Tabuyo, LaQuvionte Gonzalez and Ja'Quay Williams. But because there were more experienced players surrounding them on Saturday, not to mention Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel entered the game in the third quarter, the transition was smoother for the Aggies' offense.
In total, 21 newcomers saw the field for Texas A&M on Saturday, many in significant roles. Plenty will log significant time this Saturday against Sam Houston State, as four players received two-game suspensions and won't be back until Sept. 14 against Alabama. With a signing class of 31 players in February, there was no question the Aggies were going to need some of the newcomers to contribute. By being forced to play so many in the first game, Sumlin feels like it could be a positive later in the season.
"[It's] a real, real learning experience," Sumlin said. "I think for those guys, that's going to pay dividends for us down the road."
Junior quarterback Matt Joeckel, who got the start in place of the suspended Manziel, quietly put together a solid half in his first career start, a 52-31 win over Rice. Joeckel went 14-of-19 for 190 yards and a touchdown and -- most importantly -- no interceptions while helping the Aggies to 28 first-half points.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin had come into the game planning to play both reserve quarterbacks, Joeckel and true freshman Kenny Hill, but he stuck with Joeckel because of his performance.
The 6-foot-4, 234-pound product of Arlington, Texas, displayed accuracy and the ability to run the Aggies' up-tempo attack at a solid pace throughout the first half.
"I think Matt Joeckel did a really good job of doing exactly what was asked of him to do," senior running back Ben Malena said. "I think the series of plays and playcalling was fit for him. He didn't turn the ball over, which was good. He made all the right reads. I think he did a pretty good job."
The biggest play for Joeckel came late in the second quarter on third-and-1, when Joeckel faked a handoff and found freshman receiver Ricky Seals-Jones, who ran by a Rice defender and found open space. Joeckel hit Seals-Jones right in the chest, and the freshman turned it into a 71-yard touchdown play.
While Joeckel is a more traditional pocket-passer and won't make the highlight reels with his feet like Manziel, he did what he was asked.
"Matt did good," offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi said. "He was comfortable, he looked like he had been starting for a while. He's the ultimate game manager. He's not going to do anything outstanding, but he's not going to lose the game for us. I think that he did a really good job."
Sumlin debated putting Hill in late in the game but decided against it. The coaching staff is confident in the true freshman, and with ESPN 300 quarterback Kyle Allen (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain) already committed and on the way to Aggieland in the 2014 recruiting class, it appears the future of the quarterback position is in capable hands.
"The big decision at the end of the game was to play Kenny or not, because Kenny's going to play this year," Sumlin said. "I just didn't want to put him in there with two minutes to go and handing off. I want him to be able to run the offense. Matt, I thought, executed our offense. We had a great tempo, he didn't give the ball to the other team and operated and let the people around him execute. He was a distributor.
"I think he gained a lot of confidence out of today, and I think our team gained a lot of confidence out of him today, and that's the way both of those guys have been during camp. We've got confidence in all three of the quarterbacks, and I think today you see why."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- There are several reasons Texas A&M was so highly thought of and had lofty expectations coming into the 2013 season.
The No. 7 Aggies, who were ranked in the top 10 of both preseason polls (they were No. 6 in the coaches' poll), returned a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, a plethora of running backs and an All-America caliber tackle, and play a style of offense that many SEC teams -- defending champion Alabama included -- find hard to defend.
And while there were several positives to take away from Texas A&M's season-opening 52-31 win over Rice on Saturday at Kyle Field, the win also illustrated that the Aggies still have a long way to go in several areas if they plan on fulfilling championship expectations.
The Aggies had eight players miss at least the first half of Saturday's game. Four were suspended for "violating Texas A&M athletics department rules and regulations." Three were suspended after offseason arrests and Manziel was suspended for the first half after "inadvertent violations" that occurred as a result of signing autographs after the conclusion of an NCAA investigation.
That was also part of Manziel's message, according to Sumlin, to his teammates when he addressed them on Friday as part of the requirements of restoring his eligibility.
"Actions just like today and just like other guys on this team, those actions may be actions that you think just hurt you, but they end up hurting the whole football team," Sumlin said. "That was the real gist of [Manziel's] message to the team. That everybody's individual acts affect the team. When that happens, it's not good."
