Let the record show the Kyler Murray era as Texas A&M’s starting quarterback began Saturday with multiple offensive touchdowns, a resurgent ground game and a victory.
All three of those commodities had been missing the past two weeks, leading coach Kevin Sumlin to elevate the prized freshman into the Aggies’ lineup in favor of former starter Kyle Allen.
Equally important: Revelers racing to anoint Murray as the final piece in a championship puzzle should take a long, hard look at the SEC standings in the wake of a 35-28 victory over South Carolina at Kyle Field. The Aggies (6-2, 3-2) just knocked off a team that has lost five of its six SEC matchups and remains in a state of turmoil triggered by the midseason departure of Steve Spurrier, the winningest coach in program history.
But after a two-game losing streak triggered an A&M free-fall from top-10 status to nowhere in the college football polls, a triumph over the Gamecocks (3-5, 1-5) marked a much-needed first step back in the right direction. The energy Murray injected into an offense that had produced one touchdown in its past 38 possessions, dating back to Oct. 3, was evident from the start.
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He’s a lot like Johnny Manziel, and I think he came out and showed it today.
A&M defensive tackle Julien Obioha on freshman quarterback Kyler Murray
Murray racked up 379 yards in total offense and accounted for two touchdowns while triggering comparisons to another A&M dual-threat quarterback: Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner.
“He’s a lot like Johnny Manziel, and I think he came out and showed it today,” said A&M defensive tackle Julien Obioha, a teammate of Manziel’s on A&M teams in 2012 and 2013. “He’s really talented, obviously. He did everything we needed him to do to win the game. He did his job and he did a really good job of it.”
Murray, who posted a 42-0 record as a starter at Allen High School, led the Aggies to the end zone on his second possession as a college starter and four times in his first seven possessions against the Gamecocks. He averaged 7.8 yards per carry (20 rushes, 156 yards) and threw for 223 yards and a touchdown, a 10-yarder to Josh Reynolds in the first quarter.
Contrast that with the Aggies’ offensive production over their past 10 quarters heading into Saturday’s contest. During that stretch, which began with the second half of a 30-17 victory over Mississippi State on Oct. 3, A&M produced one touchdown, six field goals and 31 scoreless possessions during a span of 38 possessions that overlapped consecutive losses to No. 7 Alabama (41-23) and No. 19 Ole Miss (23-3).
Allen handled most of the heavy lifting in those contests, leading to Murray’s elevation into the lineup against South Carolina. And leading to a first college start that actually trumped Manziel’s debut in 2012 and put Murray on pace with another SEC-based Heisman winner from yesteryear.
Murray joined former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, the 2010 Heisman winner, as the only SEC quarterbacks in the past 20 years to finished with 100 yards and a touchdown as both a runner and a passer in his first career start. Murray was not made available for interviews after the game, per A&M coach Kevin Sumlin’s policy regarding freshmen.
But teammate Tra Carson (122 rushing yards, 1 TD) acknowledged the freshman’s impact was felt in every facet of the 544-yard performance.
“As an offense, we’ve struggled to move the ball and score points,” Carson said. “This was definitely like a weight off our back. We’re not a bad offense. We’ve just struggled. I think this is going to help us a lot going forward.”
With Murray at the helm, the A&M offense did enough to trump a sluggish defensive performance against a team that entered the game ranked 110th nationally in scoring (20.4 avg.). The Gamecocks, who rolled for 445 yards (253 on the ground), topped that total by halftime and kept it a one-score game until Donvovan Wilson’s 60-yard interception return for a touchdown stretched A&M’s lead to 35-21 with 4:08 left in the third quarter.
379 Yards produced by Murray as a rusher (156) and passer (223) in his first college start
After the Gamecocks closed within 35-28 on Brandon Wilds’ 33-yard scoring run in the final minute of the third quarter, the A&M defense held South Carolina to 31 yards and no scoring threats in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
“We struggled on defense. But you win and lose as a team,” said Sumlin, who cited the offense’s ability to play at a more up-tempo pace as a game-changer. “It was pretty obvious that our guys were more comfortable with what we were doing. Our quarterback was more comfortable. Our tempo was a lot higher. Kyler is comfortable in that setting. Once he settled down and was able to read things out, he was effective.”
In particular, Murray led touchdown drives of 74, 67, 75 and 81 yards as well as a 68-yard march that resulted in a missed field-goal attempt. The Aggies had only one three-and-out possession after making them a habit the past two weeks. Offensive tackle Germain Ifedi welcomed the change.
“Kyler commanded the huddle as well as any 18-year-old I’ve seen,” Ifedi said. “He’s a great quarterback out there, doing pass or run. We’re going to keep looking to him for that leadership.”
And more productive offensive days like Saturday.
TAM—Reynolds 10 pass from Murray (Bertolet kick), 6:42.
SC—Nunez 7 run (Fry kick), 1:52.
SC—Orth 6 run (Fry kick), 11:50.
TAM—Carson 1 run (Bertolet kick), 6:17.
SC—Wilds 3 run (Fry kick), 3:04.
TAM—White 2 run (Bertolet kick), 1:00.
TAM—Murray 1 run (Bertolet kick), 5:58.
TAM—D.Wilson 60 interception return (Bertolet kick), 4:08.
SC—Wilds 33 run (Fry kick), :42.
Time of Possession
RUSHING—South Carolina, Wilds 17-128, Orth 11-64, Da.Williams 10-27, P.Cooper 2-16, Carson 2-11, Nunez 1-7. Texas A&M, Murray 20-156, Carson 21-122, White 10-44, Etwi 1-4, Team 2-(minus 5).
PASSING—South Carolina, Orth 15-24-2-192. Texas A&M, Murray 20-28-0-223.
RECEIVING—South Carolina, P.Cooper 4-22, Da.Williams 3-43, Jeffery 2-23, Wilds 2-15, Hurst 1-47, Markway 1-27, Neal 1-14, Adams 1-1. Texas A&M, Seals-Jones 6-88, Kirk 6-37, Reynolds 5-74, Carson 2-18, Noil 1-6.