Arkansas fought to the end with a chance to win the game, but as the final gun sounded it was a familiar sight in this series with Texas A&M taking a 31-27 victory.
The Aggies held the Razorbacks off in the final drive to take the victory. A Ben Hicks pass intended for tight end Cheyenne O’Grady fell to the turf ending Arkansas’ hopes.
Hicks, who came in for the injured Nick Starkel late in the second quarter, was 15 of 27 for 188 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. He also rushed three times for 17 yards. Chad Morris had praise for Hicks following the game.
“I thought Ben was very much calm and during the moment and I thought he did an incredible job coming in in a tough situation and really responded,” Morris said. “It says a lot about his pride and character and a lot about preparation because he was definitely prepared and he did give us a chance. I’m excited what he was able to do moving the football down the field.”
Hicks and the Razorbacks took over at their own 25 with 3:52 remaining in the game. Hicks, not known for his running, gave Arkansas a lift on the drive when they faced a third-and-22 play at the A&M 36. Hicks was pressured, but broken a tackle and gained 17 yards on the play to the Aggies 19. That set up the fourth-and-five play that saw Hicks try to hit O’Grady.
“We were in position to win,” Morris said. “A lot of young men and coaches hurting right now. I love their fight. At some point this thing is going to roll our way. I absolutely love their fight. And we’ll continue to respond.”
It might be easy to speculate that A&M overlooked Arkansas, but Jimbo Fisher quickly shot that down following the game.
“They didn’t overlook,” Fisher said. “We practiced our tails off. No, they didn’t overlook them. They just knew they didn’t play the best we could. You know, a player knows or a coach knows and we all do — we enjoy the wins and things.
“But ours is about our performance, how we do things, and they understand that. But you still celebrate wins. You have a win and you appreciate them. But you understand there’s a lot of work to do and things we have got to get fixed.”
Starkel was 12 of 17 for 109 yards and an interception. It was the interception he got hurt on. He tackled A&M’s Justin Madubuike following the interception and injured his left arm.
The Aggies couldn’t make the Razorbacks pay for the turnover though. On the very next play with a first down at its own 18, Texas A&M running back Isaiah Spiller was knocked loose from the football by Arkansas’ Gabe Richardson at the Aggies 10. Arkansas linebacker De’Jon Harris scooped and scored from the six to pull the Razorbacks within 14-10 with 5:30 remaining in the first half.
Morris was proud of how the Arkansas defense reacted following the turnover.
“Yeah, especially when you turn the ball over inside the 5-yard line,” Morris said. “That was a heartbreaker right there. That was a great drive and for us on the very next play defensively to create a turnover and scoop and score was really big.”
Arkansas has now scored three defensive touchdowns this season in five games. Safety Kamren Curl talked about that after the game.
“That’s something we emphasize, getting turnovers,” Curl said. “Anytime we score, that’s what we want to do. Coach has instilled that in us and scoring on defense did good for us.”
It wasn’t just Hicks that stepped up big in absence of an injured starter. True freshman wide receiver Trey Knox missed the game due to a recurring hip injured he suffered against Ole Miss.
“I thought, offensively, it was the-next-man-up mentality,” Morris said. “I was very proud with Trey Knox not playing and the addition with Koilan Jackson coming in and Tyson Morris. Those guys were making some plays.
“And, defensively, I thought we pressured the quarterback. I thought that was evident. I thought we played aggressive, and that’s how we wanted to play. but, you know, scored on defense, created a turnover, scored on defense, got an interception. I thought we played good enough to win and give us a chance.”
Despite the play of Hicks, Morris cut off any talk about the quarterback job reopening when Starkel is able to return.
“Nick’s our starter,” Morris said. “He had an arm contusion, the left arm, and lost strength, couldn’t grip the ball. And so we thought that, as the second half came on, would it lead to anything. And he was trying to throw the ball after half, but just — I felt that Ben [Hicks] was comfortable and the moment was not too big for him. And so I thought that was our decision, and he wasn’t able to go back in.”
Morris also talked about the last play where they tried to find O’Grady.
“Well, on the fourth-down play, we were trying to slip C.J. up underneath,” Morris said. “And they did a good job. You know, they did not pursue like we thought the linebackers would flow. And so, you know, it was fourth down. It was making sure you don’t end the game with the ball in your hands. I thought we gave ourselves a chance with that. I thought that we overcame a lot of adversity on that fourth-down drive. We had to convert a fourth down, and we did. We covered a guy up, and we had a shift and a motion and not getting set.
“And so, again, those are the things we’ve got to eliminate. But we were able to overcome each of those mistakes to give us a chance to win the game. And that says a lot about the resiliency of all those players out there.”
Hicks talked about having the football for the chance to win the game on the last drive.
“I was excited,” Hicks said. “We had played well. We had been driving the ball most of the second half. We just came off a long drive and got a field goal so, I believed in what we were doing. Obviously, it was four-down territory to try and go out there and win the game. I knew I had four downs to get it every time. I tried to take some chances, but also play the system.”
Arkansas will now get its first bye of the season giving them two weeks to prepare for Kentucky. The Razorbacks (2-3) have now lost their last two games. Morris talked about the timing of the bye week.
“Well, I do,” Morris said when asked if he liked it. “I think it’s been a long grind since the 1st of August. And I think these guys need a mental break for just a couple of days and step back physically and let’s get healthy as we go into playing five more conference games. And so that’s what we’ll do.
“We’ll step back, step away from it tomorrow. We will be back in there on Monday, go back through the video, and be back out on the field Monday night, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week. Our players will have Friday and Saturday to unplug and get back in here Sunday ready to go.”