- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- What a difference a year makes.
Around this time a year ago, Texas A&M wasn't feeling very good about itself. The Aggies, a preseason top-10 team in 2011, were sitting at 2-2 after relinquishing an 18-point halftime lead that resulted in a loss to Arkansas at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
This year, with new everything -- coaches, players, schemes and a conference -- the Aggies took a 17-point lead into the locker room at halftime and things finished much differently. Texas A&M kept its foot on the gas and rolled to a dominating 58-10 win over the struggling Razorbacks for its first Southeastern Conference victory.
If the early season signs are any indication, this is a new brand of Texas A&M football.
"We got the monkey off our back today," Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said. "Everybody's talking about what happens to us in the second half. These guys were determined all week to play. Our players and coaching staff did a nice job."
There wasn't discussion of last year's second-half collapse amongst the Aggies (3-1, 1-1 SEC). And while it should be noted that this, too, is a much different Razorbacks (1-4, 0-2) squad that is watching its season unravel before everyone's eyes, the strides that the Aggies made on Saturday are significant.
These teams met each of the last three seasons, and the Aggies were on the wrong end of it all three times. Led by a determined senior class and a wunderkind quarterback in Johnny Manziel, the Aggies weren't about to let history repeat itself.
"We've been talking about that all summer," senior linebacker Sean Porter said. "We talked about just coming out and finishing, coming out in the second half and continuing to play the way we've been playing. If we just play our game -- it's all about us -- I think we can compete with anybody."
Offensively, Manziel was nothing short of brilliant. He broke school records for passing yards (453) and total offense (557) while completing 29-of-38 of his passes and passing the century mark on the ground (104 yards). He threw for three touchdowns, ran for another in which he circled the pocket only to dance his way to the pylon and once again didn't turn the ball over.
He made quality throws from the pocket, spread the ball around to receivers and backs, ran when he had room and moved the offense down the field with a mix of small and big plays.
"I felt like it was the best game he has played in the pocket," offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said. "It was nice to see him be confident in his throws and be accurate."
Defensively, the Aggies weren't dominant in the yardage department, but they were effective. After allowing 10 first-quarter points, Texas A&M shut the Razorbacks out the rest of the way. Arkansas started the game converting three of its first four third downs, but only converted 6-of-18 after that. The Razorbacks were 1-of-5 on red zone chances and while they moved the ball to the tune of 515 yards, they weren't making the big plays that result in points with the exception of Knile Davis' 64-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the first quarter.
Plus, the Aggies came up with three turnovers, two courtesy of senior safety Steven Terrell, who had two interceptions.
"This whole week we have emphasized turnovers," Terrell said. "As great as our offense is, if we get any turnovers, they want to turn it into points. All we've been working on is trying to get turnovers and luckily we finally got some this week."
As the Aggies turn their attention forward, they are preparing to face a difficult stretch on their schedule. Five of the next six games are on the road, four of which are at SEC venues. There are no open dates thanks to the rescheduling of their season opener against Louisiana Tech, which now sits smack dab in the middle of the upcoming stretch on Oct. 13, a week before the Aggies return home to host LSU.
The Aggies say they have an idea of how good they can be and despite the state of their opponent Saturday, they have reason to feel good. In the next six weeks, we'll find out how good they really are.
"We've got to continue to improve," Sumlin said. "It's not about the opponent, it's about us. How we can get better, how we can eliminate mistakes and become a smarter team. Our guys are listening and trying to do what we ask.
"We are capable of a lot and confidence is a big part of that."
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2dSam Khan Jr.