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Texas A&M hopes another fast start comes with a strong finish

Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire

Texas A&M’s motto the last few seasons could have been “tease but don’t please.” Fast fades have followed fast starts as sure as kickoffs follow scoring plays.

But on the last Sunday of September, Aggies fans are gigging giddy over the prospects. In a battle of ranked Southeastern Conference West Division teams in Arlington, Texas, Saturday night, No. 10 Texas A&M turned away No. 17 Arkansas, 45-24.

As fans tend to do, the Gig ‘Em gang is eagerly looking forward to Oct. 8 (and never mind next Saturday’s game at South Carolina). Texas A&M, No. 9 in this week’s Associated Press poll, will welcome No. 11 Tennessee to College Station.

Assuming the Vols don’t fall at Georgia Saturday, the game between 5-0 and possibly top 10 teams will be the biggest in the state of Texas that day. And if you don’t think Aggies fans want a showdown game at Kyle Field that will have more national attention than the Oklahoma-Texas Red River Rivalry in Dallas that day, your College Football Fan Card is hereby revoked.

The Aggies’ recent issues with quarterback/play leadership and a porous defense have not been evident through four games.

Trevor Knight, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma, is on his way to becoming an Aggies Legend. Against the Razorbacks, he was a modest 12-of-22 passing but his completions went for 225 yards and two touchdowns. Knight was even more productive running the ball, gaining 157 yards on 10 carries. He scoring runs of 42 and 48 yards in the first half.

“We’re trying to grow with Trevor. I think tonight he struggled early throwing, but he got running, and that was it,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “Somebody asked me what his best stat is, and I said it’s winning.”

This game matched old Southwest Conference foes. Arkansas abandoned the SWC and joined the SEC in 1992. The Aggies left the Big 12 for their new home in 2012. Since then, the Razorbacks are 0-5 against Texas A&M. The last three victories have come at AT&T Stadium as the teams are in the middle of a 10-year deal to play in the Dallas Cowboys’ home.

And while the Aggies’ victories over the Hogs have come early in fast starts that have typically faded to mediocre finishes, Saturday night produced a different feel because of how Texas A&M stonewalled the Razorbacks with goal-line stands. Those missed chances squandered a possible 18 points.

In the second quarter with the score tied 7-7, Arkansas had seven “and goal” plays from the A&M 2-yard line thanks to two defensive penalties. The Razorbacks had to settle for a field goal. On the Hogs’ next series, running back Rawleigh Williams fumbled as he was stripped heading into the end zone; the Aggies recovered on their 1-yard line.

24 SEP 2016: Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Austin Allen (8) is stopped on a goal line stand during the Southwest Classic football game between Arkansas Razorbacks and Texas A&M Aggies at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. (Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire)

24 SEP 2016: Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Austin Allen (8) is stopped on a goal line stand during the Southwest Classic football game between Arkansas Razorbacks and Texas A&M Aggies at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. (Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire)

With the score tied at 17-all, Arkansas mounted a 19-play, 89-yard drive that reached the A&M 2-yard line. Four plays netted negative five yards. Two plays later, Knight connected with Josh Reynolds for a 92-yard touchdown pass that gave the Aggies the lead for good.

”A big-time momentum-changer,” Knight said.

The Arkansas game was another example of Knight playing his “A” game. Against Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl, he unexpectedly through for 348 yards and four touchdowns for Oklahoma. But OU went 8-5 with Knight as the quarterback in 2014 and then he lost the starting job to Baker Mayfield last season.

An off-season of quarterback musical chairs led Knight, who had earned his degree at Oklahoma, to graduate to College Station and play his final season with the Aggies.

“Xs and Os, that’s going to win us ball games, yes,” Knight said.

“But I really think it’s our team chemistry right now. I think that’s starting to be apparent to everybody else on the outside. It’s not just that we have great players. We have great team unity. Down the stretch, when you’re facing adversity, it’s nice to look a guy in the eye and know that he’s got your back.”

In its second season under veteran defensive coordinator John Chavis, Texas A&M appears to have the kind of defense that can slug it out with the Big Boys in the SEC. A tone-setting defense is something that the program has lacked, but exists in the DNA. A four-game sample size might not be enough for a nickname … but how about Wrecking Crew Two?

“There are a lot of things we can take from this game that we can improve upon,” Sumlin said. “(But) there were definitely more positives coming out of it than negatives.

“We played goal-line defense twice tonight. We weren’t going to let them walk in, and it’s been a long time since that’s happened around here.”

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