Kliff Kingsbury told you this would happen.
Maybe it did not unfold in the decisive manner that No. 14 Texas A&M would have liked, or that the Texas Tech football coach suggested. But the Aggies slipped out of AT&T Stadium with a 28-21 overtime triumph over Arkansas in Saturday’s SEC opener for both teams.
The gut-wrenching, white-knuckle triumph was hardly the butt-kicking that Kingsbury predicted after his Red Raiders rolled the Razorbacks 35-24 last week in Fayetteville, Ark. But the victory kept the Aggies (4-0, 1-0 in SEC) undefeated and provided coach Kevin Sumlin with some points to stress heading into three consecutive matchups against teams that defeated A&M during last year’s winless October stretch against league foes.
Case in point: Sumlin said the Aggies were not deflated Saturday when kicker Taylor Bertolet missed a 38-yard field goal on the final snap of regulation that forced the contest into overtime.
Instead, they scored the winning points on the second snap of overtime on a 20-yard strike from quarterback Kyle Allen to freshman receiver Christian Kirk, then got a defensive stop on fourth down to seal the deal in front of an announced crowd of 67,339.
“The effort and the resilience, I thought, were good,” Sumlin said. “Our self-talk on the sideline was as good as I’ve ever heard it. And it wasn’t fake. Throughout the middle part of last year, we were a little shaky in that area.”
But the Aggies stepped up and handed the Razorbacks (1-3, 0-1 in SEC) their third consecutive setback after opening the season as a Top 25 team. A&M won despite a 232-65 shortfall in rushing yards and despite running a season-low 48 plays because Arkansas maintained ball control for 39:28 of the 60 minutes during regulation.
The Aggies won because Kirk (8 catches, 173 yards, 2 TDs) made big plays in crunch time, along with defensive end Myles Garrett, who set up Bertolet’s last-second field goal opportunity with a sack and forced fumble that snuffed out Arkansas’ final fourth-quarter drive in a 21-21 game.
Garrett, an Arlington Martin graduate, said the defense’s ability to rebound with another stop in overtime to support the offense bodes well for the team heading into a three-game gauntlet that begins next week against Mississippi State, followed by matchups against No. 12 Alabama and No. 3 Ole Miss.
A&M fell to all three teams last season, getting outscored by a combined 142-51 margin during a season-turning stretch that eliminated the team’s SEC title hopes.
Garrett felt a different vibe Saturday.
“This year, we’ve got the right pieces in every spot to come together and make big plays on both sides so we don’t have one side carrying the other,” he said.
Whether the Aggies made meaningful defensive strides against Arkansas that will work against elite SEC teams remains to be season.
A&M squandered a 13-7 lead while watching the Razorbacks roll for touchdown drives covering 77 and 80 yards.
Arkansas, leading 21-13, missed a chance to put the game away when its 10-play, 54-yard march to the A&M 35-yard line stalled because of an illegal procedure penalty.
The Aggies rallied after the punt, with Allen taking the team 85 yards in five plays.
Allen found Josh Reynolds for the game-tying, 2-point conversion after Tra Carson’s 2-yard touchdown blast with 2:50 remaining, then found Kirk for the game-winner in overtime. The surge completed a fourth-quarter and overtime rally to beat Arkansas for a second consecutive season and convinced Allen that the Aggies are headed in the right direction as they prepare to tackle the meat of their SEC schedule.
“We don’t give up and we don’t tire out,” Allen said. “We wear down our opponent so we can step up in the fourth quarter. Coming down the stretch, I was confident we could make plays and get ourselves back in the game. On the sideline, everyone was focused.”
Eventually, everything turned out fine. Just like Kingsbury predicted.
But Sumlin knows his defense must do a better job of making opposing offenses one-dimensional if A&M is to emerge as an SEC contender.
Arkansas rushed for 232 yards and passed for 225. Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen threw only five incompletions (20-of-25) and connected on his first 13 passes to start the contest. But the big takeaway, to Sumlin, came in an intangible he spotted in crunch tine.
“I’m proud of the look in our guys’ eyes in the fourth quarter and overtime,” Sumlin said. “It was one of confidence and I hadn’t seen that in a while from this team.”
How long it lasts will depend on how well the Aggies handle their upcoming three-game gauntlet, starting next week against Mississippi State.