COLLEGE STATION – A highlight reel touchdown catch by Jordan Taylor gave Rice hope during halftime of Saturday’s season opener at Texas A&M.
But two early second half interceptions and the return of suspended Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel ended a chance of an upset. The No. 7 Aggies poured in on during the second half to win 52-31.
It’s the 16th straight time A&M has defeated Rice, though the first since the Southwest Conference ceased to exist in 1995.
“I was really proud of the way are guys fought,” Rice coach David Bailiff said after the game . “One of our goals was to come here and be a better football team when we left than when we got here. We did achieve that. We dreamed big. We wanted to win, but we didn’t pull it off.”
Bailiff said the game hinged on big plays and turnovers. A&M had more big plays and fewer turnovers.
Taylor’s touchdown grab off a deflection with 10 second left in the first half put Rice (0-1) down 28-21 at halftime. While Kyle Field was ready to erupt for Manziel’s first series, Rice had the ball first. But not for long. On the third play, quarterback Taylor McHargue’s pass attempt was intercepted by senior cornerback Tramain Jacobs.
A&M (1-0) took over at the Rice 40 and a fired up Manziel, who sat the first half because of a controversial suspension, wasted little time. He scrambled for 19 yards on two runs to set up a field goal.
“We knew [Manziel] was coming in,” said Rice defensive tackle Christian Covington. “I think it set a fire to Texas A&M in the second half. It is a challenge getting to him.”
A second McHargue interception gave the Aggies another short field. They took advantage with a 4-play, 34 yard touchdown drive, capped by a Mike Evans touchdown reception from Manziel.
“We became unfocused, and we’ve got to understand why we had trouble communicating at that point,” Bailiff said. “…We’ll be in great shape. I just wish we had those turnovers back.”
Rice had success offensively, especially with moving the ball on the ground. The Owls racked up 306 rushing yards. Charles Ross led the way with 107 yards on the ground and two touchdowns.
“The offense did a really good job of getting hat on a hat,” Ross said. “Part of being a good running back is getting to the second level and making guys miss.”
A&M was without four starters on defense because of suspension for rules violations. The inexperience showed as Rice scored on its first two possessions.
Rice was backed up at its own 4 on the Owls first drive. McHargue hit tight end Connor Cella on a 26-yard gain to get Rice some breathing room. Two plays later McHargue took off to the left side and ran 57 yards to the Aggie 8. It was the longest run of his career. Ross capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
“It was great to start the way we did,” McHargue said. “…That was big for us. I thought the whole first half we moved the ball effectively. Then the second half, I have to play better than that.”
The Aggies answered with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. All but two of the plays were runs. Ben Malena and Tra Carson did the damage, with Malena scoring on a four-yard run.
Rice only needed five plays to score again. McHargue accounted for all but six yards on the drive. He ran 18 yards on third down and then hit Ross on a 19-yard touchdown pass. Ross caught it at the 12 and weaved his way between Aggie defenders to get to the house.
Matt Joeckel led the Aggies to three more first half touchdowns. The junior was 14 for 19 for 190 yards and a touchdown.
“Matt was in a rhythm,” said Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin. “He was playing well and probably deserved to keep playing. He executed our offense. We had great tempo. He didn’t give the ball to the other team. He was a distributor. He gained a lot of confidence and the team gained a lot of confidence in him.”
Manziel was 6 for 8 passing for 94 yards, and he got into verbally with some Rice defenders. Rice kept him in check on the ground. Manzel had six runs for 19 yards.
Rice backup quarterback Driphus Jackson had a nice second half drive. He and freshman Darik Dillard accounted for 80 of the 81 yards as Rice slowly made its way down the field to end the third quarter. Ross scored on a 1-yard run to start the fourth, cutting the lead to 31-21.
But the Aggies struck back with a 6-play, 93 yard drive to put it away. The key play was a 34-yard throw from Manziel to Malcome Kennedy.
The Aggies averaged 7.4 yards a play, against an Owl defense who was without two key players.
“This is one where I can’t wait to watch the video to see how good we could be,” Bailiff said. “We’re going to get Cameron Nwosu and Phillip [Gaines] back. We have some pieces we can plug in.”
While the outcome wasn’t ideal, Bailiff said the team can grow from the loss.
“We have big plans, but none of our goals is to win the SEC,” Bailiff said. “All of goals are still intact. We have a week off. We’ll go back at it, and see what we need to get better at.”
Stats from today’s game can be found here.
Game Notes and Fun Facts
- Rice is now 1-2 all-time against Heisman winners, defeating Doak Walker and SMU in 41-27 in 1949 and losing to Billy Sims and Oklahoma 63-12 in 1979.
- Taylor McHargue became the first quarterback at Rice to start four consecutive season openers since first-year players became eligible for varsity competition in 1972.
- Texas A&M had scored first in 17 straight games dating back to the 2011 game against Missouri.
- The Aggies haven’t lost a non-conference game at home versus an in-state opponent since 1954.
- Rice won the time of possession 38:24 to 21:36
- Aggie punter Dave Kaser’s 76-yard punt in the third quarter was the sixth-longest in school history.