COLLEGE STATION -- The first meltdown elicited angry words from players and coaches. Meltdown No. 2 caused Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman to express ongoing frustration and bench two starters.
This time? Sherman seemed shell-shocked and at a loss for answers Saturday after No. 16 A&M frittered away its third double-digit halftime lead of the season while falling to Missouri 38-31 in overtime.
The difference, of course, is that these Tigers (4-4, 2-3 in Big 12) hardly run with the nation's elite, like No. 3 Oklahoma State or No. 10 Arkansas -- the teams that dealt A&M its first two gut-wrenching losses during a season that began with BCS bowl hopes and Big 12 title dreams.
Instead, Missouri showed up at Kyle Field simply hoping to get back in the bowl picture. The Tigers did so by rallying from an 11-point halftime deficit in a manner that mirrored the script from previous second-half collapses against OSU (17 points) and Arkansas (18 points).
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But with one significant, and stunning, plot twist. The Tigers did not plunder the nation's most porous pass defense, as their predecessors had done.
Instead, Missouri simply ran the ball down the Aggies' throats (284 yards, 3 TDs), exposing a unit that entered as the Big 12's stingiest run defense (79.9 yards per game, 2.4 per carry) and ranked fifth nationally.
Aided by ill-timed A&M turnovers and penalties, Missouri outscored the Aggies 21-3 during the second half and overtime. A&M (5-3, 2-2) managed only a field goal in its final eight possessions despite racking up 500 yards of total offense for the day. How bad was this loss?
"Very devastating," said linebacker Sean Porter, who finished with five tackles and one sack. "We're a team that had high expectations coming into the year. This is bad. It's not what we expected at all."
But it has become the Aggies' reality. And these recurring second-half meltdowns have derailed any realistic championship hopes for A&M heading into next week's game at No. 9 Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1).
"Yeah, it takes away goals but we're not done," said quarterback Ryan Tannehill, summing up a swoon that included three second-half turnovers. "I'm here to play a full season ... A loss is a loss. They all feel terrible."
This one, however, came with serious consequences in the Big 12 race, which is led by OSU (8-0, 5-0).
It raised questions about whether A&M will be ready next year to play the best teams in the Southeastern Conference if it can't even beat Missouri, a .500 team pondering an SEC future.
And it caused the Aggies to struggle for answers about why they can be so prolific in the first half yet so listless after intermission.
Can this team rebound mentally from Meltdown No. 3?
"I don't know," Porter said, noting that these Aggies are "a completely different team" than the one that responded to last year's home loss to Missouri with a season-turning, six-game winning streak.
"Even though we only lost a few seniors, it changed our team a lot," Porter said. "We have different leaders. I'm sure the coaches will challenge us. I don't know how we'll react."
Sherman was stoic in discussing another win that got away, this time against a 10-point underdog. The Aggies moved 41 and 43 yards with their first two possessions of the second half, each with an opportunity to build on a 28-17 halftime lead. But one drive ended in a fumble, the other in a punt. Should the game have been put away on those possessions?
"I think we should have, no question," Sherman said.
But Missouri hung around, eventually turning the momentum in the fourth quarter with Randy Ponder's 45-yard interception return, followed by a pair of scoring runs from quarterback James Franklin (97 yards, 2 TDs) and tailback Henry Josey (162 yards, 1 TD).
Once in overtime, the Tigers sealed the deal with Franklin's 11-yard scoring toss to Marcus Lucas and nose guard Dominique Hamilton's deflection of Tannehill's final, fourth-down pass. The victory marked Missouri's first road triumph over a ranked team since 1997, when the Tigers beat No. 12 Oklahoma State 51-50 in double overtime.
A&M's biggest second-half highlight? Cornerback Terrence Frederick collected the defense's first fumble recovery since last year's Texas game in the third quarter. Otherwise ... not much.
With Big 12 and national titles out of the question, what can this team still accomplish?
"The only thing I want to accomplish right now is to win next week," said Sherman, whose record dipped to 24-22 in his A&M tenure. "I worry about it one week at a time."
Linebacker Jonathan Stewart said the burden falls on the defense.
"We have to finish plays," Stewart said. "We let this one get away."
Same song, third verse in A&M's season of missed opportunities.
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Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760