Johnny Manziel did a little bit of scrambling and threw three touchdowns.
The running backs hit the holes hard.
Young wideout Derel Walker hauled in five passes and a touchdown.
And ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler were there to call the action for a national television audience.
An announced crowd of the 45,212, a number that actually appeared to be on the money — showed up to watch the Aggies on a busy weekend on campus where the baseball and softball teams also hosted games.
As for the biggest sport on campus, we didn’t learn a whole heck of a lot about the 2013 Texas A&M Aggies.
“We’re playing ourselves,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said.
It was the Maroon & White game after all. Just a glorified dress rehearsal to prepare for the real deal that doesn’t happen for another four months. The most eye-opening play of the day was when Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel tried to throw a diving block on a running play at the goal line, drawing a collective gasp from Brazos County.
“I won’t do that again,” he said to his coaches on the sideline.
It was as close as he came to getting hit all day against a defense that was missing three starters up front. Even if they had played, they wouldn’t have been allowed to get after him, lest they be banned to Sumlin’s doghouse. Or worse.
Here’s something we knew well before the 2 p.m. kickoff: the offense will go only as far as Manziel will take it and the quarterback’s health and the ability of the big uglies up front to protect will determine if the Aggies can duplicate or improve upon that breakout 11-2 season of a year ago.
Left tackle Jake Matthews is the most important player on this offense not named Manziel. The son of Hall of Fame pro football tackle Bruce, Jake moved over from the right side in the spring to replace Outland Trophy winner Luke Joeckel, projected by some analysts to be the first overall pick of the upcoming NFL draft.
The line will take on a new look this fall with Matthews at his new spot, his younger brother Mike at center and converted guard Cedric Ogbuehi moving from guard to right tackle.
“We’re always going to miss (Joeckel), not only as a football player but also from being around him in the locker room,” Manziel said. “But to move Jake from the right side to the left side then move (Ogbuehi) to his more natural position, then to have Mike at center…his last name speaks for itself.”
The transition to protecting Manziel’s blind side will be one of the most talked about moves in the country this fall as defenses will undoubtedly scheme to limit the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Now it’s hard to gauge how well a left tackle protected an untouchable quarterback in a spring football game, but when the tackle’s last name is Matthews, it’s safe to say he did a good job.
“They all fit together,” Sumlin said. “That five that started the game today were together for all 15 (spring) practices.”
Of those positions, the left side has to be the most important. Believe it not, the Aggies surrendered 23 sacks for 139 yards in losses last season, surprising numbers considering the fleet-footed Manziel was one of the most elusive players at his position. With a third spring under his belt, Manziel says the game is starting to slow down for him, which is bad news for a 2013 schedule that features eight games in College Station and no games against South Carolina, Florida and Georgia.
Manziel completed 24-of-28 passes for 303 yards and those three touchdowns, and showed the same dangerous freelance style that gave most opponents fits last season. The only real blip on the radar was a couple of excessive celebration penalties after touchdowns, something Manziel dismissed, saying that it’s not every day you get to play a spring football game on ESPN.
His protectors had the knowledge that they were standing between the most important player on the football and mostly backups who knew better than to touch him. That will change this fall when Manziel will become one the SEC’s most sought-after targets.
Running backs Ben Malena and the Williams boys – Brandon and Trey – will get their yards and Manziel will put up numbers, just as long as he stays clean in the pocket.
“What you’re looking for is not five pennies,” Sumlin said, “but for that line to work together like a nickel.”