With QB Problems Gone, Texas A&M Forging Identity as Sneaky CFP Contender

As star defensive lineman Myles Garrett made an early exit and limped to the locker room to begin his postgame treatment for an injured ankle, the final unlikely thing occurred during No. 10 Texas A&M’s 45-24 win against Arkansas at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Sealing the victory wasn’t a running back or a key catch by one of the Aggies’ prized receivers, but a designed run by the quarterback on 3rd-and-9 at his own 10-yard line. For 62 yards, Trevor Knight kept running until a Razorback finally stopped him.

“I really wish I would have put that one in the end zone,” Knight told ESPN’s Holly Rowe before the broadcast signed off.

By the time it did, Texas A&M (4-0) had presented a very strong case as to why it’s a legitimate contender this season, not only to challenge No. 1 Alabama atop the Southeastern Conference’s West Division, but possibly a whole lot more.

A big part of it has to do with the addition of Knight, who, as a senior graduate transfer, was hoped to be the key missing piece and bring a lot of stability to the Aggies. Saturday night against No. 17 Arkansas he showed poise, made some key throws and at one point helped his offense score 28 unanswered points to pull away.

The career-high 157 rushing yards looked pretty good, too, especially the touchdown runs of 48 and 42 yards. Either Arkansas was too stubborn to make an adjustment, or it couldn’t, because he ended up being the game’s leading rusher.

In the air, Knight went 12-of-25 for 225 yards and two passing touchdowns, and no interceptions. The offense gained 591 total yards and showed improvement on third down (8-of-12), but not the red zone, where both teams made some bad mistakes.

Regardless, welcome to the upper echelon of the SEC West, Texas A&M. With Knight’s contributions the Aggies look like they might be a complete team, the kind that could even challenge for a playoff spot.

Everyone knew about the Aggies passing attack and its talented receivers this season, but Texas A&M ran for 366 rushing yards against the physical Razorbacks, with running back Trayveon Williams joining Knight with 150-plus yards.

Coordinator John Chavis‘ defense was equal to the task, and Garrett and Co. absolutely punished Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen, who was diagnosed with a bruised chest muscle in the first half, and continued to take hit after hit while throwing for a career-high 371 yards. 

But what was most impressive about Texas A&M was the way that it pulled off such a resounding victory, as big plays were being made all over the field, and not just by the quick-strike offense.

Among them were defensive lineman Daeshon Hall’s strip-sack that led to a touchdown, safety Armani Watts forcing a fumble from Rawleigh Williams just short of the end zone near the end of the first half and Garrett continually applying pressure despite playing with an injury suffered on a low block. 

“All year people have been saying our defense is like tissue, so there’s a chip on our shoulder,” Watts told Texas A&M’s sideline reporter. “We remember that every snap we go out there.” 

And then there’s the sequence that changed the fortunes of both teams

Just after Texas A&M pulled off a goal-line stand to stop a 19-play drive the Aggies needed just two plays to score, with Knight connecting with Josh Reynolds for a 92-yard touchdown. It only made the score 24-17, but the game was essentially over at that point.

Arkansas was still dominating the time of possession, and Texas A&M didn’t care. It was playing with a swagger, a confidence that really hadn’t been seen by the Aggies since Johnny Manziel, only without the drama.

The Aggies can be pretty tough to beat when they don’t have quarterback issues like the ones that plagued the team again last year, with one-time prized prospects Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray opting out and nearly leaving Texas A&M high and dry.

That doesn’t mean A&M doesn’t have concerns. As usual when it faces Arkansas the team is physically beat up. In addition to Garrett’s ankle, wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones was in a walking boot along the sideline and safety Justin Evans is dealing with a couple of injuries (shoulder and knee).

Head coach Kevin Sumlin didn’t comment on anyone’s status as his team heads into the meat of its SEC schedule, which takes on a much different slant following Saturday’s results. October will feature a three-week stretch in which the three remaining undefeated teams—Alabama, Tennessee and Texas A&M—will all face one other.

The Aggies host the Volunteers on Oct. 8, and then visit Tuscaloosa a week later, when the SEC West could be all-but decided. The Third Saturday in October Rivalry will be the subsequent week with the Crimson Tide visiting Knoxville on Oct. 22.

Might it be a winner-take-all stretch? Possibly, with all of the league’s one-loss teams, and even those with two, hoping that they’ll annihilate each other. All’s fair in the SEC, after all.

With the victory, Texas A&M has won five straight in its growing rivalry with Arkansas, but this time it looked and acted like a Top 10 team. It seems ready to be back in the spotlight, and better equipped to handle the attention that goes with being a contender, especially considering how the leadership has gone from being a weakness to a strength due to players like Knight.

“I like our demeanor right now,” Sumlin said during his postgame press conference

       

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

Read more SEC Football news on BleacherReport.com


Source: Bleacher Report -SEC Football

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