The Sun Devils and Aggies will meet in just five days and we wanted to get a better picture of ASU's first opponent. Yes we know how good Kyle Allen and their skill position players are. We know how good Myles Garrett is, but how will the A&M defense look with a new coordinator? How close was freshman Kyler Murray to beating out Allen for the quarterback competition?
For these answers and more, we turned to our good friends over at Good Bull Hunting, SB Nation's site dedicated to Texas A&M. GBH editor James Gardner took the time out to preview Texas A&M in this Q&A.
House of Sparky: The Aggies started the 2014 season 5-0 that included wins over Arkansas and South Carolina, however they finished just 2-5 down the stretch. How successful do you believe last season was compared to expectations?
James Gardner: 2014 was strange. It was our first year after Johnny, so before the season, expectations were pretty reasonable and tempered. Then, we went on the road and stomped South Carolina, rolled to the 5-0 start, and expectations got very high again in a hurry. Of course, right after that, A&M got drilled by Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Alabama. If we’re honest with ourselves, we always knew this was a young team that would take some lumps. The good? They went on the road and beat Auburn and looked really solid in the bowl win over West Virginia.
HoS: Coming into 2015, what are expectations for Texas A&M from the fans and media in College Station?
JG: No lie, I can’t remember a year where expectations have been this all over the map. We’ve heard national media types say we’ll win the SEC and others say we’ll finish last in the West. Stewart Mandell and Desmond Howard think we’ll make the playoff. Like most major football programs, our loudest fans are often quite delusional. It’s still August as I type this, so expectations are high. I’m quietly optimistic. I think Sumlin’s highly touted recruiting will really start to materialize this year. That said, we were an absolute train wreck on defense in 2014. I’m more of a "I’ll believe it when I see it" guy in that regard.
HoS: Just about a week ago, Kyle Allen was named the starting quarterback over Kyler Murray. How close was that quarterback competition and what do you see Murray’s role this season being?
JG: Our program keeps practice and workouts very locked down, so it’s hard to get a real objective opinion on how the quarterbacks have performed in camp. No one was surprised that Kyle Allen earned the job. I don’t think Kyler Murray shied away from the stage or competition. He’s been a Texas high school legend at a major school for years. He’s well accustomed to the spotlight. I could be wrong, but I don’t think you’ll see Kyler Murray play at all on Saturday night. I think Sumlin will ride Allen unless there is a blowout either way. I don’t see a blowout happening.
HoS: Christian Kirk was a major recruiting victory for A&M over ASU and others. How has he looked since enrolling early and what do you see his role being in 2015?
JG: Y’all know this, but when you watch Christian Kirk’s high school tape, this kid was ready to play major college ball at the age of 16. He just naturally has the build and athleticism to be a huge impact player right away. He’s somehow surpassed the high expectations we’ve had for him. Sumlin is going to find ways to get him the ball early and often. Watch for him on special teams Saturday.
HoS: We know about the weapons on offense, but who is one under the radar player that ASU fans should keep an eye on?
JG: Much gets made about the quarterbacks and wide receivers – and rightfully so. What I’m interested to see are the adjustments Sumlin has made to the running game. We brought in well-regarded coach Dave Christensen to straighten out the offensive line and running backs solely as it pertains to the ground attack. Running back Tra Carson will get the start, but keep an eye on back James White. He’s big and runs well.
HoS: John Chavis takes over the defense after leading LSU for a number of years. What changes do you expect to see from the Texas A&M defense in 2015?
JG: I think we’ll see less scheme and confusion and more instinct and aggression. Chavis brings a simple approach and really turns defenders loose. These are college kids with a thousand things on their minds. If you can let young, naturally gifted athletes run and hit, then great. Here’s hoping he takes the defense from "utterly horrible and embarrassing" to "mediocre with promise".
HoS: What are some keys to victory for Texas A&M?
JG: A Todd Graham led team is not ideal for a retooled, young defense to face in Week 1. I’m not worried about our offense. They’ll find ways to score. The A&M defense has to find a way to get some stops and get off the field. Graham knows how to find a weakness in a defense and expose it all night. That’s concerning. Other keys? The usual. It’s the first game, so turnovers are going to be extra significant.
HoS: What kind of buzz is there for this game around Aggieland and what kind of turnout do you expect in Houston?
JG: We’re really pumped. I get frustrated when our non-conference schedule lags. Playing y’all is big. There are a lot of fun storylines and a couple teams that are darkhorses for the Playoff. Personally, I wish we’d play y’all at Kyle Field and Sun Devil Stadium in a traditional home-and-home, but Saturday will be great regardless. You’ll see Aggie maroon everywhere. I’m biased, but I think our fans are very friendly and hospitable. If you’re making the trip, you’ll have some fun. The lion’s share will be happy to share a beer with you and talk ball.
HoS: What is your prediction for Saturday night?
JG: 40-38 Arizona State. Offenses go big and last team with the ball wins. I hope I’m wrong. Good luck, Sun Devils. Gig ‘em.