Of the suspended players, five were defensive starters (defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, cornerbacks Deshazor Everett and De'Vante Harris, linebacker Steven Jenkins and defensive end Gavin Stansbury). Another, Floyd Raven, is a key player expected to contribute this fall and was one time projected to start at free safety before Clay Honeycutt wound up first on the depth chart after a strong training camp.
As a result, the Aggies' defense was filled with true freshmen and newcomers getting significant playing time on Saturday and ended up surrendering 509 total offensive yards. Now, Rice is a good team in Conference USA that could contend for the league title, but it’s not nearly the caliber of opponent Texas A&M will see on its SEC schedule. The Owls ran for a whopping 306 yards -- six yards a carry -- and appeared able to run right at the Aggies' defense.
The Aggies struggled with missed tackles and missed assignments, which are to be expected when you have a significant number of 18- and 19-year-olds on the field.
"We played 20 guys out there that had never played before," Sumlin said. "Is that an excuse for our play? No. I think we learned from today."
The Aggies regain the services of Ennis and Raven next week, though Everett will again have to sit out a half, by rule, because he was ejected in the second half after being called for a targeting penalty. The other four suspended -- Jenkins, Harris, Stansbury and receiver Edward Pope -- won't return until Sept. 14 when the Aggies host No. 1 Alabama.
But there were plenty of positives to be seen as well, most notably in the win column. Backup quarterback Matt Joeckel showed he was capable of moving the offense, leading the Aggies to 28 first-half points while putting up more than respectable numbers (14-of-19 passing, 190 yards). Joeckel's lone touchdown pass was a 71-yard catch-and-run completion to an apparent star in the making, 6-foot-5, 240-pound true freshman receiver Ricky Seals-Jones.
Players who are considered to be among the team's leaders, running back Ben Malena (100 total offensive yards, two touchdowns) and Mike Evans (84 receiving yards, two touchdowns) played their roles aptly. The kicking game was consistent as Taylor Bertolet was perfect on all his kick attempts, something he struggled with last season. And as Sumlin noted, the positive to having so many young players on the field on defense means they'll have a chance to learn from their mistakes and develop. Though there were struggles, they came up with turnovers and still did enough to win.
Most importantly, the Aggies got their quarterback, Manziel, back on the field in the second half and he looked like the player who captivated the nation a season ago. He was 6-of-8 passing for 94 yards with three touchdown passes and showed his trademark scrambling ability, though Rice did a solid job of keeping him from running too wild.
This is a team that has encountered a lot this offseason. From the headlines Manziel made and the NCAA investigation, to the suspensions and most importantly, the death of a teammate -- Polo Manukainiu -- the Aggies have already dealt with their fair share of adversity.
The Aggies honored Manukainiu on Saturday by wearing decals with his number, first name and a Tongan-inspired design on their helmets and electing sophomore defensive tackle Alonzo Williams to wear Maunkainiu's No. 90. The team will elect a different defensive lineman to do so each week as a nod to Manukainiu and his family that he is "still out there with us," senior defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. said.
This team has lofty goals. Hurd mentioned Saturday the team would wear the Manukainiu decal "each and every week, leading [up] to the national championship." If they plan to get there, they have a lot of work still to do.
The No. 7 Aggies host Conference USA foe Rice at 1 p.m. ET today, giving their fans a taste of real football after an offseason that involved a lot of headlines.
Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel will miss the first two quarters, serving a suspension announced Wednesday by Texas A&M and the NCAA after the investigation into allegations that he profited from autographs concluded.
The big question is, who's starting? The answer hasn't officially been made public at this point -- head coach Kevin Sumlin did say that both junior Matt Joeckel and true freshman Kenny Hill will play in the game.
