(Photo: Tyler Paley/WCSN)
It was undeniable.
Texas A&M’s pass rush was too much for No. 15 Arizona State to handle. Despite all the talk of offensive weapons, schemes and potential, ASU’s offense never got off the ground in a 38-17 loss.
The Sun Devils punted on seven of their eight drives in the first half, while sophomore quarterback Kyle Allen carved his way down the field on a nine-play, 94-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter to draw first blood.
It was a game where numbers did in fact lie. Allen threw for 198 yards while ASU redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici threw for 199, but watching the game, TAMU’s offense was clearly in a better rhythm than ASU.
With newly-minted defensive coordinator John Chavis at the helm, TAMU stifled what is supposed to be a high-octane offense for ASU. Instead, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell witnessed his unit punt 10 times to go along with two fumbles lost.
The offensive struggles were not by accident either. TAMU routinely sniffed out what came off as a conservative Sun Devil offense. Bercovici averaged just 7.96 yards per completion, and senior wideout D.J. Foster caught six balls for just 48 yards on the day.
Unquestionably, the weak spot for ASU’s offense tonight was the offensive line. With TAMU sophomore defensive end Myles Garrett launching himself past ASU offensive tackles William McGehee and Evan Goodman, Bercovici was routinely forced to check down for shorter gains, and a lack of time didn’t allow intermediate routes to develop.
Garrett was a routine hassle in the backfield, as Chavis moved him across the defensive front on his way to two sacks and plenty of disruptions to ASU’s plans on offense. Junior Daeshon Hall led TAMU with four total sacks, and as a team, the Aggies brought down Bercovici nine times throughout the game.
The Aggies also stifled ASU’s running game. The Sun Devils totaled just 92 yards on the ground, led by sophomore running back Demario Richard’s 73 yards on 16 attempts.
Despite running 82 plays, the high-tempo didn’t produce a high amount of yardage for ASU. The Sun Devils averaged just 3.5 yards per play and lacked the explosion that has become an assumed trait of a Mike Norvell offense.
As the score tells, the Aggie defense wasn’t the only thing that overwhelmed the Sun Devils. After three 3-and-outs to start the game by TAMU, the Aggies found a rhythm and gaps within the Sun Devil deffense.
In particular, true freshman Christian Kirk torched ASU for two explosive plays to the house. First, poor coverage allowed the Arizona product to return a punt 79 yards to put TAMU up two touchdowns. He followed that with a 66-yard reception to seal the deal in the fourth quarter.
Kirk led all receivers with 106 yards on six catches, and that was only a microcosm of the perceived gap between the two sides.
TAMU’s freshman quarterback Kyler Murray also came in spurts, tossing for 49 yards on 4-of-9 passing, but he was most effective with his feet. On several occasions, the true freshman was able to break ASU’s contain and escape for big gains and several first downs. Murray rushed for 69 yards on six attempts, and his quickness got him out of several near-sacks for ASU that may have turned the tide.
Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin admitted to not really having much of a plan for Murray when he entered the game, but Murray’s immediate impact and change of pace in the game was felt enough for Sumlin to leave the native-Texan in the rotation, even after he tossed a duck that ASU safety Jordan Simone picked off along the sideline.
In short, ASU was outplayed in nearly every facet of the game. The offense, defense and special teams units had moments of sub-optimal performance that eventually cost ASU a stop, touchdown or momentum-building play. Whether it was a blown coverage, unnecessary penalty or a guy not quite making the play that needed to happen, the Sun Devils did not live up to the preseason expectations of a team that could make the College Football Playoff.
Of course, this could all be an overreaction to the first game. On the bright side, the early stumble allows ASU a clearer picture as to where gaps are on its side. Potentially, the early loss leaves enough room for college football to be college football, and ASU could find itself in the Pac-12 Championship anyway with this game as a pivotal, light-shedding moment.
On the other hand, it could be a sign that expectations were too much. The only way to find out is to roll the ball out on the field next time out and see what happens.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org