Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel sat out his first-half suspension and then threw for three touchdowns before he was pulled for unsportsmanlike conduct in Texas A&M University’s 52-31 rout of Rice University in their college football season opener.
Alabama’s Christion Jones returned a punt and a kickoff for two touchdowns and caught a pass for another score as the Crimson Tide beat Virginia Tech 35-10 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
In East Rutherford, New Jersey, Penn State beat Syracuse 23-17 in the 71st meeting between the long-time rivals before 61,202 fans at MetLife Stadium.
Manziel, who led the Aggies to an 11-2 season last year and became the first freshman to win the trophy as the best player in college football, was suspended for the first half of the game for what the school said was an “inadvertent” violation of National Collegiate Athletic Association rules. He had been investigated for allegedly accepting money for autographs.
Manziel entered the game with Texas A&M beating Rice 28-21 at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas. On his first drive, he ran for 12 and seven yards, before he threw an incomplete pass and was sacked. Taylor Bertolet kicked a 44-yard field goal.
After throwing a 23-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans in the third quarter and an 18-yard scoring pass to Ben Malena in the fourth quarter, he connected with Evans again on a nine-yard throw and then pointed at the scoreboard -- an action that got the team a 15-yard penalty and Manziel’s exit from the game.
“A foolish penalty at the end,” coach Kevin Sumlin told reporters. “No matter what the comments are or what. He’s going to face that every week with the people chirping. That’s not OK, and obviously I addressed that on the sideline right after the play. That’s something he’s going to have to deal with every week.”
Manziel, who completed six of eight passes for 94 yards, didn’t address reporters after the game. However, he did talk to his teammates two nights ago to discuss the “mistakes he’s made,” said Sumlin, who added the speech was a condition of reinstatement.
“Maybe actions you think just hurt you end up hurting the whole football team,” Sumlin said. “That was the real gist of his message to the team, that everybody’s individual acts affect the team and when that happens it’s not good.”
Texas A&M is seventh in the Associated Press writers’ poll.
Alabama, college football’s two-time defending national champion and No. 1 in the AP poll, jumped out to a 7-0 lead on the fourth play of the game when Jones returned a Virginia Tech punt 72 yards.
After T.J. Yeldon put the Crimson Tide up 14-0 on a 2-yard run later in the first quarter, Virginia Tech running back Trey Edmunds ran for a 77-yard touchdown to pull the Hokies within a touchdown. Virginia Tech’s momentum lasted only six plays before Alabama’s Vinnie Sunserie intercepted a Logan Thomas pass at the Hokies’ 38-yard line and returned it 62 yards to put Alabama ahead 21-7.
Following a Virginia Tech 39-yard field goal in the second quarter, Alabama increased its lead to 28-10 when Jones, a junior wide receiver and kick-return specialist, ran the ensuing kickoff back 94 yards for his second touchdown of the game.
A.J. McCarron, Alabama’s senior quarterback, connected with Jones in the third quarter on a 38-yard pass play to put Alabama ahead 35-10. McCarron completed 10 of 23 passes for 110 yards. He also threw a first-half interception after going all of last season with only three interceptions.
“Special teams was great in this game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told reporters. “To get both a kickoff and punt return is outstanding. We want our return game to be a weapon for us and it certainly was tonight.”
With only 206 yards in combined rushing and passing offense, Saban was disappointed in his team’s overall performance.
“We’ll look at this film and make a lot of corrections,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anybody in our locker room who is happy with how they played. I think everybody realizes that we need to improve.”
Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg completed a 51-yard touchdown pass to Allen Robinson to give the Nittany Lions a 13-3 advantage. He then connected with Geno Lewis on a 54-yard pass with 11 minutes, 39 seconds left in the game for a 23-10 lead.
Hackenberg completed 22 of 31 passing attempts for 273 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.