Ryan Mallett got off to a great start, looking right at home in an NFL stadium.
He might've gone home awfully disappointed, though, if Tramain Thomas hadn't snatched an interception in the end zone on the game's final play.
Mallett threw three touchdown passes in the first half, but failed to build on it and No. 11 Arkansas ended up needing to hold on for a 24-17 victory over Texas A&M at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday.
"I tried to knock it down against Georgia and they almost caught it, so I had it in my mindset that I was going up to get the ball," Thomas said.
He did, and the Razorbacks (4-1) came away with a much-needed win between a home loss to No. 1 Alabama and a trip to No. 8 Auburn.
Arkansas had several chances to put the game away early, between leading 21-7 with 53 seconds left in the first half and recovering three fumbles inside the Aggies' 40-yard line.
They just couldn't do it. They got only one field goal out of the turnovers, missing another and botching a fake. Mallett was bottled up by a defense that took away his deep routes. A&M (3-2) sacked him three times; he'd gone down only six all season. One came from Von Miller, who led the nation with 17 last season but had been shut out so far this season. The Aggies only had five sacks coming in.
"We're not used to not-executing like that," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "They put a lot of pressure on you with their different looks. They threw a couple spin looks in, where they look like they were bringing up one side and brought it the other."
The Aggies were coming off a tough loss, too, a wild game at Oklahoma State blown by five turnovers.
A&M wound up giving the ball away four times — the fourth straight game that happened. Yet quarterback Jerrod Johnson squeezed in enough big plays to keep things interesting all the way to the end.
"Regardless of people saying, 'Well, you played a good game,' we can't accept that," Aggies coach Mike Sherman said.
On the final drive, Johnson converted a third-and-10 and a fourth-and-14. A pass interference penalty put A&M on the Arkansas 39 with 6 seconds left, setting up the dramatic last play.
He was aiming for Jeff Fuller, which only made sense. Fuller caught eight passes for 154 yards, including a 69-yarder and a 31-yard touchdown. Johnson finished 15 of 40 for 212 yards.
Johnson came in with eight interceptions in his last six quarters. His only interception this time was on the final play.
"I'd be lying to say that he didn't internalize a little pressure on himself to make sure he didn't have any miscues with the football, but it didn't take away his aggressiveness," Sherman said. "He read things very well and made good decisions and made some big-time throws."
But not of Mallett's caliber.
Built like a prototype NFL quarterback, he played like it, too, at first — opening the game with an 80-yard drive, capped by a 9-yard touchdown pass to Joe Adams, then bouncing back from an interception to hit Cobi Hamilton on a 71-yard touchdown pass that was so well done it could become the centerpiece of his Heisman Trophy promotional campaign.
Whatever adjustments A&M made after that, Arkansas was unable to figure them out.
Mallett threw for 132 yards in the first quarter, then just 178 the rest of the game. His total of 310 marked the fifth time he's cracked 300 this season, already tying the full-season record he set last year. He completed 27 of 38 passes.
Knile Davis ran for a career-high 82 yards, including a 45-yard burst on the opening drive. Broderick Green added 58 yards, but the SEC's worst rushing attack never scared A&M enough to loosen up the passing lanes for Mallett.
This is the second game in a 10-year series between these schools at the stadium built by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, an Arkansas alum. His Razorbacks won 47-19 last year.
The game drew 65,622, and caused for quite a traffic day in Arlington as a baseball playoff game between the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays started 1½ hours after kickoff.