ARLINGTON, Texas — No. 23 Texas A&M and Arkansas both went into Saturday’s Southwest Classic game with something to prove.
After falling in their first Southeastern Conference game against No. 7 Auburn, the Aggies needed to find an offensive identity as both the pass and run game struggled in the matchup against the Tigers.
Following a 31-24 loss to San Jose State, Arkansas entered AT&T Stadium looking to find some confidence on both sides of the ball after the Razorbacks’ defense allowed 503 yards and quarterback Nick Starkel threw five interceptions against the Spartans.
A&M was slightly successful in its mission, as the Aggies topped the Razorbacks 31-27, finding early success with the quick start they had been searching for.
Though it didn’t end in points, the Aggies got their footing with 24 yards on their first two plays. However, a sack followed on A&M’s third play of the game, and the Aggies lost the momentum they had garnered as an incomplete pass and a punt followed.
The Aggies turned things around on the second drive though, as A&M marched 63 yards on seven plays, capping off the drive with a nine-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Ainias Smith.
Smith was a key part of A&M’s offensive success, totaling 80 yards on five receptions and a 31-yard punt return.
“He brings exposure to the offense,” junior wide receiver Quartney Davis said. “He can make plays, catch the ball, get open. He’s physical. A lot of people say he’s small, but he’s a really physical guy. He gets the job done for sure.”
The Aggies had success passing as Mond was 6-of-7 for 55 yards in the first quarter. The run game took longer to find a rhythm, with only 25 yards in the first quarter.
“Offensively, [we] started out extremely well, moving the football up and down the field,” A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Kellen was really sharp. Didn’t get the running game going in the first half.”
A&M’s first-quarter momentum rolled over into the second quarter as the Aggies scored on two of their four drives.
Mond said the Aggies’ fast-paced first quarter helped them win the game.
“It was a little bit faster than normal, and I felt like the plays were pretty similar to what they usually are,” Mond said. “Just me and the receivers and everybody else just trying to push the tempo, getting lined up a little bit quicker. I felt like that helped us out a little bit on the offensive side.”
Leading 21-17 at halftime, the Aggies managed to avoid Arkansas’ third-quarter comeback, scoring 10 more points to seal the win. Fisher said he is proud of the way the team fought to earn the win.
”There was a lot of resilience,” Fisher said. “There was a lot of competitiveness. That’s where we’ve been. An SEC win is an SEC win. There’s no bad wins.”
Despite the final score, the Aggies continued to struggle offensively, though not as badly as they did against No. 1 Clemson and then-No. 8 Auburn.
Two key plays highlighted the Aggies’ offensive troubles.
A fumble on A&M’s six-yard line allowed Arkansas to score, and an interception in the end zone ended what was likely a scoring drive for A&M.
“[Mond] made a bad decision in the red zone, just throwing it away,” Fisher said.
Davis said when turnovers happen, the team just focuses on correcting the mistakes.
“Every time we have a mistake, we talk about it on the sidelines and move on to the next drive and make sure we do everything we need to do to get into the end zone,” Davis said. “Obviously we don’t want those turnovers, but things happen. We just move on.”