We darn near missed kickoff....for the second season in a row. It seems we either underestimate how long it takes to get all the way up to the third deck where our seats are or we are in denial over how out of shape we are.
This is a game where most of the talking points will come from after the whistle blowing.
Let's start with the suspensions. After the mid-week announcement regarding Johnny, we knew that we would be missing him for a half and CB Deshazor Everett for a half. We also knew we were going to be missing DT Kirby Ennis and S Floyd Raven for the entire game.
Then late Friday there were apparently some rumors that were substantiated just prior to kickoff that WR Edward Pope, CB De'Vante Harris, DL Gavin Stansbury, and LB Steven Jenkins would all be suspended for two games for "violating athletics department rules and regulations."
For those counting at home that meant that SIX defensive starters would be out. We lined up to start the game with only two players in our starting lineup with more than 1 career start (Obioha & Matthews).
Howard Matthews and Harderick Walker (started as a true freshman at DT) both left the game with injuries. There was an extended period of time in the second half when the 12th Man was actually on the field.
There were more red-shirts burned than burgers at the tailgate. Thirteen defensive players make their first appearance for A&M and I counted a total of nineteen on both sides of the ball after re-watching the game at home.
Tra Carson (TR), Cam Clear (JUCO), Quiv Gonzalez, Ricky Seals-Jones, Jeremy Tabuyo, Ja'Quay Williams
Jay Arnold, Darion Claiborne, Noel Ellis, Tavares Garner, Isaiah Golden, Daeshon Hall, Jordan Mastrogiovani, Tommy Sanders (JUCO), Alex Sezer Jr., Tyrone Taylor (RS), Hardreck Walker, Shaan Washington, Jonathan Wiggins
Usually when you have a lot of inexperienced guys out on the field there are still experienced players on the field to help pick up the slack.
Not this game. This was like a spring game for Rice where their 1st team offense went against our #2s and #3s. Typically, these young players are seeing 8-12 snaps at this point in the season - IF they're even seeing the field.....but these kids played at least 2/3 of the game before being replaced with equally experienced true freshmen.
To the Owl's credit, they took advantage, accumulating 31 points on 509 yards (306 came on the ground). They went heavy with the option - Stephen McGee style - and our inexperience was not disciplined enough to stop them.
The biggest thing that I saw that hurt us was missed tackles. There were at least a half-dozen times when I thought we had them wrapped up for a loss and they ended up picking up a 1st down.
I will say that I thought Tremaine Jacobs played well in Harris' absence and I thought that despite a few missed assignments, Darion Claiborne looked really good
Did Brandon Alexander see the field? In a game where we were COMPLETELY decimated in terms of depth, I thought it was very telling that in his third year in the program Alexander didn't see the field. I think we saw the writing on the wall but this, in my mind, was all but the pink slip.
I'm not sure what to think about our defense. There was certainly a level of concern going into the season about the front seven but Saturday didn't lessen or worsen that fear. Honestly, barring a miraculous, stifling performance against Bama, I don't think we'll have a true feeling for the defense until Arkansas/Ole Miss.
The special teams were a mix of highs and lows. Kickoff return and coverage were poor. We didn't have a fielded punt (Travis Labhart was back returning for us). Taylor Bertolet was outstanding - as much as he made me cringe last season, I have to give him credit - he was 7/7 on PATs and hit a 44 yard FG.
The other special teams bright spot was Drew Kaser. What a leg. He AVERAGED 62.7 ypp on 3 punts.
Matt Joeckel played well in the absence of Johnny. His first drive ended in punt but the second drive was a 10 play, 75 yard march down the field that ended with a nice Ben Malena TD run. We scored 28 points on eight possessions. Joeckel had 190 yards and a TD on 14-of-19 passing.
The running game was strong with Ben Malena and Tra Carson (transfer from Oregon) leading the way. Malena had 82 yards and TD on 12 carries while Carson had 76 yards and 2 TDs on 14 carries. Carson ran strong and will be a nice compliment to Malena and Trey Williams.
