Tra Carson

Newcomers lead Texas A&M past No. 15 Arizona State

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A year ago, Texas A&M could not have beaten No. 15 Arizona State the way it did on Saturday. Well, the Aggies probably couldn’t have beaten Arizona State at all in 2014, but definitely not this way. Because, a year ago, Texas A&M did not have John Chavis and it did not have Christian Kirk.

The Aggies used a fast, aggressive defense and the multidimensional Kirk to upend the Sun Devils, 38-17, in the Advocare Texas Kickoff at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Chavis, the high-priced defensive coordinator robbed away from LSU last December, guided a defense that ranked 97th nationally in yards per play and 111th in rushing into a strength – at least for one night. Behind All-America candidate Myles Garrett, Texas A&M forced eight sacks and two turnovers, limiting the Sun Devils to just 2.2 yards per carry and fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Bercovici to 25-of-40 passing for just 199 yards. Arizona State mounted only one sustained touchdown drive on the night – its first score came after a Kyle Allen fumble deep in Aggie territory – an eight play, 75-yard march that pulled the Devils to within 17-14 with 2:37 to go in the third quarter.

While the A&M defense did its job, freshman Christian Kirk carried the Aggies’ offense and special teams. A former five-star out of the Phoenix area, Kirk returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown to put Texas A&M up 14-0 with 12:51 in the second quarter, then put the game away for good with a 66-yard grab-and-weave with 3:45 to go in the game, giving the Aggies a 31-17 lead. After Texas A&M forced a turnover on downs deep in Arizona State territory on the ensuing possession, Tra Carson added a 10-yard insurance score with 1:38 remaining.

The sophomore Allen garnered the start for the Aggies and posted decent numbers – 15-of-26 passing for 198 yards and two touchdowns (he hit Carson for a 9-yard touchdown to open the scoring in the first quarter) and added a 12-yard touchdown run to put A&M up 24-14 – but committed two turnovers and was victimized by a swarming Arizona State defense. Head coach Kevin Sumlin turned to true freshman Kyler Murray for much of the night and he answered by dancing for 69 yards on six carries to go with 4-of-9 passing for 49 yards and an interception.

Arizona State successfully bottled up the Texas A&M running game for much of the evening – Carson gained 96 yards on 29 carries, and will have 29 lumps to show for it tomorrow morning – and Murray’s speed and elusiveness proved a successful antidote.

As dominant as the Arizona State front was, though, Texas A&M was even more so, limiting the Sun Devils to 92 yards on 41 carries. Overall, Texas A&M outgained Arizona State 425-291 and held the Sun Devils to 5-of-19 on third downs.

Texas A&M entered the season a dark horse to contend in the SEC West and beyond, and rewarded that faith Saturday night. And considering so many of tonight’s key pieces – Chavis, Murray, Kirk – are still feeling themselves out, here’s the scariest thought of the night: Texas A&M will probably get better from here.

Texas A&M leading No. 15 Arizona State at the half

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Put two teams that averaged north of 35 points a game a year ago together and you get… a game dominated by defense and special teams? That’s what we’ve seen so far in Houston as Texas A&M leads No. 15 Arizona State 14-7 at the break.

After Texas A&M opened the scoring with 28 seconds left in the first quarter on a nine-yard catch-and-run from sophomore Arizona native Kyle Allen to Tra Carson, the Aggies grabbed control with a 79-yard punt return by true freshman Arizona native Christian Kirk, pushing the score to 14-0.

With the Aggies threatening to break the game open, Arizona State climbed back when Christian Sam stripped Allen and J.D. Alexander recovered the ball and raced to the Aggies’ four-yard line. Mike Bercovici hit Kody Kohl one play later to put the Sun Devils on the board with 9:56 to go before the break.

Allen played the majority of the snap for the Aggies, hitting 8-of-15 passes for 87 yards and a touchdown. True freshman Kyler Murray played the final series of the half, completing two of three passes for 27 yards and totaling two rushes for one yard. Carson has rushed 12 times for 41 yards.

Bercovici has completed 12 of his 16 passes, but for just 62 yards. The destructive force that is Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett has had a lot to do with that. Demario Richard leads the Devils on the ground with 30 yards on five carries.

Arizona State will receive to open the second half.

Kevin Sumlin discusses moving Brandon Williams from RB to CB

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Texas A&M doesn’t need help at running back. Not with Tra Carson and Trey Williams James White returning and freshman phenom Kyler Murray likely to help carry the load in the running game.

The Aggies do need help defending the pass. Texas A&M ranked 66th or lower nationally in pass efficiency defense, yards per attempt allowed and passing defense in 2014. And with leading tacklers Howard Matthews and Deshazor Everett graduating, it’s an all-hands-on-deck type of season in the A&M defensive backfield.

So with that in mind, Texas A&M has moved running back Brandon Williams to cornerback.

Head coach Kevin Sumlin discussed the change with Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle: “He can always come back and play running back, we know that. Let’s see what he can do, and he’s excited about it. If he can help us (on defense), and it helps him in his career, it will be a great move for both of us.”

Williams ranked third on the team last year with 379 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 87 carries. A native of Brookshire, Texas, Williams originally signed with Oklahoma out of high school.

