COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Johnny Manziel only played the second half of No. 7 Texas A&M’s season-opener after serving a suspension for what the school called an “inadvertent” violation of NCAA rules involving signing autographs.
If Saturday’s game against Sam Houston State goes the way last year’s did, the Heisman Trophy winner will probably only play about a half again this week.
Manziel was unstoppable last year in Texas A&M’s 47-28 win over Sam Houston State, the FCS runner-up the last two seasons. He threw for 267 yards and three touchdowns and added 100 yards rushing with two more scores in little more than a half.
He was solid in his debut, throwing for 94 yards and three touchdowns in less than a half last week.
Manziel also made headlines for taunting the Rice defense. Not long after he entered the game in the third quarter he jawed with a Rice defender and appeared to mimic signing an autograph while getting up from a tackle. He drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he pointed at the scoreboard after throwing his third touchdown pass and was benched by coach Kevin Sumlin.
Sumlin said he spoke with Manziel and several other players about playing smarter this week. But he added that there’s a fine line between getting his quarterback to tone things down and still maintaining his intensity.
“What you don’t want to do is kill that emotion and passion because that’s what separates Johnny from a lot of different players,” Sumlin said. “But what we can do is set him down and say: ‘That same emotion and passion can be used positively in this way.’”
Here are five things to know about the game:
SHORTHANDED DEFENSE: Texas A&M will be without several starters on defense on Saturday because of suspensions. Cornerback Deshazor Everett will have to sit out the first half after being ejected in the second half against Rice for targeting. The Aggies will also be without cornerback De’Vante Harris, linebacker Steven Jenkins and defensive end Gavin Stansbury, who will finish two-game suspensions for violating team rules.
RUNNING KATS: Houston State ran for 365 yards in a 74-0 win over Houston Baptist last week. Senior Timothy Flanders gained 51 yards on nine carries before sitting down after the first quarter. He scored a 4-yard touchdown early in the quarter to give him 53 career rushing touchdowns, which set a Southland Conference record. Flanders is the Bearkats all-time leading rusher with 4,285 yards rushing in his career.
IMPRESSIVE DEBUT: Texas A&M’s offensive line had a solid start to the season with Mike Matthews making his first career start at center. Matthews, the son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, joined his older brother left tackle Jake Matthews on the line.
“We got what we expected from our offensive line,” Sumlin said. “One of the positives of the whole game was Mike Matthews. I think he did a great job of being able to get us targeted in his first game. He played extremely well and that was evident in our ability to rush the football effectively.”
TAKING ON THE BIG GUYS: Since becoming an FCS team in 1986, the Bearkats are 3-26 against FBS. Their last win over an FBS opponent came when they beat New Mexico in 2011. Eight FCS teams beat FBS teams in the first week of the season, and one of those upsets was plenty to get A&M’s attention.
“Seeing North Dakota State go in to Kansas State and win last weekend is all you need to see to be prepared,” Sumlin said. “Willie Fritz is a heck of a coach leading them to back to back championship game appearances. They won’t be intimidated coming in here just like they weren’t last year.”
Fritz knows Saturday’s game won’t be easy for the Bearkats.
“It’s a huge challenge for our football team,” Fritz said. “They are a tremendously talented team led by a Heisman Trophy winner. But playing in front of a crowd of more than 88,000 again will be a great experience for our players and good exposure for Sam Houston State.”
WHAT A LEG: Sophomore punter Drew Kaser averaged 62.7 yards a punt on his three punts in A&M’s opener to help the Aggies lead the nation in net punting. It was the first start for Kaser, who was a soccer player who didn’t take up football until he was a sophomore in high school.
“At the end of my sophomore year, I went to camp and I think that was the moment I thought I might actually be good,” Kaser said. “I’ve been a soccer player since I was three years old.” Sumlin was impressed with his work, saying: “the kicking game might have been the best kicking performances I’ve ever seen.”