After making just as many headlines off the field as it has on the last several weeks, the seventh-ranked Texas A&M Aggies will get back to business on Saturday evening with a Lone Star State showdown against the Sam Houston State Bearkats.
Sam Houston State is consistently one of the top teams in the FCS and even made it all the way to the national championship game last season, although it lost to North Dakota State, 39-13. The Bearkats are seeking a repeat performance in 2013 and got the campaign off to a flying start in their opener last week by demolishing Houston Baptist, 74-0, and they currently sit at No. 4 in The Sports Network FCS poll.
There was plenty of controversy surrounding Texas A&M heading into its opener with the first-half suspension of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel, but while it let Rice hang around for a while, the return of its star signal caller after intermission sparked a strong finish as it claimed a 52-31 victory. The Aggies have now won seven straight games, their longest winning streak since capturing 10 in a row in 1998.
"We have a lot of pieces that we can be successful with," Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "I think we have a lot of young guys who are eager to play. Sure, we had some guys get frozen up (in the opener) and caught on their heels, but that's part of coaching; you can prepare them in practice, but when the bullets start flying they don't know exactly what's going to happen, but there were some positive things out of that."
Texas A&M has beaten Sam Houston State all 11 times the two programs have met, most recently claiming a 47-28 decision on Nov. 17, 2012.
Sam Houston State's offense was nearly flawless in its opener, amassing 455 yards while scoring touchdowns on seven of its eight trip to the red zone.
The rushing attack did the most damage, accounting for 365 yards and six touchdowns. Steven Hicks was the featured back in the first half and turned 17 carries into 99 yards and a touchdown. Cory Idlebird, Timothy Flanders, Don King III, Brian Bell and Keshawn Hill all found the end zone as well.
Because of the effective running game, Bell didn't need to do much under center, as he completed just 5-of-9 passes for 90 yards, but he did manage to toss a couple of touchdowns and went without a turnover.
Torrance Williams caught just two balls but they went for 72 yards and a score. Josh Lyons (one reception, eight yards) had the other touchdown in the passing game.
As efficient as the Bearkats offense was, the play of the defense was the biggest story. The unit held Houston Baptist to a meager 90 yards in the shutout and contributed on the scoreboard as well with interception returns for touchdowns by Shelby Davis and Tristan Eche.
The defense collected 10 tackles for loss. Andrew Weaver recorded a sack, and Andre Moseley picked off a pass as well.
While Texas A&M's offense was able to hold its own without Manziel early on, it clearly hit another level when its star quarterback entered the game.
Matt Joeckel played well in Manziel's absence (14-of-19, 190 yards, TD), but Johnny Football was nearly flawless in the second half, completing 6-of-8 passes for 94 yards with three touchdowns while adding a couple of exciting scrambles for 19 yards rushing.
Manziel's on-the-field production has never been in question, but his personal decision making will be under scrutiny all season long. Just days after being handed down a punishment from the NCAA, Manziel made light of his misdoings by mocking a signature as a celebration and taunting his opponents, which is something Sumlin will need to keep in check.
"He'll be playing every week with people chirping, and (chirping back) is not okay," Sumlin said. "Obviously, I addressed that on the sideline. But it's something he'll have to deal with every week. We've got to grow and mature as a team, and individual acts like that hurt your football team."
Ben Malena showed an explosive burst both as a runner (82 yards, TD) and a receiver (one reception, 18 yards, TD). Tra Carson was also effective on the ground with 76 yards and a pair of scores.
Mike Evans continued his great chemistry with Manziel, hauling in six balls for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Ricky Seals-Jones (three receptions, 84 yards) was on the receiving end of a 71-yard scoring strike from Joeckel in the second quarter.
While the Aggies offense appeared to be in midseason form, the defense lagged behind, surrendering 509 yards to Rice while staying on the field for more than 38 minutes.
The extra time on the field allowed Darian Claiborne (11 tackles) and Howard Matthews (10 tackle) to rack up the stops. Even though the unit was underwhelming, it still came up with a handful of big plays. Clay Honeycutt and Tramain Jacobs each intercepted a pass, and Shaan Washington recorded a sack and a forced fumble.