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September 22, 2012During the week, it was assumed that MEAC foe South Carolina State wouldn't be much of a challenge for Texas A&M. The Aggies made sure those assumptions were correct, obliterating the Bulldogs 70-14 before more than 86,000 Saturday night at Kyle Field.
The Aggies scored on two of their first four possessions in the first quarter, but it wasn't until the second stanza that the offense truly got rolling. Quarterback Johnny Manziel, who would accumulate more than 250 yards total offense (174 passing, 78 rushing) and five total touchdowns in a half of work, ran for his two scores and threw for another two as the Aggies pulled away. After Ben Malena's 50 yard touchdown run with a little more than a minute to go in the half, the Aggies were up 49-7 and had outgained the Bulldogs 347-90.
In spite of his filling of the stat sheet, coach Kevin Sumlin said he's hoping the rushing totals for his quarterback will start to drop.
"We'd like for him to cut it loose more, but he's not being careless. Would we like for him to cut it loose more and stay in the pocket more? Probably, but he's taking care of the ball," Sumlin said of Manziel.
Senior Ryan Swope said running routes with Manziel in the backfield can be exciting.
"You never know what he's going to do," Swope said.
Most of the starters on offense were done after halftime, but the biggest story was still dropping back to return kicks on fourth down. Senior Dustin Harris, who had the nation's leading punt return average in 2011, put on a night for the record books. After coming close to breaking several punts for scores, Harris finally hit paydirt with a little more than 8 minutes left in the third quarter, picking up a rolling punt at his four and sprinting to his right before turning upfield, cutting back to the middle of the field at the A&M 40 and going the remaining 60 yards untouched. His 246 return yards set the single-game record for both A&M and the Southeastern Conference.
"I'm going to remember this for the rest of my life," Harris said. "We executed perfect on all returns ... We played to our abilities."
Harris said that when he caught the ball at the three yard line on his big return, he knew he had better do something with it.
"After catching the ball, I knew I was at the five yard line and nobody was near to hit me, so I needed to do something," he said. "That punt return goes to the whole special teams."
The final obstacle to the end zone for Harris was South Carolina State punter Nick Belcher, who Harris blew past on the way for six -- which sweet relief to Harris, who was tackled by SMU's punter last week to his great embarrassment.
"If that punter had caught me, I probably would have quit," he quipped.
The Aggies scored twice during mop-up duty in the fourth quarter, with Christine Michael -- who was benched for the first half after being suspended last week -- scoring a touchdown with 5 minutes to go and new safety Deshazor Everett returning an interception 29 yards for a score to finish things off.
"We're clicking now. We're finding out what this offense is about," Malena said. "We've got Arkansas next week, so we're going to try to pick it up where we left off."
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