Trey Williams got tripped up on a KOR on our second possession and looked to hurt himself. He came back in the game just before the half but I saw him with sunglasses and no pads in the second half. According to his Twitter account, he has suffered the dreaded high ankle sprain one of the slowest healing, most nagging injuries a back can pick up.
Mike Evans had a nice afternoon with 84 yards and 2 TDs on 6 receptions and Ricky Seals-Jones made a splash with a 75 yard TD reception - but he hurt his knee on the play.
When Johnny entered at the start of the 2nd half the stadium predictably erupted. Johnny gave a nice little salute to the student section and then took off running on his first two snaps before overshooting Derel Walker in the endzone and getting sacked. Taylor Bertolet cleaned it up with that 44 yard FG.
On his second drive, Tra Carson toted the rock twice before Johnny scrambled for 8 yards. It was following this scramble that Johnny got a bit chirpy with the linebacker that hit him (#46). Then it was directly following this verbal exchange that Johnny went right back at LB #46, who was attempting to cover Mike Evans, for a 23 yard TD pass.
On his last drive, he hit Evans again in the endzone on a scramble and after the play two Rice players were jawing with him and he pointed to the scoreboard.
He was flagged for that. It wasn't even like he was up in their face, or even pushed anyone.
The only reason he got flagged for that was because he is Johnny Manziel. You can't tell me that was the first time someone had the audacity to call "Scoreboard" when an opponent was running their mouth in a blowout. And only one of the two officials thought it was worthy of throwing a flag.
Stephen McGee jawed at opponents - he was beloved for it.
Shoot, everyone loved Johnny for it last year but now it's taboo? Every highlight reel I saw from last season featured the clip in the Miss St game with him "opening his shirt" Superman-style after a TD. That drew a flag too.
He has what every single football fan, and coach, and broadcaster wants a team to have. That silly word that didn't even exist 15 years ago. Swagger.
This is big time football. It isn't his job to be a role model. It's your job to be your own kids role model. This isn't instructional league where we don't keep score and everyone gets a juice box and animal crackers when the clock hits 0:00. You don't get your feelings hurt in DI football - you have to stop the opponent to make them stop.
As Dan Hawkins said, "IT'S DIVISION ONE FOOTBALL! .... IT AIN'T INTERMURALS!"
I never thought I'd ever be quoting Dan Hawkins, but he was right about that.
Here is what I am taking away from the game regarding Johnny:
- He took 18 snaps and we scored 24 points.
- Re-read that line above
- He threw 3 TDs on eight pass attempts.
- He had 113 yards of total offense, despite starting with the ball in field goal range on three of his five drives.
I was surprised that we didn't see freshman Kenny Hill get any action at QB. It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff handles him moving forward. Joeckel might have shown enough to keep the redshirt on Hill.
There was one more bit of controversy in the game. Late in the 4th quarter, Deshazor Everett hit a receiver going over the middle. Had the receiver caught the pass nothing would have been made of it, but since the ball skipped off the receiver's fingers Everett was flagged with "targeting".
Starting this season, a targeting flag isn't just a 15 yard penalty, it is an ejection. And if it happens in the second half of a game, the player is suspended for the 1st half of the next game. Goodbull Hunting has a great article that lays it all out.
Deshazor did not hit the receiver in his head or neck area - it was square in the chest, nor did he lead with his helmet - it was all shoulder. In fact, the WR (who happened to be Gary Kubiak's son) tweeted out:
Even after all of that, we beat Rice soundly with a final score of 52-31.
Next week should be fairly drama free since the game is going to PPV, so ESPN won't be there to sensationalize everything.
Side note, Clemson looks like they are for real. They're 3-1 against the SEC since the start of last year with wins over #6 Georgia (on Saturday night) and #9 LSU (in their bowl game last year).