The Texas A&M Aggies were this close to letting the moment overwhelm them. It took less than three minutes for No. 9 Tennessee to turn a 35-21 deficit into overtime, including a costly fumble out of the end zone for a touchback and a brutal missed field goal.
But in the second overtime, Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight forced his way into the end zone through multiple defenders to give the Aggies a 45-38 lead. One play later, safety Armani Watts intercepted a pass from Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs to catapult the Aggies to one of their biggest wins in the modern history of the program.
Expectations for Texas A&M were high coming into the game, but were tempered somewhat by recent history. Two years ago, the Aggies won their first five games and rose all the way to a No. 6 national ranking before dropping three straight and finishing with a disappointing 7-5 record. A year later, the Aggies won the first five before losing by 18 points to Alabama and dropping three of the next four to finish with an 8-4 record.
Game six seemed to be a mental hurdle and that revealed itself throughout the day at Kyle Field. Despite taking multiple-score leads, the Aggies committed three turnovers and gave Tennessee every chance to get back into the game. Even the aforementioned fumble was after a 71-yard run from RB Trayveon Williams that would have cemented the win with less than two minutes left.
But the Aggies needed this cathartic experience to expel their demons. Texas A&M had not beaten a Top 10 team at home since a 9-6 victory over No. 8 Nebraska in 2010. The Aggies also had just one home win over a ranked SEC team in the Kevin Sumlin era, a 30-17 victory against No. 21 Mississippi State last season. This win trumps both of those.
The energy for it came from the most unlikely of places. The grad transfer Knight was the star in the win, throwing for 239 yards and 2 scores and rushing for 110 yards and 3 touchdowns, including the game-winner in double overtime. Even though his arm is suspect and he doesn’t seem to fit the traditional air raid that Sumlin employs, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has quickly adapted the offense to fit his physical running ability.
Williams added 217 yards rushing and a touchdown of his own. Wide receivers Josh Reynolds and Christian Kirk combined for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns in the win. The defense added an otherworldly seven forced turnovers.
Even though it allowed Tennessee to accumulate 684 yards, Texas A&M’s defensive front consistently dominated the Vols’ offensive line and the secondary made big plays when necessary.
While this still is an imperfect team, the Aggies are beginning to prove they deserve to be mentioned among the nation’s elite. Sitting at 6-0, the Aggies already have won five games against Power Five competition, four conference games and three games against ranked opponents (No. 16 UCLA, No. 17 Arkansas and No. 9 Tennessee).
Sumlin was considered to be on the hot seat coming into the season after a turbulent offseason, but this win cements his spot with the program. Hiring defensive coordinator John Chavis in 2015 and Mazzone in 2016 have proven to be ingenious moves that have kept the Aggies evolving.
Texas A&M was a flash in the pan in 2012, when Johnny Manziel led the Aggies to an upset win over the vaunted No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide and an 11-2 record in their first season in the conference. But after Saturday night, the entire SEC is on notice: Texas A&M is real and it is here to stay.