On the one hand, Texas A&M can argue that a 31-27 win over Arkansas is an SEC win no matter what anyone says, and not only that, most of the Aggies’ games here at JerryWorld are nail-biters, regardless of rankings or rationale.
ARLINGTON — On the one hand, Texas A&M can argue that a 31-27 win over Arkansas is an SEC win no matter what anyone says, and not only that, most of the Aggies’ games here at JerryWorld are nail-biters, regardless of rankings or rationale.
On the other, the 23rd-ranked Aggies nearly lost Sept. 28 to a team that got clipped at home two weeks ago by the likes of San Jose State and didn’t look so hot against Portland State.
Not to mention it was a back-up quarterback that nearly did in the Aggies last week.
So the $75 million question to Jimbo Fisher was, basically, how does a four-point win over a 23.5-point underdog feel?
“There’s no bad wins,” he said. “There’s no such thing. But by no means am I happy, satisfied or content with what we’re doing, how we’re doing and the way we’re doing it.”
Give the man credit for understanding his predicament, because after a bye week, four of the Aggies’ seven remaining games are against Alabama, Mississippi State, Georgia and LSU.
And if they don’t play any better than they did against Arkansas, that’s looking like 6-6, at best.
Not exactly what the Aggies expected when they broke the bank for Jimbo, is it?
Kellen Mond had his best performance of an up-and-down season, and it’s a good thing, because the Aggies leaned heavily on him. He completed 23 of 35 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns and ran 14 times for 67 yards, though 34 of those were lost on four sacks. The Aggies’ offensive line couldn’t protect Mond, and it couldn’t open holes against a defense that hadn’t stopped anyone all year. A&M finished with just 89 yards rushing, which wasn’t a fluke.
Fisher has yet to figure out how to muster a running game this season, and that puts pressure on Mond. The offensive game plan against Arkansas called for more zone read options, a timely development. Jimbo picked Mond over Nick Starkel -- who, coincidentally, started for Arkansas -- because of Starkel’s propensity for turnovers and the fact that Mond’s more athletic. Gives the offense another dimension.
But the Aggies hadn’t really taken advantage of Mond’s athleticism this season until a play in the fourth quarter turned the game.
Facing third and 9 at the A&M 26, up by one point, Mond looked over the field, didn’t see anyone open and took off. Picked up 18 yards to the 44.
Seven plays later, Seth Small -- who enjoyed some redemption of his own after missing two field goals last week in a loss to Auburn -- kicked a 50-yarder.
If A&M fails to deliver those three points, the Hogs don’t have to go for the end zone on their last drive.
Ben Hicks came within inches of pulling it off. The former SMU quarterback relieved Starkel after the Argyle Liberty Christian ex injured his left arm while tackling Justin Madubuike after throwing a touchdown-killing interception. Hicks, who’d begun the season as Arkansas’ starter, twice rallied the Razorbacks to leads Saturday. He had his team on the brink of a third with 37 seconds left after escaping a sack for a 17-yard gain to A&M’s 19, setting up a fourth-and-5 with 37 seconds left.
Harassed and off-balance, Hicks flung a pass toward big Cheyenne O’Grady, his most reliable receiver, who was double-covered. The ball somehow slipped through the arms of the Aggies’ Buddy Johnson and bounced off O’Grady. Both players fell to their knees in disbelief.
Johnson said he was happy with the win, not simply relieved, but that’s not how it seemed on the field. Only a week after scattered boos pelted the Hogs as they walked off the field in the wake of a loss to San Jose State, Arkansas fans stood and applauded their team.
“We all knew that the performance last week was unacceptable,” Morris said. “How we responded was the only thing that matters, and it’s why we got the results that we did.
“We’ve just got to find a way to win. And that’s really all this is. We have to find a way to win a game like this. And we will.”
Fisher said he needs to watch some film before he knows what all it’s going to take to prepare A&M for the toughest part of a brutal schedule. He got improved play from an inconsistent receiving corps, including six points and 80 yards from freshman Ainias Smith, described by one Aggie coach as “a touchdown waiting to happen.”
Whatever else Jimbo finds, he’s got a good idea of what he needs most. His quarterback wasn’t bad, he said, but he made a couple of “critical mistakes” that need to be fixed.
Fisher’s final take? “He can play much better than that.”
Until he gets more help, he’ll have to. Beating Arkansas is one thing. The brunt of the big, bad SEC beckons.