ARLINGTON, Texas – Devon Achane rushed for 159 yards and a touchdown, Demani Richardson sprinted the final 82 yards on a wild fumble return for another score and No. 23 Texas A&M beat 10th-ranked Arkansas 23-21 on Saturday night.
The Razorbacks (3-1, 1-1 SEC) had a chance to take the lead with 1:30 remaining, but Cam Little’s 42-yard field goal attempt from the left hashmark hit near the top of the right upright – and fluttered to the ground in the end zone no good. That drive came right after the Aggies had missed a longer field goal attempt.
Texas A&M (3-1, 1-0) has back-to-back wins over ranked teams since that embarrassing 17-14 home loss to Appalachian State two weeks ago. The conference opener for the Aggies came a week after a 17-9 win over then-No. 13 Miami, which then dropped 12 spots and now will be unranked after a 45-31 loss at home against Middle Tennessee State earlier Saturday.
“We’re by far not close to where we need. We have to fix some self-inflicted wounds, got to clean things up,” Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher said. “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, and it’s very encouraging.”
Arkansas led 14-0 after TD passes by KJ Jefferson on consecutive drives in the first quarter. He first threw a screen that Ketron Jackson turned into a 32-yard score before finding Warren Thompson wide open behind the secondary for a 56-yarder.
But after the Razorbacks responded to Max Johnson‘s 10-yard TD pass to Evan Stewart by driving 72 yards in 11 plays to the 3, Jefferson for some reason tried to leap over the blocking linemen at the 3 and lost the ball.
“That’s a tough one. Give A&M all the credit in the world, they fought back from 14 down,” Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman said. “They had a couple of big plays … and certainly a big fumble recovery.”
Jefferson ended up going straight up instead and the ball was knocked out of his hands by linebacker Chris Russell and was picked out of the air by Tyreek Chappell, who took off the other way and found himself in the standing grasp of running back Raheim Sanders near the 20. But he handed the ball to Richardson, who took it to the end zone.
“Big momentum play. That helped us a lot,” Achane said.
Fisher said he didn’t “know if it saved us, but it made it a lot easier to win.”
Even though the Aggies failed to convert the tying extra point, that touchdown was part of 23 consecutive points. They went ahead for good on Achane’s 9-yard TD that capped the opening drive of the second half for a 20-14 lead.
Johnson, the LSU transfer, was 11-of-21 passing for 151 yards in his second A&M start. Jefferson completed 12 of 19 passes for 171 yards and ran 18 times for 105 yards. Jefferson had a 6-yard scoring run with 10 minutes left in the game.
Texas A&M: The Aggies recovered from their slow start offensively, when they went 3-and-out on their first four drives. They trailed 14-0 before getting their initial first down on a 63-yard run by Achane midway through the second quarter.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks missed a chance to have consecutive 4-0 starts for the first time since 1988-89, which was still a couple of seasons before joining the SEC. The Hogs haven’t won their first two SEC games since 2006. They got to 4-0 overall last year with a win over the Aggies, who had won nine in a row in the series before that.
The Aggies will regain a few of the spots they’ve lost since being sixth in the preseason and through the first week, but they will still be quite a way from being back in the top 10. Arkansas will certainly slip.
Arkansas is at home to play No. 2 Alabama next Saturday.
Texas A&M travels to Mississippi State next Saturday for the second of four consecutive games away from Kyle Field.