Halftime: South Carolina has no answers for Texas A&M offense

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If you thought Texas A&M was going to struggle to replace Johnny Manziel under center, Kenny Hill is making you reconsider that feeling tonight in Columbia, South Carolina. Hill has been confident and calm under center and has been accurate in leading Texas A&M to a halftime lead against South Carolina. Texas A&M holds a 31-14 lead at the break.

Hill has completed 27 of 33 pass attempts for 299 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. Texas A&M has done exceptionally well spreading the football around. The Aggies have had nine different players catch a pass and four players carry the football.

South Carolina’s defense has had no answers for Kevin Sumlin‘s Aggies. It does not help that South Carolina’s secondary has been depleted trying to keep up, but whoever has been on the field for the Gamecocks has simply been struggling to keep up with A&M’s receivers. To further complicate things, South Carolina is quickly learning that life without Jadeveon Clowney is difficult, because the Gamecocks have really struggled to bring any pressure on Hill in the Texas A&M backfield.

South Carolina’s star running back Mike Davis did not start the game and has been limited in the first half. At the half, Davis has just six carries for 15 yards.

South Carolina will get the football to start the second half. It is not time to panic, but starting the second half off with a solid drive and a score would sure calm some nerves in Columbia.

Abdullah, Davis and Gordon headline Doak Walker Award watch list

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College football may be trending more to the passing game, but the Doak Walker Award reminds us all there are some top quality running backs playing key roles on their teams as well. This year’s Doak Walker Award watch list includes 53 of the nation’s top running backs. The list includes semifinalists from last year’s award, Mike Davis of South Carolina and Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin. Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah, the nation’s leading returning rusher, is also considered a top candidate.

Boston College’s Andre Williams was the winner of the Doak Walker Award last season. The award has gone to a player from a power conference each year since 2002. BYU’s Luke Staley and Rice’s Trevor Cobb are the only players from non-power conferences to win the award (although Rice was a part of the old Southwest Conference at the time Cobb won the award). Texas leads the nation with three Doak Walker Award winners. Arkansas, Texas Tech and Wisconsin each have two.

This year’s semifinalists will be announced on November 18, and finalists will be announced on November 24. The Doak Walker Award will be presented on December 11 during the annual awards show on ESPN. The watch list will accept nominees until October, so more names could be added along the way. Here is the full watch list as it stands right now;

Ameer Abdullah (Sr.), Nebraska
Jay Ajayi (Jr.), Boise State
Javorius “Buck” Allen (Jr.), USC
Leon Allen (Jr.), Western Kentucky
Terry Baggett (Sr.), Army
Bill Belton (Sr.), Penn State
Malcolm Brown (Sr.), Texas
Tra Carson (Jr.), Texas A&M
B.J. Catalon (Jr.), TCU
David Cobb (Sr.), Minnesota
Tevin Coleman (Jr.), Indiana
Alex Collins (So.), Arkansas
James Conner (So.), Pittsburgh
Marcus Cox (So.), Appalachian State
Mike Davis (Jr.), South Carolina
Kenneth Dixon (Jr.), Louisiana Tech
Jahwan Edwards (Sr.), Ball State
Kenneth Farrow (Jr.), Houston
Josh Ferguson (Jr.), Illinois
D.J. Foster (Jr.), Arizona State
Melvin Gordon (Jr.), Wisconsin
Michael Gordon (Jr.), Arkansas State
Johnathan Gray (Jr.), Texas
Todd Gurley (Jr.), Georgia
Kenneth Harper (Sr.), Temple
Alonzo Harris (Sr.), Louisiana-Lafayette
Derrick Henry (So.), Alabama
Bronson Hill (Sr.), Eastern Michigan
Joe Hill (Sr.), Utah State
Duke Johnson (Jr.), Miami
Jeremy Langford (Sr.), Michigan State
Daniel Lasco (Jr.), California
Shock Linwood (So.), Baylor
Robert Lowe (Jr.), Texas State
Tre Madden (Jr.), USC
Terrence Magee (Sr.), LSU
Raymond Maples (Sr.), Army
Byron Marshall (Jr.), Oregon
Kevin Parks (Sr.), Virginia
Christian Powell (Jr.), Colorado
Donnel Pumphrey (So.), San Diego State
Josh Robinson (Jr.), Mississippi State
William Stanback (So.), UCF
Cameron Stingily (Sr.), Northern Illinois
Kelvin Taylor (So.), Florida
Thomas Tyner (So.), Oregon
Jamaal Williams (Jr.), BYU
Jonathan Williams (Jr.), Arkansas
Trey Williams (Jr.), Texas A&M
Aaron Wimberly (Sr.), Iowa State
T.J. Yeldon (Jr.), Alabama
Kelsey Young (Sr.), Stanford
Zach Zwinak (Sr.), Penn State


Catch up on your watch lists released so far:

Maxwell Award (best player)

Bednarik Award (best defensive player)

Hornung Award (most versatile player)

Davey O’Brien Award (best quarterback)

Biletnikoff Award (best receiver)

Mackey Award (best tight end)

Rimington Trophy (best center)

Outland Trophy (best interior lineman)

Lombardi Award (best down lineman)

Butkus Award (best linebacker)

Jim Thorpe Award (best defensive back)

Lou Groza Award (best kicker)

Ray Guy Award (best punter)