#15 Arizona State Sun Devils vs Texas A&M Aggies
Saturday, September 5, 2015, 7:00 pm Eastern, TV: ESPN
NRG Stadium – Houston, Texas
Opening Line: Texas A&M -3
Current Line: Texas A&M -2
Opening Total: 66
Current Total: 67
Opening Money Line: TAMU -160 / ASU +120
Current Money Line: TAMU -135 / ASU +115
The Arizona State Sun Devils and Texas A&M Aggies meet for the first time ever Saturday in Houston. The teams are not scheduled to meet again in the near future.
Arizona State is coached by Todd Graham. Last season, the Sun Devils needed to beat their arch rivals the Arizona Wildcats in the regular season finale in order to clinch the Pac 12 South Division and a spot in the Pac 12 Championship game. It didn’t work out as the Sun Devils lost a 42-35 shootout to fall to 9-3 in the regular season. ASU would have to settle for a 36-31 win over Duke in the Sun Bowl in El Paso.
Texas A&M is coached by Kevin Sumlin. Last season, the Aggies started off the season 5-0 including upsets of South Carolina and Arkansas. However, then came an ugly 3 game losing streak to Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Alabama, all by 15 points or more. The low point was a 59-0 thrashing by Alabama. The Aggies would win two straight over Lousiana-Monroe and Auburn, before narrow losses to Missouri and LSU closed out the season. The 7-5 Aggies ended the season with a wild 45-37 shootout win over West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.
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Last season, Arizona State averaged 442 yards and 37 points per game on offense.The Sun Devils averaged 274 passing and 169 rushing yards. ASU was #34 or better nationally in total offense, passing and scoring. The Sun Devils were #6 nationally in turnover margin at +14.
ASU must replace starting quarterback Taylor Kelly, who graduated. Kelly threw for 2,114 yards with 22 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, and also rushed for 256 yards and 3 touchdowns. He missed three games last year due to injury and his replacement was Mike Bercovici. The now senior takes over the job full time after throwing for 1,445 yards with 12 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Freshman Manny Wilkins is the back-up.
Last year’s leading rusher D.J. Foster split time between running back and wide receiver. However, this year he moves to receiver full time. Foster had 194 carries for 1,081 yards and 9 touchdowns along with 62 catches for 688 yards and 3 touchdowns. Demario Richard will get a lot of carries after rushing for 478 yards on 84 carries with 4 touchdowns, and also making 13 catches for 156 yards and 4 touchdowns. Kalen Ballage also plays outside linebacker for the Sun Devils. He had 42 carries for 126 yards and 3 touchdowns, and also made 6 catches including a touchdown. Gump Hayes is very fast and will get some carries as well.
Foster moved full time to receiver because the unit was decimated by leading receiver Jaelen Strong leaving early for the NFL and a torn ACL for Cameron Smith. Strong, now with the Houston Texans, made 82 catches for 1,165 yards and 10 touchdowns. Smith had 41 catches for 596 yards and 6 touchdowns. No other receiver had more than 16 catches last season. Tight end Kody Kohl should get more targets after making 16 catches for 167 yards and 4 touchdowns last season. The Sun Devils need receivers Ellis Jefferson and Gary Chambers to step up on the other side of Foster. Receivers Frederick Gammage (hamstring) and Tim White (hand) are both probable. Receiver Jaelen Harvey is doubtful with a collarbone injury. Tight end Grant Martinez is questionable with an ankle injury.
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Offense was not a problem for the Aggies. Texas A&M averaged 455 yards per game including 306 passing and 150 rushing yards. The Aggies were #12 in passing nationally. Texas A&M averaged 36 points a game. This was mainly due to a -7 turnover margin. The defense was terrible last year allowing 451 yards per game including 235 passing and 218 rushing yards. The Aggies were #104 in total defense and #111 in rush defense out of 128 FBS teams. Texas A&M did only give up 28 points a game but that was mainly due to giving up only 35 points total in four non-conference games against soft competition.
Last season, Kenny Hill started off the season as the heir apparent to one Johnny Manziel at quarterback. However, by November Hill would be suspended for 2 games for violating team rules. Kyle Allen would start for the rest of the season. Hill has transferred to TCU and will sit out a season. Hill threw for 2,649 yards with 23 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, and also rushed for 156 yards on 52 carries. Allen completed 61.5% of his passes for 1,322 yards with 16 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, and also had a rushing touchdown. He showed flashes of brilliance against Missouri, Auburn and West Virginia throwing a combined 11 touchdowns in those games. Two sport star Kyler Murray had a chance to enter the MLB draft but chose to stay at A&M to play both football and baseball. He will back-up Allen
Running back Tra Carson is back after rushing for 581 yards on 124 carries with 5 touchdowns, and also making 9 catches. Trey Williams is now with the Washington Redskins after rushing for 560 yards and 7 touchdowns, and also catching a touchdown pass. Brandon Williams is also back after rushing for 379 yards on 87 carries with 3 touchdowns, plus making 9 catches. Sophomore James White had 22 carries for 153 yards and 3 touchdowns. Sumlin brought in former Wyoming coach Dave Christensen to coach the O-Line and coordinate the running game that ranked #85 nationally last year.
Junior receiver Josh Reynolds had 52 catches for 842 yards and 13 touchdowns and will be the go-to receiver again in 2015. Malcome Kennedy is now with the New Orleans Saints after making 53 catches for 611 yards and 6 touchdowns. Sophomore Speedy Noil had 46 catches for 583 yards and 5 touchdowns as a freshman last year. Ricky Seals-Jones had 49 catches for 465 yards and 4 touchdowns. Edward Pope had 30 catches for 454 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Arizona State is 2-5 ATS in non-conference games and 1-6 in neutral site games. Texas A&M is 8-3 ATS in September, 2-7 overall, 3-11 in neutral site games, and 1-7 on grass.
Texas A&M brought in John Chavis from LSU to overhaul the terrible defense. They will be improved but by how much is a question. Arizona State isn’t exactly a juggernaut on defense either. Both teams have explosive offenses. This should be a high scoring game. It is a virtual home game for the Aggies playing in Houston. I think unranked Texas A&M wins a close game possibly on a late field goal.