Johnny Manziel showed few ill effects from a recent shoulder injury in Texas A&M's latest game. He might get a chance to rest his arm in the next one, especially if he can help produce another strong start.
Manziel and the 12th-ranked Aggies will try to keep their offense clicking while building on one of their stronger defensive performances of the season in Saturday night's non-conference matchup with lowly UTEP.
Manziel hurt his right shoulder in a 45-41 loss to then-No. 24 Auburn on Oct. 19, and it wasn't clear if he was going to start against Vanderbilt last Saturday. Not only did the reigning Heisman Trophy winner play, but he shined in a 56-24 rout.
"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. So to miss a game regardless that wasn't really an option for me."
Manziel completed his first 10 passes and finished with 305 yards and four touchdowns in less than three quarters for the Aggies (6-2).
"He fights through injury all the time. He fights through adversity. He was throwing a little harder than usual actually," said wide receiver Mike Evans, who caught a pair of scores and has 11 this season to rank third in the FBS.
With a struggling opponent coming into College Station this week, it's unclear how long Manziel will play with trips to No. 10 Missouri and No. 11 LSU remaining on the schedule. He would likely head to the bench early if the Aggies can match or even top their 28 points in the first 17 minutes against Vanderbilt.
UTEP (1-6) might allow that kind of performance as it ranks 115th out of 123 FBS teams with 38.7 points given up per game and 107th with an average of 467.7 yards allowed. The Miners have given up most of those yards on the ground, ranking 119th with 249.6 allowed per game.
They allowed Rice to run for 265 yards in a 45-7 loss last Saturday, but UTEP's Aaron Jones had the best rushing day by an FBS freshman this season with 186 yards on 29 carries.
Jones' 743 yards are the most in Conference USA, but his efforts have hardly been enough to prevent his team from losing five straight. Former Texas A&M quarterback Jameill Showers won't be available in the Miners' subsequent attempts to end that losing streak.
Showers, who lost out to Manziel in the battle for the Aggies' starting job in 2012, separated his right shoulder in last week's loss and is likely done for the season.
"I would hope he'll come back, but I don't think that's the case right now," coach Sean Kugler said.
Showers' absence could make it a little easier for Texas A&M's defense to build on one of its better showings of the season. The Aggies rank worse than UTEP in total defense with 473.8 yards allowed per game and are giving up an average of 32.6 points.
However, they held Vanderbilt to 329 yards, and Howard Matthews kicked off a 21-point third quarter by returning an interception 26 yards for a score.
"It was a good confidence builder for us," defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said.
Texas A&M is 2-0 all-time against UTEP and won 45-17 in the most recent matchup Sept. 16, 2000. The Miners are 0-17 all-time on the road against schools from BCS automatic qualifying conferences and have been outscored 339-74 while going 0-7 in visits to SEC schools.
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The Aggies' win over Vanderbilt last week showed the defense, which has struggled virtually all season, has signs of life. Texas A&M generated a pass rush (seven sacks) and showed some improvement defending the run (95 yards). The Aggies look to build on that performance against a UTEP team that has dropped five games in a row, is 1-6 overall and just lost its starting quarterback (Jameill Showers, a transfer from Texas A&M) to a shoulder injury.