A&M reloads for SEC encore
Suspensions, injuries sap starters from both units
Published: Thursday, August 29, 2013
Updated: Thursday, August 29, 2013 23:08
With quarterback Johnny Manziel in the fold, the No. 7 Aggies will look to put aside the offseason media attention and controversy when they take the field Saturday with hopes of their first national championship season since 1939.
Coming off the historic inaugural season in the SEC, the defending Cotton Bowl champions begin their 2013 campaign against the Rice Owls, with Manziel suspended for the first half after the conclusion of a month-long NCAA investigation into allegations that Manziel was paid for signing autographs.
Texas A&M will begin its quest with a backfield full of potential led by reigning Heisman Trophy-winner Johnny Manziel, the first freshman in NCAA history to win the Heisman after he passed for 3,706 yards while rushing for 1,410 and accounting for 47 total touchdowns.
Senior Ben Malena and sophomore Trey Williams, who combined for 1,213 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in 2012, will accompany Manziel in the backfield. Alongside them will be sophomore transfers Brandon Williams and Tra Carson.
“I’ve been very pleased with the energy and the focus at practice,” said head coach Kevin Sumlin. “Ben Malena has been a leader for us before his senior year. He excelled last year and he’s become more vocal.”
The offensive line will be led by senior left tackle Jake Matthews, filling the void left by Luke Joeckel — who was drafted second overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2013 NFL Draft. Matthews’ younger brother, sophomore Mike Matthews, assumes the starting center role from graduated center Patrick Lewis. Anchoring the right side of the line will be junior right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, who shifted from the guard position he played last year.
“The offensive line can be as good as last year’s,” Mike Matthews said. “With the pieces in place, I’m confident in our ability. Traveling and watching Pat Lewis benefited me a lot. It was a good deal to get a taste of the SEC.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Aggies will be without junior cornerback Deshazor Everett and junior safety Floyd Raven Sr., for the first half of the game, and senior defensive lineman Kirby Ennis for the entire game due to suspensions resulting from off-the-field issues.
“In Raven and Everett’s absence, we will have younger guys step up, but they’ll be ready,” said senior defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. “Clay Honeycutt has come on strong and shown great consistency.”
Despite missing personnel, the Texas A&M defense looks to continue where they left off last season. During the 2012 season, the Aggies allowed an average of 22.5 points per game. The Rice Owls scored an average of 29 points per game during their 6-6 run through Conference USA last season.
Offensively, A&M averaged 44.8 points per game last season while the Owl’s defense allowed 31.3 points per game. Rice will be without two of its top defensive players from last season. Senior cornerback Phillip Gaines is suspended and senior linebacker Cameron Nwosu is out with a knee injury.
This will be the first time the Aggies and Owls meet since the Southwestern Conference split in 1996. Texas A&M leads the all-time series 50-27-2.