The speculation seems to be that Joeckel will get the nod in the game's first series, though. Former Aggies defensive tackle Spencer Nealy posted a congratulatory message to Joeckel on his Twitter account on Friday night, tweeting:
Congrats to @MattJoeckel to becoming the starting quarterback against rice...Aggies we are in good hands— Spencer Nealy (@SNeals99) August 31, 2013
The Aggies will be shorthanded on defense, with several players serving out suspensions stemming from offseason incidents. Starting defensive tackle Kirby Ennis and safety Floyd Raven, who is listed second on the depth chart at free safety, will miss the entire game. Junior cornerback Deshazor Everett, a starter best known for his interception that sealed A&M's upset victory at Alabama this year, will miss one half of action.
True freshman defensive tackle Hardreck Walker is the likely replacement for Ennis when the Aggies are in four defensive lineman alignments. Junior Clay Honeycutt is the starter at free safety after having a strong preseason training camp and look for a combination of Tramain Jacobs and Alex Sezer, Jr., to fill in for Everett when he's sitting.
Rice comes in with a veteran group, led by a fifth-year senior at quarterback in Taylor McHargue. This will be his fourth-straight opening game start; he is one of seven current FBS quarterbacks to have that distinction. The Owls will also be without a pair of defensive starters, linebacker Cameron Nwosu (injury) and cornerback Phillip Gaines.
Daniel, via Twitter (@badger_daniel): After seeing what (LaQuon) Treadwell can do in last night's game, does Ole Miss have the best SEC receiving duo?
Sam Khan Jr.: First of all, allow me to say this: Laquon Treadwell looks like he's going to be a star, and really quickly. His size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) and hands are terrific -- the one-handed catch he made was wonderful. After catching nine passes for 82 yards last night, I suspect Hugh Freeze and Co. will try to continue to get the ball in his hands. Most of his damage was done on two third-quarter drives, but those were both crucial drives because it helped Ole Miss narrow a 21-10 deficit to 28-25, setting the stage for the dramatic finish.
To answer your question, I think it's too early to definitively call Treadwell and junior Donte Moncrief the best receiving duo in the conference, because I want to see Treadwell play more and show that he can bring good production consistently, something Moncrief did last season. I think it's safe to say they'll be one of the best and if Treadwell continues to progress, they could take that title. Alabama's going to have an argument with Amari Cooper and a number of others you could fill-in-the-blank with (it could be Kevin Norwood, Christion Jones, Kenny Bell, DeAndrew White or even a newcomer). Vanderbilt has Jordan Matthews and we'll see if senior Jonathan Krause can develop into a reliable No. 2 -- the Commodores are without normal No. 2 receiver Chris Boyd, who is suspended after being indicted earlier this month in connection with the rape case that involved four other Vanderbilt players. Keep an eye on Georgia (Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett) and Texas A&M (Mike Evans, Malcome Kennedy or perhaps Ricky Seals-Jones if they break out) too. But you might be on to something, because Moncrief is already a star. If Treadwell becomes one too, look out SEC West.
Carlos, via Twitter (@catorano): Which new coach will have the most success in his first year in the SEC?
Sam Khan Jr: Personally, I think it will be Gus Malzahn at Auburn. One advantage he has is familiarity with the program, since he was with the Tigers for three seasons and helped them to a BCS title. He was only gone for a year, so he's certainly familiar with much of the personnel too. His offense is effective and the cupboard isn't bare in terms of talent; Auburn has recruited well, turning in top 20 classes each of the last four years. There's a lot of buzz about the arm strength starting quarterback Nick Marshall has and if he can get the Tigers tempo moving fast early on, I think Auburn might be able to make a little bit of noise.
Matthew, via Twitter (@MVPenergy): % likelihood we will see ALL 3 TAMU QBs when #JohnnyFootball is sat down 1/2 (way through the) 4th QTR
Sam Khan Jr.: I'm docking you points for not first asking "Who's going to start?" because that's what everyone wants to know. But you're forgiven. I think there's a decent chance we see all three of Texas A&M's scholarship quarterbacks in the Aggies' season opener against Rice. Coach Kevin Sumlin has been tight-lipped about who will get the nod and I know the coaching staff has been discussing different plans, but my hunch is that junior Matt Joeckel gets the start because he already has some game experience. True freshman Kenny Hill is the current "quarterback of the future" for the Aggies, however. I've never known Sumlin to be a two-quarterback guy or rotate them, but this could be a special case because of the circumstances. And I would not be surprised at all if it was Hill who trotted out first. Either way, once the third quarter arrives, we all know who comes in: Johnny Manziel. And I think, even if it's a blowout, Manziel will play at least a quarter.
