Texas A&M, fittingly, had its most complete game of the season on Veterans Day. The Aggies were well prepared, had near-flawless execution and never let up in rolling to a 55-14 nonconference victory over the New Mexico Lobos on Saturday night at Kyle Field.
The Aggies (6-4) took a break from Southeastern Conference play with a dominating effort to become bowl-eligible for the ninth straight year. New Mexico (3-7) never had a chance in losing its fifth straight. A&M needed only 28 seconds to score as redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Starkel teamed up with junior Christian Kirk for a 60-yard touchdown pass. Starkel kept throwing and his receivers kept catching as the Aggies raced to a 48-7 lead before its first punt, which came in the final minute of the first half.
"The thought process was to be able to throw the ball early and make plays, and hopefully [New Mexico] would change [defensive schemes], but they didn't change," A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "So we had to keep doing what we were doing."
Starkel completed 21 of 30 passes for 416 yards and four touchdowns. In his second start, he jump-started an offense that had averaged only 20.6 points in the previous five games.
The Aggies scored quickly three times but also forged a 13-play, 81-yard drive that took 5 minutes, 14 seconds and another of 10 plays and 56 yards that took 5:14.
"Nick played well, but I thought our perimeter guys played well, particularly in the first half until we got some of the young guys in there," Sumlin said.
Starkel did a good job of spreading the wealth, throwing to seven receivers with all but one of them catching at least two passes. Starkel's first half was so good, he didn't need to play in the second, nor did many of the other starters.
True freshman quarterback Kellen Mond, who started the last eight games, played the first four drives of the second half with senior Jake Hubenak mobbing up.
The defense started as hot as Starkel, giving up only 57 yards in the first half. The complete domination on both sides for 30 minutes allowed for reserves to play much of the second half.
Starkel, who broke his ankle in the season opener, threw a pair of touchdowns to Damion Ratley and one each to Jhamon Ausbon and Kirk.
Ratley, one of 14 seniors honored before the game on Senior Night, made a 1-yard touchdown catch by tipping the high pass to himself, later adding a one-handed 36-yard touchdown catch. Ratley made the catch left-handed because cornerback D'Angelo Ross had hold of his right hand.
Kirk, a junior who is projected as a first-round NFL pick if he leaves school, had a memorable last home game if indeed doesn't come back.
Kirk along with getting behind the New Mexico secondary on the second play from scrimmage added his sixth career punt return for a touchdown. Kirk pedaled back to his own 10-yard line to catch a booming 62-yard punt by Corey Bojorquez. Kirk turned up field, found a seam and raced toward the end zone. A flag for a block in the back by A&M's Travon Fuller had been thrown where Kirk caught the punt, but the officials picked up the flag as the crowd of 99,051 roared their approval.
True freshmen Roshaaud Paul (seven receptions-129 yards) and Ausbon (seven receptions-105 yards) complemented Kirk (four receptions-120 yards). The trio combined to make 13 of their catches on passes from Starkel.
A&M spoiled a homecoming of sorts for Lobos' coach Bob Davie who was an assistant at A&M from 1985-93, the last five seasons as defensive coordinator.
"I think we all saw what it was," Davie said. "We couldn't really cover them and couldn't really tackle in space. It was eye-opening for us and our players."
New Mexico came up with the first half's last score on a 100-yard kickoff return by Elijah Lilly.
A&M, which had lost back-to-back home games to Mississippi State and Auburn, will close out the regular season at Ole Miss at 6 p.m. next Saturday, then at LSU on Nov. 25.