Out with the old, in with the new. Texas A&M had no problem entering the post-Johnny Manziel era, coming up with one of their biggest wins since joining the SEC, beating #9 ranked South Carolina 52-28 in Columbia, presenting sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill, looking almost flawless on his first start for the Aggies.
Two people are vindicated more than anyone by this win: Hill himself, who had to beat a few people behind the scenes, including a five-star recruit, in order to take over the starting quarterback position, and Kevin Sumlin. Some doubted Sumlin’s chances of success in the post-Manziel era, but the numbers put on the board and the box score are proof that under his offensive coaching, the Aggies are bound to put up a lot of points.
Transition and generations changing didn’t go so well for the Gamecocks, pummeled at home in a manner they’re not used to. After three consecutive 11-2 seasons, the ambitions are greater than just being very good. Yet without their superstar defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney, who went to the NFL, this wasn’t the same defense we knew from years past, giving up a total of 680 yards.
Hill completed 44-of-60 passes for 511 yards and three touchdown passes. He did very well on a number of tough 3rd down situations, with the Aggies converting 12-of-17, compared to just 2-of-9 for South Carolina, as Dylan Thompson, quite an experienced guy finally taking over the starting position, completed just 50% of his passes while getting very little support (67 yards on 22 carries) from his running game.
Hill broke Manziel’s school records for completions and passing yards, as he connected with Josh Reynlod, Edward Pope and Ricky Seals-Jones for his three passing touchdowns. His go-to guy was senior wide receiver Malcome Kennedy, catching 14 passes for 137 yards. We also saw quite a lot from the running game, but not from the quarterback. The Aggies finished with 169 yards on the ground, as Tra Carson punched in for three close-range touchdowns and Trey Williams added another while going for 78 yards on 11 carries.
This was the worst home loss for South Carolina since a 63-17 drubbing by Clemson in 2003. They simply couldn’t keep up with the Aggies’ pace, with A&M running 53 plays in the first half alone. South Carolina usually don’t look this bad on openers, allowing just 7.1 points in first halves under Spurrier on opening days. The most interesting number: Only three teams have scored more points against a Spurrier defense, and all three have gone on to win a national championship: Nebraska in 1995, Auburn in 2010 and Florida in 2008.
In the first ranked vs ranked meeting of the season, we got a glimpse of just how meaningless preseason rankings are. The Aggies will catapult from their initial #21 ranking and put themselves on the list of potential playoff teams before anyone else. For South Carolina, this isn’t just a serious wake up call, but mostly a warning as to how bad things might get if things don’t pick up soon – Georgia, #12, are coming to visit in two weeks.