Kenny Hill isn't the "next Johnny Manziel." He's the "first Kenny Hill."
The Texas A&M sophomore quarterback threw for a school record 511 yards and three touchdowns in a scientific decimation of the No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks on Thursday night in Columbia. The No. 21 Aggies dominated from start to finish, winning 52-28.
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin didn't sound like somebody whose team upset a Top 10 opponent on the road, though, per Pete Roussel of CoachingSearch.com:
Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier admitted after the game that his team was overmatched, per Willie Smith of The Greenville News:
Hill broke Ryan Tannehill's school record for most passing yards in a debut start and Jerrod Johnson's passing record in a season opener, per Aggie Football:
Hill also has bragging rights on Manziel in one area already, per Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel:
Some were surprised during the summer to see Hill beat out freshman phenom Kyle Allen for the starting job.
"I thought both guys really competed in a great way," said Sumlin, per ESPN.com's Sam Khan Jr. "There's not really one deciding factor; I think it's a body of work and a feel that you have through practice and with your team."
Whereas the competition was once extremely close, it now looks like Allen might want to choose new surroundings if he desires playing in the next year or two, as Newy Scruggs of NBC 5 in Dallas/Fort Worth half-jokingly tweeted out:
Hill needed all of nine plays to lead Texas A&M on its first scoring drive. He went 4-of-5 through the air, helping get the ball down to the South Carolina 1-yard line. Junior running back Tra Carson punched it in from there.
The biggest play of the drive was a 22-yard reception by freshman wideout Ricky Seals-Jones on 3rd-and-5 from the Gamecocks' 23-yard line. He and Hill formed a fruitful partnership on the night, as ESPN College Football noted:
What often helps any debutant under center is making a couple of easy throws to build some confidence and comfort in the pocket. ESPN's Tom Luginbill praised Sumlin for setting up Hill for success with his play-calling in the first quarter:
After shutting down South Carolina on its next drive, the Aggies added a 33-yard field goal from junior Josh Lambo with 5:02 left in the first quarter to take a 10-0 lead.
The Gamecocks were in need of an adrenaline shot, and they received one in the form of a 69-yard touchdown pass from senior QB Dylan Thompson to senior wide receiver Nick Jones.
Now, with 3:44 left in the first quarter, SC was down only 10-7 and grabbing back the momentum. However, in what became one of the narratives of the game, the Gamecocks defense failed to give the offense any support.
On the Aggies' first drive of the second quarter, Hill completed six of his seven passes and moved the ball 85 yards, hooking up with Seals-Jones for a three-yard touchdown pass. ESPN's Louis Riddick felt that South Carolina had no answer for the wideout:
The Gamecocks quickly answered back with a 46-yard touchdown pass from Thompson to senior WR Damiere Byrd with 9:47 left in the half, making it a three-point game once again, 17-14.
The SC defense broke down again, however, giving up back-to-back touchdowns to Texas A&M. All of a sudden, the Gamecocks were down 31-14 at halftime in their home stadium. Not since 2009 had they surrendered that many points in a first half, per ESPN Stats and Info:
One of the biggest storylines coming into the game was how Texas A&M would replace Manziel, offensive lineman Jake Matthews and receiver Mike Evans, all of whom were selected in the first round of the 2014 draft. Losing talent like that can set a program back at least a year or two.
As the best are wont to do, though, the Aggies simply reloaded, as Bleacher Report's Matt Miller pointed out:
Hill was a revelation in the passing game, often looking to Seals-Jones for the big play, while Cedric Ogbuehi opened up holes for the running game and neutralized the Gamecocks pass rush.
By the end of the first half, Hill completed 27 of 35 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns.
What also bears mention is the performance of the A&M defense. Last year, the unit was a massive liability. The Aggies often had to score 30-40 points to just scrape by. Texas A&M won't be relying on its defense to win games this year, but no longer is the group an anchor holding the team back.
As NFL.com's Bryan Fischer tweeted, a showing like the defense had in the first half takes a ton of pressure off the offense:
In the first half, South Carolina was held to 216 total yards. Star running back Mike Davis was a complete non-factor.
Knowing that a touchdown to start the second half would all but kill whatever spirit was left in the SC players, Texas A&M held the Gamecocks to a three-and-out on the first drive of the third quarter and followed with another Hill touchdown pass, this time going to sophomore wideout Josh Reynolds.
Fans inside Williams-Brice Stadium came to life again after Thompson made it a 38-21 game with 7:33 in the third quarter with his third touchdown pass, hooking up with sophomore Pharoh Cooper for the five-yard score.
Sensing a small window of opportunity, Steve Spurrier opted for a surprise onside kick; however, Texas A&M recovered, shutting the door on any comeback attempt.
Matt Connolly of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal figured Spurrier had little to lose since his defense probably would've given up a touchdown even with the Aggies offense backed up deep:
Working with a short field, Texas A&M quickly extended its lead to 24 points, 45-21, with a little over five minutes to go in the third.
The two teams exchanged touchdowns over the final 20 minutes. Sumlin was content to let his running game wear the clock down until the end of the game.
With such a decisive win on the road, Texas A&M could crack the Top 15 by the time next week's rankings are unveiled. The Aggies head home for their next game, welcoming in Lamar on Sept. 6.
South Carolina could be in line for a precipitous drop in the polls, as the Gamecocks looked well off the pace on Thursday night. Luckily, they have another opportunity soon to prove themselves: In a little over two weeks, the No. 12 Georgia Bulldogs come to Columbia.