- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
HOUSTON -- Sitting side by side Friday, about 26 hours before their teams were scheduled to meet, Arizona State coach Todd Graham and Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin briefly reflected on their past battles.
When the two were in Conference USA -- Graham at Tulsa, Sumlin at Houston -- they met three times between 2008-10 with the most memorable matchup coming in 2009, a 46-45 Houston win. As Graham tried to recall the distance of the game-winning field goal, he uttered, "Fifty- ..." and before he could figure it out, Sumlin chimed in "Three. 53. Not that I remember."
Then Sumlin belted out a hearty laugh and Graham chuckled. "It was 50-something," he said.
The correct distance was actually 51 yards, but Graham and Sumlin will face off for the fourth time as head coaches Saturday night at NRG Stadium when the Sun Devils meet the Aggies in the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff. If their past games are any indication, there should be a lot of points scored and a few fireworks.
Their teams combined to average 81 points per game and 1,065 total offensive yards in the three times Graham and Sumlin previously met.
The first time the two met, in 2008, Tulsa went into Houston's Robertson Stadium ranked No. 23 nationally but was routed 70-30.
"Well, the first time I tried to forget," Graham said. "It's been hard to forget that one; they kicked our butt really good. But I'll tell ya, that one wasn't as bad as the second one."
The second meeting was the wildest. A back-and-forth affair in which the teams were never separated by more than 10 points, Tulsa took a 45-37 lead with 3:28 to go. Houston took 3:07 of that time to score a touchdown and had to attempt a two-point conversion to tie the score but Tulsa sacked then-Houston quarterback Case Keenum on the conversion attempt, allowing the Golden Hurricane to hang on to a 45-43 lead and, seemingly, the game, with 21 seconds left.
Then it got crazy. Houston recovered its onside kick attempt, ran three plays with no timeouts (an incomplete pass, a 14-yard Keenum pass to James Cleveland and 13-yard pass to Tyron Carrier) and got out of bounds on the final play from scrimmage with three seconds left to set up a 51-yard field goal attempt for a freshman walk-on kicker, Matt Hogan.
The attempt split the uprights and had plenty of distance to spare, and the Cougars escaped with a 46-45 win.
"That was just a different game," Sumlin said Tuesday. "We actually went for two and didn't get it and still ended up winning the game somehow. I really don't know what happened at the end it's been so long ago. The way [Graham] has done things, those were always fun and electric games for the fans and for our teams to play in."
Graham did get the last laugh, however, in 2010 when Tulsa defeated Houston 28-25. The Golden Hurricane led 28-10 at one point, and Houston rallied to pull within three but after an interception by Tulsa's Marco Nelson of Houston quarterback David Piland with 5:39 remaining, Tulsa was able to run the remaining time out.
Both coaches, now at Power 5 conference programs and entering their fourth season at their respective schools, spoke of the respect they have for each other based on their competitive past.
"He's been consistent with that and had nothing but success," Sumlin said of Graham. "Any time you turn the tape on, you understand that."
Said Graham: "A lot of respect for Coach [Sumlin] and the job that he's done. Obviously, we know we've got our hands full."
9hSam Khan Jr. and Derek Tyson
4hKevin Gemmell and Sam Khan Jr.
12hDerek Tyson and Erik McKinney