COLLEGE STATION — Again, Texas A&M started slow.
Quarterback Johnny Manziel barely lasted a half, but the Aggies hardly needed much more than that from the Southeastern Conference freshman player of the week to lead A&M to it second straight rout, 70-14 over South Carolina State on Saturday at Kyle Field.
Texas A&M (2-1, 0-1 SEC), outscored 7-3 in the first quarter through its first two games, punted on three of its first five drives of the game, but Manziel’s 39-yard scoring run with 12:02 left in the second broke open the Aggies offense.
“We’ve got to be able to more efficient early in the game, but, overall, it was a great team victory because the defense is playing very well, our special teams really helped us with field position,” said A&M coach Kevin Sumlin. “Our return game was excellent and that gave our offense an opportunity to get clicking.”
Coming off a 418-yard, six-touchdown performance in A&M’s 48-3 win over SMU last week, Manziel threw for 174 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 78 yards and two more touchdowns in the first half Saturday.
A&M junior running back Ben Malena ran for 88 yards and two scores on 11 carries; Dustin Harris set a Texas A&M and SEC record with 246 punt return yards, including a 96-yard touchdown, and Deshazor Everett scored a defensive touchdown on a 22-yard interception return.
“The score kind of got out of hand because of the kicking game,” said Bulldogs coach Oliver Pough. “(Harris) returned every kind of punt. A&M was fast, and the dominant team.”
Replacing Manziel in the second half, former Shoemaker standout Jameill Showers completed of 2 of 10 passes for 9 yards and an interception and ran for 39 yards on three carries.
The Bulldogs (1-3) were held to 223 yards and 11 first downs and after cutting A&M’s lead to 14-7 late in the first quarter, didn’t score again until Lennel Elmore’s 39-yard touchdown pass from Richard Cue with 12:09 left in the fourth quarter.
“It’s good for us to go out and have fairly clean half, but from a coach’s perspective and a player’s perspective, it still wasn’t good enough because we felt we should’ve had a shutout,” said A&M senior linebacker Jonathan Stewart, who had four tackles.
A&M scored on five straight possessions in the second quarter, while its defense held the Bulldogs to 26 yards and zero first downs in the second period.
Manziel ran for scores of 39 and 20 yards and threw scoring passes of 9, 30 and 37 yards to Kenric McNeal and Uzoma Nwachukwu. Malena had touchdowns of 4 and 50 yards, helping the Aggies build a 49-7 lead at halftime. Nwachukwu had two touchdown catches totalling 46 yards.
Malena’s 4-yard touchdown run came on the Aggies’ second offensive series with 8:39 left in the first and Manziel’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Nwachukwu on the run made it 14-0.
The Bulldogs cut into the lead with their fourth offensive series on Jalen Simmons’ 17-yard scoring run with 35 seconds left in the first quarter. But, it was all Manziel and A&M after that.
Manziel’s two rushing touchdowns came on back-to-back drives to give the Aggies a 28-7 lead with 8:10 left in the second. Then, the freshman took the air, completing a 30-yard scoring pass to Kenrick McNeal with 5:24 left in the second and a 37-yard score to Nwachukwu that made it 42-7 with 3:05 left in the half. Malena’s 50-yarder gave the Aggies’ their halftime lead.
“He took care of the ball for the third straight week and made some plays with his legs,” Sumlin said of Manziel. “He isn’t being careless and that’s giving us an opportunity to be successful.”
Harris’ punt return for a score gave the Aggies a 56-7 lead with 8:18 left in the third and Christine Michael scored on a 5-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter giving A&M plenty of confidence going into its second SEC game of the season against Arkansas next Saturday.
“We are clicking right now,” Malena said, “and figuring out the offense and the tempo and getting more comfortable week by week.”