Texas A&M reminded college football in week one they are not a high caliber team without Johnny Manziel.
Manziel’s half-game suspension during the No. 6 Aggies’ home opener against Rice University jolted the Aggie offense to outlast the Owls 52-31 after a tight 28-21 first half.
Approaching week two, Sam Houston State University will travel 45 minutes to suit-up against Manziel and company for a second consecutive year.
In 2012 SHSU drove into College Station in high spirits after clenching their second consecutive SLC title with a 7-1 league record. The Aggie defense barred SHSU’s explosive run game and locked down the air attack with a shut-out first half.
SHSU head coach Willie Fritz said his concern covering Manziel is locking down his ability to complete precision passes. Manziel’s ability to throw precise passes in heavy coverage is often overlooked by his scrambling speed. Fritz wants to maintain leverage in the backfield and keep the secondary over-the-top when covering receivers.
“We want to make those guys work for points,” he said. “[Manziel] is going to get his yards. If things break down back there that’s where he causes you trouble. You just need to get good leverage.”
Last year Manziel threw for 267 yards against SHSU’s veteran secondary and found 109 yards rushing through middle seams. Last week during their home opener against Rice, Manziel accounted for three passing touchdowns and 31 rushing yards during his 20 minutes of play. The reigning Heisman quarterback was soon benched after taunting Owl defenders, calling for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
The quarterback did not address the media in post-game interviews, but head coach Kevin Sumlin said the penalty was “foolish,” and “[Manziel] is going to face that every week with people chirping.”
Aggie receiver Mike Evans received for 84 yards including two touchdowns against the Owls, similar to his performance against the Bearkats in 2012. The sophomore receiver abused SHSU’s secondary with 81 yards and two touchdowns in his freshmen performance.
Bearkat defensive back Bookie Sneed said his matchup with Evans will be similar to covering Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. Sneed is listed at 6’0″, 180-pounds, with Evans listed at 6’5″, 225 pounds.
“You may not win every single battle but I’m going to go in on him with everything I have,” Sneed said. “I’m trying to pick up on a lot of his tendencies. It’s all about going out there and trusting what you do.”
The senior defensive back said the defense has worked scrambling drills to prepare for Manziel and his ability to work precision passing on the run and out of the pocket.
“It’s like chasing a rabbit out there,” Sneed said. “We need to lock on, knowing when he’s in the pocket.”
The Bearkats starters will clock substantial game time against the Aggies, following SHSU’s 74-0 shutout against Houston Baptist in week one. First string teams on both sides of the ball slowly trickled back to the bench with the second teams steering the reins in the second half.
Week one’s shutout recorded the team’s fifth highest shutout in school history.
Suspensions linger in Texas A&M’s lineup with the suspension of three defensive players a few hours before their contest against Rice. Steven Jenkins, Gavin Stansbury and De’Vante Harris were suspended for violation of team rules, according to the university.
With fresh legs carrying from week one, running back Timothy Flanders sights in on exposing a weak defensive line and narrow his deficit from the Southland Conference’s all-time rushing record. Flanders recorded 52 yards against the Huskies with a strong presence pushing through the middle seams. The senior All-American is 469 yards from claiming the all-time rushing title.
“Records are meant to be broken but I’m going to do everything I can to add to it,” he said.
Flanders said he wants to maintain momentum and energy against the Aggies, a feat that lacked against HBU during the second half.
Game time kicks off Saturday at 6 p.m. in College Station. Tickets are available at http://www.gobearkats.com.