COLLEGE STATION -- Haynes King looked like a first-time quarterback through four quarters of football at Kyle Field. Ease the #HaynesForHiesman campaign for now.
Texas A&M's month long battle between King and redshirt sophomore Zach Calzada ended with the Longview native getting the starting nod. In front of more than 97,000 Aggies donned in red, white and blue t-shirts in honor of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, King made his debut as the new face of Aggie football.
The result? A 41-10 win over Kent State.
King's storyline? Plenty to like and much more to learn.
Thus is the life of a first-year quarterbacks picking up the offense in SEC football.
"I thought he played really well," A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I thought he overcame adversity, thought he made plays when he had to. He was outstanding on third down."
Fisher is a man that looks at the glass half full. The little things in timing, cadence and awareness all could be improved week by week with King commanding the offense. Not even Kellen Mond or Johnny Manziel looked perfect in their first game as the 12th Man's quarterback.
Take a look at the positives — and yes, King had plenty.
How about his first drive to set the tone early? A perfect 6-of-6 passing that culminated with a 4-yard touchdown pass to do-it-all weapon Ainias Smith to give A&M a 7-0 lead.
Wanna talk about King's arm strength? Many like the right arm that Calzada possesses. King, however, has his own cannon, delivering bullet after bullet across the middle, including a 53-yard pass in the third quarter to Caleb Chapman.
King made several throws in tight windows. He took shots beyond the normal dump offs that you see from most first-year QBs.
Of course, there were occasions where maybe the check down or throwing it away should have been the read. It would have saved the stat line.
King finished 21-of-33 passing with 292 yards, plus two touchdowns. The problem? Three interceptions.
The first interception was a learning lesson. Throwing into tight coverage toward Chase Lane, Kent State cornerback Elvis Hines jump the route and returned the pick 16 yards.
Maybe if it wasn't near the end zone, fans wouldn't have groaned.
His second interception is one that drives coaches nuts. Without thinking, King threw into double coverage, only to have Hines intercept him again.
"He should have worked the other side," Fisher said.
Good thing Leon O'Neal returned the favor with an interception in the end zone to end the Golden Flashes' last drive of the half, and send the Aggies into the locker room up 10-3.
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As for the third, a tipped ball at the line of scrimmage led to the pass falling in the hands of Kent State's Nico Bolden. A second sooner, maybe that's six for the Aggies' new QB.
Rookie mistakes. Minor tweaks. Room for improvement? All those matter for any young quarterback.
But a win is a win, and King had plenty of help in the 2021 opener.
Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane picked up where the left off against North Carolina in Miami in January. Spiller needed two carries to become the 21st Aggie in program history to reach 2,000 yards for his career.
He finished with 113 yards off 17 carries. Achane had 13 carries, but two touchdowns to go along with pair of 50-plus yard runs on the night.
O'Neal gave the Aggies momentum as well with an 85-yard pick-six to make it 20-3 A&M in the third quarter. The Aggies also had more than 300 yards rushing and converted nearly 70 percent on third down.
Fisher will accept the win, but there is plenty of room for improvement in Aggieland. The players know as much.
"This is the best defense in the country," O'Neal said. "It's absolutely unacceptable how we handled that. So, for the most part, we have to grow from it."
The Aggies outgained Kent State 595-336. The No. 2 run defense of 2020 in the SEC allowed 226 yards rushing. Last season, A&M allowed more than 200 yards twice.
The culprits? Alabama and Arkansas. They both started the year off with wins, with the Crimson Tide still looking like the team to beat in the SEC.
“We’ve still got to clean it up,” Fisher said. “The good thing is we can. Some guys can’t get better. We can get a lot better.”
King walks away with a much-needed win to boost his confidence. The Aggies proved in the second half that they are deserving of the No. 6 ranking.
SEC play is just three weeks away in Arlington. Those little things for King — and A&M as a whole — need to be under control next Saturday in Denver against Colorado.
For now, King's debut as starter is over. But his reign could just be beginning.
"When things ain't all perfect, the first time out there man, you can gain a lot of doubt on yourself," Fisher said. "He didn't.
"There are a lot of things to clean up, without a doubt … (but) there’s a lot of potential there. His demeanor didn’t change – he’s a competitor.”
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