The Rice football team has prepared for Texas A&M with Johnny Manziel and without Johnny Manziel, and that’s what they’ll get on Saturday.
Several media outlets reported Wednesday that Manziel has been suspended for the first half of the Rice game. ESPN.com reported the suspension is an agreement between NCAA and Texas A&M following an investigation that the sophomore quarterback allegedly accepted payments for autographs.
The Aggies will start either junior Matt Joeckel or freshman Kenny Hill in the first half, before Manziel hits the field in the second half.
While the Owls have attempted to prepare for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Rice coach David Bailiff has downplayed the hoopla surrounding Manziel the past few weeks. When asked about the Aggies quarterback situation, he’s preferred to talk about his team instead.
“What we have to is worry about Rice and make sure that we get better offensively, defensively and special teams,” Bailiff said at Monday’s media conference. “We know going into this game what the odds are and these games, as much as it is about winning, it’s about improving and we want to make sure we get that type of improvement. We want to compete for a Conference USA championship.”
Bailiff has joked about needing speedy animals to slow down Manziel’s running ability. Johnny Football had 1,410 yards with 21 touchdowns on the ground last season. Rice’s defense gave up 2,479 rushing yards in 2012, an average of 191 yards a game.
“We didn’t get the chickens or the jackrabbits in, so we’re just going to rotate the defensive linemen and try to keep the pressure on,” he said.
The Owls lost starting defensive tackle Hosam Shahin when he didn’t show up for fall camp. Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines, the Conference USA preseason defensive player of the year, is suspended for the game and linebacker Cameron Nwosu will also be out.
“One thing going into this game though is we do have some players out,” Bailiff said. “Cam Nwosu is going to be out. He hasn’t been cleared after his knee surgery. Receiver Dennis Parks is doubtful with his shoulder and Phillip Gaines violated a team rule, so he’s not going to play on Saturday. Other than that bit of news, we’re thrilled and can’t wait for kickoff.”
Bailiff said the game will be a great measuring stick for what kind of team Rice will have this season.
“You do put on that video from last season and what you see at Texas A&M is a team that I think will compete for a national championship,” he said. “They are that talented on both sides of the football, they’re very athletic at every position and Kevin [Sumlin] has done a fabulous job of getting everybody in the right position and they play hard and have a lot of momentum coming in from last season. We’re the same way; we’re a good Conference USA team, we won five in a row and have a lot of players back. We look forward to getting there for kickoff.”
The old Southwest conference rivals haven’t met since 1995, the final year of the SWC.
Kickoff is noon Saturday at Kyle Field in College Station. For those who aren’t able to watch the game live or on ESPN, you can follow the RiceExaminer Twitter page for live game updates.
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