In Manziel's absence, Aggies QB Joeckel steps up

In Manziel's absence, Aggies QB Joeckel steps up

Published Aug. 31, 2013 2:58 p.m. ET

The pre-Johnny Football era of the 2013 season got off to a rough start for the Texas A&M Aggies, falling behind the Rice Owls 14-7 and getting dominated in the trenches early on.

In fact, it was the absence of six other players -- including defensive starters corner De'Vante Harris, linebacker Steven Jenkins, defensive end Gavin Stansbury and nose guard Kirby Ennis -- that really put the Aggies' backs against the wall in their season opener. Rice pieced together touchdown drives of 96, 57 and 75 yards, respectively.

The Owls ran up 336 total yards in the first half.

(Cliché "Can Johnny Manziel play defense" goes here.)

However, after a few brief hiccups, the ever-explosive offensive attack started rolling behind backup QB Matt Joeckel and the running game.

With Manziel, the reigning Heisman winner, looking on from the Texas A&M sideline, Joeckel, a redshirt junior and the younger brother of last season's All-American tackle Luke Joeckel (the second pick in 2012 NFL Draft), found his rhythm late in the first quarter, leading Kevin Sumlin's offense on a stretch of four touchdowns in five drives.

The team's running back trio of Ben Malena, Tra Carson and Trey Williams combined for 24 carries, 125 yards and three scores, which certainly helped matters for the seventh-ranked Aggies:

"I think (Joeckel's) operated the offense fine," Sumlin said at halftime. "We just gotta make some stops on defense … we gotta get 'em in the right position."

Joeckel finished the half with an efficient 14-of-19 for 190 yards, including a 71-yard TD pass to super-freshman wideout Ricky Seals-Jones. He rushed one time for zero yards. Manziel numbers? Absolute not.

But it was a solid effort that reclaimed the lead and sent the Aggies to locker room holding on to a 28-21 lead.

Manziel, of course, made his 2013 debut in the second half.