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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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ANALYSIS: Starkel scorches New Mexico secondary

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Photo by Photo by: Kevin Chou

Redshirt Freshman Nick Starkel attempts to throw the ball past a New Mexico defender.

With redshirt freshman Nick Starkel making his first start since Texas A&M’s season-opener against UCLA, the Aggies game plan for their pocket-passing quarterback was simple: Throw deep and often.
And that’s exactly what Starkel did to the New Mexico secondary Saturday night at Kyle Field in the Aggies 55-14 win over the Lobos.
Underneath Starkel’s jersey was a Justin Bieber t-shirt, and indeed, he played like a rockstar.
“It was important for the style of play, the type of defense we were going to face to be able to execute our passing game the way we did,” Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said. “Nick played well, but I thought our perimeter guys played well too. That’s the confidence level you need.
New Mexico’s secondary scheme gave A&M numerous chances to try the downfield pass, primarily playing zero-man coverage and sometimes had one high safety.
“We knew we were going to have opportunities all night, especially the drop-back pass game,” junior wide receiver Christian Kirk said. “Usually they had seven in the box and weren’t going to let you run the ball … that means there’s one-on-one opportunities outside.”
New Mexico head coach Bob Davie said the Aggies ability to spread the field with various formations using trips receivers and the h-back caused the Lobo defenders trouble in the open field.
“We couldn’t really cover them and couldn’t really tackle in space,” Davie said. “They did a good job isolating their guys on our guys … There was no question what they were going to do, throw the ball. They were going to try to exploit our guys covering their guys and they did.”
Once the Aggies began to build a substantial lead, Sumlin said he was sure Davie’s defense would shift more to defend the pass. The scheme change never came though, and the Aggies continued to dial up the deep ball, scoring on their first six offensive possessions of the first half.
“Thought process was to throw early and make plays and hopefully they would change, but they didn’t change and we had to keep doing what we were doing,” Sumlin said.
In just one half of action, Starkel was 21-of-30 passing for a career-high 416 yards and four touchdowns. The majority of Starkel’s yardage through the air came on chunk plays, completing 10 passes of 15-plus yards and five for 35 yards or more. He averaged 19.8 yards per completion.
With his exceptional performance, Starkel became the first Aggie to surpass the 400-yard passing mark since Kenny Hill threw for 401 yards against Ole Miss in 2014.
For the first time in school history, Texas A&M had three 100-yard receivers. Freshman Roshaaud Paul led the way with 129 yards on seven receptions. Kirk followed close behind with 120 yards on four receptions and freshman Jhamon Ausbon recorded 105 yards on seven catches.
Kirk said he was pleased with Paul’s performance, as the rookie had more opportunities on the field serving as Kirk’s back-up in a more open contest.
“I definitely know he’s been waiting for his time, I’m not the best at coming off the field, so he doesn’t really get to come in as much, especially when it’s a tight game,” Kirk said. “But it was good to see him go out there and make a bunch of big plays and that’s just what the kid does. He’s shifty, he’s hard to tackle and he’s going to do that for a long time during his career here at Texas A&M.”
Senior Damion Ratley caught two of Starkel’s touchdowns, and his final reception on Kyle Field was an exceptional one, hauling in a 36-yard pass with his left hand while being pressed in the end zone by a New Mexico defender.
“It’s always fun to be able to touch the end zone anywhere,” Ratley said. “But my last catch in Kyle Field to be a touchdown, that’s just something I’ve always dreamed of.”
Making a handful competitive plays was one thing Kirk said he was pleased to see the receiving corps accomplish, an item the Aggies have struggled to do in recent weeks.
“I think the difference this week was us receivers going up there and making those contested catches,” Kirk said. “We’ve had throws and opportunities like that all season where we didn’t make those catches and tonight I think we took that step forward in making those catches.”
Kirk attested the success to the continuation of more reps with Starkel starting at quarterback in practice, allowing receivers to become acquainted with his style.
“We’re really starting to click with Nick in, the timing is getting down, preparation throughout the week and really making sure our reps during practice are like game reps,” Kirk said. “A lot of those deep balls that we hit in the game today, we hit all of those during practice.”

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