COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Once again, Tennessee erased a two-touchdown deficit in the second half. But on Saturday, the Volunteers couldn’t pull off another miracle finish. Here are three thoughts from Texas A&M’s 45–38 double overtime win:
1. It takes fire to put away the Zombie Volunteers
Tennessee stormed back in the second half against Florida two weeks ago and won on a last-second Hail Mary at Georgia a week ago. The Aggies had a chance to put away the win when Trayveon Williams broke free down the left sideline with 1:49 remaining. Just before Williams crossed the goal line, Tennessee’s Malik Foreman poked the ball away and through the end zone to give the Vols the ball at their own 20. Tennessee had turned the ball over six times but still managed to march 80 yards to tie the score at 35 with 41 seconds remaining on Alvin Kamara’s third touchdown of the day. “We knew they had that in them,” Tennessee defensive end Myles Garrett said. “We knew they surge in the second half.”
The Aggies had a chance to win with eight seconds remaining, but Texas A&M kicker Daniel LaCamera pushed a 38-yard field goal attempt wide left.
In the first overtime, Tennessee settled for a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the 21. Texas A&M settled for a field goal from the virtually the same spot on its possession. On the Aggies’ possession in the second overtime, quarterback Trevor Knight hit Christian Kirk over the middle for a 24-yard gain. On the next play, Knight crashed over the goal line for a one-yard score. Still, the Vols had one more chance. On their first offensive play of the second overtime, Joshua Dobbs threw across the middle and was intercepted by safety Armani Watts to touch off a huge celebration at Kyle Field. The Aggies wouldn’t have even made it to overtime without Watts, who had ripped the ball away from Kamara in the first quarter as Kamara raced toward the end zone.
2. The Aggies started 5–0 in 2014 and 2015 before falling off a cliff. Now, they’re finally 6–0.
Texas A&M now has an open date before facing an Alabama team that must face Tennessee on the road next week.
Before the Williams fumble, Texas A&M was showing why it has improved so much over the past two seasons. In 2014 and 2015, the Aggies couldn’t run the ball to protect a lead. Two-thirds of the way through Saturday’s fourth quarter, Texas A&M went 90 yards—all on the ground—on five plays. On a third-and-2, Knight popped through a hole on the right side and sprinted 62 yards for a touchdown to give the Aggies a 35–21 lead. Had Williams made it three more yards before Foreman poked the ball out, Texas A&M likely would have led 42–28 with under two minutes remaining. While the freshman Williams needs to work on ball security, his chemistry with Knight and the line should allow the Aggies to salt away games on the ground later in the season. That’s a huge step forward for Texas A&M’s offense.
3. Tennessee needs to work on its own ball security, but the Vols have guts to spare.
Tennessee fought through numerous injuries to key players. Center Dylan Weisman went out in the first half and didn’t return. Foreman went out and came back to force that key fumble. Defensive tackle Danny O’Brien was taken off on a spine board in the third quarter. Tennessee announced that O’Brien was moving all four extremities. He was taken to the hospital for precautionary measures.
If not for the turnovers, Tennessee would have won by two or three touchdowns. But even with the turnovers, the Vols fought back for a chance to win. Of the games remaining on their schedule, only Alabama next week at Neyland Stadium will present an equal or greater challenge than Texas A&M did Saturday.
Something SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said during an in-game interview with CBS also should buoy the hopes of the Vols. Sankey said that the LSU-Florida game that was postponed because of Hurricane Matthew needs to be played. This means the league will ensure the game gets played, so Tennessee needn’t worry about a Florida team with a 6–1 SEC record—the Gators lost to the Vols in Knoxville—winning the SEC East over a Tennessee team with a 6–2 conference record. If need be, the league will make Florida and LSU play the game. (Or the Gators might just lose again in league play.) That means Alabama isn’t a must-win. Of course, the Vols would still love to beat the Crimson Tide for the first time since 2006.