COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- While almost everyone else has been worried about Texas A&M's conference affiliation, the Aggies have been concentrating on SMU.
The Aggies were anxious to get on the field and bring the focus back to football instead of the school's decision to leave the Big 12, likely for the Southeastern Conference. They got things going early, intercepting quarterback Kyle Padron's passes on SMU's first two possessions to take a 14-0 lead.
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"We don't really pay attention to any of that stuff," receiver Ryan Swope said about the conference realignment discussion. "We just come out and play football for this university. We let the other people take care of that. I don't think it really affected us at all."
Added coach Mike Sherman: "We focused pretty hard on SMU. They warranted our undivided attention. That's all we talked about."
SMU coach June Jones replaced Padron with backup J.J. McDermott after the early miscues and he helped the Mustangs cut it to 20-14 in the second quarter.
But the Mustangs couldn't do much offensively after that and the Aggies scored 26 straight points the rest of the way to secure the win.
"I just had a feeling on two of the errors that he was not himself," Jones said about Padron. "I thought I would settle him down and then get him back in the game, but McDermott was the way to go."
Gray finished with 132 yards rushing. Michael, in his first game since breaking his leg last October, added 85. Tannehill was 21 of 26 for 246 yards. Ryan Swope led Texas A&M's receivers with eight receptions for 109 yards and a score and Jeff Fuller added six catches for 52 yards.
Texas A&M had eight sacks, led by a career-high three by Tony Jerod-Eddie, the Aggies most since 2002. Jerod-Eddie was pleased to have such a big game with former A&M star Von Miller, who led the FBS with 17 sacks in 2009 and was the second overall pick in this year's draft, at Sunday's game.
"It was real special for him to be out here and supporting us," Jerod-Eddie said. "We just had a great scheme tonight against their pass protection. I just made the tackles I had to make."
McDermott finished with 254 yards passing and a touchdown, but was sacked seven times.
"I could have gotten the ball out faster," McDermott said. "Anytime you're sacked, it's not all the offensive line's fault. It has a lot to do with everybody, quarterback getting rid of the ball, receivers getting open."
Zach Line ran for 128 yards and a score and 6-foot-8 defensive end Margus Hunt blocked two extra points for the Mustangs. Line had 101 yards rushing with 10 minutes left in the second quarter, but managed just 27 the rest of the way.
"We could not tackle Zach Line in the first half," Sherman said. "He made us look stupid out there. I thought we corralled him a lot better in the second half."
The Aggies had built a 33-14 lead at halftime and tacked on a field goal on their first possession in the third quarter to make it 36-14.
Tannehill found tight end Hutson Prioleau on a 32-yard touchdown pass later in the third quarter to extend A&M's lead to 43-14.
The Mustangs trimmed the lead to 20-14 when McDermott found Keenan Holman on a 27-yard touchdown pass on his second drive.
The Aggies finally found an answer for the McDermott-led offense on his third possession and Mustangs had to punt. The Aggies went to Swope on their next drive, hitting him four times for 53 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown to leave it at 27-14 in the second quarter.
Texas A&M sacked McDermott twice on SMU's next drive and the Mustangs had to punt. Michael finished the drive with three consecutive runs, including a 1-yard TD run for the Aggies. Hunt blocked his second extra point attempt of the game, and the Aggies led 33-14 at halftime.
Steven Campbell intercepted a pass by Padron and returned it 51 yards to the to the SMU 6 on the Mustangs' first drive of the game. Michael scored on a 4-yard run two plays later to give Texas A&M a 7-0 lead.
Padron's pass was intercepted on the next drive, this time by Trent Hunter, who returned it 30 yards to give A&M another short field with the ball at the SMU 45. Gray got the Aggies in the end zone to finish that drive with a 5-yard run to make it 14-0.
That's when Jones had seen enough from Padron and replaced him with McDermott. The switch got SMU's offense going, with McDermott orchestrating a seven-play, 60-yard drive fueled by Line's running and capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by the back to cut it to 14-7.
The Mustangs tried an onside kick after that, but it traveled just one yard and sat on the ground for a few seconds before SMU jumped on top of it, giving Texas A&M the ball at the SMU 31.
The Aggies again took advantage of excellent field position when they converted that miscue into another touchdown by Gray, this one on a 2-yard run. Hunt blocked the extra point attempt to leave A&M's lead at 20-7.
Texas A&M's 20 first quarter points were the most it has scored in the opening quarter since Oct. 15, 2005, against Oklahoma State.