COLLEGE STATION, Texas — After Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill was brought down near his own goal line early on, the Rice fans in the south end zone started chanting, “You’re not Johnny.” In the end though, Hill didn’t have to be at the top of his game on Saturday night.
“I think we started off slow,” Hill said after the game.
“We never want to start off slow like that. I had that incomplete pass to start it off and then the next play I got sacked. We just came out sloppy, not focused, not ready to go. We’re going to work on that, we’ll fix that and we’ll be better next week.”
From his language, you’d think Hill had a terrible night, and his debut in South Carolina was so impressive that even a solid night like Saturday’s performance against Rice feels underwhelming. But in the second half, the sophomore quarterback became the fastest quarterback in A&M history to reach the 1,000-yard mark in a season, and the only one to do it in his first three games of the year. He finished the night going 20-of-31 for 300 yards with four touchdowns.
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said after the game that Hill’s calm demeanor helped after the slow start.
“He’s always a positive guy, he’s not pressing,” Sumlin said. “We had some guys that started to press a little bit. When things don’t go as scripted and things start to go that way, that’s good for your team.”
Texas A&M | QB | So.
The most impressive thing about Hill so far may not be what he’s done, but what he hasn’t. Even through he’s thrown the ball 117 times this season, the Southlake Carroll product has yet to throw an interception. Compared to backup Kyle Allen, who the coaches said was neck-and-neck with Hill in fall camp, who has thrown 2 interceptions in just 18 attempts this season.
Still, the A&M offense looked out-of-sync at times on Saturday night. A&M punted four times after only punting three times in the first two games of the season.
“People get a little bit spoiled with how we’ve played offense around here and if we don’t score right off the bat the sky is falling,” Sumlin said. “We’d like to score every time the first series of every game, but fortunately I think our percentage is high enough that people get frustrated and our team sometimes starts pressing a little bit.”
For a team that prides itself on third down execution, A&M was just 3-of-8 on third downs for the night.
“I talk about third downs a lot,” said Sumlin. “We had some drops early. We only had the ball nine-and-a-half minutes in the first half. As quick as I was to complain about that, we had it even less in the second half. To have the ball less than 16 minutes and score 38 points, I’m not going to complain about that.”
To be sure, part of the problem was drops. The usually sure-handed Ricky Seals-Jones dropped a couple of passes in the game. Another could have been the field conditions, which affected the players on both teams all night.
The biggest part of the problem, however, was probably the changing cast of characters. The Aggies were missing starting center Mike Matthews, and were still without tight end Cameron Clear. During the game, they lost freshman receiver Speedy Noil. Noil had three catches for 71 yards, including his first career touchdown reception. Hill said Noil didn’t do much celebrating.
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“He was just ready to get his second one,” Hill said. “He’s an outstanding player and we were all happy for him. That’s a great feeling to get your first touchdown.”
Noil limped off the field in the third quarter, and was later carted to the locker room from the sideline. Sumlin did not update Noil’s condition after the game.
Another one of A&M’s new weapons, receiver Josh Reynolds, had an efficient night. He caught two passes for 68 yards, and both were touchdowns. A sophomore transfer from Tyler Junior College, Reynolds has already made an impact early in the season. He’s tied with redshirt freshman Seals-Jones for the team high with three receiving touchdowns.
The Aggies won going away, but Sumlin said it wasn’t exactly a positive mood in the locker room after the game, and that’s something he likes to see.
“You’re in this locker room and guys are pretty hard on themselves,” he said. “That’s a good thing for me as a coach because I don’t know that it’s always been like that here.”