Josh, via Twitter (@JoshAgof11): Realistic chance of (Aggies) running the table? Like what I've heard for both sides of the ball.
Sam Khan Jr.: I think it's going to be difficult, but not impossible. Of course, Texas A&M must first get through the showdown on Sept. 14 with Alabama. If they get through that, the toughest obstacles left in the regular season, in my opinion, are road games at Ole Miss and LSU. I'm sure many remember what it took for the Aggies to escape Oxford, Miss., with a win after turning the ball over six times and Death Valley is nothing to mess with, particularly for a night game (which, I suspect it would be if the Aggies were to roll into the LSU game undefeated). Then if you get through all that, you have to beat an SEC East team in the SEC title game, probably Georgia, South Carolina or Florida. It's really difficult to do. Alabama has won three of the last four national titles and two of those seasons they lost a regular season game. I won't count it out because Manziel is that special and that offense is powerful. But with a lot of youth and newcomers seeing the field on defense and whether there's improvement in the kicking game are the wild cards.
Take one walk in front of the Bright Football Complex and evidence is everywhere. While you can hear the echo of quarterbacks barking commands, coaches making critiques and whistles blowing, those familar sounds are sometimes overshadowed by the sound of moving construction vehicle or the engine of an 18-wheeler.
Last year, it was a 20,000-square foot, $9 million football-only weight room. This year, it's a $4 million expansion of the Bright Complex's lobby and the addition of $12 million nutrition center where athletes can dine. Over the next two years, Texas A&M will renovate Kyle Field to the tune of $450 million.
On the field the Aggies are building for what they hope is a special season. With a preseason top-10 ranking, a Heisman Trophy winner returning at quarterback, a handful of returning starters in key spots and a plethora of talented newcomers added to a squad that was 11-2 in its first SEC campaign, hopes have been high for the Aggies this offseason.
When news came to light about an NCAA investigation into allegations that Johnny Manziel profited from signing autographs for brokers, dreams of that historic season required a brief pause. With his eligibility in question, it was uncertain how much field time -- if any -- he would miss. If he missed too much, the Aggies' hopes of an SEC West title, an SEC title, and perhaps even a BCS title, would likely be dashed.
But Wednesday the saga was resolved. The NCAA and Texas A&M released a joint statement indicating that Manziel has a few things to do to restore eligibility, including serve a suspension in the first half of Saturday's season opener against Rice.
What that means for the Aggies is that fans can go back to dreaming about what could be. Since the redshirt sophomore quarterback won't have to miss an extended period of time, he'll be on the field when the Aggies host No. 1 Alabama in a Sept. 14 showdown and every game thereafter as the Aggies attempt to do something they haven't since the last century: win a conference championship, and perhaps a national championship.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The saga involving Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel and the NCAA investigation into allegations that he profited from signing autographs saw a resolution Wednesday, as it was determined that Manziel will be suspended for the first half of the Aggies' season opener against Rice on Saturday.
While the investigation was ongoing, many turned their attention to the quarterbacks on the roster not wearing No. 2 on the chance that one of them might have to play. With Manziel missing a half, the Aggies will begin Saturday's showdown against the Owls with either junior Matt Joeckel or true freshman Kenny Hill calling the signals.
Both were engaged in a three-way backup quarterback competition during preseason training camp, one that included redshirt freshman Matt Davis, who last week decided to transfer to Tyler (Texas) Junior College, leaving just two contenders. On Tuesday, coach Kevin Sumlin did not name a backup and said the battle between the two is an "ongoing competition."
What does each player bring to the table?
Joeckel's advantage is experience. Though he doesn't have much game experience -- appearing in five games and attempting 11 passes last season -- it's still more than Hill, and Joeckel has already spent a season working in the Aggies' offense, serving as the No. 3 quarterback last season. He's more of a traditional pocket passer.
"He's a big kid [6-foot-4, 234 pounds] but not the most mobile guy, so you'd probably call the game a little differently than with Johnny in the game than him," Aggies quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said earlier this month.
