By STEPHEN HAWKINS
AP Sports Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Jimbo Fisher was glad Texas A&M had to face consecutive top-15 opponents after that embarrassing home loss to Appalachian State.
The Aggies have certainly responded while learning a few things about themselves.
“We could have been sitting here undefeated and be top five in the country and still be the same football team,” Fisher said. “Now, I’d rather been that way. But at the same time … it wouldn’t have made us a better football team. We’re finding out about ourselves a lot right now and what we’re trying to do. These kids have fight and grit.”
Texas A&M faced a two-touchdown deficit even before getting a first down against Arkansas, a week after the Aggies lost two players in the secondary in the first quarter against then-No. 13 Miami because of targeting penalties. They won both games.
The Aggies (3-1, 1-0 SEC), who began this season ranked sixth, regained six more spots in the new AP poll on Sunday, moving up to 17th after its 23-21 win over Arkansas. The Razorbacks (3-1, 1-1) dropped 10 spots to No. 20 before going home to play second-ranked Alabama next Saturday.
“Appalachian State just showed us that we’ve got a lot of heart in this team, that we have a great team. We didn’t let that loss take us down,” running back Devon Achane said. “We kept building, kept coming together. And just basically making sure that we all on the same page.”
Still, that took some time against the Razorbacks in victory that wasn’t secured until Cam Little’s 42-yard field goal attempt from the left hashmark hit near the top of the right upright and fell no good into the end zone with 1:30 left.
Texas A&M punted on its first four possessions and didn’t get a first down until Achane broke free for a 63-yard run to open their next drive with about 12 minutes left in the first half.
“You have to decide if you want to play football or not,’ Achane said. “Obviously, you see that. We were down 14-0, we could have lost it.”
When it looked like Arkansas was about to take a 21-7 lead just before halftime, the Aggies got a wild return for a touchdown that began with KJ Jefferson’s fumble at the 3 and included a handoff between defenders. A dropped snap kept A&M from getting the tying extra point then, but that TD was part of 23 consecutive points that included Achane’s go-ahead 9-yard run on the first drive after halftime.
Defensive back Demani Richardson sprinted the final 82 yards down the Aggies sideline to finish the crazy fumble return after getting the ball from teammate Tyreek Chappell.
Richardson dismissed any notion that the Aggies got lucky.
“Definitely not. I feel like we had to gut that win out. I feel like offense, defense, all sides of the ball had to gut that win out. I feel like nothing that we did was lucky today,” Richardson said.
App State has played twice at home since its win at Kyle Field, and needed a Hail Mary play on the final play to win the first one before losing 32-28 to James Madison on Saturday. Miami is no longer ranked, falling out after losing at home Saturday to four-touchdown underdog Middle Tennessee State.
The Aggies hadn’t played off campus until the game against Arkansas at the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. Now they play three games in a row on the road — at Mississippi State, then Alabama and South Carolina.
”We haven’t reached our ceiling. We can be really good,” Richardson said.
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