COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- It was fun while it lasted. Tennessee turned out to be more of a College Football Playoff summer fling than a relationship that would last until the committee picks four teams.
The Vols showed college football another good time on Saturday at Kyle Field. But a team that commits seven turnovers and 12 penalties is not one you can take home to CFP chair Kirby Hocutt.
With all of its mistakes, No. 9 Tennessee still came back from a 21-point deficit, still scored twice in the last 2:07 and still forced No. 8 Texas A&M into two overtimes. But when quarterback Joshua Dobbs threw his second pick, the seventh turnover, the Aggies escaped with a 45-38 victory.
They made so many mistakes that Tennessee coach Butch Jones threw in an extra one. "Very, very proud of our kids," Jones began. "Just the fight in them, the will to win. But again, you can't have eight turnovers."
Actually, seven proved to be too many, especially when the Vols coughed up three of them inside the Aggie 10: two during regulation and the game-ending pick.
"I mean the way that they played this year when their backs are against the wall is incredible ... and they did that once again," Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight said, "so you got to give them credit for making it a ball game."
The Aggies are 6-0 for the first time in head coach Kevin Sumlin's five seasons, and that may serve as a salve for the aches the Vols provided. Texas A&M spent the first four games of the season looking as if it had solved the defensive woes that have plagued it throughout Sumlin's five seasons.
But Tennessee made Texas A&M depend on offense to win. And give credit to Knight. The Oklahoma transfer ran for three touchdowns, including the game-winner, and threw for two more, but completed only 17-of-34 passes and threw two interceptions. Knight throws the prettiest sideline fades you have ever seen but can't complete a pass in the flat. He's like a chef who whips up a mouth-watering eggs Benedict and can't put a piece of bread in the toaster without burning it.
The wizened heads of football believe that bounces even out over time. And let's face it -- the Vols looked like they had built up an overdraft on breaks this season: the overtime victory over Appalachian State; the comeback from 21 down against Florida; the miracle between the hedges last week.
Name another team that has fumbled the ball 15 times and lost only three of them. And then came Saturday, when Tennessee had to pay their accounts receivable. The ledger of bounces had to be zeroed out. The Vols fumbled six times and lost five of them.
The Vols dispute that all the breaks have gone their way. Five starters didn't start Saturday because of injuries. Three more left the game and didn't come back, including fifth-year senior defensive tackle Danny O'Brien, who was strapped onto a board and taken off the field early in the fourth quarter. The initial report from the field said O'Brien had movement in all four extremities and was being taken to a local hospital as a precaution. But he flew back to Knoxville on the team plane.
Despite all of their mistakes, and all of their injuries, Tennessee spotted Texas A&M a 28-7 lead and delivered another remarkable performance. Dobbs led the offense to 684 yards. He threw for 398 yards and one touchdown and caught a touchdown pass from Jauan Jennings, the Hail Mary hero against Georgia. And yet nothing the offense did compared to the play that corner Malik Foreman made with just under 2:00 to play.
With Texas A&M leading 35-28, tailback Trayveon Williams broke free from the Aggie 27 and raced down the left sideline. Williams, a freshman, rushed for 217 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries, but the 218th yard will stick with him for a long time.
Williams carried the ball in his right arm, to the field, and Foreman took off after him. Foreman lunged inside the five, and with Williams at the 1, he punched the ball out of Williams' arm with such force that the ball bounded straight out of the back of the end zone.
Auburn fans still swoon at the name of Antoine Carter, the Tiger who punched the ball out of Crimson Tide tailback Mark Ingram's grasp in the 2010 Iron Bowl, sparking the Tigers' comeback from 24 points down to win 28-27. Foreman's play should rank ahead of Carter for the distance he ran. The turnover precipitated the Vols moving 80 yards for the tying touchdown in six plays and 1:08.
Texas A&M came right back down the field and set up kicker Daniel LaCamera to make a 38-yard game-winner with eight seconds left. When Jones called two timeouts to ice him and LaCamera badly hooked his kick, it looked as if the Vols had found one more week of magic.
"You could not script everything that happened," Sumlin said. "I said it last week. This team is not about panicking. ... There have been instances where things like that start sliding, and you can't get it back."
An Aggie defense that had been on the field for 94 plays in regulation kept the Vols out of the end zone in overtime. LaCamera, just a few minutes after missing the game winner, came back onto the field and tied the game at the end of the first overtime. Knight scored from 1 yard out, and when Armani Watts made a diving pick of Dobbs at the Aggie 6, Tennessee's season of storybook comebacks came to a halt.
Minutes after the game, the Aggies lined up and faced their fans, each side arm in arm, singing the Aggie War Hymn. The swaying, braying sea of maroon in the east stands had several orange stripes. The Tennessee fans streamed up the stairs to the exits. No. 1 Alabama awaits, and beating the Crimson Tide for the first time in a decade is all that will restore the dream season.