The 6-1, 215-pound Hill, who has no collegiate experience, comes from a Texas high school powerhouse, Southlake Carroll, known for producing Division I quarterbacks. Chase Daniel, Greg McElroy, Kyle Padron and David Piland are among those who signed with Football Bowl Subdivision schools in the past decade.
"He's talented," Texas A&M offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said. "He was the Gatorade Player of the [Year in the] state. He's a dual-threat guy. With what they did at Southlake Carroll -- a lot of the Texas high schools are going to a similar offense to what we're running. I think it prepares guys like him to play at this level. The operation of it is real similar to what he's already done."
Spavital has made sure to give Hill plenty of practice repetitions during camp to help him grasp the offense. Teammates say both have competed well in training camp.
"Both of those guys have really done great things when they've had their opportunities during practice," senior running back Ben Malena said. "Both of those guys are really smart guys, and they've both had their opportunities to make plays and they have. It's great competition at the backup quarterback spot."
Sophomore center Mike Matthews echoes that sentiment.
"As [Hill has] progressed, he's really proven to me that he's a real good quarterback," Matthews said. "He can move around the pocket. If it comes down to it, he can scramble and run with the ball, and he's also been throwing the ball pretty well. Matt, he's an older guy, 6-5, more of a pocket passer, so I'm confident with both of them."
Sumlin said he has tried to rotate each quarterback with the first team in certain instances during training camp. It's something he has done in the past simply so his backup quarterbacks can build a camaraderie with the first unit should they ever be pressed into duty.
Hill and Joeckel's teammates are confident they'll play well no matter who is calling the signals.
"The backup quarterbacks are putting in the time and effort," Matthews said. "I believe in them. Matt and Kenny, they come in every day and they put the work in, so I'm confident in the quarterbacks that we have. So if it turns out that [Manziel] isn't able to play, I'll be confident in our backup quarterback."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M held its regularly scheduled weekly news conference on Tuesday in advance of its season opener against Rice on Saturday. While many wonder about the status of quarterback Johnny Manziel, there are other things to keep an eye on. Here are five storylines facing the Aggies as they await the Owls at Kyle Field:
1. Will Manziel play?
That's what Texas A&M fans and much of the college football wants to know: will Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel start on Saturday for Texas A&M? The question remains unanswered officially. Athletic director Eric Hyman released a statement on Monday evening indicated that he instructed the coaching staff and players to not comment on Manziel's status. When Kevin Sumlin was asked about it on Tuesday he said "We're not discussing that....I can't talk about how that decision is going to be made and what goes into that decision. I said from day one, the first day [of training camp], that there will be a lot of people involved in that decision. So what goes into how that decision's made, obviously I can't discuss." So for now, the wait continues.
2. What if Manziel doesn't play?
At this point, the Aggies turn to either junior Matt Joeckel or true freshman Kenny Hill. Both received praise from coaches and teammates alike on Tuesday. Senior running back Ben Malena said he believes the team will be comfortable with whoever is taking snaps on Saturday. Offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said offensively, the Aggies would still remain the same. Joeckel brings the presence of a pocket passer who has already spent a year learning the offense while Hill is a dual threat who can run and throw and has had to learn the offense quickly. But on Tuesday, the Aggies appeared confident in both of them should either be pressed into duty.
3. New faces
Sumlin advised fans attending Saturday's game to "buy a program or bring a flip card," because of how many newcomers will see time on the field. Of the 31 players who signed with the Aggies in February, Sumlin said he expects at least 10 to play a role this season, and perhaps as many as 15. Some of the notable newcomers to look for on Saturday include freshmen receivers Ricky Seals-Jones and LaQuvionte Gonzalez, tight end Cameron Clear, who was a juco transfer, linebacker Tommy Sanders -- also a juco transfer -- and true freshman linebacker Shaan Washington. Look for even more newcomers to get looks on special teams, including some of the aforementioned names.
