COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M, with its defense depleted and its Heisman Trophy winner sitting the bench for a half, mostly survived its season opener against Rice on Saturday, winning, 52-31.
Johnny Manziel made his first appearance of the season early in the third quarter after sitting out the first half, his punishment for signing autographs for sports memorabilia dealers in the offseason.
Manziel has been accused of accepting thousands of dollars, but the NCAA announced last week they could find no proof of money exchanging hands.
Manziel led the Aggies to 24 second-half points, throwing three touchdown passes, two to Mike Evans, and rushing for 19 yards on three carries. He also was sacked twice and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after completing a nine-yard scoring pass to Evans.
Earlier in the game, cameras caught Manziel air-signing an autograph to a Rice defender.
The Aggies were without five defensive starters, and another pffensive regular, all of whom were disciplined for off-the-field issues. Three of the suspensions were announced moments before game time.
Texas A&M announced that senior linebacker Steven Jenkins, junior defensive end Gavin Stansbury, sophomore cornerback De'Vante Harris and redshirt freshman wide receiver Edward Pope were suspended for two games for "violating athletics department rules and regulations."
The school previously suspended starting defensive backs Deshazor Everett and Floyd Raven, who were charged with criminal mischief stemming from an April incident. Everett was suspended for a half-game while Raven a full game.
They will also also miss next Saturday's home game against Sam Houston, but should be back in the lineup for top-ranked Alabama on Sept. 14.
Texas A&M's second-string quarterback, Matt Joeckel, who received the start in place of Manziel, did his job, babysitting the Aggie offense.
Joeckel guided the Aggies on three second-quarter touchdown drives to give A&M a 28-21 lead at intermission. His best pass was a 71-yarder, when he hit freshman wideout Ricky Seals-Jones over the middle on an intermediate crossing route.
Seals-Jones, A&M's top recruit, glided his way to the end zone, with his touchdown breaking a 14-14 tie.
Joeckel returned to finish out the game, one series after Manziel was flagged.
Rice took early advantage of Texas A&M's depleted defense. At the end of the first quarter, the Owls were averaging 15.3 yards per play.
Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue was 18-of-29 for 181 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions. He also rushed nine times for 78 yards. That included a 57-yard first-quarter scramble.
The young Aggie defense began blitzing more, which seemed to befuddle McHargue. With his team down 28-21 to begin the second half, McHargue threw interceptions on consecutive possessions.
The Aggies turned those miscues into 10 points.
NOTES -- It was the first time A&M has eclipsed 50 points in an opener since 1997. ... Matt Joeckel had thrown only 11 passes in his career before Saturday. The redshirt junior, who is the twin of offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 pick of April's NFL draft, beat out freshman Kenny Hill for the second-team spot. ... The Aggies had two players ejected in the fourth quarter. Defensive back Deshazor Everett was penalized for taunting. He will have to sit out the first half of next Saturday's game. He also sat out the first half against Rice as discipline for an off-season arrest.