ASU football falls to a pair of local products against Texas A&M

Christian Kirk and Kyle Allen slipped through ASU's fingertips on the recruiting trail and on the field

HOUSTON — ASU football's highly-anticipated trip to Houston was encapsulated in one play.

The No. 15-ranked Sun Devils (0-1), having overcome their stagnant offense to cut the lead to 24-17 just moments before, saw Texas A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk take a bubble screen the distance past a flurry of fallen tacklers.

The 66-yard touchdown reception with 3:45 remaining sealed a 38-17 win for the Aggies (1-0) at Houston's NRG Stadium, and represented a common trend with the Sun Devil football program — don't get your hopes up too high.

ASU was undone Saturday by a pair of Arizona products that had slipped right through head coach Todd Graham's fingers in recruiting, as sophomore quarterback Kyle Allen (Desert Mountain High School) found the true freshman Kirk (Saguaro High School) for the final dagger.

"The bubble (screen) was just (pause) really frustrating because we obviously run that pressure a million times and our safety is supposed to be down six yards and just made a mistake," Graham said. "Obviously they capitalized on it.

"I think Kyle showed a lot of poise there. That was the critical drive. It was 24-17, four minutes left and that was it. He makes a good throw, you blow a coverage and they capitalize on it." 

Kirk was everything ASU fans hoped he would be in his collegiate debut, just for the wrong team in maroon. It was his 79-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter that put the Aggies in firm control early on, and the 5-foot-11, 200-pound wide receiver finished with 224 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.

Graham was very complimentary of Kirk, whose college decision came down to a closely heated battle between Texas A&M, UCLA and ASU. 

"I want to congratulate Christian Kirk," Graham said. "He's a great young man I've had the privilege to recruit. He had an unbelievable night."

Kirk was the top-rated player out of the state of Arizona in 2015 after following in the footsteps and breaking the records of ASU senior wide receiver and fellow Saguaro product D.J. Foster.

"He's my brother, man," Foster said. "It was good (playing against him). I mean, he definitely got the best of us.

"(Kirk) played his a-- off. He's still my little brother. I'm proud of him."

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin received a massive boost from his first-year players, notably the "dynamic" Kirk.

Allen, who at times was spelled by true freshman quarterback Kyler Murray, finished the game 15-for-26 with 198 yards and two touchdowns, throwing just one interception. He chose to become an Aggie, not a Sun Devil, and showed why he was the No.1-rated prospect out of Arizona in 2014.

Sumlin said the sophomore quarterback's poise amidst being switched in and out of the game was impressive.

"I think Kyle coming back with Kyler (Murray) having a little bit of success and the crowd juiced up, to come back down the field the way he went was a big deal," Sumlin said. "As I said before, he's maturing physically and mentally in being able to handle that and still lead. Closing out the game says a lot about both those guys."

Texas A&M senior running back Tra Carson has seen several big names roll through College Station including current NFL players Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans, but few players have had Aggie debuts as impressive as Kirk.

"Christian Kirk, he's a young guy but he's a great player," Carson said. "He comes in and works extremely hard. He's one of the hardest workers on the team as a freshman, and that says a lot about what type of player and person he is...we expect big things from him."

In an alternate universe, it would be Allen behind ASU redshirt senior quarterback Mike Bercovici and Kirk wearing the "Desert Ice" instead of the maroon and white, leading the Sun Devils to a big-time victory.

However, this was not the case.

Just as ASU appeared to be close to catching the Aggies in the fourth quarter, the Sun Devils appear close to reaching that next level in college football. The national media and optimism is there and with good reason, but it simply is not quite their time yet.

Players, Saturday's game and a national statement just slipped through their fingers.

Reach the reporter at or follow @fardaya15 on Twitter.

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