Kenny Hill looked more than ready to replace Johnny Manziel on the field. He still is getting used to the attention that goes along with the job. Hill broke Manziel’s single-game passing record with 511 yards, and No. 21 Texas A&M beat No. 9 South Carolina 52-28 on Thursday night, ending the Gamecocks’ 18-game home win streak. Hill looked poised and confident in his first start, leading the Aggies (1-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) to the most total and passing yards against South Carolina. The sophomore completed 44 of 60 passes with three touchdowns.
The hardest part of his night came after the celebration on the field.
“I just wanted to get the first press conference over with,” said Hill, who hadn’t spoken with reporters before. “I get nervous up here.”
That’s a far cry from Manziel, a lightning-rod personality quick to speak his mind and gesture to crowds and opponents. “Johnny Football” rode his flashy style all the way to the Heisman Trophy in his freshman year, and one of the Aggies’ biggest worries was whether they could find the same rhythm with a different leader. Hill made it clear they could. “We aren’t a one-trick pony,” Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said.But Hill would like a different nickname: “I don’t really like ‘Kenny Football.'”
Manziel tweeted his excitement for his former teammate and Texas A&M.
Hill helped Texas A&M to a 31-14 halftime lead and finished with the most passing yards allowed in Steve Spurrier’s 10 seasons with the Gamecocks (0-1, 0-1). “I think we all had a chip on our shoulders,” Texas A&M defensive lineman Julien Obiohasaid. The Gamecocks played their first game since the departure of star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney — and it showed. South Carolina gave up seven TDs on A&M’s first 11 possessions.
Tra Carson ran for three touchdowns, and receiver Malcome Kennedy had 14 catches for 137 yards. The Aggies piled up 680 yards of offense, the most South Carolina has given up since Arkansas went for 650 in 2007. Manziel held five of the Aggies’ six best single-game passing marks, topped by his 464 yards in a loss to Alabama last season. Hill moved past them all with his flawless showing on the road. “That team was so much better than us, it wasn’t funny,” said Spurrier, trying for his 200th victory as an SEC coach. “They out-coached us, out-played us, they were better prepared and they knew what they were doing.” Hill’s 44 completions also were a single-game school record, moving past Jerrod Johnson’s mark against Oklahoma State in 2010.
Hill and the Aggies essentially put this one away in the first half, scoring on five of six possessions. Hill, who played just four games last season in mop-up duty, looked at ease against the Gamecocks and their young defense.
He completed passes to 12 receivers, most of them running free in a rebuilt secondary. South Carolina, coming off three straight 11-2 seasons, had hoped to kick off a run to the conference title in a Thursday night showcase game on the startup SEC Network.
Manziel, taken 22nd overall by Cleveland, was among three Texas A&M players picked in the first round in May’s NFL draft. And the Aggies showed they could still operate without last year’s standouts.
“We were ready to prove everyone wrong,” Hill said. “We were ready to show we could play without Johnny.”
Kennedy had 10 catches for 85 yards in the first two quarters, allowing Aggies fans to rest easy about star Mike Evans moving on to Tampa Bay.
The offensive line provided plenty of time for Hill despite Jake Matthews heading to the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. The Aggies got going on their first possession, and Carson finished a 67-yard drive with a 1-yard TD.
South Carolina stayed close on two long scoring throws of 69 and 46 yards by new starting quarterback Dylan Thompson, the second toDamiere Byrd that helped the Gamecocks close to 17-14. But Hill and the Aggies were relentless, pressing forward through South Carolina’s Clowney-less defense.
Hill, the son of ex-major league pitcher Ken Hill, led TD drives of 75 and 80 yards in the final nine minutes before the half.
The 393 yards of A&M offense at the half were more than South Carolina’s defense allowed in nine of 13 games a year ago.
Thompson passed for 366 yards and four touchdowns. Mike Davis, the Gamecocks’ 1,000-yard rusher, had 15 yards in the first half before reinjuring his ribs and sitting out the rest of the way.