HOUSTON -- In a game that started sluggishly for both teams, at least offensively, Texas A&M exploded late to defeat No. 15 Arizona State 38-17 before 66,308 at NRG Stadium in the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff. Here are some of the notables from the Power 5 non-conference clash:
What the win means for Texas A&M: It’s an impressive start for the Aggies, and the manner in which they won -- with an offense that stagnated often and what appears to be a much improved defense (291 yards allowed) -- gives Texas A&M fans reason for optimism because most assume the offense will get on track. There should be no overreaction, though, if 2014 was a lesson. When the Aggies routed then-No. 9 South Carolina to open the season, some went as far to suggest the Aggies were a College Football Playoff contender before they came crashing down in midseason. It’s a good start, one the Aggies can build on with the schedule softening up dramatically in the two weeks before they meet Arkansas at AT&T Stadium on Sept. 26.
What the loss means for Arizona State: For Todd Graham and the Sun Devils, it’s disappointing to leave Texas with a loss in a game in which they were competitive for most of the night. Defensively, they did a good job of frustrating the Aggies but dropped passes, and an offense that couldn’t seem to get a consistent rhythm going (5-of-18 on third down conversion attempts) got hurt in the end. The Sun Devils have two light weeks before USC comes to town. A win over the Trojans would go a long way in softening the blow from this defeat. The goal is still clear: Win the Pac-12. A loss here doesn’t affect that, but obviously, it will affect their College Football Playoff chances should they run the table the rest of the way.
Players of the game: It’s difficult to give it to just one guy, so here’s two – Texas A&M sophomore defensive end Myles Garrett and true freshman receiver Christian Kirk. Garrett was a monster on defense, compiling two sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and three quarterback hurries. Even when he didn’t get a tackle, he was often creating havoc and collapsing the pocket. The Sun Devils had to change their cadence at halftime because Garrett was getting too good of a jump on the snap count in the first. Kirk, who received high praise from coaches this offseason, justified the hype by returning a punt 79 yards for a touchdown and making two key catches – a 28-yard reception in the first quarter that led to the Aggies’ first touchdown and a 66-yard touchdown catch that put the game out of reach.
Unsung hero: Kyle Allen. The sophomore quarterback was replaced twice in the game by true freshman and five-star recruit Kyler Murray, and the second instance was after Allen struggled to move the offense to start the third quarter. After Murray left the game injured in the fourth, Allen re-entered and promptly led the Aggies on a touchdown drive and played well the remainder of the night. It wasn’t a pretty night, but he responded to adversity well in a big game.
Top play: Kirk's 66-yard touchdown catch was a bubble screen he caught near the line of scrimmage before zig-zagging through the Arizona State defense. The touchdown seemingly put the game out of reach and capped off a huge night for him. Graham attributed it to blown coverage, saying after the game: "It was pretty frustrating. We run that pressure a million times and our safety's supposed to be there, but we made a mistake and they made us pay for it."