When Texas A&M head football Jimbo Fisher left Kyle Field after his team suffered a monumental 17-14 upset to visiting Appalachian State on Sept. 10, he knew there was plenty of work left ahead to turn around his team’s season.
Fisher’s smile Saturday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, was not meant to be a sign that the job was complete.
But after a 17-9 home win over Miami on Sept. 17 and a 23-21 Southwest Classic neutral field victory over No. 10 Arkansas, the path is at least a little rosier for the Aggies (3-1, 1-0) .
“It was a heck of a game,” Fisher said. “We’re by far not close to where we need to be. We have to fix some self-inflicted wounds, got to clean things up. But we beat two good football teams not playing very well, not at the top of our game, but playing well at times and still competing and making plays when we had to. That’s very encouraging.
“Now we just got to get things fixed and grind on it. We’re a work in progress in what we have to do, and we have to keep grinding, but very proud of the guys we have.”
A&M survived when Arkansas field goal kicker Cam Littles 42-yard field goal hit the top of the right goal post and bounced harmlessly away with 1:37 left
Fisher did not think Little’s field goal was going to be good or that Aggies field goal kicker Randy Bond with xx was going to go wide.
“When he (Little) kicked it, I thought it was going to be wide right,” Fisher said. “ The angle I had — I couldn’t see. When he kicked it, I thought it was going wide right completely. I really did. Thought ours was going to go through.
“Bond hit his really good. He was right there. When he kicked it, I thought it looked good from my angle. My angles were bad both sides, weren’t they?”
Devon Achane rushed for a career 159 yards a touchdown and Demani Richardson ran the final 82 of a 98-yard fumble return for a score after Razorback quarterback KJ Jefferson fumbled at the 2.
Jefferson, who passed for 171 yards and 2 touchdown and rushed for 105 yards and another score, lost the ball while inexplicably trying to leap his offensive linemen and into the end zone.
The fumble was caused by linebacker Chris Russell, was caught in the air by Tryeek Chapell, who then – while being in the grasp of Arkansas tailback Rocket Sanders- handed the ball to Richardson, who raced to end zone.
Instead of Arkansas talking a 21-7 lead, Texas A&M cut the deficit to 14-13 ands although it botched the extra point, and were in the middle of scoring 23 unanswered points.
“I don’t know if it saved it, but it made it a lot easier to win,” Fisher said. “I think we came back and then played well. We had a good drive on offense. We gave up a drive on defense. We got that play, and it was back. That was a big play in the game.
“That’s what big games are. Whether it’s a pass, whether it’s a run, whether it’s a fumble, those are
the kind of things you got to have. We were making plays that we had to make to win the game,
and they made a great one on defense.”
The Razorbacks cut the Aggies lead to 23-21 on Jefferson’s 6-yard touchdown run with 10:05 left.
Bond then missed a 53-yard field goal attempt with 6:30 left giving Arkansas a chance to pull out the win.
The Razorbacks drove to the Texas A&M 16, but a bad snap resulted in nine lost yards and Little’s potential game-winning boot went awry and the Aggies survived.
Fisher lauded his team for staying in the game after falling down 14-0 in the first quarter.
“There’s heart and character in these guys and there’s want-to and there’s competitiveness and there’s talent and they can make play,” Fisher said. “ We just have to learn to be consistent and learn to take a deep breath and let one play come at a time and just do our job and go to the next one and next one, and not get outcome-oriented and not want to do too much too early.
“You know what I’m saying? And just play the play in front of us.”
Archane’s 9-yard touchdown run on the opening drive of the second half gave Texas A&M a 20-14 lead and the Aggies pushed that to 23-14 on Bond’s 31-yard field goal with 3:48 left in the the quarter.
It was a vastly different offense than the one that was out-gained 173-28 in the first quarter by Arkansas, who would end up with a 415-343 total offense advantage.
“It was this thing called execution,” Fisher said. “Relaxing, not having the nerves. And the same calls, the same plays. We just executed them. You know what I mean?
“I know that sounds crazy. Well, that’s what it is. It’s relaxing and doing your job. It’s that simple.
There is no magic formula why you do it why you don’t do it. You just got to relax and do it at the
beginning and all the way through. It’s that simple.”
Archane, who had a 63-yard dash to set up the Aggies; first score, does not believe his team lucked into the win.
“Definitely not,” Archane said. “ I feel like we had to gut that win out. I feel like offense, defense, all sides of the ball had to gut that win out. I feel like nothing that we did was lucky today.
“I feel like we fought hard. We executed. They made plays, we made plays. But I just feel like we gutted that win out and I feel like we won that game.”
Photo by John D. James