COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Kevin Sumlin's gray hair count almost certainly increased on Saturday.
After his Texas A&M team coughed up a three-touchdown lead -- including a play on which the Aggies were set to put the game away with a 73-yard Trayveon Williams touchdown run with less than two minutes to go, except it wound up being a 71-yard run after Tennessee's Malik Foreman poked away the ball for a fumble -- the Aggies survived the Vols' magical comeback and won in double overtime a game they should have won in regulation.
All that said, Saturday's 45-38 victory over No. 9 Tennessee at Kyle Field was a culture win for the eighth-ranked Aggies.
Was it pretty? No. Could it have been made easier? Absolutely. But would last year's Aggies or the 2014 Aggies, under the same circumstances, have won that game?
"You see it," senior offensive lineman Avery Gennesy said of this team's maturity. "You can say what you want, but we know who we are. It's all about us. That's what we always focus on."
Considering the deficiencies the Aggies had in recent seasons -- whether it was lack of leadership, the prevalence of youth on the depth chart (particularly at quarterback) that went hand-in-hand with that lack of leadership, lack of depth in key positions or simply the team's puzzling inability to beat a top-25 team at home -- it's clear how different the 2016 Aggies are.
There is no finger-pointing going on between teammates. There is enough veteran presence that this team doesn't break down at the first (or second, third or fourth) sign of adversity. And there are enough experienced playmakers that Texas A&M now has the confidence that it's going to pull through and make the necessary plays to pull out a win. The Aggies did so with their best player, Myles Garrett, playing at "65 or 70 percent" and mostly just on third downs on Saturday, and they did so without key starting receiver Ricky Seals-Jones.
And after starting their SEC tenure 0-for-5 and winning just one of their first six games versus top-25 teams at Kyle Field, the Aggies have now won two consecutive such games and three of their past four.
"I believe in this team," quarterback Trevor Knight said. "And I know internally that we believe in each other. When our backs are against the wall and we have to make plays, we believe in the guy next to us, and it just happens."
This offseason was one of significant changes for Sumlin. He made his second coordinator change in as many seasons and, for the second year in a row, opted for an older, more seasoned replacement. There were changes to the lifting program, and the injection of Knight, a fifth-year senior and graduate transfer, gave the Aggies something they didn't have under Sumlin before this season: an upperclassman starter at the most important position.
There are certainly numerous problems to fix. For starters, the Aggies have to close games better. In their only two home games this season, they held double-digit fourth-quarter leads, only to allow the visitors to come back and force overtime. That won't fly in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in two weeks.
Mistakes have to be reduced. Knight threw two interceptions; Williams' fumble could have cost the Aggies the game. Defensively, there are certainly things defensive coordinator John Chavis will look to fix after his unit yielded a whopping 684 yards.
The Aggies understand all that. And along with the increased maturity is a reluctance to put more stock into their 6-0 record than past teams did when they started 5-0.
"We continue to grow and we always critique ourselves on the little things that we can do better that would have helped us in the game," Gennesy said. "We love challenges. Going into overtime, you could see the kind of character that we have, and we just continue to grow."
Said Sumlin: "We need to finish. We're a work in progress. That's where we are. Trust me: I would have rather not gone into double overtime.
"We're going to continue to try to get better. We're better than we were. Are we dominant? No. But we've been good enough to be able to do some things."