FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas got a big lift before its showdown with Texas A&M on Friday night, when quarterback Brandon Allen was cleared to play.
The sophomore’s impressive return from a shoulder injury still wasn’t enough to keep Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and the Aggies from continuing their impressive two-year run in road games.
Manziel led Texas A&M to a 45-33 win Saturday night, outlasting Arkansas in a rain-soaked shootout in front of an announced crowd of 72,613 in Razorback Stadium.
The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner threw for 261 yards and 2 touchdowns, rushed for 59 more and guided a high-powered offense that piled up 523 yards. But Manziel and company also got key contributions from a defense that protected the lead throughout the second half, winning a game that featured 78 points and 1,006 yards.
It helped the Aggies (4-1, 1-1 in SEC) put together their second straight win against the Razorbacks (3-2, 0-1) and ninth straight on the road. Meanwhile, Arkansas lost its second straight, falling short of its first win against a top 10 team since 2011.
"Any time you get a loss, it’s tough," Arkansas center Travis Swanson said. "But I think we fought. That’s the biggest thing is no one ever let up.
"Obviously, that’s a good football team. Give credit to them. They came ready to play (Saturday). So did we. It just didn’t work out in our favor."
Manziel and Texas A&M’s high-octane offense was as impressive as advertised once again Saturday. But Swanson and the Razorbacks won’t remember the game for Manziel’s brilliance. Instead, it will be about Arkansas’ own missed opportunities.
The Razorbacks fell behind on the first possession and could never quite catch the Aggies on the soggy night. But the Hogs had chances. Especially in the second half, when Arkansas had three opportunities to take the lead and came up empty.
"Our defense made enough plays to win," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said.
The biggest came on the first series of the season half, which ended with Texas A&M extending its lead to 31-20. Safety Deshazor Everett stepped in front of a pass from Allen and returned the interception 34 yards for a touchdown.
The Razorbacks shook off the mistake to score on its next series to pull back to within four points. They had another opportunity to go on top after forcing Texas A&M to punt for the second straight possession. Once again, Arkansas missed the opportunity by punting after failing to move the chains.
There was one more chance, too, after Texas A&M was forced to punt early in the fourth quarter. Once again, the Aggies held up to force another three-and-out. They scored a touchdown to take a 45-33 lead and Arkansas never threatened again.
"It was the critical point for us," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. "We knew we had to basically score every time we had it and had to monopolize the football."
The daunting task was critical because of Manziel, who had helped the Aggies average 50 points and 602 yards a game to start the season.
The quarterback — who set the SEC’s single-game total yardage mark against Arkansas last season (557) — lived up to the billing once again. Manziel led Texas A&M to points on its first four possessions, opening up as much as a 24-10 lead.
But the Razorbacks nearly matched Texas A&M point-for-point with Allen back under center. Arkansas announced Friday night the quarterback had been cleared and he didn’t show many signs of rust in the Hogs’ SEC opener in completing 17 of 36 passes for 282 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
He rifled a 12-yard touchdown pass to receiver Keon Hatcher to cap the Razorbacks’ opening possession. He threw a 52-yarder to tight end Hunter Henry a little later, setting up a Zack Hocker field goal that cut Texas A&M’s lead to 17-10.
Allen later added a 19-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Williams in the second quarter to cut Texas A&M’s lead to 24-17. He completed 10 of 18 passes for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first half. Arkansas trailed 24-20 at the break.
"BA was outstanding," Bielema said. "To come in the way he did and with a limited amount of practice was impressive."
But his big mistake right after halftime proved costly in the high-scoring game.
Shazor read Allen on an intermediate route, easily stepping in front of receiver Keon Hatcher to make the interception. It was the second interception Allen had thrown this season. He added another one late in the game.
Texas A&M’s ground game did the rest of the damage in the decisive second half.
Arkansas wants to establish a reputation for grinding out wins in the fourth quarter, but it was the Aggies who enjoyed success Saturday night. Texas A&M rushed for 150 of its 262 yards after the break, gashing the Arkansas defense again and again.
"It was very tough because that’s one thing we stress as a defense is stopping the run," Arkansas linebacker Jarrett Lake said.
Running back Trey Williams had a team-high 83 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, while Tra Carson added 64 yards on 9 attempts. Leading rusher Ben Malena finished with 12 carries for 40 yards and two touchdowns.
"I think it shows a different dimension of our offense," Malena said. "People look at our offense as being so spread out. … But we had two or three consecutive drives where we threw the ball maybe one or two times."
Arkansas achieved the balance it was seeking Saturday night, running for 201 yards and passing for 282 more. Sumlin said Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney — who he worked with at Purdue earlier in his career — threw the "kitchen sink" at Texas A&M’s defense and it produced some impressive results.
Running back Alex Collins topped the 100-yard mark for the fourth time in five games, finishing with 116 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Hunter Henry caught four passes for 109 yards. Williams was finished with 120 all-purpose yards (53 rushing, 67 receiving) and caught two touchdown passes.
It wasn’t enough to beat the Aggies.
Bielema said he was proud of his team for the way it prepared and for the effort against Texas A&M. He called it a learning experience, too. But Bielema still had hoped for more in his first SEC game.
"I’m not in ballgames to look good. I want to win them," Bielema said. "Every game that I’m a part of. It meant a lot to play A&M the way that they’re playing right now. A very, very good football team. Kevin’s got them rolling. Got a special player.
"For us to play the way that we did, I’m happy. But I’m by no means satisfied."