COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Johnny Manziel was sharp and confident and moved No. 7 Texas A&M’s offense with ease and piled up three touchdowns in his suspension-abbreviated debut against Rice.
His performance was sparkling. The problem was his attitude.
The Heisman Trophy winner sat out the first half because of what the school called an “inadvertent” violation of NCAA rules involving signing autographs.
In the second half he managed to not only show some of the skills that helped him become one of the country’s most electric players, but also the antics that have caused him off-the-field trouble.
Not long after he entered the game in the third quarter he jawed with a Rice defender and appeared to mimic signing an autograph while getting up from a tackle.
He was at it again after throwing a third touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, and was benched following an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for pointing at the scoreboard.
Coach Kevin Sumlin said that he didn’t see the autograph incident, but he was clearly upset by the fourth-quarter penalty.
“We’ve got to grow and mature as a team, and individual acts like that hurt your football team,” he said.
Manziel wasn’t made available to the media after Saturday’s game and hasn’t spoken publicly since the autograph scandal broke. Sumlin said he hopes that Manziel learned a lesson about the consequences his actions can have on the team, and that he’ll address the situations from Saturday’s game this week.
Manziel set numerous school and Southeastern Conference records while leading the Aggies to an 11-2 mark and a victory over No. 1 Alabama to become the first freshman to win the Heisman last year.
He ruffled feathers around College Station this offseason for tweeting that he “can’t wait to leave College Station,” despite having three years of eligibility remaining. Then he allegedly overslept at a football camp run by the Manning family and was supposedly kicked out of a University of Texas fraternity party before the NCAA investigation began.
The distraction he has caused has raised the question of whether it takes away from his electric play.
Sumlin was asked if he’ll have to learn to accept that there are going to be tough moments with Manziel. He replied: “accept is not a word coaches go by.”
“You try to do everything you can to grow better people, better players and give your team the best chance to win,” he said. “And individual penalties of any kind, particularly personal fouls, are things that could keep you from winning ball games.”
If his teammates are tiring of their quarterback’s personality, they aren’t saying so. Every player who was asked about his behavior on Saturday took up for the 20-year-old Manziel.
“I felt like he represented himself with a nice swag,” senior defensive back Toney Hurd said. “He came out and he played well. He took a few chances, but who doesn’t take chances on the football field? He came out and had fun. We got the ‘W’ and that’s what really matters.”
The Aggies have one more week to clean up their play with a game against Sam Houston State, the FCS runner-up the last two seasons, before a rematch with top-ranked Alabama on Sept. 14.