COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M's season has been marked with wild swings of emotion from big victories and crushing defeats.
Its 49-39 loss to Texas might have been the Aggies' best performance of the season.
A&M challenged the No. 3 Longhorns unlike any team since Oklahoma and Texas Tech earlier this season. But even with the narrow defeat, the Aggies didn't leave Kyle Field feeling they had accomplished anything more than earlier in the season.
"We should have won," A&M senior safety Jordan Pugh said. "We had the chances and didn't take them."
It was the kind of game where Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson emerged in front of a national audience. His running and throwing kept the Aggies close as he flummoxed the Longhorns throughout the game with a season-best 439 yards of total offense.
"I can't say enough about Jerrod Johnson," A&M coach Mike Sherman said. "He's probably under the radar for what he has been able to do. He wasn't perfect, but I was extremely proud. I've never been around a player who has progressed like he has."
On two separate occasions, the Aggies pulled to within three points in the fourth quarter. Johnson's 20-yard strike to Jeff Fuller closed the gap to 42-39 with 7:10 left.
But with Kyle Field roaring as loud as it did during the game, Marquise Goodwin returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown that iced the victory.
"It's tough because we had them right where we wanted them," A&M defensive end/linebacker Von Miller said. "It's rough. We wanted to get this big one for the seniors, but we couldn't make it happen."
The 6-6 Aggies qualified for their first bowl game since 2007 last week with a victory over Baylor. But their season has been marked with remarkable inconsistency. They have won games by 35, 37, 22, 25 and 35 points. And they’ve lost games by margins of 28, 48 and 55 points.
But the end of the season has provided several positive points to build on heading into the bowl game.
They ripped through Texas' supposedly invincible defense for 190 rushing yards, 27 first downs and 532 net yards. Johnson had the kind of game that makes him a potential Heisman candidate for next season after he passed for 342 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 97 more.
"We feel we can matchup with anyone in the country," Johnson said. "We don't take this as a moral victory because we expected to win. One good thing is that this gave us some national exposure to show that Texas A&M is headed in the right direction."
That next chance will likely come in the Texas Bowl in a game against Navy that looks winnable. With 18 freshman playing major roles for the Aggies this season, the future looks bright in that game and beyond.
The South Division figures to be just as competitive as ever next season. But A&M's days as a divisional bottom feeder appear to be over.
"I saw some guys who did some good things," Sherman said. "We will certainly utilize the next couple of weeks to help this football team."