The hype and excitement surrounding ASU's high-stakes clash with Texas A&M to open up the 2015 campaign resulted in a victory for the Aggies that looks a lot more dominant than it really was. While the 38-17 final doesn't accurately represent the competition of the game.
The Aggies clearly established themselves as the superior team by dominating from the defensive side of the ball as well as displaying the unparalleled speed on offense that the Sun Devils couldn't keep up with.
ASU was not without its bright spots, but throughout the roster there are improvements to be made over the next couple of weeks.
Quarterbacks: C - Mike Bercovici opened the 2015 season with absolute faith from Sun Devil Nation that he was the right man for the job, but Berco's first game as the established starter failed to see him lead any sort of consistent ASU attack. His lone touchdown throw came thanks to an ASU defensive turnover that set the Sun Devils up at the four-yard line, and it took him until the third quarter to realize that using his legs was going to be neccessary.
Berco totaled 199 passing yards despite being limited to a mostly-horizontal passing game, and the strong-armed quarterback who made himself a national name with a Hail Mary lob against USC didn't attempt more than four or five throws more than 15 yards downfield. Four fumbles from Bercovici on the night too. He may be the unquestioned leader of the team, but Bercovici's stint as the full-time ASU starting quarterback couldn't have gotten off to a much worse start.
Running Backs: D - It is important to note that Kalen Ballage, ASU's most physically-imposing running back, was forced back to Tempe due to an unexpected illness and wasn't available Saturday. It is also important to note that the move from running back to wide receiver that D.J. Foster made in the offseason was in part due to ASU's supposed three-headed monster with Ballage, Demario Richard and De'Chavon "Gump" Hayes.
While a couple of late bursts from Richard padded his stats, he and Hayes still failed to bring any sort of consistent rushing attack to the Sun Devil offense until it was too late, constantly finding themselves needing to break a tackle before even crossing the line of scrimmage. Maybe it's time Mike Norvell works Foster back into the rushing fold a little bit.
Offensive Line: F - We knew that this year's offensive line was retooled and would need time together to fully gel, but the Aggies made ASU's big men up front look foolish all night. Bercovici was sent scrambling for his life more often than he wasn't, never feeling comfortable enough in the pocket to sling it downfield, and he was sacked nine times on the night.
The running backs rarely had holes up the middle, and only through outside pitches were ASU's late-game rushes successful. Against a defensive line as talented as Texas A&M's, the Sun Devils found themselves overwhelmed all too often to operate a high-scoring offense.
Wide Receivers: F - The Ghost of Jaelen Strong was present throughout NRG Stadium, as ASU's go-to wideout from the past two years was clearly missed in the game against the Aggies. "Gump" Hayes doubled up on bad performances, adding to his poor rushing night with six catches for a whopping 13 yards.
Foster caught six balls for 48 yards but wasn't targeted by Bercovici nearly as much as one would expect. Ellis Jefferson made a nice catch for 33 yards in the second half, but didn't prove as a threat in the red zone and the passing attack for ASU sorely misses its deep threats Strong and Cameron Smith.
Defensive Line: B - One of the few bright spots for the Sun Devils position group-wise, the defensive line made a strong impact on the game, regardless of which Texas A&M quarterback they were chasing after. Missed tackles against Kyler Murray led to big gains, but the defense managed to accumulate three sacks. Tra Carson racked up 96 yards on the ground for Texas A&M, but only averaged 3.3 yards a carry and the Sun Devil D-line held its own against a pro-caliber Aggie offensive line.
Linebackers: B+ - Despite suffering the same struggles against A&M's speed that plagued the defensive line, the linebacking corps was the brightest spot of the night for the Sun Devils, enjoying a breakout game from Christian Sam as well as a big play from Salamo Fiso that turned the Aggies over on downs deep in Sun Devil territory. Sam was responsible for the sack and forced fumble that ASU punched into the end zone one play later, and Laiu Moeakiola added a sack of his own.
Defensive Backs: B - It was made painstakingly clear multiple times Saturday that there was a disparity in speed between the two teams, and Texas A&M took advantage to the tune of too many big plays. A pair of interceptions on poor throws helped to make up for the big plays the A&M offense did put together against ASU, completing three passes over 20 yards against the Sun Devils, with the worst being the 66-yard catch-and-run that freshman Christian Kirk took to the house to ice the game.
Kirk caught the ball right at the line of scrimmage then made ASU's defensive backs all look helpless trying to stop a return man to no avail.