Inside of NRG Stadium, everything about the Texas A&M Aggies’ domination of the Arizona State Sun Devils felt like a home game at Kyle Field. Outside of the Houston Texans’ home, not so much.
On Saturday night, the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff jumpstarted the 2015 college football season with a game between high-profile teams from arguably the nation’s best conferences. ASU has been mentioned as a potential Pacific 12 Conference representative in this season’s college football playoff, while A&M from the Southeastern Conference competes in the toughest division in the game.
Since the match-up didn’t start until 6 p.m., fans had all day to get juiced up. But the Bud Light FanFest, located on the south side of NRG Stadium in a gravel lot catawampus to the Astrodome, didn’t even open until 2 p.m. Same with the surrounding parking lots, giving the Aggie-heavy crowd only four hours to lubricate before game time.
A long list of pro stadium-style restrictions took the fun out of the big-game atmosphere and discouraged impromptu tailgating. A person could find livelier action at a church service than he would on the west side of the stadium.
It didn’t matter for the Aggies’ squad. After a slow-on-the-go first quarter, Kevin Sumlin’s team struck first with a surgical nine-play, 94-yard touchdown drive that hit paydirt with a nine-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Allen to running back Tra Carson. A beautiful 79-yard punt return to the house by Christian Kirk, a Scottsdale, Arizona product who left the Sun Devils’ backyard to come to College Station, put the Aggies up 14-0 with 12:51 to go in the second quarter.
ASU’s high-powered offense, which averaged 36.2 points in 2014, face-planted for most of the game. The Sun Devils’ only first-half score, a four-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mike Bercovici to tight end Kody Kohl, was set-up by an Allen fumble deep in Aggies’ territory.
A quarterback change from the struggling Allen to Kyler Murray, the 2014 National Gatorade Football Player of the Year, sparked the Aggies’ attack. Though the freshman out of Allen High School struggled in an out-of-sync game, the dual-threat QB exhibited flashes of virtuosity, including a something-out-of-nothing, magician-like scamper of 26 yards. “It was pretty smart of them to switch him… because our rush lane angles against Kyle were very different how we practiced them against Kyler,” said ASU head coach Todd Graham during the post-game press conference.
A fourth-quarter switch back to Allen, also of Scottsdale, fooled ASU’s reeling defense and allowed the quarterback to extend the Aggies’ lead to 24-14 following a 12-yard plunge. Zane Gonzalez’ 23-yard field goal with 4:16 to go brought ASU within 24-17, but two plays later, Kirk burned his hometown team again with a 66-yard catch-and-run for a score that put the game out of reach. Carson’s 10-yard dance into the end zone with 1:38 remaining really put the game out of the reach and gave the Aggies a 38-17 victory over one of the Pac-12’s best teams.
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The deciding factor in the game was a beefed-up SEC defense piloted by new defensive coordinator John Chavis’ and a relentless pass rush led by Myles Garrett. A&M’s stud defensive end, who, in 2014, broke the SEC record for sacks by a freshman, exploited ASU’s inexperienced tackles, who often times blocked air and then turned around to see Bercovici on the turf yet again. TAMU’s nine sacks were the difference in the Ags’ victory over the 15th ranked team in the nation in front of an announced crowd of 66,308.
“If you learn anything, you learn from last year, it doesn’t mean much of anything,” said Sumlin after the game.