COLLEGE STATION, Texas—Johnny Football and the rest of No. 7 Texas A&M’s offense look like they’re ready for next week’s rematch with top-ranked Alabama. The defense might be a different story.
Johnny Manziel threw for 426 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score in less than three quarters to give Texas A&M to a 65-28 win over Sam Houston State on Saturday night.
The Heisman Trophy-winner played about a quarter more than he did last week when he sat out the first half serving a suspension for what the school called an “inadvertent” violation of NCAA rules involving signing autographs.
Manziel started and even got to speak to the media after the game. That didn’t happen last week, either, when he also got a late benching for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. It was the first time Manziel spoke to the media since SEC media day.
He said the support of the Aggies made this difficult period easier to deal with.
“The biggest thing that’s helped probably is just being around these guys, being in this building and having my teammates and still being able to be around them,” he said. “It was easy to block all the stuff out, get off everything, not read anything and just grow with my teammates and continue to get a better bond with them and just spend time with them.”
Texas A&M’s suspension-depleted defense was burned for several big plays by the Bearkats (1-1), the FCS runner-up the last two seasons.
Cornerback De’Vante Harris, linebacker Steven Jenkins and defensive end Gavin Stansbury missed the game serving the last of two game suspensions for violating team rules. Cornerback Deshazor Everett was suspended for the first half for a targeting penalty last week.
Everett had an interception in the third quarter.
“To get those guys all back in the huddle will be a big deal,” coach Kevin Sumlin said. “The familiarity and the experience factor of those guys coming back will help our confidence as a defense and the confidence in our coaches to be able to change some schemes and do some different things instead of being very, very vanilla, which we’ve been the past couple of weeks because of youth.”
Manziel brushed off the notion that this week is different for the Aggies with the Crimson Tide looming.
“It feels like another game,” he said. “It feels like Week 3 of the season. We’ve got to continue to get better as a team continue to get better on every aspect, offense, defense, special teams. (To) have a full lineup back and a full roster back of guys who have been out will be nice.”
Sam Houston’s Timothy Flanders had 170 yards rushing with two scores and added a TD reception.
Texas A&M’s Mike Evans had a career-high 155 yards receiving, Tra Carson ran for 51 with two touchdowns and Ben Malena had 68 yards rushing and a score.
Freshman Kenny Hill added 74 yards passing to give A&M a school-record 500 yards passing and the Aggies (2-0) had 38 first downs to tie the school mark. The win was A&M’s eighth straight, which is their longest winning streak since it won 10 in a row in 1998.
“They’re very good,” Sam Houston State coach Willie Fritz said. “That’s one of the best offenses I’ve ever seen. We could not stop them.”
Manziel threw an interception in the first quarter, but looked sharp otherwise, distributing the ball well as he completed passes to nine different players in the first half.
“We’ve got some playmakers around Johnny and you see him using everybody,” Sumlin said. “Offensively there’s more to it than just him.”
Manziel’s 426 yards passing were the second-most in his career and he has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in his career.
He had to meet with his team the night before last week’s game as a condition of his reinstatement following his suspension. He recounted his talk with the team on Saturday and said his main point was to let them know that “I’m here and focused on the season.”
“There’s so much other stuff that gets played on and is out in the public and we know what’s in this building and what’s in this room,” he said. “There’s a genuine love for each and every guy on this team. So that’s what we were focused on and that’s the message I was trying to get across.”
The Bearkats cut the lead to nine points when Flanders gashed through the line for a 68-yard touchdown run on the second play of the third quarter.
Carson scored on a 1-yard run before Manziel threw a 10-yard pass to Brandon Williams to extend the lead to 44-21.
Another big play—this one a 75-yard reception by Torrance Williams—got Sam Houston State within 44-28.
Manziel finished his day with a 6-yard touchdown run with about five minutes left in the third quarter. He seemed to get annoyed at a defender who knocked the ball out of his hands after the score. He jawed for a few seconds, but he handled himself much better than he did a week ago when he drew a flag for taunting the Rice defense and was benched late in the fourth quarter.