Texas A&M quarterback Max Johnson agrees that it is easy for the Aggies to imagine just how good they really can be if they clean up some mistakes. Especially with the way their defense is dominating games.
Johnson threw for 210 yards with two touchdowns and ran for 57 yards, but also had three second-half turnovers while the Aggies missed two field goals in a 34-22 win over Arkansas on Saturday.
“We should have put up a lot more points than we did,” Johnson said. “The defense played unbelievable.”
Or as coach Jimbo Fisher put it, Texas A&M’s defense was “tremendously outstanding.”
The Aggies (4-1, 2-0 SEC) had seven quarterbacks sacks and 15 tackles for loss for the second week in a row while limiting Arkansas to 174 total yards. They even got a defensive score with linebacker Chris Russell Jr. returning an intercepted tipped pass 16 yards for a touchdown, and added a special teams TD on Ainias Smith’s 82-yard punt return.
Arkansas (2-3, 0-2) didn’t have an offensive touchdown until KJ Jefferson’s 48-yard pass to Andrew Armstrong with 3:53 left, and those were the Jefferson’s only passing yards after the first quarter.
“Physically, they dominated us on the edge. They did exactly what we thought they would do,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. “They were very aggressive. We never had an explosive play until really the game was over.”
The Razorbacks’ late touchdown was setup by Johnson’s second lost fumble, which came right after a lengthy delay when Arkansas defensive lineman John Morgan III was taken off the field strapped on a stretcher.
It wasn’t immediately clear how Morgan got hurt before he didn’t get up at the end of a running play. He was tended to for an extended period by a group of trainers and medical personnel who removed his helmet and jersey before he was stabilized and placed on a motorized cart.
“He had movement everywhere,” Pittman said. “He was communicative. He visited with me, said ‘Coach, I’m fine.’ But he did have some soreness in his neck. So they took the precaution, which they should. … But he had movement everywhere and he’s at the doctor.”
Cam Little kicked three field goals (52, 25 and 50 yards) for Arkansas, which has lost three in a row. Lorando Johnson had a pick-six on the first play of the second half.
Max Johnson started three games for the Aggies last year before a season-ending hand injury, after starting 14 games for LSU the two seasons before that. He lost his starting job at A&M to Conner Weigman in camp this fall, but the fellow sophomore suffered a season-ending foot injury in the first half of last week’s win at Auburn.
The Aggies led for good after Johnson’s 32-yard TD pass to Evan Stewart on their opening drive of the game, and were up 17-6 after a 2-yard TD pass just before halftime.
Johnson completed 17 of 28 passes while being mostly efficient with short and swing passes, but his first throw of the second half never made it to Moss coming out of the backfield. Lorando Johnson jumped the route for the pick and went untouched 20 yards into the end zone.
Texas A&M: The Aggies won for the 11th time in 12 meetings since joining their former Southwest Conference rival in the Southeastern Conference in 2012.
Arkansas: Standout freshman tight end Luke Hasz broke his clavicle on the opening series of the game. The Razorbacks had a penalty-free game, but couldn’t get anything going offensively. They opened the game with a 15-play drive, converting three lengthy third downs, but gained only 42 yards over eight minutes, and had to settle for a 52-yard field goal. After converting four of their first five third downs, they were 1-of-10 the rest of the way.
“We weren’t any good when we went and scored. … we had two ugly plays and a first down, two ugly plays and a first down,” Pittman said. “We never really were in any kind of rhythm.”
TAKING A CHANCE
The Razorbacks trailed 10-6 late in the first half with fourth-and-1 at their own 40. They went for it, but defensive lineman McKinnley Jackson broke through to tackle Raheim Sanders in the backfield. Texas A&M then converted a third-and-12 and got Max Johnson’s second TD pass with 13 seconds left.
“Worse thing that can happen certainly off missing a fourth-and-inches,” Pittman said.
Texas A&M is home next Saturday against 12th-ranked Alabama, which as the No. 1 team two years ago lost 41-38 on a game-ending field goal in its last trip to College Station.
Arkansas plays the third of four consecutive SEC games away from home, at No. 20 Mississippi next Saturday.