4. Missing personnel
There are suspensions facing three defensive players: senior defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, junior cornerback Deshazor Everett and junior safety Floyd Raven, all three of whom had off-the-field legal trouble this offseason. Ennis and Raven will miss the entire game; Everett will miss a half. Ennis is a starter, so that means you could see a true freshman -- either Isaiah Golden or Hardreck Walker -- in his place when the Aggies go to four defensive linemen. In place of Everett, also a starter, defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said that the Aggies will rotate cornerbacks. Expect to see a heavy dose of Tramain Jacobs but possibly some freshmen such as Alex Sezer, Victor Davis or Tavares Garner as possibilities.Raven isn't listed as the starter at free safety like he was coming out of spring football. Instead, it's junior Clay Honeycutt, who Snyder was complimentary of on Tuesday. Honeycutt, a former high school quarterback at Dickinson (Texas) High, has come a long way according to Snyder and has earned himself the start against Rice.
Also of note, running back Brandon Williams [foot surgery] might be limited. Offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney said "I wouldn't expect to see a lot from Brandon on Saturday."
5. Familiar foes
The Aggies and Owls haven't met on the field since the Southwest Conference folded in 1995, as both teams were part of the now-defunct league, but the coaching staffs do have recent history. David Bailiff is in his seventh season at Rice, a rival of Houston, where Sumlin was the head coach for four seasons (2008-2011). Snyder also stood on a sideline opposite Bailiff when Snyder was the head coach at Marshall from 2005-09. Sumlin's staff also recruited Rice starting quarterback Taylor McHargue when Sumlin was with the Cougars. So there is plenty of familiarity, at least in terms of coaching staffs, between the two squads.
Aggies' athletic director Eric Hyman released a statement on Monday evening indicating that head coach Kevin Sumlin, assistant coaches and players were asked not to comment on the status of Manziel, who is the subject of an NCAA investigation into allegations that he profited from signing autographs. Sumlin, his coordinators and several players are scheduled to meet the media on Tuesday for the Aggies' regularly scheduled weekly news conference.
“The focus of our coaches and student-athletes is solely on preparing for Rice this Saturday, and in the best interests of Texas A&M and the 100-plus student-athletes on the team, I have instructed Coach Sumlin, his staff and our student-athletes to refrain from commenting on or answering questions regarding the status of our starting quarterback, Johnny Manziel," Hyman said.
A source told ESPN.com's Travis Haney that NCAA investigators spent nearly six hours with Manziel on Sunday.
It is worth noting that both Hyman and senior associate athletic director for external affairs Jason Cook referred to Manziel as the Aggies' "starting quarterback" on Monday evening. Cook did so in a tweet related to Hyman's statement that read "Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin, staff and players will not address starting QB Johnny Manziel's status at weekly presser on Tuesday. #12thMan"
Manziel was listed No. 1 on the Aggies' recently released depth chart. Starting defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, who is suspended for the season opener, is also listed first on the depth chart, so that isn't necessarily an indicator of Manziel's status. When asked at different times during preseason training camp this month, Sumlin hasn't indicated whether he plans to start Manziel in the season opener. Manziel spent the duration of training camp taking practice repetitions with the first team.
Manziel has not spoken to the media since the news of the NCAA's inquiry into the allegations against him broke on Aug. 4. After addressing his redshirt sophomore quarterback's status briefly on the first day of training camp, Sumlin has directed all questions about Manziel's off-the-field status to Cook.
Cook or the athletic department also hasn't commented on Manziel's status or whether he will play. Last week, Texas A&M chancellor John Sharp did make strong comments in support of Manziel, telling Bryan, Texas, television station KBTX: "I know he's innocent. I know that he didn't do what they accused him of doing.”
Early this month, Manziel's attorney, Jim Darnell, predicted while he was a guest on The Herd with Colin Cowherd that Manziel would start against Rice.
Last season, Manziel compiled an SEC record 5,116 total offensive yards along with 47 total touchdowns. He became the first freshman in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy.
Manziel is not scheduled to appear at the Aggies' news conference on Tuesday. Manziel's backup on Saturday will be either junior Matt Joeckel or true freshman Kenny Hill.
Joeckel appeared in five games last season and attempted 11 passes. Hill is a three-star prospect out of Southlake (Texas) Carroll who signed with the Aggies in February.