COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin didn’t know if Johnny Manziel would be able to play Saturday against Vanderbilt until pregame warm-ups.
“Johnny Football” didn’t have any of those doubts.
“In my mind I was always going to play,” Manziel said. “It would take a lot to keep me off the field and away from these guys. They count on me and they expect me to be there.
“This offense and this team means everything to me,” he continued. “So to miss a game regardless that wasn’t really an option for me.”
Manziel threw for 305 yards and four touchdowns in less than three quarters, and No. 14 Texas A&M bounced back with a 56-24 victory over Vanderbilt.
Manziel showed no signs that the right shoulder he injured last week was bothering him. He threw three TDs in the first quarter to help A&M (6-2, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) build a 28-point lead. He tacked on another score before sitting down with 6 minutes left in the third quarter and the Aggies leading 42-17.
Sumlin said Manziel practiced for the first time this week on Friday and was a little sore on Saturday morning, raising more questions about his availability.
“People thought I was being coy,” Sumlin said, “but I wasn’t.”
The Aggies rebounded from last week’s upset loss to Auburn despite playing a messy game where they had five turnovers.
“I don’t know what was going on,” Sumlin said. “We started fumbling the ball which we don’t do.”
Freshman Patton Robinette had a tough time in his first start filling in for the injured Austyn Carta-Samuels for Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4). He threw two interceptions — one was returned for a score — and was sacked five times.
“The turnovers on offense I think were really the story of the game,” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. “Turnovers in general are hard to overcome, especially on the road against a good opponent.”
Mike Evans and Derel Walker had two touchdown receptions apiece for A&M.
Texas A&M was encouraged by a better performance from a defense that entered the game ranked 118th out of 123 in yards allowed a game. The unit piled up seven sacks after having just seven the entire year before Saturday and Howard Matthews returned an interception for a score.
Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder joked when asked how it felt for his defense to rebound from two tough games.
“We had rough games all year, what are you talking about?” he said. “It was a good confidence builder for us.”
Jordan Matthews had eight receptions for 92 yards to become the SEC’s all-time leader in career yards receiving with 3,172. Kenny Ladler had an interception and forced two fumbles for the Commodores.
Matthews squashed Vanderbilt’s momentum and ended a streak of 17 straight points for the Commodores when he intercepted Robinette on the first play of the second half and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown to leave A&M up 35-17.
The Aggies missed an opportunity to pad the lead after that when Travis Labhart caught a 3-yard pass before fumbling. Ladler caused the fumble and it was recovered by Karl Butler in the end zone for a touchback.
Another fumble ended A&M’s next drive. Ladler forced this one by Tra Carson and Javon Marshall recovered it.
But Vanderbilt couldn’t convert after either of those miscues, and Manziel extended the lead to 42-17 with a 14-yard touchdown throw to Walker which ended the quarterback’s day.
The Aggies had great field position on that drive after a dreadful punt by Robinette that traveled just 5 yards.
The Commodores replaced Robinette with Josh Grady after that. But he didn’t fare any better than Robinette, throwing an interception on his first drive. Robinette returned in the fourth quarter and finished 15 of 28 for 216 yards.
Matt Joeckel came in for Manziel on the ensuing drive and connected with Evans on a 10-yard touchdown pass to put A&M up 49-17.
Robinette had a 7-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter for Vanderbilt and Brandon Williams bulled in from 7 yards out to extend A&M’s lead later in the fourth.
Texas A&M jumped to a 28-0 lead thanks to three touchdown throws by Manziel in the first quarter and an 11-yard run by Trey Williams early in the second.
Walker pulled in the first one, an 8-yard reception, to give the Aggies a touchdown on their opening drive for the seventh straight game. Manziel was 10 for 10 on the first series.
Manziel found LaQuvionte Gonzalez on a 7-yard pass to extend the lead to 14-0.
Evans caught a short pass from Manziel late in the first quarter and darted 43 yards for another score.
The Commodores made it 28-3 with a 23-yard field goal by Carey Spear. Franklin gambled with an onside kick and Vanderbilt recovered.
Robinette hit a wide-open Jonathan Krause on a 30-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 28-10.
Ladler intercepted Manziel later in the second quarter and returned it 32 yards to the Texas A&M 27.
Matthews broke the SEC career yards receiving record on a 17-yard reception on the first play after the interception. Jerron Seymour’s 4-yard touchdown run got Vanderbilt within 28-17 just before halftime.