In his first start at quarterback for the Texas Aggie football team, Matt Joeckel showed poise and talent in the first half of game play on Aug. 31, 2013. In front of a Kyle Field crowd of 86,686, the Aggies beat the Rice Owls by the score of 52–31. It was in large measure thanks to Joeckel’s confidence that a talented Rice offense didn’t run over a substantially weakened but valiant Aggie defense. The Owls put up an excellent offensive battle in the first half, showing talent and hustle.
Joeckel’s numbers were strong, as he made 14 of 19 passing attempts for 190 yards and a spectacular 71-yard touchdown play as Joeckel connected with freshman Ricky Seals-Jones in the second quarter. Seals-Jones tied with Mike Evans in receiving yards, Seals-Jones with three catches and Evans with six catches for 84 total yards; Malcome Kennedy pulled in four passes for 56 yards, and five additional players accounted for 60 more receiving yards.
Joeckel’s offensive line protected him as he played the entire first half of the game without being sacked. The junior from Arlington stands 6’4”, and he appeared in five games last season for the Aggies after game wins had been assured. His high school records at Arlington High School showed his potential to the Aggies, as he threw for 3,145 yards and 40 touchdowns with only six interceptions in 2009, and was District Offensive Player of the Year. Every standout college player brings a heralded record to college, but often many don't get a chance to show their stuff, and yet so much potential abounds on the sidelines.
In recent weeks, there has been active discussion about whether Head Coach Kevin Sumlin would name Joeckel or true freshman Kenny Hill as the starting backup quarterback. Hill’s spring season workouts have shown promise, but in the end Sumlin went with Joeckel, and the Aggies were rewarded with today's outcome.
On the day, the Aggies put up 486 yards of total offense in 66 plays to Rice’s 509 yards on 88 offensive plays. The Ags converted 4 of 10 third-down plays and 1 of 1 fourth-down plays (Joeckel). Rice managed 7 of 17 third-down conversions and 2 of 3 fourth-down conversions, which is a reflection on the Aggie defense, weakened by massive player suspensions. The defense, however, managed to recover the ball twice, intercepting two of Taylor McHargue’s passes, which gave the Aggies excellent field position. Aggie rushers easily got the ball into the end zone.
In a surprising announcement just before game time, the Aggie defense played today’s game without three of their starters, as four additional suspensions were reported by local outlet, The Eagle:
"Sophomore cornerback De'Vante Harris, senior linebacker Steven Jenkins and junior defensive end Gavin Stansbury each are missing today's game against Rice and next week's game against Sam Houston State. Redshirt freshman defensive back Edward Pope also was suspended for two games. All were suspended for violating A&M athletic department rules and regulations."
Earlier this week, two more Aggie defensive starters received their marching orders from an off-campus scuffle that was dismissed as simply harmless kerfluffle meriting a mini-penalty. Cornerback Deshazor Everett was suspended for the first half of today’s Rice matchup, and safety Floyd Raven, Sr., was suspended for the entire Rice game. During the course of today’s contest, Deshazor Everett managed to get ejected in the fourth quarter for “targeting,” Aggie Athletics reported, which will cost him, and the Aggies, his play for yet another half of game play against Sam Houston State University next week.
Emotional responses are a natural outcome of sporting events played with intensity and passion, but it takes a truly mature leader to put emotions aside and simply play the game, for the sake of the team as a whole, and the school at large, and the SEC conference in general, in which the Aggies are only in their second year of membership.
Matt Joeckel had a chance to again show his leadership today, in going back in during the fourth quarter, after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was assessed on the Aggie’s returning starting quarterback. After the game, Head Coach Kevin Sumlin acknowledged that bringing Joeckel back to finish out the game was an intentional decision on his part.
NCAA penalties having been served, it is now Kevin Sumlin’s game to call, each game this season. Sumlin’s important decisions today about who plays, and when, in future games are now strictly his to make. From everything that Matt Joeckel showed, in just his first game as a starter, things look good for the Aggies. Hopefully, Joeckel will continue to see meaningful playing time in the future games this season.