ARLINGTON -- Paging: Mariano Rivera.
Could the King of Closers please report to the Texas A&M football locker room? Or at least send a blueprint for coach Mike Sherman and the 14th-ranked Aggies to follow the next time they try to protect a seemingly insurmountable lead down the stretch?
Sherman seemed out of ideas, and out of patience, Saturday in Cowboys Stadium after A&M squandered an 18-point halftime lead in a 42-38 loss to No. 18 Arkansas. That's because the latest second-half swoon by the Aggies (2-2) looked an awful lot like the one from last week, when A&M frittered away a 17-point halftime lead in a 30-29 loss to No. 5 Oklahoma State.
A reliable closer definitely is needed in Aggieland, where A&M has been outscored by a combined margin of 52-12 in the second half the past two weeks. Included is a 31-0 mark in the third quarter, with Arkansas (4-1) contributing a 10-0 swing to that total Saturday.
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Lay the blame wherever you choose: an offense that loses steam as the game unfolds, failing to pad early leads; or a defense that can't create timely turnovers and stops with the game on the line. Both are equally culpable, in Sherman's estimation.
Combine the two and, suddenly, the Aggies are on the brink of falling out of the Top 25 -- depending on the whims of poll voters -- and Sherman is openly questioning his players and assistant coaches.
"It's a travesty that we didn't win this football game," said Sherman, whose team lost despite a 381-71 edge in rushing yards. "We're contributing to our demise in the second half. We have to play better, coach better and be better in order to win football games."
Particularly galling to Sherman was a second consecutive defensive collapse in which an opposing quarterback established a school record for passing yards. Saturday's spotlight belonged to Arkansas' Tyler Wilson, who racked up 510 yards just one week after OSU's Brandon Weeden struck for 438.
Sherman dropped strong hints Saturday that personnel changes are imminent on a defense that has underachieved despite the presence of eight returning starters and a secondary that defensive end Tony Jerod-Eddie touted as "the greatest ... in the country" before the OSU game.
"On the defensive side, we definitely have to shore up some things," Sherman said. "We have to look at personnel really hard. We have a bunch of youngsters that are waiting to play that I'm always pushing the envelope with our (position) coaches. They like the experience. I like the talent. So we'll have some heart-to-hearts this week, particularly on Monday, about which direction we're going to go and make sure that what happened today doesn't happen again."
Sherman said A&M's leaky defense made him unwilling to roll the dice on a couple of fourth-and-short opportunities in the second half for fear of providing a short field for the Arkansas offense -- which averaged 7.2 yards per snap -- if A&M did not convert. Both times, the Razorbacks took the punt and responded with touchdowns. When A&M did roll the dice on its final drive, Christine Michael (career-high 230 yards, 7.2 per carry) was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-2 with 1:15 remaining.
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino praised his team for putting in "a full day's work to win that one." A&M cornerback Terrence Frederick, on the other hand, struggled to explain why the Aggies could not maintain control of a game they led 35-17 at the half.
"Our focus got away from us," Frederick said. "At halftime, we knew we were pretty much in the same situation we were in last week. But we went out there and we didn't execute. On both sides of the ball. We've just got to learn how to play four quarters."
The explanation sounded remarkably similar to what the Aggies said after watching OSU erase a 20-3 halftime deficit in last week's comeback. The common theme is that the A&M defense has not forced a turnover in its last 15 quarters.
A&M collected one last week, when a fumble in the open field by OSU receiver Justin Blackmon rolled out of the end zone, but the Aggies' pressure-oriented defense has not been directly involved in a takeaway since the first quarter of a 46-14 victory over SMU on Sept. 4. The Aggies' offense, on the other hand, has had eight turnovers in the past three weeks, including two against Arkansas.
"That's a big, big problem," linebacker Sean Porter said of the turnover disparity. "Our linebackers and defensive linemen need to step up and create more pressure."
Someone also needs to make the telling play in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. For two consecutive weeks, A&M's inability to find a closer in crunch time has resulted in a missed opportunity to take down a Top 25 opponent.
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Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760