Ball St.-Texas A&M Preview
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is doing everything in his power to make this year's season-opening win mean more than the last.
Sumlin and his No. 16 Aggies opened the schedule with a victory over a top-15 team for the second straight year, but they hope to make it count this time starting with Saturday night's home opener against Ball State.
Last year didn't go as planned after the Aggies opened by beating then-No. 9 South Carolina 52-28. Texas A&M rattled off four more wins against light competition but dropped five of its final eight, including three of four against ranked teams.
This season started similarly with Saturday's 38-17 win over No. 15 Arizona State, a tight game through three quarters that Texas A&M ran away with via a 21-3 advantage in the fourth.
So how do the Aggies make the rest of this season differ from their last?
"Don't assume anything," Sumlin said. "Don't know where we will be in the polls and don't care, based on what happened last year. What is important is how we approach this week in practice and the next few weeks and what our team attitude is."
The Cardinals of the Mid-American Conference don't figure to pose much of a threat this week. Ball State, which won 48-36 over Virginia Military Institute on Thursday night, hasn't beaten a ranked opponent since topping No. 23 Toledo 34-27 in November 2012.
The Cardinals finished 5-7 a year ago and have never beaten an SEC team.
Coach Pete Lembo addressed the challenges the Aggies pose on Tuesday.
"This team is not only poised to do some great things this year, but I think in the near future is going to be on everyone's radar," he said. "The game is going to move fast."
A lot of Texas A&M's speed is on defense, which looked much improved against Arizona State. The defensive side of the ball was the Aggies' No. 1 offseason priority after they allowed 28.1 points per game last year, the standouts being a 48-31 loss to Mississippi State and a 59-0 defeat against Alabama.
The team's retooled system under new defensive coordinator John Chavis had a quick impact Saturday. The Aggies held a highly-rated Arizona State offense to 291 total yards and sacked quarterback Mike Bercovici nine times.
"We have good team speed," Sumlin said. "That closes down some of those plays. Amazed how much better of a tackling team you are when you're not having single open tackles all over the place."
The Aggies' second offseason issue was choosing between five-star quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray. Sumlin played both in the opener but didn't tip his hand for what his plan would be against Ball State.
"We'll see what goes on moving forward," he said.
Sumlin started the sophomore Allen against Arizona State and sprinkled freshman Murray in at the end of the first half and in the third before finishing with Allen.
Allen didn't start well, throwing an interception and losing a fumble early, but he finished 15 for 26 with two touchdowns, including a 66-yard scoring pass in the fourth to Christian Kirk, who was named SEC Freshman of the Week for his six catches and 106 yards.
"Great poise, great energy," Sumlin said. "Lot of things we can learn from that game."
Murray completed four of nine passes and threw an interception, but he ran for 69 yards on six carries.
Texas A&M will play again without defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson and middle linebacker A.J. Hilliard, who were each suspended for the season's first two games for violating athletic department rules.
Henderson made 13 tackles in 11 games last season, and Hilliard had three tackles and a sack before breaking his ankle in the season opener and missing the rest of the year.