- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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The SEC welcomed its two newest members into the league Saturday, complete with highway billboards, coin tosses by commissioner Mike Slive and home games against nationally ranked teams.
That's where the fun stopped for Missouri and Texas A&M.
After taking halftime leads, the Tigers and Aggies couldn't finish in their first SEC games.
In what was a sight all too familiar for Texas A&M fans, the Aggies took a 17-7 lead in the second quarter against No. 24 Florida but were shut out in the second half of a 20-17 loss at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.
A couple of hours later, Missouri took a 17-9 lead over No. 7 Georgia early in the third quarter but then was outscored 32-3 the rest of the way in a 41-20 loss at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo.
Welcome to the SEC, newbies.
"I told our team I'm not big on those sort of things, but with all of our hospitality in the SEC, we're trying to make everybody happy and everybody wanted the glory story here with A&M, and they didn't get it," Gators coach Will Muschamp told reporters.
If only the Bulldogs and Gators were as hospitable as No. 8 Arkansas, which inexplicably lost to Louisiana-Monroe 34-31 in overtime Saturday night at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Ark.
The Razorbacks, playing their second game without fired coach Bobby Petrino, blew a 28-7 lead in the second half after losing quarterback Tyler Wilson to injury before halftime.
The Warhawks, who have never had a winning season since jumping to NCAA Division I-A (now the Football Bowl Subdivision) in 1994, helped put the "L" in John L. Smith, scoring the winning touchdown on quarterback Kolton Browning's 16-yard run on fourth-and-1 in overtime.
Browning, from the tiny town of Mabank (population: 3,035) in northeast Texas, completed 42 of 68 passes for 412 yards with three touchdowns, and ran for 69 yards and the winning score. Browning sent the game into overtime with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Brent Leonard with 47 seconds left in regulation.
"It's a great feeling; we feel like we deserve it," Browning told reporters. "We believed the whole time, and we've believed for two years that we could put something like this together. We knew this moment was coming."
The Aggies and Tigers waited more than a year for their moments Saturday, their first conference games as SEC members after leaving the Big 12.
And for a while, it seemed like Florida and Georgia were on the ropes, too. The Gators struggled to slow down Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin's high-paced offense in the first half, as freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel's 11-yard touchdown run put the Aggies ahead 10-7 and then tailback Christine Michael's 1-yard run made it 17-10.
But Florida's defense adjusted at halftime, forcing the Aggies to punt on each of their first six possessions of the second half. Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel completed 13 of 16 passes for 162 yards, and Mike Gillislee's 12-yard run with 13:05 left put Florida ahead for good.
After Texas A&M squandered big halftime leads in four games last season, it wasn't the start Sumlin wanted in his first game with the Aggies.
"It's something we addressed," Sumlin told reporters. "It's the elephant in the room."
Georgia's week started with Missouri defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson calling its style of play "old man football." By the end of Saturday night, Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray and linebacker Christian Robinson hoisted a dry-erase board over their heads that read: "Grown Man Football."
After falling behind the Tigers 17-9 on James Franklin's 69-yard touchdown pass to L'Damian Washington early in the third quarter, the Bulldogs tied the score on Murray's 7-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King and a two-point conversion.
With Georgia leading 24-20 early in the fourth quarter, Missouri tried a fake punt on fourth-and-11 at its 35-yard line. UGA fullback Richard Samuel stuffed the fake, and then the Bulldogs took control of the game. The Bulldogs, playing without four suspended defensive starters, scored the final 24 points of the game.
Missouri and Texas A&M proved they're capable of competing in the SEC. Well, for one half at least.
On a day when everything was bright, shiny and new, the SEC's recipe for success remained the same: menacing defenses that wore opponents down.
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