(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
It’s finally here. The 2015 college football season is upon us, and college football fans will be hard-pressed to find a matchup more fun than No. 15 Arizona State and Texas A&M.
The game is rich with subplots. TAMU players have Arizona ties, ASU players have Texas roots, and even head coaches Kevin Sumlin and Todd Graham have duked it out in the past.
More importantly, the field will be littered with high-caliber talent on both ends sides of the ball, which should make for an entertaining contest. TAMU will have a slight home-field advantage with the game being in Houston, despite the game technically being dubbed a “neutral-site” affair.
After a campaign that saw a midseason quarterback change and the worst defense in the SEC, TAMU made moves to provide stability in both areas. Sophomore Kyle Allen beat out freshman Kyler Murray – as most figured he would – under center, and he looks to build upon a 1,300-yard, 16-touchdown performance he put on in his first half-season under center.
Sumlin brought in defensive coordinator John Chavis from Louisiana State, and that should put in some structure and discipline that was void a season ago. Sophomore defensive end Myles Garrett is back after being arguably the most dominant pass-rushing end in the country, recording an SEC freshman record 11.5 sacks.
For ASU, it’s time to see what redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici can do with the starting job finally locked down in his name. After years of waiting, a firework-filled stretch a season ago and an offseason of anticipation, Bercovici is looking to fulfill all expectations for this potentially explosive Sun Devil offense.
He broke single-game completion and yardage records in his short stint as a starter with Taylor Kelly injured, and with senior D.J. Foster moving out wide and De’Chavon ‘Gump’ Hayes ready to roll, he’ll have even more options to work with. Graduate transfer Devin Lucien looks to be a possession-style option for the Sun Devils as well, and the ground game is locked up between sophomores Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage.
Defensively, the talent and experience in this group run deep. Redshirt senior safety Jordan Simone highlights the secondary that will be critical in suffocating the Aggie passing game. Graham has reiterated his desire to get as many of his talented linebackers on the field at the same time as well. Expect the usual from a Todd Graham defense: plenty of creative blitz packages to put Kyle Allen under pressure to make decisions.
Matchups to watch
TAMU receivers vs. ASU secondary
There will be a myriad of talent on the outside in this game. Junior Josh Reynolds led TAMU with 842 receiving yards and a school-record 13 touchdown catches. He’ll be paired with a couple burners with legitimate 4.4 speed in sophomore Speedy Noil and freshman Christian Kirk. Allen will have a field day picking out which weapon to throw to, and it’ll be up to ASU’s experienced secondary to put a damper on those plans.
For ASU, senior cornerbacks Kweishi Brown and Lloyd Carrington are among the best in the Pac-12. Simone is fantastic at reading situations to set himself or his teammates up to make a play, which allowed him to rack up 100 tackles in 2014.
The one question mark in the secondary is sophomore Armand Perry. After spending much of his freshman campaign as the nickel cornerback, Perry is expected to step in at field safety for Damarious Randall, who is off to greener pastures in the NFL.
With the aggressive nature of Graham’s defense, the field safety is often expected to cover more ground than anybody else on the side, so whether Perry can successfully manage that responsibility will be important in stopping TAMU’s air raid.
Myles Garrett vs. Whichever unfortunate soul is blocking him
Garrett is a monster. In breaking the SEC freshman record for sacks, he passed a guy named Jadeveon Clowney. He was pretty solid too.
The first-hand responsibility in managing Garrett will fall on the offensive tackles–redshirt junior Evan Goodman and redshirt senior William McGehee. Both players will be in consistent starting roles for the first time, so they will be essentially thrown into the fire to get their seasons started.
Ballage and Richard will likely provide protection as well, and Bercovici will have to get the ball out his hands quickly to negate any sort of pass rush–all traits the group has shown the ability to do well in the past.
Not that you care but now you know
Kirk and Allen were two of the top prospects in the state of Arizona, and Sumlin proudly snagged them. ASU has 11 players in their two-deep from Texas as well as Graham. Count how many times the broadcasters mention that fact.
TAMU’s biggest problem a year ago was keeping the other team from scoring points. ASU is awfully explosive and talented in that department. Even with a new, strong defensive coordinator, I wouldn’t expect an instant turnover from a season ago. Garrett is among the best in the country at what he does, and the inexperience that plagued the Aggies is now experienced, so they have every reason to improve on that side of the ball.
With that in mind, the game will likely be filled with explosive plays left and right, but ASU’s defense will make the difference. With nine starters returning and even more depth than a season ago, Graham has the bodies and talent to throw into various situations to keep up with TAMU’s offensive attack.
Arizona State: 38
Texas A&M: 24
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at email@example.com