Texas A&M Football: Grading the Aggies Position-by-Position vs. Rice
The Texas A&M football team beat the Rice Owls 52 to 31 at Kyle Field Saturday in the season opener both teams.
It was a solid start to the season for the Aggies after an offseason spent dealing with controversy and distractions.
The win keeps Texas A&M on track for a Top 5 showdown with No. 1 Alabama on Sept. 14. If the Aggies can get by Sam Houston State next weekend, then the matchup against the Crimson Tide will be one of the most-hyped and most-watched games of the season.
Season openers are often wrought with mistakes and penalties. College football fans who spent the offseason clamoring for the season to start, are typically a little disappointed at the level of play in their team's first game.
It is all cyclical. By the end of the year their team hopefully will be playing like a well-oiled machine. Then seniors will graduate, new players will come in and the process will start all over again.
With Texas A&M, these opening-week mistakes were magnified a little bit because they had a new quarterback under center and multiple defensive players suspended for all or part of the game. The Aggies did what they needed in order to get the win and keep themselves on track for a Southeastern Conference title.
This is a look at how each position graded out against Rice.
Aggie fans and coaches had to be happy with what they saw from the quarterback position against the Owls. Redshirt junior Matt Joeckel got the start and was very solid in the first half.
He completed 14 out of 19 passes for 190 yards with one touchdown. When Joeckel took the Aggies into halftime the score was 28-21 in favor of A&M.
Manziel started the second half and reminded everyone why he was awarded the trophy for being the best football player in the country in 2012. He went 6-of-8 for 94 yards and three touchdowns.
It was an important game for Manziel to remind the nation that even though he has been put through the NCAA ringer during August, he is still an elite player on the field.
Senior running back Ben Malena got the start for the Aggies. He had his typical strong game, with 82 yards rushing on 12 carries and two touchdowns, one each rushing and receiving.
Aggie fans finally got a look at Tra Carson, who showed a surprising amount of wiggle for a big back, rushing for 76 yards on 14 carries with two touchdowns.
Sophomore running back Trey Williams was injured early in the game during a kickoff return. He entered the contest later for one series. Williams rushed for 17 yards on three carries.
With an inexperienced quarterback starting, Texas A&M was going to have to lean on their running game to carry the offense in the first half. The Aggie running backs came through with 183 yards on 32 carries.
The Aggie receivers had a lot of questions to answer after the graduation of last year's starters Ryan Swope, Uzoma Nwachukwu and Kenric McNeal. Aggie fans wanted to know who would step up and become a difference maker in 2013?
Sophomore Mike Evans led all Aggie receivers with six receptions for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Malcome Kennedy had a solid day from the slot with four catches for 56 yards.
Freshman wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones electrified the crowd early with a 71-yard touchdown catch-and-run in the first half. He finished his first career game with three receptions for 84 yards.
The Aggie coaches rotated receivers throughout the game in order to get a look at as many players as possible. Six different A&M receivers registered at least one reception.
The Aggies only used tight ends as extra blockers against Rice. Both Nehemiah Hicks and Cam Clear can be receiving threats. Expect the Aggies to use them more in the passing game in two weeks against Alabama.
The offensive line had two new starters when they took the field against Rice. Sophomore center Mike Matthews and redshirt freshman guard Germain Ifedi were newcomers on the line. For Ifedi it was his first college action ever.
The offensive line was very effective against the Owls. It opened up holes for the running game, which tallied 202 yards and an average of 5.2 yards per rush. The line also did a good job of protecting the quarterbacks, allowing two sacks of Manziel.
It was a very strong performance for a group that included two new starters.
With the suspensions of Kirby Ennis and Gavin Stansbury, the Aggies were forced to play multiple true freshmen defensive linemen for extensive snaps. For the most part, the defensive line was pushed around by a veteran Rice offensive line.
Aggie defensive linemen struggled to get off their blocks and get penetration into the Rice backfield. It was a rude awakening for many of the freshmen defensive linemen.
Texas A&M allowed 306 yards rushing and an average of 6.0 per carry. That is a far cry from the 3.7 yards per carry the 2012 Aggie defense allowed for the season.
Sophomore Alonzo Williams led the defensive linemen with six total tackles. Freshman defensive end Daeshon Hall had three tackles with a tackle for loss in his collegiate debut.
Defensive end Tyrone Taylor registered two tackles for loss and recorded one of the Aggies sacks on the afternoon. Freshman defensive tackle Jay Arnold saw some action and registered half a tackle for loss.
With such a young front seven, the Texas A&M defense is going to experience some growing pains in 2013. The Rice game was an eye-opening experience for the Aggies' freshmen defensive linemen.
The Aggies needed two replace two linebackers from their 2012 squad. Senior linebacker Steven Jenkins was the only starter returning from the 2012 unit, and he was suspended for the Rice game.
The linebackers struggled mightily in Jenkins' absence, missing tackles, overrunning plays and generally playing poor football.
There were some bright spots, but overall it was a very forgettable afternoon for the position. Freshman Darian Claiborne led the team with 11 total tackles and added 1.5 tackles for loss.
Junior linebacker Tommy Sanders misread the option and allowed Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue to gain 57 yards on a keeper. Sanders did however show good hustle in running McHargue down from behind.
The performance from the linebackers was the worst at Kyle Field in quite some time. They are going to need to improve by leaps and bounds if they expect to compete in the SEC in 2013.
Junior cornerback Deshazor Everett missed the first half with a suspension and junior safety Floyd Raven sat out the game with a suspension. Sophomore cornerback De'Vante Harris sat out the game due to a suspension.
The defensive backs did a solid job against the Owls. Cornerback Tramain Jacobs and safety Clay Honeycutt both snagged interceptions.
Everett registered seven tackles with two tackles for loss in one half of football. He was kicked out of the game for targeting in the fourth quarter. Everett may miss the first half of the Sam Houston State game if the disqualification is upheld following a review.
Freshman safety Shaan Washington had a solid collegiate debut with five tackles including a sack.
The Aggies' special teams were very good against Rice. Other than a 38-yard kickoff return, the special teams played lights out.
Placekicker Taylor Bertolet converted on his only field-goal attempt from 33 yards out. More importantly, Bertolet converted on all seven of his extra-point attempts.
Punter Drew Kaser had a monster day. He had three punts for an average of 62.7 yards with all three being downed inside the Owls' 20-yard line.
The Aggies' return game was nothing special. However, consistency from Kaser and Bertolet for an entire game is cause for celebration.
When you are playing your first game after an offseason of distractions—and without your starting quarterback for a half—a win is worthy of the highest grade possible. Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff kept the team focused on winning.
They started the game without five of defensive starters. Because the coaching staff was able to get the team prepared for Rice, the Aggies are still on schedule for a Top 10 showdown against Alabama at Kyle Field on Sept. 14.